Miles glanced up from staring out the classroom window to see who was talking to him. He had plopped himself at his desk and sunk into it, hoping he could vanish while watching the world pass him by. So, when he heard Dan’s voice, he was reluctant to move.
“Wow, that bad huh?” he heard Dan say, seeing a concerned smile on his face. “Where’s our favourite hyper Captain?” he continued, gently slapping Miles on the back.
“I can’t compete…” Miles mumbled.
“Huh? You injured dude?” Miles watched with a sense of anguish, as a panicked expression washed over his friend’s face.
“Not physically, no,” he replied and turned back to the window.
“So, why can’t you play Volleyball?” he heard Dan’s voice becoming more and more confused.
“Didn’t say I couldn’t,” Miles huffed, his head swimming in dismay.
“But, you-,” there was a beat of silence, then Miles heard Dan continue, “OK, so what can’t you compete in?”
“Hmm?” Miles looked back at his friend, wishing he could tell him. Wanting to explain how much pain he was in. Instead, he forced a smile and sat up stiffly. “Nothing, you know I hate Maths. And I was up all night wondering who’ll be put in our starting line up again.”
“Sure that’s it?” the note of concern in Dan’s voice left a pang of pain in Miles’s chest. Dan, like the rest of the team were like family, well, all, but Kousuke, he was something more. And Miles was terrified of telling anyone that, after all his parents had made it clear what his love life was going to be like. Just like theirs. So, if the people who loved him most in the world wouldn’t accept him, why would anyone else?
He must have stayed silent too long. “Miles, dude, you sure that’s it?” that note of concern had turned into an edge.
Blowing his fringe out of his eyes, Miles forced that smile into a grin, “Yeah, no, it’s all good,” he said, adding a flamboyant arm wave, knowing it looked ridged compared to his usual free mannerisms.
He watched as Dan narrowed his eyes and raised his right eyebrow. “If you say so, man,” he sounded less than convinced. However, to Miles’s relief he let the matter drop.
“So,” Dan started, as Miles sunk back into his chair, “Who’s in the starting line up, do you think?” he continued and slipped into the seat next to Miles, slinging his messenger bag on the floor.
Before Miles could open his mouth to answer, he heard the sharp voice of their teacher, “Winston, if you and Jacobs are finished gossiping, I would like to start my class.”
Both Miles and Dan snapped their heads towards their teacher at the sound of their second names. Miles could see the small vein in Mr Childs forehead pulsating. For such a short man he was a formidable presence.
“Sorry sir,” the pair said in unison and exchanged an amused look. For the first time that day, Miles managed to genuinely smile.
By lunch, Miles could feel his body fighting to stay upright. The internal battle was draining him of everything he had, yet he couldn’t stop himself, even if it hurt to see Kou with her, he still needed to see him.
Dragging himself down the open-air hallway, he could hear the groups of friends chattering away in the courtyard beyond. ‘I wonder what they would say if they knew, would they still like me? Would he?’ he pondered. His mind consumed by the same questions that always swallowed him up when he was alone.
To drown it all out, he shoved his headphones deep into his ears and took his phone out, finding his favourite playlist and pressing shuffle. ‘Ken & Barbie’ came on and he wondered why he was torturing himself.
So engrossed in thought, his head down, deaf to the world, he neither heard the warning or, saw the wall coming. He marched full bore into the wall and collided hard, smacking his head, ramming his arm and shoulder, before bouncing off and falling with a shock to the floor.
Dazed and confused he sat up, rubbing his head. Unaware the impact had ripped his headphones out, his phone, that was now playing out loud, and had moved onto ‘Shower’, skittered across the floor.
“Christ, Miles!” Kou’s voice filtered in. At the sound of his voice, Miles wanted to curl up and die.
“Are you alright?” the feeling of his touch though, it sent a small shiver down Miles’s spine as Kou placed a hand on his shoulder, kneeling down next to him. “Don’t move.”
“I’m fine,” Miles snapped, instantly wincing at both the surging pain through his head and body, and his words.
“I just watched you all but run into the wall head first. Dude, you might not be fine,” the concern in Kou’s voice was worse than anything else Miles was feeling.
“Why would you care?” he snapped and stumbled to his feet, grasping for his phone and wobbling off.
“I-,” was all he heard of Kou’s reply.
“You’re such a tsundere,”
Miles stopped in his tracks, swivelling on the spot, which sent a dizzying spell of nausea running through him. Once everything settled down again, he saw Dan leaning casually against a low wall that capped off a large grassy slope. Miles could see the amusement written across his angular face.
“Wha-,” he stammered, staring open mouthed at his childhood friend.
“Oh, come on, you thought you were hiding it?” the smirk on Dan’s face was enough to piss Miles off… but then something dawned on him.
