When the chips are down, few people can actually swing the bat. Naota has proven he could swing it once. With the unusual help of Eri Ninamori he may just be able to do it again.
My name is Naota Nandaba.
Like Haruko and Tasuku before me, I now swing the bat.
In a town where nothing happens swinging can mean everything. A nice swing can knock the ball out the park. A good swing could make you famous. An excellent swing could change your life and the lives of those around you.
I'm the star player for my grandfather's baseball team. Everyone knows my swing is good. It's always good now. They say I'm very skilled and very talented. They may be right, but they're not completely right. What they do not know is that swinging is not a skill; it's an art form.
As I watch the other team bat from the dugout I see a lot of mediocre swings. Number 32 has his elbows too high. Number 13 isn't choking up on the bat enough. They're really all armatures and I'm more than positive that they know it. After we beat them today they'll go home and wonder what they did wrong, and what they could have done better. Some of them will blame their loss on my team. They'll say we're out of their league. Others will blame it directly on me. You'd be surprised to know how many times I've heard the phrase, "if they didn't have that kid..."
The truth is, none of them want it enough. They want all the glory and none of the work. You can see it in their eyes as they swing. Their concentration is not on the bat or ball, but on themselves. None of them know what a real swing is all about. It's not about yourself, your team, or even the bat and ball. A true swing is all about desire.
It's my turn at bat and I push all these thoughts out of my mind. As I step up to the plate, I picture how it will all go down. In my head it's all as clear as daylight. It's the bottom of the ninth and my team is two runs down. We have two outs already and everyone's feeling the pressure. There's a man on first and third preparing to run for their lives. My grandfather looks smug as though he's already won. The rest of the team follow suit. Their faith in me is great, but behind that cocky exterior they're all scared stiff.
The pitcher looks scared. I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to walk me. His brow is sweaty and his eyes are open much wider than they should be. The outfielders have all moved back to the edges of the fence, hoping to catch the ball in mid air before it leaves the park. The other team's coach is chewing on his hat. Several times he opens his mouth to give some last minute instructions, but each time he ends up closing it again. The team is sitting on the edge of the bench. The man on the far left side is teetering so much that I'm almost certain he'll fall off after the pitch.
The pitcher winds up his left arm. In the split second before he throws his face changes drastically. He wants this... I can see he wants it more than the others will ever know. The pitch is released and it's a fast one right down the middle. In my mind I swing. I hit a low grounder down the third base line. The men on the diamond both score but I get tagged on my way home. We head into extra innings. I don't come to bat again and they defeat us 9-6.
In reality, however, my bat does not move. The pitch goes by untouched. The umpire makes a call. It was clearly a strike. The crowd groans and tensions are higher. A combined effort is made in cheering me on.
"Charge!" they scream in unison after the recorded music plays. In the top right corner of the home team bleachers I see a little boy wearing a blue cap attempting to start the wave. He manages to get two other people to join in, but the motion quickly dies out. This boy wants it... I can tell he wants it more than the rest of the crowd will ever know. He keeps waving his hands up and down without the support of anyone else. It's probably the first game he's ever been to. I don't want to disappoint him.
The next pitch is fired off. It's another heater, but it looks as if it's heading for the corner of the strike zone. This ball is going even faster than the other one. As it leaves the pitcher's hand I can see a small trace of a smile on his face.
My bat does not move. The umpire calls it a strike and protests erupt from the crowd.
"That's a ball!"
"Are you blind, Ref?"
Everyone that matters knows that the pitch was indeed a strike. When I looked into the pitcher's eyes I had no doubt that it would be. The upset spectators soon settle down and the game resumes. They are too angry and tense to cheer and even the little boy is quiet now. My grandpa is now chewing on his hat and the man sitting on the far left side of the opposing team's bench finally does fall off. No one notices though. All eyes are on the pitcher and me. At this moment, in this place, we were the only people that existed.
I can see the anxiousness in his eyes, but there is also something else there. It tells me all I needed to know. In his mind he had stumped me with two pitches that were not even his best. The game was in the bag. He throws a fastball down the middle once again. Why would he switch it up? The game was already won.
