Chapter 13:

Episode 13- Strike Out

My Friend is a Harem Protagonist [Short]

September 3rd, Still Sunny

Classes were back in session, our second semester had only just begun. Today was a Saturday, normally a day when I would be at home or doing something in town. Yet here I was, at school.

The reason behind this was for the last game of importance for the baseball team. We all had taken the time to come to all the games this season, but this was the most important. Our school was only one victory away from entering Koshien’s finals in March, and that was decided by today's victory. If our school won they pushed the enemy team out of the running and pushed us into it, a high pressure game for both teams.

Kioko sat next to me, the girls next to her. Daichi sat next to me, chilling against the seat behind us. The teams were still warming up, so we just watched and relaxed. Today was the biggest turn out of all the games so far, pretty much everyone at the school was here, sitting on nails with anticipation.

“Well well, look who dares present himself to me on this day of fate!” Came the voice of a Chuni who I rejected a few months ago.

“Hey Izumi.” I said, not looking away from everyone warming up.

Ren and Toshi were playing catch, not putting too much effort in, just enough to get loose.

“Mind if we sit behind you?” An unexpected voice said.

I turned sharply to see Himiko behind me, Izumi at her side. Izumi wore light blue clothes today, the biggest surprise I had seen. Himiko wore a white sundress, sitting right behind me.

“Izumi, what are you wearing?” I questioned.

Izumi’s face turned bright red. “Himiko said it would be sunny, so if I wore my standard armoring I would take exhaustion damage, so I wore this.” It was a blue shirt with dark blue shorts, she showed a lot more skin then I expected. It would be interesting but I did see her in a bikini not long ago.

I turned to spot the girls looking confused at Izumi’s explanation.

“Black conducts heat, so she wore something of a lighter color.” I stated.

They all nodded.

Himiko leaned forward. “Pardon, I don't think we have met, I am Himiko Hara.” Himiko held out her hand to Kioko.

“Kioko Agawa.” Kioko answered, taking her hand and shaking it loosely.

“It is a pleasure to met you, are you a friend of Sawai’s?” Himiko asked.

Kioko gave Himiko a look. It was like she was trying to read any hidden meaning behind what she said, or she was looking for the unseen weapon that was about to attack her. Wait, only Izumi would think of that.

“You could say that yes.” Kioko said in reply.

Did she imply we might not be friends? That is harsh, please clarify!

“I see, you don't look familiar, do you go to school here?” Himiko asked.

“I go to Meio Academy.” Kioko said. “I came to cheer on the team, Toshi is a friend of mine.”

“That explains it.” Himiko laughed. “From how your sitting it looked like you and Sawai were on a date.”

I swear I heard a crack, or the sound of a strong wind. All the girls had turned their heads sharply to Himiko, giving wide eyed looks.

“It looks that way?” Kioko said, tilting her head to the class president.

Izumi interjected, presenting a shaking hand to Kioko. “I am Izumi Arai, Night Queen of Eternal Sorrow, Riku’s eternal enemy.”

“You know you would sound cooler if you were shaking from nervousness.” I stated.

“Sh-Shut up!” Izumi said sharply.

Kioko smiled at Izumi, shaking her hand. “Please, call me Kioko. May I call you Izumi?”

Izumi lit up in excitement. “Yes yes! Of course you can, Kioko.” She seemed very happy. She looked over at Himiko.

The other girls seemed to rest easy now, still looking over at Himiko. I wish that Daichi was over with them, but at the same time this was better. This was Toshi’s day, he should focus on her. When I looked over at him, I realized he was.

Daichi watched Toshi and Ren intently. From where I sat I could see the two laughing and talking together. Good for Ren, today was his day too. I had told Kioko that I wasn't going to make any moves and just let things work themselves out today.

“Sawai.” Himiko said, leaning forward close to me. “I would like to resume our sessions if that is alright, perhaps tomorrow?”

Have you ever felt five sets of eyes lock on you all at once. The gaze was like a heat wave, causing me to sweat.

