Chapter: 1-Why there are always shortcuts
Characters: Nishiura team
Word Count: 2,628
Cheers rang out across the baseball field as the players rushed from their scattered positions to their dugout. Those who weren't yelling "we won!" were laughing ecstatically at the miracle victory they'd received after another close game. Words of congratulations and celebration resounded from the huddle to the ears of the other team, who was tearfully packing belongings and heading for the exit.
Sakaeguchi looked over his shoulder, hoping to thank the other team for a good game, but they had already left. "They sure didn't stick around long," he said, watching them leave through the back gate. Mizutani saw this too, but he just grinned triumphantly.
"What sore losers! I guess they aren't used to losing so badly."
"We only won by one point," Abe remarked pointedly, but he caught a glimpse of the referees talking as they left. He perceived their gestures to the sky and looked upward. "Oh, no wonder."
A raindrop landed silently on Sakaeguchi's cheek, and a wind strong enough to expose the flags' brilliant colors blew as the temperature dropped. "Hey, Sakaeguchi," Hanai began, approaching his teammate. "It looks like you were right about- are you okay?" He gave him a careful look as the boy brushed the back of his hand against his face. "I mean, I know we won, but-"
"It's not that. I think it's starting to..." Sakaeguchi trailed off, looking skyward. Several more raindrops stung his face and Hanai held his hand out. Dark clouds could be seen in the east, but the pale gray ones that hung over the field hardly looked threatening.
"We'd better get out of here before it gets bad," they heard their coach say to Abe, who nodded in agreement. She left him with instructions before running off to find Shiga and Shino'oka, as well as her dog.
"Hey!" Abe's voice caught the team's attention instantly. "We need to change and get home as soon as we can. There's a pretty bad storm coming in."
Mihashi stole a glance at the bike rack before being ushered into the changing room by Hanai. "A-are you sure we can-?"
"It'll be fine," the captain reassured him with a small smile. Mihashi nodded nervously, still doubtful that he could make it to his house without getting caught in the storm.
Talk of the game filled the changing room for the first minute or so, uniforms and equipment shoved mercilessly into large black bags. Abe listened to Tajima ramble on about his double and joke about the other team, until he saw Mihashi with a puzzled look on his face, staring intently at the ceiling.
He placed his hand firmly on Tajima's shoulder, interrupting his story. "What is it?" he asked, and Abe gave him a hard look. They waited in silence until they could make out the sound of fierce, relentless rain pounding on the surface above them. "Awww, really?" Tajima groused in bewildered disappointment, the rest of the team echoing him with complaints as Abe quickly left the room.
Outside, sheets of rain were dancing in the cold wind, soaking the field. The last of the crowd was gone and the sky had become dark. The catcher looked around for Coach Momoe, but only caught sight of distant lightning followed shortly by a growl of thunder.
A small yelp from behind him startled Abe, and he turned around to see an equally startled Mihashi, fearfully watching the sky. "What are you doing out here?!" Abe yelled over the sound of the downpour. "This could end up-!" A blast of thunder cut him short and he watched as the blinding lightning illuminated Mihashi's near-hysterical face.
"There's Momokan!" one of them shouted, pointing to where Momoe stood beside her car.
"We're saved!" Tajima announced, holding his bag over his head as he ran towards her. The rest of the team followed. They slowed down when they realized they couldn't all fit in her car, but they stopped dead in their tracks when they realized she had plans for them. They could tell by the mischievous grin on her rain-soaked face.
Reason 1 - Why there are always shortcuts. (5:00-6:00 P.M.)
"NISHIURAAA! FIGHT!" "OH!" "FIGHT!" "OH!" "FIGHT!" "OOOOH!"
The boys ran through the rain in the dispersed, disorganized crowd, trailing a ebony car. The asphalt was the darkest black beneath their shoes, and their rain-streaked faces glowed red in the rear-lights of Momoe's vehicle. Some held their bags over their heads, keeping their eyes at the road and away from the downpour and wind.
"NISHIURAAA!! FIGHT!" Tajima raced toward the front, just a few paces behind Hanai's lead. "OH!" "FIGHT!" "OH!" "OH!"
"F-fight?" The boys slowed down, looking at Tajima in hopes of discovering the reason for his error. But he was staring at an enormous, dark building on the hill that they could only make out when lightning flashed across the sky. Momoe's car sped up.
"Come on, you guys! Don't fall behind!" Hanai called back, goading them back into a sprint.
"NISHIURAAA!! FIGHT!" Tajima resumed after a short silence. "Oh!" "FIGHT!" "Oh." "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" He looked over his shoulder to see the boys' discouraged and weary faces, their voices no longer motivated. "COME ON! FIGHT! OH! FIGHT! OH-!"
