I drive myself across the finish line, baton in hand, and for the fourth time today I can finally bring myself out of the running mentality and focus on coming to a stop. I haven’t got a great memory of the races before this one, this whole morning is kind of a blur, but I do know that this is the last race I run in.
“In first place, Yamaku Team 1!”
I haven’t been keeping track of the combined score across all the races, but as far as I can tell, we’re absolutely dominating our rival school.
The other 3 runners who carried the baton before I did sprint over, and we all do a tiny group hug, which I’ll admit is kind of refreshing. It’s nice to have people who are so supportive, and finishing in first is a nice feeling. That’s another thing I can remember pretty well about the races prior to these: I consistently finished behind Emi. I’m not really bothered, by now it’s just kind of a fact of life that she comes first. I’m also pretty sure that, without her, we’d have a much harder time beating other schools. With her on the team, though, it’s almost impossible to lose.
As soon as the dust clears and my team breaks up, a few of them warming up to run in the 4x400, I begin to leave the track. I’m just going to stumble back to my room, fall asleep, and not wake up until some wonderfully late hour tomorrow afternoon. It will be the most glorious sleep I’ve ever had, and I deserve it for all this goddamn running.
As I cross the track and begin walking up the hill away from the bleachers, I could swear I hear Kenta calling my name from a distance; “Miki!”
Screw him, I have sleep to... to sleep, I guess. He’s probably gonna tell me to stick around for the medal ceremony or something, which I honestly can't be bothered with, especially not when my bed is calling for me.
“Hey, Miki!” I don’t care, I don’t care, go away, just let me go home.
Suddenly I can hear footsteps behind me, getting closer and closer, and then Kenta is stood in front of me, clipboard in hand. “Miki, I gotta ask you a big favor.”
This doesn’t sound good. “What.”
“One of our teams in the 4x400 is missing a member.”
A brief silence still gives me no idea what he’s asking for. I yawn before asking, “... and?”
“... and it would be really, really great if you could fill the empty spot.”
He wants me to... Oh, no, c’mon, “No, sorry, but I’m really tired, isn’t there someone else you can ask?”
He sighs, “I’ve tried, but the race is starting really soon and a lot of people left already. Besides, it’s one of the lower teams, so you don’t even have to be that fast, just be a fourth member for them, please?”
This is a really bad idea. I’m not sure if I can even meet the expectations of a lower team in this state. “I just spent everything on that last race, Kenta. I seriously don’t know if I can do a decent 400 meters.”
He purses his lips, sighs, and then turns around, though he motions me to follow. “C’mon, I gotta show you something.” Well, since I’m already turning down his request, I suppose I owe him at least this much. I follow him back towards where Yamaku’s runners are getting ready, and the group is in fact noticeably smaller than when the meet started, so I guess he was right about not being able to find another replacement.
Finally, he stops in front of a group of 3 girls, who are all signing to each other. I don’t recognize them, but they look like second-years, so I guess that’s not really a surprise. I am a little surprised that they have at least one deaf member; there’s nothing stopping deaf students from running track, but for some reason we don’t seem to get many. It’s probably mostly to do with deaf classes generally being separate, since they have to be taught in sign, but even then...
As they notice Kenta, they all turn to him, and he turns to me. “Miki, meet Yamaku’s 4x400 team 3: Mura, Harue, and Kana.” The rightmost, a fairly tall girl with long black hair who I assume is Kana, says hello, but the other two simply wave and then throw each other a few quick signs before looking at Kenta expectantly. He points to me, then says “I think I found you guys a replacement.”
All three girls go wide-eyed, and the two who I assume are deaf turn to Kana, both signing rather furiously. This overwhelms her, and she shakes her head before presumably telling them to slow down and go one at a time, though I’ll admit that sign language isn’t really my forte. I’ve been mildly interested in sign language before, if only as a way to talk during class without getting noticed, but with only one hand, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible.
Finally done signing between themselves, Kana turns back to Kenta. “You mean we actually get Miki as our fourth?” I’m a little surprised that they know my name... I guess they heard Misha announcing placings over the loudspeaker. Probably.