The ball comes hurtling toward me with tremendous speed. I have less than a second to act. Less than a second to move. In my mind I know that the ball will not touch the ground before hitting my bat. I clear out all thought. The pitcher is not there, the umpire is gone, and my team never existed. The crowd is but a memory and my grandpa is there no longer. Even the bat and ball are gone. It's only me and what I desire. I reach out for it with my mind and my body responds similarly. I reach and reach until I finally feel it.
There is a dull smacking noise and I'm pulled back to reality. I look up into the sky and see a ball flying toward the high heavens. It rises higher and higher into the shining sun. Everyone watches its assent, mesmerized. The rays of the sun block the ball from view and no one quite knows where it went. To all of us it looks like it's never coming down. No one runs the bases and our team does not celebrate, for our victory lies beyond the stars.
I look into the crowd for the little boy. His mouth is hanging open in amazement. He expected something great, but now he doesn't know what to do. He looks towards his father for guidance, but the man is just staring blankly into the sky.
"Daddy, can we come again next week?" he asks softly. The spell is broken. Reality is restored. To the people of Mabase this was just another great game. Nothing exciting ever happens here. They all head back to their respective cars and prepare to drive home.
One girl is still in the stands. She pays no mind to the dark violet strand of hair that is obstructing part of her vision. She's staring into the sky and her eyes are wide with wonder. Her mouth is slightly agape and formed in the shape of an "O". After a moment or two of staring, she looks down at me and I can see her features clearer than before. Tears are silently rolling down the contours of her face.
As I walked Eri Ninamori home that evening, there was very little conversation between us. This was the first time she had ever been to one of my games. To be completely honest, I'm not even sure why I invited her. I never invited any of my other friends to the ballpark and I've been playing for about 4 years now. I remember how everyone used to marvel at me when I first started. No one could comprehend how a 13 year old boy could hit the ball out of the park every time he was up to bat. Now I've become somewhat of a legend. I have a reputation among the kids at school, even though most of them haven't even seen me play. It's rumored that I'm even better than my brother, Tasuku.
It never bothered Ninamori that I was somewhat famous. She always treated me the same. She badgers me when I miss school and always tries to get me to participate more. It's probably a good thing that she's always on my back about stuff like that. I probably would just stay home and do nothing if I didn't have someone forcing me to get out. I've seen a lot of things in Mabase and most of them just don't interest me.
Our feet began to slow as we spotted Ninamori's house up the street. The house is not particularly large, but it is the finest house in Mabase. It has a beautiful exterior that is the envy of many and it's interior contains every modern convenience known to man. I'd never actually been inside, but it was common knowledge that Ninamori's dad had nothing but the best. We reached the door and we both sort of froze there. An awkward moment had descended upon us and I had no idea why. Ninamori turned towards me and started to speak.
"You... play a very good game."
The sincerity in her voice was making me uncomfortable. I had to look away from her eyes.
"I had a good teacher."
I paused for a second.
She said, "oh."
She then did something then that I didn't quite understand. She put her arms around me and pulled me into an odd hug. My arms were somewhat pinned under her so I didn't really have a chance to respond. Looking back on that moment, I think that the hug was more for her than for me. It wasn't a desperate act, nor was it particularly caring or loving. It was just something that she needed.
I was dumbstruck for a while, not quite sure what to do. Eri, however, seemed to be as calm and collected as ever. She said, "bye Naota," and went inside. I still did not recover for some time. I stood at the door for at least five minutes, not even sure what I was shocked by anymore. I was even more shocked by whatever it was when Ninamori came back to the door.
"You still here?" She asked this as if she wasn't the least bit surprised.
"Yeah, I'm not really sure why."
There was a silence in which I spent shuffling my feet.
"You want to go hang out?" she asked with the hint of a smirk on her face.
"Sure. I know just the spot."
There is a bridge on the outskirts of town that lies over the river. Beside that bridge is a small field of grass. Not many cars travel by there, so it's a nice quiet place where nothing ever happens. When I get tired of the confines of my room I often go there to relax or just to think. It was there that I took Ninamori, after a short trip to my house to pick up my guitar.