The shortest boy ran forcefully into the back of the stopped car, falling to the cement. But no one had the spirit to laugh, all staring wide-eyed at the formidable fortress before them.
Momoe stepped out of her car and beckoned for the boys to follow, Shino'oka and Shiga behind her with umbrellas. No more words were exchanged as the baseball team made their way to the front gate.
Hanai held the door open for the others, taking a head count as they stumbled inside. He nodded to Momoe, who clapped her hands together as the door closed behind them. "This is where we'll be spending the night, until the storm clears up," she answered the unasked questions on the lips of the Nishiura team. "An aquaitance of mine lives here, but I believe he's out for tonight, so it's just us."
The interior of the mansion-like building was Victorian-styled and cob-webbed, porcelain lights illuminating the marble-tiled floors. It looked as if no one had lived there in years. Countless doors lined the upstairs walls.
"Shino'oka and I are going to make some dinner," Momoe continued. "Shiga-sensei, could you show them to their room?" The man nodded, heading upstairs.
"Did she say 'room'?" Sakaeguchi noticed, his heart sinking. Suyama shook his head.
"With this many rooms, there're more than enough for us to each have our own." But the feeling of dread grew heavier as Shiga reached a stop in front of a room, the key already in the lock. "You've got to be kidding me..."
As Shiga opened the door, Tajima finally asked. "Are we all sleeping in this one room?"
Shiga nodded simply.
"Why?" More than one voice asked simultaneously.
"Camaraderie." Shiga smiled.
"I know that's not the reason," Hanai argued.
"This is the guest room. The rest of the rooms are locked." He flicked on the light and stepped inside. "Oh, how lucky! There are two beds."
The ten boys wandered inside the room, staring dumbfoundedly at the two full-size beds against the back wall. "Don't fight now," Shiga reminded them. "Dinner will be at 6:00 sharp." With that, he left.
This time, Tajima didn't feel the need to ask the obvious question and instead ran to the bed on the left, claiming his territory by throwing his bag and a few soaking articles of clothing on it. "This one's mine!"
"Let's be a bit more rational here," Oki began, watching as other boys who made a move for the second bed drew back and listened. "Two full-size beds means a total of four people get to sleep in them. Someone can have the couch, and the other five will sleep on the floor."
"I'm not sleeping with anyone!" Tajima protested. Back at their baseball camp, they all had seperate futons and slept unreasonably close to each other. But none of them had ever slept under the covers and in close, comfortable contact with any of the other members.
"You're the smallest person! You don't need a whole bed to yourself!" Abe told Tajima, who merely stuck his tongue out. "You can sleep here." He pointed at a small crevice between a bed and the wall. "You're probably the only one who can fit."
"Shut up! I'm not sleeping there!"
"Calm down!" Hanai stepped between them. "Let's be fair about this."
"Rock, paper, scissors!" Sakaeguchi proposed.
"Too many people," Suyama shot it down.
"We could draw straws-"
"N-no!" Hanai sighed. With my luck...
"I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100," Mizutani said dryly.
"Doesn't that guarantee that you'd get a bed?" Izumi quipped, ending the suggestion.
"We could vote."
"I said 'let's be fair!'" Hanai shook his head. "Just let me decide. This is too difficult for you all."
He looked around the room, then closed his eyes. "Tajima, Abe, Mihashi, and myself."
"How the hell is that fair?!" Arguements rose from pretty much every person who didn't get picked.
"I'm the captain!" Hanai began, silencing them. "Abe's the catcher, and Mihashi's the pitcher, and Tajima's..." He paused, looking at Tajima's expectant expression. "Well, Tajima's...Tajima. He's the MVP."
"Oh, you just said that," Sakaeguchi said bitterly, offended.
"W-well, I mean, he's-" Hanai struggled to find the words, but gave up. "Point is, the battery should sleep together since they're already close. Closer than any of you guys, who would probably just end up stealing the covers from each other all night."
There was a small silence, before Tajima said, "You mean I have to sleep with you?!"
"Don't say it like it's a bad thing!" Hanai countered, his frustration rising. "I picked you! I complimented you!" But Tajima didn't budge, still sitting angrily on the bed with his arms folded, biting his lip and glaring at Hanai. "FINE! Sleep with Mihashi! It's just one night..."
The captain stormed out of the room, Abe following close behind him. "A-Abe..." Mihashi started, watching his partner leave. He turned to Tajima as the rest of the team grumbled and dropped their heavy bags to the floor. Tajima grinned at him supportively, and the pitcher walked over to the bed.
"Aren't you glad Hanai picked you?" Tajima asked the other, who was never one to initiate a conversation. He nodded unsteadily, still glancing at the door as if Abe would come back. Tajima noticed this and grinned wider. "Oooh, you wanted to sleep with him, I guess?"