“Y-yeah that is fine.” I said shakaly.

“Oh what kind of sessions is that?” Aoi said, her eyes wide with what looked like anger.

Himiko turned towards her. “That is private Shima, between Sawai and I.”

“Still not on a first name basis though.” Maeko said, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “How sad, after all this time can't even say his name? What's it been, three years I hear.”

Himiko glared at Maeko. “Is that an issue?”

Maeko smiled mischievously. “No, of course not. Just says what kind of relationship you two have.”

“Relationship?” Himiko asked, leaning back in her seat. “I think there is a misunderstanding then.”

“Then please, enlighten me.” Maeko said. She had arrogance in her voice.

“I have no need to do such a thing.” Himiko stated bluntly. She was covering for me, she knew I was embarrassed by not picking my career path yet. I appreciated it.

“She is right.” Kioko said as Maeko was about to speak. “What they do is their business isn't it? Don't press them if they don't want to speak on it.”

The other girls relaxed, but Izumi was still looking around, then spoke. “Dark one, these girls are scarier than anything from the Abyss that I have ever seen you conjure. You truly have advanced in your evil arts!”

“I call them the Devil Girl’s of Endless Destruction, any who get in their path will be obliterated.” I played along.

Izumi seemed happy about that.

“You a Chuni too?” Kioko asked me.

“Don't call me that.” I said.

Kioko smiled. “I see, okay. Hey Riku, mind if I scoot over a little? Aoi isn't giving me much space.”

“Huh? Oh sure sorry if I was hogging the bench.” I said, scooting over as far as I could.

Kioko moved, her shoulders touching mine. Our arms were pressed against one another.

“Oh, look at that.” Izumi said from behind. “Himiko you see that?”

“Yeah, it looks like the game is about to start.” Himiko said, it sounded like she was grinding her teeth a little.

“No I mean. Ow” Izumi started, but it sounded like she got injured. I couldn't turn my head back because of how close Kioko was to me.

The game was starting. The opening pitch was thrown by Ren, and the game began.

Five to four, bottom of the eighth, two outs. Our team was behind by one point, but it appeared as if that would change. Toshi was up to bat, Ren was on Second base. One strike, Ren took the opportunity to steal second.

Toshi gripped the bat tightly, watching for any signs from the pitcher. Atleast, this was what a normal observer would see. I had noticed the trend after their first few games, Ren would put him at second when Toshi was up to bat, and send whatever signal the catcher was sending to the pitcher.

This was a tricky move, as it required constantly observing the pitcher and catchers signals throughout the game. It was a move that required time. One top of that, they would change the signal so the opponents wouldn't catch on to the hints.

If it was a curveball, Ren would pull on his collar. Fast ball was leaning his hat back. A Sinker was signaled by clearing dirt from his knee. I hadn't picked up on all their signals, but I figured those ones out.

Ren signaled by rubbing at his knee sharply. Toshi smiled widely. As expected the pitch was a Sinker, a pitch that would lead to a ground ball. However, since Toshi was aware of the plan, she was able to lower her knees and turn it into a far off pop up.

The Pitcher was already in a forward motion, expecting to catch the ball and throw it to first base before Toshi could cross it. He was caught completely off guard as the ball went far above his head, off into the outfield. The ball landed towards the middle of the left and middle outfield, leaving both players unsure of who to move in on it. The ball bounced off the ground as the two rushed it, they had hesitated just enough.

Before Toshi had even hit the ball, Ren was off. He hadn't even watched the hit, he simply trusted her and ran. He ran by third, tapping the plate and twisting for home. Toshi had reached First, she was safe. However, she was greedy and chose to rush second.

The catcher stood over the Home plate, his glove up. It was clear, the outfield was going to throw for home to stop the score. The ball came flying, Ren racing it. Ren dropped his body, going into a slide that tore up the dirt into the air. As the dust cleared we could see the catcher's glove on Ren’s thigh, but his foot was on the plate.