We sat quietly by the riverbank, not doing much of anything. I strummed a few chords on my guitar and Eri just listened. She was sitting very close to me. In fact she was leaning on me in a shoulder-to-shoulder fashion.
It's hard to describe how I felt right then without making me seem squeamish or her seem pushy. The truth is I didn't quite know how to feel. Part of me wanted her to get away from me. To just stop whatever was happening between us. My past experiences with girls had left me very confused and in a way I almost feared her touch. Every girl who ever touches me wants to change me or use me for something. The other part of me... well that's harder to describe. I think I just wanted to be able to get used to things like that.
I wanted to feel something deep for Eri, but I wasn't sure what or how. So I let her get close to me. Honestly, I think I may have wanted her to get close myself. So we fell into a not completely uncomfortable compromise in our position. I could tell she'd be closer if she had her way and I know I'd be farther if I had mine. It didn't feel natural, but I thought it all worked out well for what it was.
We sat like that for a while, basking in the slight uneasiness of each other's company.
I stopped strumming my guitar.
"Your swing... it's really... sad."
I wasn't sure what to say to this so I just let her continue talking.
"It's beautiful. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. But it's like... like a depressing movie, or a wounded dog, or..."
She looked up at me with serious eyes.
"Or a broken heart."
I strummed an A flat minor cord on my guitar as loud as I could. The sound seemed to move the wind. Trees rustled, the water rippled, and the noise echoed back at us several times. Ninamori buried her head into my shoulder. I'm not sure if she did it out of sadness or out of fear. I couldn't bring myself to wrap my arm around her and comfort her. For the life of me I wish I would have.
"She gave it to you didn't she?"
I was afraid that she was still talking about my heartache, but when I looked down I saw her staring at my guitar. It didn't really matter though, since the answers were one in the same.
"Yeah, she let me keep it when she left."
"Why don't you ever play any songs?"
"Don't know any."
"You could learn, you know. You learned the chords. You're half-way there."
I didn't really have a response to this either, so I strummed a few more notes.
"I could teach you. I know a few songs."
"You play guitar?" That came as a shock to me.
"No. But I know the notes to some songs I sing. It can't be that difficult."
"I like the chords."
"But that's only half the song."
"Then I like my songs cut in two."
"But it'll never be complete." She looked up at me once again and the look she gave me made me do something that was completely out of my nature. I explained myself to her in a way that I would not have thought myself capable if I hadn't already done it.
"If you finish a song... it'll never be the same. You can't get back the frayed strands and pieces. Once you have it together it stays together. And even if you manage to break it apart again, you won't have the same pieces."
"Why do you love the pieces?" She sounded a little irritated. I didn't think I could make her understand. "How could they possibly be better than a complete song?"
"Because I can always put them together if I need to."
After I walked Ninamori home for the second time that evening, I went up to my room and tried to compose a song. Just to see how it would go. Every time I began to create a melody I stopped. It just didn't seem right. It was like a jig saw puzzle where the pieces look like they fit perfectly, but don't slide into place. I felt like I was forcing them together and hoping it would all connect in the end. So I quit. It wasn't important, just something to do for a while. It was late by that time so I decided to go to sleep.
I had an odd dream that night. I was eating dinner at home in my kitchen and I was 12 again. My father was talking nonsense as usual.
Then from out of nowhere he says, "Naota, I heard about your girlfriend."
"I don't have a girlfriend," I say, but I'm not even convincing myself.
"Oh, really? What about Eri Ninamori? I hear the two of you have been awfully close. Hanging out by the bridge and doing... /Fooly Cooly/." He wiggled his eyebrows as he said the two words.
"I don't even know what that is!" I sound even less convincing this time.
"So you mean to tell me you don't like that Ninamori girl at all? She is a fine girl. The mayor's daughter." He wiggled his eyebrows once again and I was reminded of Armarao.