“You, you know, and you don’t hate me?” Miles let his head drop, diverting his eyes. His words falling out, almost unheard.
The short, yet unbearable silence made Miles’s head thump harder as he waited, considering if his words had even reached him.
“What for?” Dan finally asked, making Miles look up just a bit, and was taken aback to see his friends face had become a picture of seriousness, his blue eyes set. “For being attracted to guys, or liking Kou? Because neither of those things are reasons to hate you.”
Yeah, that was it, Miles’s legs gave up. Before he could utter a word he dropped, he thought his knees would smack against the gravel floor, however, Dan had moved swiftly, grabbing him by the shoulders to soften the blow.
He tried desperately to avoid Dans concerned, piercing gazed, but it followed him everywhere.
“We need to get you to Alice my man.”
“No…” Miles mumbled in protest.
“Yeah, it’s not an option, she’s on duty today at the medical centre, we’re going… now,” Miles could feel Dan begin to haul him back on his feet, the music still playing in his hand. He no longer had the energy to turn it off, or care it was even on.
“No-,” he muttered when he heard Kou’s voice somewhere to the right of them.
“Kou, it’s OK I’m taking him to my sister,” Dan said, soothing Miles’s shot nerves a little, maybe it would be enough to make him leave.
“Alice? She’s on her way here, Hidi went to get her,” Kou was out of breath, Miles wondered if he had been looking for him. The idea made his shattered heart flutter, yet the mention of Hidi’s name made him groan.
“OK, Miles, you need to sit down man,” Dan said, and Miles was finding the floor again, this time at a much slower pace, steadied by his friends hands he landed softly and leant against the wall.
Finally shutting the music off, he sat with his hands resting on his knees, which were close to his chest, his head dipped down so his hair fell over his face.
There in the shadows he allowed himself to cry. He wasn’t in that much physical pain anymore, somehow though, his body felt like he had been hit by a train. Nothing was working anymore, his mind just a fog of misery. His one saving grace, his best friend didn’t hate him.
“OK,” a breathless Alice said, “I’m here,” Miles could hear the same exhausted mix of annoyance and worry in her voice that she always got, whether they were six and getting stung by bees, getting hit in the face with a volleyball in games, or in one particular game, tumbling into the dividers chasing after a wild blocked ball. He didn’t need to look at her to know her usually pretty face was crinkled into a strained expression. “Miles, what happened?”
“Wasn’t looking where I was going, walked into a wall,” he stated plainly.
He could sense her eyebrow raising, “This one?”
“No, in the hallways next to the courtyard.”
“Thank God for that, they’re designed to take impacts, made of just, plaster plasterboard and plywood. Can I look at you?” her speech had become clipped, professional. He knew she was analysing him.
Miles just nodded, all too aware of the small group of eyes staring at him.
“Erm… Sis,” he heard Dan say, followed by some muttering. He couldn’t help, but wonder what Dan was saying to Alice, and hope that Kou couldn’t make it out either.
“You did what?” Alice exclaimed, and Miles’s gaze shot up in time to see Alice whack the back of her brother’s head.
He couldn’t tare his eyes away, even though the sun stung them, and he knew they must have looked red and puffy, but he couldn’t do anything, but stare… she was finding out. Damn Dan.
Miles watched as Dan fained being wounded, rubbing the back of his head and pouting at his sister. “It was after he walked into the wall! Christ, did you have to hit me that hard?”
“Oh-,” she gave Dan a bemused look, “Next time lead with that, I thought you were the reason he walked into it.”
“I figured,” Dan replied, still rubbing his head.
Watching the pair, Miles felt jealous, his heart aching a little more. He had known them both for so long, and it was always like this. He was with them, but a step behind.
“Kousuke, Hidi, thank you for bringing me here to my idiot brothers. But I think I need to take Miles back to his dorm to rest, can you let his teachers know?”
“Brother? Miles is your brother?” Kou asked, and Miles flushed at this, hoping she wouldn’t tell him any of the stupid things he did as a kid.
“Might as well be, we’ve lived across the road from each other since these two were six,” she said proudly crouching down next to Miles taking a look at his head. “Well, you’ll have a bump and a headache, but there’s no broken skin. Can you follow my finger?” she asked holding a finger up waiting for him to focus on it.
Miles tracked her finger as she slowly moved it from left to right and back again a couple of times. “Hmmm, I need to check you over a bit more, but I think you’re lucky.” She said, and he heard relief in her voice.
“Will he be able to watch the practice today?” Kou asked, making Miles’s cheeks flood red.
He scowled at the ground when he noticed both Dan and Alice smiling at one another. “That depends on how he is later,” Alice said, trying to stay professional, but Miles could hear the smile coming through. “I’ll be there as on hand staff anyway, so if he is able to walk about and his head is a bit better, there’s a good chance.”