“Safe!” The umpire yelled out.

We erupted into cheers, we tied up the score! But there was something else. The opponents had ignored Toshi, and she now stood on third base.

As Ren headed back for the dugout, he stopped the next batter and whispered something into his ear. I figured what it was immediately. The pitcher would try to force out more ground balls, anything to keep the ball close enough to get Toshi out. With that in mind, the next batter would keep himself low, ready to send the ball away so Toshi can score.

Ren was smart, because that was the plan.

“Go Toshi go!” We all yelled out as the ball flew off into the right field, soaring past the first basemen who struggled to jump for the ball. It was a bigger mistake as his glove tapped the ball and sent it off course, leading the outfielder to rush forward to grab the ball he was prepared to catch. The ball hit the ground, and Toshi slide head first into homebase.

It was dramatic and extra, but it was enough. She stood and laughed, our team now had the lead.

Our next batter got struck out and the teams switched sides. They just needed to keep the enemy from scoring, if they did they won. I spotted the team huddled up, going over the strategy.

“They are amazing.” Kioko said, I only just realized her hand on my arm. When had she put it there?

“Yeah, they work so hard so I assumed they would be. Toshi works twice as hard as anyone else here though.” I said.

“They are incredible.” Daichi said. I looked over and saw him staring in disbelief.

I had not gotten the info out of him on who he looked at on the hill, he said he wasn't sure because of how dark it was, but that was a lie. Could it have been Toshi?

The teams took their place, and began the ninth inning.

Ren walked the first two batters. From the opposing side it probably looked strange. The whole game Ren overwhelmed them with powerful pitches, yet now he seemed to be missing easily. This was the plan though.

“Why did he do that?” Kioko asked me.

“There are two batters on base.” I said, watching intently as the third batter came walking up, yep the one I expected. “That batter often hits grounders, to him this is a perfect set up. That is what they want. Ren got the chance to rest his arm by throwing weak balls the batters couldn't hit, Now he can put the pressure on this guy.”

“Oh.” Kioko said, watching closely.

As Ren winded up his pitch Toshi shifted her weight. She was on shortstop, and was critical to their victory. Most teams have the catcher signal what ball to throw, but not this team. Sure sometimes they did, but not in a situation like this. Similar to when they were batting, Toshi and Ren were communicating.

Toshi would send the signal to the Pitcher, who would then give a signal that looks like instructions on the ball, but was actually an update on the person on second. The one outside Ren’s perspective.

Ren sent the pitch straight through the center, Strike. This caught the Batter by surprise as they had assumed that Ren was just losing steam, now they knew the pressure was on. Psychologically the Batter was unnerved, unsure what to expect now as he went in assuming he could easily turn this around.

Ren wound up again, then threw a ball. It went high, just above the strike zone. The Batter stood in shock again.

“He is unnerving them.” I said to Kioko, I felt her tug at my sleeve. “This guy hits grounders primarily, so pitching high removes that for him.”

Ren wound up the third pitch, but Toshi signaled. As Ren moved to send the pitch the runner on second darted towards third. Ren twisted his body and sent the pitch to the ready third basemen. The third baseman pressed his glove to the runner, the first out.

The third basemen threw the ball to Ren, who took a deep breath, giving Toshi a look. The last signal.

“They win here if this goes right.” I said.

Ren looked forward, his eyes firm. He wasn't getting cocky, he was getting confident. The fire in his eyes was enough to throw anyone off, let alone this batter. The groundwork had been laid, he had to hit this ball.

Ren was too confident to him, he would win if he didn't hit this ball. He would do whatever it took to hit this ball. The runner on first gave him a nod, a silent agreement.

The wind up, a leg raised in the air, the right force was coming. Toshi stepped closely to second, only a step away from it. The pitch. It was high, to high for anyone to realistically hit with any confidence. Yet the batter tried to. And he did. Just as Ren had planned.