"I said I don't like her!" I use my anger to hide my doubt. But just then Ninamori appeared at my side as if she was there all along. Then my father isn't there anymore. The kitchen isn't there anymore. She locks me into one of her awful, selfish hugs and stares up at me.
"I thought you loved me, Naota," she says looking at me with those eyes. Those terribly sad eyes.I want to be angry still, but I can't because those eyes demand that I be sad too. They compel me to feel sorry, to feel remorse. They make me say words I don't mean.
"I do love you. I mean... I like you a lot."
A smile forms on Ninamori's lips and I realize where we are. We're at the baseball field and there are a million fans in the stand. All of them are quiet, as if they're waiting for something. I have a bat in my hand and I'm facing the determined pitcher from yesterday. Only it's not the pitcher from yesterday. It's Ninamori.
"If you love me, then swing for me."
She throws the baseball and it's moving very slowly. It's crawling through the air yet still crossing the great distance between the pitcher's mound and the plate. But as it comes closer it gets larger. It grows bigger and bigger until it's the size of the satellite that I hit when I was 12. It's too close to dodge now and if I don't swing it'll kill me.
"Swing for me Naota!" Ninamori yells in the background. In her voice, manic glee can be heard. "Swing for me like you'd swing for Her!"
I turn around to look at the catcher behind me. It's a girl as well. She looks older than me and has pink hair. It was Haruko and she had a slight smirk on her face.
"Leave Takun alone," she yells at Ninamori. "He only swings for me. Besides, he's just a kid."
I turn around to tell Eri that she's wrong, but before I know it the ball is too close. I couldn't swing now if I wanted to. It's inches away from my body and I somehow know that if it hits me it will explode. Just before the impact, I could hear Haruko laughing uncontrollably. The crowd was screaming and running for their lives.
"He's just a kid," said a distant female voice. It was the voice of Eri Ninamori.
I woke up breathing hard and sweating all over. It was early the next morning and the sun was not out yet. I had been sweating so much that even my sheets were drenched. I didn't care though. I was too busy thinking about the dream. What did it all mean?
I was about to give up on it and just go back to sleep, when my alarm clock turned on. It's piercing noise startled me out of my daze and I realized that it was time to get ready for school. I put my clothes on slowly, starting with a pair of jeans. They weren't clean, but they were the only ones that had not been worn twice.
As I walked to school that morning, I couldn't help but feel that something was off. I was beginning to dread every step I took. The closer I got to the school the more certain I was that today would not be a good day. I know that I had to have been walking much slower than usual, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was getting there faster.
To my surprise, most of school went by without a hitch. In fact, the majority of the day went pretty well. My teacher passed back the math test that we took and I got a B+. This earned me a few jealous looks from my classmates. It had been rumored that I was getting a free ride from my teachers because of my skill in sports. This was only half true. I only got "extra help" in the classes that I didn't attend.
On the top of my paper was a smiley face sticker. Next to that there was a message written in red ink: You really knocked that test out of the park. Teachers can be kind of lame, but this one seemed to mean well. Besides, it's hard to get upset at a teacher that gives you a good grade.
The bell rang. I walked out of that class feeling pretty good, for a Monday. The fact that I had lunch next only made me feel better. I patiently waited in line to get my food. After noticing who I was, a younger kid let me cut in front of him. The food didn't look right, but the lunch lady was kind enough to give me extra helpings of it.
I sat down in my usual place next to Gaku and Masashi. Our relationship had changed over the years. In there eyes I had went from a guy who was ok to hang around with and easy to make fun of to a guy who was ok to hang around with that they were slightly in awe of. In my eyes they had gone from two slightly perverted guys who constantly gave me a hard time to two slightly perverted guys who constantly gave me a hard time. I guess these changes just happen as you grow up.
They were talking about the usual: girls. They never said anything serious though. Just how this girl has this in the right place and how that girl's this does that when she moves it /that/ way. None of it really interests me. When they ask my opinion I just shake my head yes or no to let them know I'm listening. That day I was much more interested than normal as the subject of conversation was Ninamori.
She walked into the cafeteria at a slow and steady pace. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. Gaku and Masashi seemed to disagree though.