Kenta smiles, then looks at me with a cheesy grin on his face. “Well, I mean, that’s only if she wants to, of course...” All three of the girls look to me, and I’m suddenly assaulted by three pleading gazes. Kenta leans in next to me and whispers in my ear, “These three have been training for the past month to try and secure a spot here, but the girl who was going to be running third ended up being sick today.”
Stupid Kenta, trying to guilt me into this race. The girls haven’t stopped looking longingly at me, though, and I wonder why their fourth girl actually couldn’t make it. Most of the people who don’t show up to meets just oversleep or randomly decide not to show, but if this girl really is sick, then missing the meet was probably out of her control. Besides, at Yamaku, ‘being sick’ could mean anything from having a cold to being hospitalized, with all sorts of horrible stuff in between.
Realizing that I’ll never be able to live with myself otherwise, I sigh and say “Fine, I guess,” though I close my eyes, which feels really good at this point. All three girls smile, either having heard me or read my lips, and then the leftmost one, a short girl with medium-length brown hair and glasses, begins signing to her friends again. Kana, acting as a translator, says “Oh, Mura says that if Miki’s on the team, then-” She gets confused and stops, then signs something back, and Mura begins again, slower this time. “If Miki’s on the team, then she should run anchor, Mura will run third, and Harue can be second.” The girl in the middle, a lanky figure with blonde hair in a ponytail down her back, nods, presumably in agreement with the position changes.
No sooner do the three finish than the speakers blare, calling for the girls’ 4x400 teams to line up. Just in time, I guess. Kenta nods to the three girls, pats me on the shoulder, and then walks off, leaving the team to get ready. It will be a few minutes before I actually need to line up, but I’m interested to see how my new comrades perform, and I also need to make sure that I don’t fall asleep in the time between the race starting and me having to run.
Kana lines up first, and I realize that she’s the only one of these three who can hear the starting gun go off. I’m sure that there’s a way to start races so that deaf students can run, but I’ve never seen it done due to the scarcity of deaf runners here, and due to the fact that we mostly race other schools that are more focused on physical disabilities than deafness. I’ll have to ask Kenta if he knows. Or maybe one of these girls knows. The race starts.
Kana isn’t particularly fast, and she falls behind most of the other runners, but she manages to stay with the pack until she can hand off to Harue, who is an absolute rocket compared to the girl handing her the baton - probably why she was supposed to run anchor. She passes a lot of the other runners, but is unable to get into the top three before handing off to Mura, who isn’t quite as fast, but maintains her position, and as I get into place on the track, she still looks to be holding her own.
I’ve been on teams who botched handoffs before, and I’m almost expecting something to go wrong, but just like her friends before her, Mura manages to hand the baton off perfectly, and as soon as it’s safely in my grasp, I accelerate, my legs burning a little but my head far too focused on the race to care. Emi and some of the other anchors have already taken off before me, but I manage to regain some ground, and am back in third by the time we finish the first bend.
I’m a little surprised that my team has managed to do so well; I was expecting a little less from second-years, but they’ve really put a lot of time into this. I’m too tired to think straight, and they’ve still got me in a position where I’m in the top three. Props to-
Wait. The top three? Ahead of me are a girl from the other school and, unsurprisingly, Emi, who seems incredibly close. She is incredibly close. I know I can pass the girl in front of me, but as we finish the second corner, something clicks.
I can pass Emi.
I’ve been wrong each time today that I’ve thought that, but here on the final stretch, here in the final moments, I know I can go faster. A familiar feeling washes over me, and the golden gears in my legs seem to lock together at last; these final few meters suddenly look strangely like the side of the boys’ dorms.
The girl who was in second stands no chance, and the sound of her frantic breath fades behind me as I pass her. Now, my eyes trained directly on Emi, I strain, trying desperately to catch all the way up, closing the distance between us, until finally, surprisingly, incredibly, for the first time today, I pass her-
But it’s already over. Looking back, I realize that the two of us crossed the finish line moments before I was able to take the lead. The loudspeaker confirms my suspicions; “In first place, Yamaku Team 1! In second Place, Yamaku Team 3!”