The batter had to extend his arms upward, and only managed to bunt the ball. He wasn't ready for a bunt, but still made to run. However, Ren was already upon him. As the pitch had been thrown, Ren got ready to run. Once the ball was hit, he was in motion. The force of the pitch was what decided the fate of this bunt, as the ball bounced off and directly into Ren’s glove. The second out.

The runner on first had assumed the bunt would make him safe, so he ran headlong towards second. However, Ren and Toshi were an unbreakable combo. Ren twisted his body and flung the ball from his glove, Right into Toshi’s.

Toshi had abandoned Second as soon as the ball was hit, rushing to catch Ren’s back toss. Before the ball landed in the glove Toshi was already twisting around to dive forward. Once the weight of the glove was safely in her grasp she threw herself towards second, pressing the glove to the runner's foot just an inch before second base. The third out.

Everyone was silent until the Umpire accounted ‘Out’ loudly, echoing through the whole field. We were on our feet in cheers within the second, an inhuman maneuver, one that only those two could pull off. My ears hurt from the screams, as did my throat. The team hoisted Toshi and Ren into the air in praise. They poured water onto them from their drink cooler, a tradition most baseball players did.

I almost had missed how Kioko had her arm wrapped around mine, tugging me as she jumped with joy.

Things calmed down and the players shook hands, and then we got to meet with them. Everyone was with Toshi, but I made my way to Ren.

“Good job man.” I said, patting his back.

Ren, who was still drenched from the water, smiled back at me. “I can't even believe it.”

“You worked hard for it, you earned this.” I said with a smile.

Ren smiled back, then looked at Toshi. “I'm going to tell her.”

I paused. That was right, Ren had said if the team made it to Koshien he would confess his feelings to Toshi. I was caught off guard, but quickly recovered. I placed my hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “You got this, your a great guy, and if she can't see that then she doesn't deserve you.”

“You make it sound like she already rejected me.” Ren laughed.

She might as well have, she still loved Daichi, that was clear. “I wish you all the luck. Be confident in yourself okay? I'm rooting for you.”

Ren smiled warmly at me. “Thank you.” He made his way off to join the rest of his team. They would be celebrating with the team tonight, he would probably do it after.

That night I laid in bed, reading. I had already talked to Kioko, she had some studying to do so we didn't talk long.

I felt my phone vibrate, a phone call. I was surprised to see Toshi’s name pop up on the caller id.

“Hey Toshi, what's up?” I asked, knowing full well what was on her mind.

“Riku, can you meet me somewhere?” Toshi said, her voice full of unease.

I entered the park between Toshi and I’s houses. It was dark and only street lights and the moon illuminated the place. It was chilly, September finally showing its worth. Sitting on a swing was Toshi, who stared at her feet as the swing creaked loudly.

“Yo, what's going on?” I said, approaching.

“Riku.” Toshi said, still looking low. “I want to talk to you about something.”

This seemed like a red flag, was this a love confession? Sorry I can't go against my two buddies for you Toshi.

I took the swing next to her and began to rock back and forth. If she did confess I had to tell her no, I wasn't interested in her that way.

“Ren confessed his feelings for me.” Toshi said quickly. She didn't look up.

I sat firmly in place. “So he did.” I said, unsurprised.

“Yeah, I was really surprised.” Toshi said.

“What did you tell him?” I asked, wondering if I needed to confort Ren after this.

“I told him I would think about it.” Toshi said.

Woh, better than I had expected.

“I have been doing some thinking.” Toshi said. “And, I think I am going to accept his feelings.”

What! What! Ren! What!

“What! What! Ren! What!” I said, repeating my internal thoughts.

Toshi laughed. She turned to me, her expression back to its usual cheeriness. “You knew about my feelings for Daichi didn't you?”

Shock. “Yeah, how'd you know?” I asked,

“Because you kept trying to help us. Its clear you care about him and want him to have a good relationship.” Toshi laughed.

“Wait, us?” I said, still shocked.

