Our Greatest Comeback: Thanks to your beautiful light
“I let them down again.”
Takashi kept blaming himself for the tie, thinking his goals could have stopped Tsuno from scoring only one point. Regardless of the truth and recognizing it wasn't entirely his fault, he couldn't shake that notion from the forefront of his mind. And the silence in the atmosphere didn't help either.
Mostly, silence hung between them due to the enigmatic girl, Nao, remaining quiet. As they strolled along the streets bordering Takachiho, she kept her gaze lowered, exhibiting shyness. Takashi occasionally observed her, catching fleeting moments when she glanced up briefly. It took a while until their eyes finally connected.
"Ah!" Her gaze swiftly averted. Takashi spotted the blush on her cheeks.
"She invited me to walk, but... she's really shy. I should say something."
"How was the festival?" he asked nervously, and Nao emitted another whimper.
"Um, it... it was... fine," she said, briefly closing her eyes.
"Oh, I see."
Despite his smile, Takashi was completely puzzled.
"I really don't know what to do." He was walking with a girl he barely knew, who didn't seem to want to talk to him. The boy tried to focus on the scenery, yet he caught the sound of Nao's deep breath.
"I'm sorry..." Takashi turned towards her as she halted, waiting instinctively. Nao looked up, offering a smile. "I haven't been able to go yet, but it's a lot of fun."
Nao resumed walking with Takashi, who noticed she was less nervous. She still looked somewhat uncomfortable, but it was progress.
"Really? We were thinking of going one night with my teammates. Although I don't think it'll be this one," he chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I understand. I also want to go," she paused as if she had retracted something else. "My mom is the head of the Obon Festival Organization Committee, and she told me that everyone worked really hard this year to make it beautiful."
"That's great," the conversation began to become more enjoyable. "I imagine she must be very busy."
"Well, yes," Nao said, smiling sweetly. "But she's very happy to be a volunteer. She says that every year Takachiho seems different with the festival and the tournament. It's really-"
Takashi sensed something in his right hand, a touch. Nao's hand extended, their fingers brushing, a few intertwining. It appeared unintentional, as Nao took a small step back, retracting her hand.
"Oh," Takashi was surprised.
"Ah! I-I'm sorry!" Nao looked away to the side.
"No, it's nothing."
Takashi tried to reassure her, but he himself felt dazed. "What was that? It felt so... nice." Nao's hand felt soft and warm, her gentle touch offering a caress in his palm. Due to his lack of experience with girls, he had never felt anything like it, but he had liked it and wished Nao would repeat the gesture.
However, this didn't help Nao's ease, and she once again retreated into her shyness.
Nao feels nervous.
Like a swiftly fired arrow, the thought pierced and vanished in an instant. It felt peculiar, yet true.
"How am I supposed to talk to her like this?" Takashi was in a dilemma. He thought of other phrases he could say to break the ice, but because of that contact, he was still confused. The warmth of her hand lingered as the sole memory.
"Is everything alright with your teammates?" Takashi turned as Nao addressed him in a hushed tone, as if they were in a library.
"No. Yes, it's fine. Maybe..." Takashi's thoughts swirled, but he managed to settle on the most logical one.
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I'm sorry." Nao held the umbrella before her, hands fidgeting. "It's just that... that tall guy shouted at you the whole game."
There were many tall guys on the Tsuno team. Takashi and Hiroshi stood among the shorter members. Jun maintained an average height, a pretty good mark among a team dominated by towering defenders. However, Takashi realized Nao meant their captain.
"Oh, please don't take Kenjiro's behavior the wrong way. He's a good guy. Just..." He paused briefly, seeking the right words. "He's very competitive." Takashi focused ahead, absorbing the vista of rice fields stretching to his left, at the base of the small hill where the street wound. "He wants to become a professional football player. That's why he hopes we can at least make it to the All-Japan."
Takashi nodded. "I think he has what it takes to achieve it. To be honest, he's very talented in soccer. I wish I were like him."
"But I don't think it's necessary to be so aggressive for that. For example, I think your tall friend is better, and he seems very kind."
She was clearly referring to Jun, who always encouraged Takashi whenever he made a mistake.
"Oh, yes, maybe he is. But Jun wants to be a kimono painter like his father. We tease him, saying it's a wasted talent."