"Ta-Tajima!" Flustered, Mihashi tried to think of a way to silence Tajima, make sure no one had heard, and hide all at the same time. The dark-haired boy just laughed and slid off the bed.
"Hey, everyone!" Mihashi came close to fainting at the sound of Tajima's intentions. "Who wants to go exploring?"
Everybody filed out of the room, the fair-haired boy breathing deeply in relief and looking up at Tajima, who winked at him before following the rest of the team. "You coming?" Mihashi shook his head and lied down on the bed.
"Where are they going?" Hanai asked rhetorically, listening to their footsteps. Abe looked over his shoulder as Hanai sighed loudly and put his head in his hand. "Those guys...."
Momoe turned around to face the two boys who stood in the kitchen doorway, expectantly waiting to be asked to do something helpful. "It might be a good idea to take a look around this place," Momoe suggested, yet as she placed a bowl of green onions in Hanai's hands and a knife in Abe's. "How's the room?"
"Great..." Hanai said, forcing a smile. "Lots of room."
"You all can spread out-" Momoe began, chopping a ginger root in half with a vengeance. "If you can find the other keys." She eyed the two dangerously, smiling. Hanai suppressed a shiver and Abe raised an eyebrow.
"Locked." Sakaeguchi took five more steps and tried the next door. "Locked."
"They're all locked over here, too," Mizutani groused, putting his hands behind his head. "I guess Shiga-sensei wasn't kidding." The sound of water coursing through pipes in the house filled the hallways. "Guess someone found the shower. Lucky."
"I know. My clothes are freezing." Sakaeguchi sneezed. "And we're all going to catch a cold if we don't change soon."
"If we had somewhere to hang up our wet clothes, I don't guess it'd be a problem. But the rain soaked our uniforms in our bags." Suyama let out a sigh. "This is getting to be like a movie."
"Yeah. No signal." Mizutani held his phone up, but to no avail. "We're stranded until this storm clears up."
"Plus this place gives me the creeps." Sakaeguchi took one look at a portrait on the wall before turning away. "Next thing you know, the power will go out and we'll start hearing things."
"Don't jinx us," Suyama warned, starting down the hallway again.
"Hurry up, Izumi!" Tajima banged his head against the bathroom door, waiting. "And don't you dare use all the hot water!" Seconds later, the water shut off. "That was fast."
"There isn't any soap or anything." The door opened and Tajima fell back, Izumi glaring down at him, clad in the bath towel and holding a hairdryer. "So just rinse off really fast. Thirteen of us will end up having to use it eventually."
"Anything else I should know?" Tajima asked cheerfully, bounding into the bathroom.
"Water pressure sucks, the drain's slow, and there aren't very many towels." The door closed and the water started again.
"Where'd you get that?" Oki asked, looking at the hairdryer in Izumi's hands.
"It was in there."
"So, no soap, but a hairdryer?" Izumi shrugged. "And you're using that..." Oki looked at the handtowel resting on Izumi's head, his hair black with saturation. "For your hair?"
Izumi slipped the small towel off his head and onto his shoulders, closing his eyes in irritation. "No, for our clothes! We can't hang them up in the bathroom because of the steam." He rolled his eyes and started for the bedroom. "You really think I blow-dry my hair...?"
Oki stayed back to wait on Tajima and Nishihiro followed Izumi. "There's probably another bathroom on the first floor. We should hang up our uniforms in there."
"Good idea," Izumi agreed, stopping when he heard voices ahead of them. "That must be the others."
Sakaeguchi, Suyama, and Mizutani came around the corner. "Oh, there you are."
"Bathroom's down the hall," Izumi said. Mizutani took the towel off his friend's shoulders and used it on his own still dripping wet hair. "But you guys will be alright for now."
"What's with the hairdryer?" Mizutani asked, looking at it carefully.
"I'm going to dry our clothes off so we can change."
"Why don't you just use a dryer?" Sakaeguchi watched Izumi's face change in thought.
"Didn't think about that."
"I doubt they have one," Nishihiro said bluntly. "I mean, judging by when this place was built, the man who lives here probably uses a clothesline."
"Which won't do us much good now," Suyama remarked, taking another look out the window. Tree branches were being blown furiously by the wind and rain distorted the view.
The lights overheard flickered and waned, causing the five of them to look up.
Sakaeguchi and Suyama exchanged fearful glances. "I told you not to jinx us," Suyama chastised.
"I can't believe we'll be spending the night here," Izumi said absently. Mizutani sighed.
"Tell me about it."
The bell for dinner rang.
The part with the uniforms screwed me up, so something's probably off on that subject. More to come, hopefully. LJ Cut still hates me.