"Ninamori sure has changed over the years." Gaku was practically drooling. It was sickening.
"I'd say she's rounding out quite nicely," said Masashi putting emphases on the words rounding out.
I was tempted to protest, whether it be for the sake of her honor or just because I disagreed, I do not know. What I do know is that I didn't disagree for long. I stared long and hard. I looked shamelessly at Ninamori, as I've never looked at her before. I felt a very strange feeling in my stomach. It wasn't quite pain, but it wasn't particularly pleasant either.
"She's coming this way," said Gaku like a mischievous child playing a trick.
In fact, she was coming my way and she was looking straight at me. The worst part about it was that I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I couldn't bring myself to look away. I did manage, however, to restrict my gaze to her face, but this lead to an even worse situation. I started to shake all over. At the time I thought she was smirking at me, but looking back on it, it may have just been a smile.
"Hi Naota," she said pleasantly.
"Hello Eri," I said in a voice that could not have belonged to me. It was much too calm to be my own.
I found it strange that I could now suddenly notice all the little changes that happen to her face as we spoke. Her mouth had gone from a small smirk/smile to a slight grin. There wasn't much difference between the two expressions but somehow I could tell. Her eyes seemed to have an odd light to them. They were bigger than usual. I could see that her eyebrows were slightly raised. I knew all this extra information was significant, but I couldn't quite remember why. I think it was because I was too focused on Ninamori and too distracted by the horrible things her presence was doing to me.
"You want to hang after school?"
"Same place as last time?"
I nodded again.
"See ya Naota," she said as she turned around to go eat with her friends. Gaku and Masashi just about fell on the floor.
"Naota! You didn't tell us you were dating Ninamori!"
"Trying to keep her all to yourself?"
"How far have you gotten?"
"Have you made it to first base?"
"Are you forgetting who you're talking about? Naota always hits a homer!"
"How'd it happen?"
"Did she make the first move?"
"You played things cool Naota. I'd have been nervous."
"How can you just sit there like that when there's a beautiful girl around?"
I realized two things at that moment. The first was that I was deathly afraid of Eri Ninamori. The second was that I was a much better actor than I thought.
"I wonder if I should try out for the school play," I mused aloud.
Masashi and Gaku just stared at me as if I had a horn growing out of my head.
I made it through the rest of the school day without seeing much of Ninamori. We didn't have any classes together this year, so it wasn't that hard. She waved at me once in the hallway. I think I almost tripped, but for some reason I'm sure that I'm the only one who notices. I'm pretty surethat all the crazy responses she's drawing from me arejust in my head. Either that or my slips are so small that they're hardly recognizable. I still don't like them though. It feels as if everyone's watching me, like in my dream. Just waiting for me to mess up.
After school, I walked home and picked up my guitar. I then ate a sandwich, took a shower, and spent at least 15 minutes standing in my doorway debating upon whether to leave or not. The bond of my word won over my fears. I said I'd be there and I was going to. Once again it took a remarkably small amount of time for me to get there. Especially if you take into account the slow pace I was traveling at.
When I reached the bridge, I was not surprised to find that Ninamori was already there. She was sitting by the riverbank with her feet in the water, humming some tune that I didn't recognize. The water was rushing at an unusual pace and there were gray clouds in the sky. Once again my eyes took her in with detail that I had not previously experienced. She was wearing a white blouse with flower patterns and a modest length skirt. I could see the slight definition of the bottom half of her legs and couldn't help but admire it all. I also couldn't help the rapid beating of my heart, the feeling of sweat on my forehead (which may or may not have actually been there), or the strong desire I had to turn around and run before... something happened. I still hadn't quite worked out what yet.
After removing my shoes and socks, I daringly sat down at a distance only three feet away from her with my guitar at my side.
"Hi Eri," I said too calmly. That really couldn't be how I sounded.
"Hi Naota," she greeted me with her smirk/smile which gradually became that cursed slight grin. She didn't look away from me. It was unsettling. I managed to maintain my composure and start a conversation.
"Sorry if I kept you waiting. I had a few things I needed to do."