"What?! You don't say." Nao's smile had returned by now. It was as if her shyness came and went naturally.
"Yes," he chuckled. "But I'm okay with it. It's always good to pursue a dream, and if that's his dream, we support him one hundred percent."
"That's very nice," Nao nodded.
Both lapsed into silence, savoring the conversation. Takashi continued to uncover the captivating landscape of Takachiho. In the distance, verdant hills stretched like a tapestry of vitality and calm, blending seamlessly with the horizon. The rice fields formed neat rows, swaying gently in sync with the breeze's rhythm. Nonetheless, sunlight was becoming scarce, veiled by a gathering of gray clouds that enveloped the city from the east.
Then, Takashi felt a drop. And another one. And several more.
"Huh? When did the sky get so cloudy?" Takashi couldn't believe it.
"Well... if you want, we can share it."
Takashi turned to find Nao unfurling her pink umbrella, her gaze shyly meeting his. "Genius, genius, genius," he thought, mentally praising her.
"Thank you very much. It seems you were right. I'm sorry for laughing earlier," he said as he positioned himself beneath the shelter, mere inches from her.
"Oh, it's nothing. I just heard the forecast this morning."
They continued on their way to Takashi's unknown destination, feeling the warmth they shared against the cool wind. Gradually, the rain began to increase, indicating that what was coming was not just a passing shower.
"You're great just the way you are."
Once again, Takashi looked at Nao. However, instead of witnessing her typical averting of gaze, he encountered her resolute eyes.
"You said you wished you were like that guy Kenjiro. Don't say that."
"Oh, I didn't mean it that way. It was just about his style of play."
"But you still said it."
Takashi fell silent, pondering his own words.
"Maybe," he confirmed.
"I don't think you should be so hard on yourself. You were training so hard before you hit me, and you ran a lot during the game. And also, just from the little I know about you, I really like you, and it's not worth feeling bad about a few silly mistakes."
A warmth blossomed in Takashi's chest, distinct from the weight of his errors. His cheeks also felt warm, turning a deep shade as his eyes showed a tender expression. It might not be easy to fully grasp, but at least hearing that had made him very happy.
"Alright. Thank you, Nao."
"Ah..." Nao shyly averted her gaze, blushing heavily. "You're welcome."
"And I'm sorry if you are nervous about what happened or something I did. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."
Nao seemed to experience the same thing Takashi had felt, but at twice the speed. She hurried to respond.
"No, no, it's not that! It's... well..." Nao looked away again. "It's just my way of being. And, to be honest, I really enjoy your company, Takashi” she smiled back.
Nao's smile possessed a striking beauty, radiating tenderness and affection in the graceful curves of her lips. Her eyes held a unique twinkle as she gazed at Takashi, as if the world around them faded, leaving only the two of them in the present moment. It was a sincere and warm beam that illuminated her face. Takashi couldn't stop looking at it until, suddenly, a strong gust of wind made her close her eyes. Her fragile body leaned backward, just like her pink umbrella, threatening to fly away and get lost in the tempest.
Feeling the rain, Takashi reflexively lunged forward. Without thought, he stretched out his left hand and exerted a firm pull to counter the wind's momentum, which ceased after a few moments.
"That was close!" he exclaimed, catching his breath with his eyes closed. "Are you o..."
Takashi opened his eyes and beheld Nao. “She is so close…” Her dark brown hair framed her delicate face, highlighting her eyes of the same color, radiating tenderness and sweetness. Her skin, now deeply flushed, rendered her even more captivating. Mere centimeters separated their faces, as Takashi had passed his right arm behind her during the abrupt motion. All his senses ignited: he felt captivated by the gentle lavender fragrance emanating from Nao, and both could sense the warmth of their breath and locked gazes.
“She is beautiful.” Takashi hadn't realized it until now, but she truly was. So beautiful that he couldn't help but gaze at her intently, as the rain intensified around them. And she, the same one who always looked away, couldn't divert her gaze either. They lingered in the same position for several seconds, unsure of what to do or say.
Nao and Takashi were startled and gradually glanced backward.
"You're such a fool, Hiroshi! I'm getting wet!"
"There's no space! What do you want me to..." he halted, realizing they had been spotted.
Near the umbrella couple, two boys were hiding behind a parked car. One now sat in a water puddle on the ground, while the other scolded him. Takashi recognized them as Jun and Hiroshi.