Well... Oh well. I was close enough not to feel bad. Plus, I mean, second place, as I’ve been saying all day, is no particular-
Suddenly I feel a set of arms grab me from behind, knocking the wind out of me. I spin around to face my attacker, but instead find Harue, dripping with sweat, holding me in a hug. Her teammates follow shortly after, and suddenly I’m encased in warm, sticky bodies, though I guess it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. I turn my head to address Kana, and ask “Hey, what’s with all the love?”
She laughs. “Are you kidding? We weren’t expecting to beat any
of the other teams, let alone come in second!” The girls step back, and Harue signs something to Kana. “Oh, and Harue says that you should have been first anyways, it was so close.”
I smile, then chuckle. “Hey, I only ran 1/4th of the race. You guys were pretty good too!”
The trio blushes, then Maru extends her hand, and the other two girls follow suit. I grab each of them and give them a hearty handshake. They really did do pretty well, especially that Harue girl - she managed to outpace some of the third-years. Once we’ve finished our pleasantries, however, the girls begin signing to each other again, and I suddenly realize how incredibly tired I am. If I there was any doubt beforehand, I am now 100% sure that I’m on the brink of passing out.
Unfortunately for me, Kenta corrals me before I can leave the track, a smile on his face. “You were amazing out there, Miki!” I try to say thanks, but it ends up being more of a mumble. “Anyways, thanks a ton for helping out those girls - you made their day, you know.”
I nod. “Yeah, it was... It was good.”
“So, are you sticking around for the medal ceremony this time?” Crap. Damnit, Kenta, you know how much I hate those things, and today of all days...
Suddenly I spot Suzu and Hisao out of the corner of my eye, talking to Emi and... Tezuka? Doesn’t matter. “Oh, hey, look, my friends!” Before Kenta can protest, I force out “I’llseeyoulaterokaybye!” and sprint in their direction.
The discussion being held seems to be mostly between Emi and Hisao, with Suzu looking strangely at Emi and Tezuka looking strangely at Suzu. Not even bothering to listen to what they’re talking about, I hop between Suzu and Hisao and put my arms around their shoulders. “Hey guys, how’s it going?”
Hisao seems a little startled, but Suzu quickly responds with “Oh, hey Miki. Good running!”
I smile and nod towards Emi. “Don’t look at me, Emi here is the one winning us all those gold medals!” Emi grins, and is about to say something before I cut her off, unable to stay upright much longer. I’m already sort of leaning on Hisao for support, as Suzu is a bit too short to actually lean on. “Anyways, we have go do the thing, remember?”
Suzu instantly picks up on what I’m getting at. “Oh, yeah, celebrations and all, we should probably get going if we don’t want to be late.”
Hisao looks a little confused. “Don’t you need to stay to pick up your medals and stuff?”
I shake my head, since both of my arms are occupied, although this has the effect of turning my hair into somewhat of a sweat sprinkler, which causes Hisao to flinch and Suzu to act disgusted. “I can pick that stuff up from the office, the ceremony’s way too boring to sit through. I’ll see you later, Emi!”
She barely has time to respond with her own goodbye before I push on Suzu and Hisao, causing the three of us to turn and start walking away from the track. We have to make our way through a light crowd, but only for a little bit, and soon we’re almost at the dorms.
“So, Miki, you ready for the thing?” Suzu asks as I head towards the girls’ dorms, poking fun at my earlier excuse to Emi.
“Har har, very funny.” She smiles, but Hisao looks incredibly confused, so before I leave I address him. “Hey, thanks for showing up. Oh, and Suzu can explain.” With that I turn and clumsily walk towards the entrance, leaving Hisao almost as confused as before, which causes Suzu to burst into laughter.
My legs ache a little, but that’s to be expected, and I don’t consider showering or even changing as I absentmindedly make my way up to my room and into my bed.
Good work today, Miki.
Now go the fuck to sleep.
~ Next: Freefall