"It's alright. I knew you'd come." The way she finished that sentence made it feel as if there was something that needed to be said after it, like "You didn't have a choice". I decided to use some strategic humor.
"I'm a man of my word," I said in mock seriousness. Eri laughed a little, but was almost immediately silent afterwards.
"Why are you sitting all the way over there?"
"Because I don't trust you." There was probably more truth to that joke than I'd like to admit. "The moment I get close, you'll be all over me and I'll have to sue you for harassment. I don't think our friendship could stand it."
She laughed again, this time a bit louder and a bit longer.
"That's a risk I'm going to have to take, Naota." She moved in closer. Our legs were touching in the water. I shivered at her touch, but couldn't bring myself to break it. I hated it, but I didn't want it to end. Does that make me a masochist?
"Was it worth it?" I couldn't break free of my humorous streak either. I knew it was long past its time of usefulness.
"Hmm." It was somewhat of a grunt.
"You're warm Naota."
"I get that a lot." She leaned into me. I could feel much of her body.
"And you're comfortable."
"My mother was a couch."
"And you're not veryfunny."
"I get that from my father." She knocked me to the ground and started moving oddly against me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. I don't think I'd ever been more afraid of one person in my life. I wanted to scream or push her off me, but I couldn't. Maybe I'd have to sue her after all.
"I know you want me to stop."
"When it was just getting interesting?" I was positive the humor thing wasn't working by now. She was just ignoring my comments.
"But I also know that you need me to continue."
"You push me down and jump on top of me and I'm the one with needs?" She never stopped her awkward motion.
"You're scared Naota. You're really scared."
"The way you're talking who wouldn't be scared?" I was breathing heavily and so was she.
"No one else sees it but me."
"Then it's probably just in your head."
"But I can see the way youshake when I'm around. I can hear the quiver in your voice and the stumble in your step." She had started to talk at a rapid speed, but her movements stayed steady.
"You're either very observant or very delusional. I'd say delusional, but that's just me." By now I had lost all facial composure. My voice was no longer steady. My eyes were wide with fear. Ninamori's face was hovering inches above mine and I could see the fever in her eyes. Whatever she planned to do to me was something that could not be avoided. She gave me a look of near insanity. I was now terrified. I didn't think I would leave there alive.
"But I know something that you don't."
"I know what you're really afraid of."
"I'm pretty sure it's you." I still couldn't lose those jokes, those desperate, pleading jokes. But when I said this we both knew I was telling the truth. There was no doubt in my mind that I was afraid of Eri Ninamori, no doubt at all.
"You're wrong Naota. You've never been more wrong." She began to move faster and I think I let out a small scream.
"I'm not sure if you noticed, Eri, but I'm not a horse."
"You're afraid of the pieces Naota. You're afraid they'll just fall apart again when you put them back together."
"Yes, I have acute puzzle phobia. Thank you Dr. Ninamori, I'm cured!"
"You're afraid of the song you'll write. You think it'll never sound right. You think your precious chords will clash."
"Have you ever heard a clashing chord? I'd be a fool not to fear it." It wasn't even almost funny. Why couldn't I stop?
Ironically as that thought went through my head Ninamori did just that. She stopped. She didn't get off of me though. She just lay on top of me looking insanely into my terror filled eyes. I knew then that I was enslaved. There was nothing she could tell me that I wouldn't do for her, as long as she stopped torturing me with her touches and the truth.
"I'm sorry Naota... I really am."
"It's ok." It wasn't. But at least I stopped telling jokes.
"It's not ok. But it's necessary. You... can't be like this forever. I can't either. And we can't do it without each other. Don't you see?"
"Naota... I don't enjoy hurting you." She started to ruffle my clothing.
"Hmm." I couldn't think. I was caught up by her sincerity.
"I like you... a lot." A small, soft hand found it's way under my shirt.
"Hmm." I couldn't breath. Her confession knocked the wind out of me.
"And I know you like me..." Another hand joined the first one.
"Hmm." I couldn't think. Her knowledge of me shocked me to no end.
"But you think it's wrong to like me." The two hands started to move around.