Toshi smiled. “Yeah, Aoi, Saki, Maeko. We all love him.”

“You know about it.”

“Of course, we all know. We all agreed that whoever wins wins and there are no hard feelings.” Toshi said, turning to the sky. “We all also know that you have been trying to help us. I can only speak for myself, but thank you. I really appreciate it.”

I was blank. They knew this whole time? How?

Toshi got to her feet. “Right, Tomorrow I am telling Daichi how I feel.”

“What, but I thought you were going to go out with Ren!” I said quickly, getting to my feet.

Toshi looked at me, the moon reflected on her face. “I'm going to tell him how I loved him, and that I will move on. I want to enter my relationship with Ren with no regrets. I want to get these feelings out so they don't bottle up inside me forever, I dont want to ever think about what could have been you know?”

I had no reply. This was a surprise.

“Plus, it should open his eyes more to the others.” Toshi said with a laugh. “I will be cheering for all of them from here on out.”

“Toshi, why did you ask me here?” I asked the question that was on my mind. It made no sense, why me?

Toshi looked at me confused. “Because Riku, you are a dear friend to me. And someone who I view as a confidant. You always helped me, you came to everyone of my games, you cheered with everyone, you helped me study, you supported me in love, how can I not talk to you about this. I love you Riku.”

“You what!” I yelled out.

“As a friend!” Toshi corrected quickly then laughed. “I love you, Maeko, Aoi, Saki, Kioko. You all mean the world to me, you're all people I hope to stay friends with forever.” suddenly Toshi’s expression grew dark. “I'll be going away for college, after today's game I am sure I could get in almost anywhere I want on a scholarship.” Tears began to well up in her eyes. “I don't want us to fall apart after graduation, I don't want to lose my friends.”

I stood in silence. Finally, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around Toshi in an embrace. She cried into my shoulder. I don't know why, but this felt like the only thing I could do to comfort her. I still didn't know my own future, how could I comfort her on this?

After several minutes, she stepped back and smiled again, her eyes puffy. “Right! So yeah, I'm going to tell Daichi, and then I am going to give my all into Ren. What about you?” Toshi said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Toshi smiled. “When are you going to start thinking about your own romance?”

I stood, she had a knack for surprising me. “I don't have a romance.”

Toshi tilted her head like Kioko would. She then smiled. “If you say so. Just know, I will be here to support you all the way! Just talk to me when you need a shoulder, okay?”

I smiled. “Sure, when I need to i'll talk to you.”

“Alright!” Toshi yelled out. “Ren! I love you!” She yelled out into the night sky. “Hehe it feels so natural already.”

“Take care of him okay?” I said to her.

“Of course.” Toshi laughed. “I'll see you Monday, Riku.”

“See ya, Toshi.” I said, waving as she darted off. I was left in the darkness.

Me, a romance? I sat on the swing for a while. Love, how do you know you love someone? I thought about it hard. I have read so many Rom Coms, hell I am an observer of one. Yet, am I that unaware of my own feelings? Do I love someone?

September 4th. A Rainy Day.

Daichi sat on my floor, unsure how to start.

“Toshi told me she loved me, well past tense.” Daichi said slowly.

“What did you say?” I asked. I was overjoyed, he was asking for my advice on romance!

“I told her I didn't feel the same way.” Daichi said.

It wasn't Toshi then. “Do you love someone?” I asked bluntly.

Daichi sat still. “I'm not sure yet.” He looked glum, is that how I looked last night? Damn I must have looked pathetic.

“Don't worry buddy.” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Don't stress too much, just give it time and think about it.”

Daichi smiled. “Thanks Riku.”

Could I listen to my own advice?

Konichiwa, Aoi here for the next episode preview! Its sports day, and my class is on the white team! Saki lets kick butt! Wait, Daichi is on the red team, no fair! Wait, everyone but us is on red team, that sucks! Wait, what is that class president doing with Riku! Saki come on we got work to do! Next time, Sports Day.