"Hmm." I couldn't speak. Her words had me spell bound.
"But it's not wrong."
"Hmm." I couldn't protest. She believed in this so much.
"It could be the best thing for both of us."
"Hmm." I couldn't agree. I was too caught up in her dream.
"If only you could let it all go..."
"Hmm." I was too confused to ask her what she meant.
"If only you could let I /her/ go."
I couldn't believe it.
She'd stabbed me in the back.
How could she be so caring, so gentle and then turn around and torment me some more. For a while, I had felt safe... even content. But I was now once again powerless against her. My fear, however, had turned to anger.
"What do you know about it anyways?" I asked heatedly still under her body and under her power.
"I know she left you."
"She said she'd be back."
"Even if she does come back, who knows when it'll be? It could be 20 years from now."
"Or it could be tomorrow. Don't speak of things you don't know of."
"Fine. I'll tell you what I do know. I know there was once a twelve-year-old boy that didn't know how to grow up. A woman came and changed his life forever. But when she left he was still a twelve-year-old boy. He still hadn't grown up. Now he's a 17 year-old-boy on the verge of becoming a man. But he can't do it. Something is holding him back. He thinks he'll lose something that he values more than anything. More than his prized base guitar, more than his quiet place down by the bridge, and more than any girl he's ever laid eyes on."
My throat had become dry and my breaths became shallow. When I spoke, my voice was no more than a whisper.
"What is the boy afraid to lose?"
The way she looked down at me was like something out of a horror film. It was like the director had done a face shot on somebody watching their best friend get killed. By the look on the girls face you couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor unfortunate soul that was dying. But this time that poor unfortunate soul was me.
Ninamori didn't scream and run away though. Nor was she frozen with fright. She slowly lowered her face until her lips touched mine. When she pulled back I could see tears leaking from her eyes.
"He's afraid he'll lose his swing."
The next few moments were somewhat of a blur for me. I realized, most importantly, that Ninamori was right about everything. For once I knew something that Ninamori did not. There was nothing I'd ever do to compromise my swing.
I don't remember pushing her off of me, but I do remember standing up and watching her fall. It was a graceful motion, marked by the intense look of sorrow on her face. Any other time I may have rushed to catch her (I had the ability), but compassion was no longer a part of me. She didn't appear to be hurt badly or even much at all. She just sat there staring up at me with a pitiable look on her face. It began to rain.
"You should have known," I said with no emotion. "You know so much about me. You had to have known I couldn't do it."
Her face gave it all away. That guilty look said, she had known it all along. She'd hoped and prayed she was wrong, but she'd known she wasn't. I saw her search the ground. It took her a few moments before she found my guitar. She held it out to me shaking in sobs.
"Play your song Naota." She stood up my guitar held in her outstretched arms.
"Play your song." I shook my head slowly.
"Play your song Naota!" she yelled with unexpected force. "You've already put it together. It's all in your head. So play your song!"
It was impossible for me to meet her eyes. I hung my head
"I'm sorry..." I herd myself say the words, but I didn't feel my lips moving. I didn't feel anything. "I can't."
The rain fell harder, drenching us both to the bone. I was glad Ninamori couldn't see my tears, but I suspected she knew of them all the same.
"That's not good enough Naota. You have to let it go. Play your song!"
"I can't do it!"
"Then I'll do it for you."
I could barely believe what I was seeing. She had said before that she couldn't play the guitar. But as I watched her through the thickening rain, I could see her fingers taking the proper places. She strummed a chord that I knew all too well. It was the first chord in my song.
"Stop it!" I yelled desperately, but she did not listen. She strummed another, more powerfully than before. Her fingers worked faster and I could see was picking up on my exact rhythm. I violently took hold of the guitar, but could not break it from her grip.
"I said stop it!" The insanity was back in her eyes, but I could not award it with the proper fear. An insanity of my own was forming and I knew I would stop her from finishing the song or die trying.
"No!" Our tug of war struggle seemed to be getting us nowhere. Neither of us was willing to let go.
"Give me the guitar!" I yelled over the intense beating of the rain.
"You want your guitar?" she asked acidly. She displayed an amazing amount of strength as she pulled it from my hands. "You can have it!"
Something in her changed at that moment. It was something I didn't want to believe. That's why I couldn't see it until it was too late. She grabbed my guitar by the neck and held the back end over her rightshoulder. It was a stance I'd seen often and used many times myself. However, it wasn't until she was halfway through the motion that I realized she intended to swing.
The guitar... her guitar made hard contact with my face. Before I lost consciousness I couldn't help but think that it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
When I finally opened my eyes, I immediately closed them again. I didn't want to move and I didn't want to think. However, I could not stop myself from recognizing a few things concerning my surrounding. The first thing that I noticed was that I was still lying in the grass by the bridge. The second thing I noticed was that it was morning and it had stopped raining. The third thing I noticed was that someone was lying with me and had their arms wrapped around me from the back. I was pretty sure they were the same arms that had given their best effort to knock me out in the first place.
"You don't have to move," said Ninamori, confirming my beliefs. "You really are quite comfortable. We could stay like this for as long as you need." I could feel her breath on my neck and it was making my hair stand on end. I tried to move, but found the experience painful. She was right. I did need to stay there for a while. I had a splitting headache.
"Why'd you do this?"
"Well, I couldn't just leave you out here all by yourself. You wouldn't wake up and you're way too heavy to carry. So I did the only thing I could."
"Huh? That's not what I meant. I mean, why'd you hit me?"
"I know what you meant." The silence that followed left me time for reflection. Of course, most of it was dead-end thinking, but in my present state I was surprised I could think at all. Luckily Ninamori broke the silence before I could hurt myself.
"Have you ever done something that felt so right, you forgot that it was wrong?" I could sense that this was more of a statement than aquestion so I kept quiet.
"I just had this... feeling. That if I did it, it'd all be better. You'd be able to... I'm not even really sure how it'd help you. But it did, didn't it?"
I nodded my head. After realizing what a useless gesture that was while lying down, I said, "yeah."
Ninamori detached herself from me and sat up on the grass. I slowly and reluctantly followed suit. She then reached for my guitar and for a moment I flinched. But she only held it out for me to take.
"Are you ready to finish your song now?"
I noded. After realizing what a painful gesture that was while sitting up, I slowly grabbed the guitar from her arms.
The first A flat minor chord that I played had an astounding affect on me. I no longer had to ignore my headache because it was no longer there, I didn't need to fear Ninamori because she didn't exist, and I didn't have to worry about catching a cold from my wet clothing because the thought honestly hadn't crossed my mind. By the time I was finished with the intro I didn't even realize I was still playing. There was only the song flowing through me, tying up the loose ends that lay dormant inside of me. I heard a voice, singing in the background, that I knew was not mine. I latter confirmed that it was Ninamori singing. The words that were sung I will never tell.
I realized a few things, while in this trance like state. When you love something, you have to let it go. If it leaves you, so be it. If it comes back, rejoice. If it never goes away, appreciate it. You can't desperately cling onto broken pieces because you'll always be haunted by the completed puzzle that never was.
Some of my other thoughts were less profound. I realized that I didn't have a career in acting after all. I understood that the girl beside me was a future stalker waiting to happen. I also realized that any court case against Eri Ninamori wouldn't fly in front of a jury. I shamefully comprehended that a beautiful girl had been strongly hitting on me all night and that I did nothing. I came to the conclusion that she probably wouldn't come on that strong again for a very long time.
Most importantly, I realized that I would not and could not lose my swing. It was something that was always there, not a gift from Haruko that could be violently taken away at any sign of betrayal. It was mine for as long as I chose to use it.
As the last words were sung and the last notes where strummed a peaceful silence settled between Ninamori and I. We sat next to each other, basking in the odd familiarity of each other's company. I turned my head to see that she was staring at me with a funny sort of look on her face. I never really understood what that face meant and I knew better than to ask.
She closed her eyes and slightly jutted out her lips. She was telling me to take control, to make the kiss.
I did what any sane man would do in my situation.
I swung the bat.