“OK, now I know you’re in good hands, we’ll head to our lecture,” Kou said, making, Miles swallow back another groan.
“Thanks Kou,” he managed.
“Any time, you know how to get in touch, OK?”
“Yeah,” Miles replied meekly, and he watched Kou and Hidi wonder off, nattering to each other.
“Come on Pretty-Boy, no need to cry,” Alice said, wiping away the tears on Miles’s cheeks. Even though he could hear the affection behind the name, it still annoyed him.
“Do you have to call me that?” he sighed.
“You’re prettier than me, I have to tease you for that, it’s my right as your adopted big sister,” she replied proudly, and despite himself, Miles smiled. “There we go.” She said beaming, “It’s such a waste to see such a deep frown on such a delicate face.”
Miles rolled his eyes, only to make himself dizzy. The world tilted for a second, but he was able to right himself again.
“Come on, let’s get you back to your dorm and we’ll have a chat, I think we need to talk about how you ended up trying to take on a wall with the soft part of your head.” As Alice moved around him, he tried to get up, finding it easier than he expected until he was completely on his feet.
His whole body felt off balance as he tried to remember just how standing worked. He didn’t think it was the bump to the head, it was more that his mind was swamped down with too much information and emotion all at once.
“I need help,” he said, surprising himself.
“You got it,” Dan replied, and Miles felt his friends firm arm slipping under his and wrapping around his back.
“We’ll go at your pace, Pretty-Boy,” Alice added, and Miles didn’t have to look to know she was right behind them.
Slowly they made their way across the campus and to the Dorm buildings. Once inside their room Miles sank onto his bed, huddling up into the corner at its head.
“Want a drink Miles?” he heard Dan ask, looking up to see his friend next to their mini fridge stationed near the TV.
“Water,” for the first time, he was realising how thirsty he was, and how tired.
“Same,” he hadn’t noticed Alice had walked up and sat down next to him until she answered. She was staring him dead in the eyes.
“Erm, Alice,” he muttered, shifting uncomfortably.
“Sorry,” she said, breaking her gaze, “I had to check your pupils.”
“You know, if I wasn’t worried I’d do damage, I’d hit you too!” Alice said, her genuinely wounded voice instantly getting Miles’s attention.
“What?” he started but didn’t get a chance to finish.
“You really think we wouldn’t love you?” Alice was now the one crying, and Miles didn’t know what to do. He tried to move closer, however, she put her hand up, trying to stifle her tears, “I’m not upset at you Miles, I’m upset for you.”
“I-,” he stuttered, he had no idea what the difference was.
“She means, she’s upset that you felt we wouldn’t love you no matter what, because of-,” Dan started, but was ‘Shhhed,’ by his sister.
All of this was confusing Miles, he didn’t get it. “You mean because I’m gay? You knew too?”
“It was hard not to, I’ve known you forever, and you used to sing ‘I’m too Sexy for My Shirt’ and strip in our back garden,” Alice said, a hearty laugh escaping.
“I was seven!” Miles shouted, “Don’t you dare tell-,” he started before cutting himself off.
“Tell who?” Alice prompted as Dan handed them their drinks. Miles’s poor cheeks couldn’t get a break. They flushed again and he turned away to look out the window at the shared garden, there were some students lounging on the grass in the afternoon sun, and others playing football, it was a normal day for them, for him? He couldn’t figure out if it was a nightmare or dream.
“Doesn’t matter,” he pouted. “Wait-, so your parents know?” he asked, jerking his head back towards Dan and Alice who had been drinking their water.
Alice choked so hard strands of her long raven hair came lose from her ponytail. “Erm… yeah, we all figured it out.”
“But I knew for sure when I borrowed your computer. Dude, close your internet tabs,” Dan added, making Miles’s cheeks burn and earning him a jab to the ribs from his sister.
“What? I found out what his favourite Haikyuu ship was, IwaOi makes sense…” Dan said, making Miles want to hit him too.
“Ohh, yeah, both Oikawa and Miles are pretty-boy setters!” Alice added.
Miles didn’t know what to think, neither of them had batted an eye, it was as if nothing had changed, yet everything had. He was no longer a step behind, but right there with them. They seemed happier, like they had been waiting for this.
“Thanks, but I wish I could set like him, I am as pretty as him though,” he said sticking his tongue out, and the three of them burst into laughter. God, it felt good, he was genuinely laughing, and the fog was clearing, receding to just one corner of his mind, the one where his parents resided. But he didn’t want to deal with them today.
“If you have this much energy,” Alice started, “I think you’ll be fine to observe practice today. But I want you to sit out the next couple days,” she was still half laughing, and it made Miles feel light, until a thought crossed his mind.
“Do you think the team knows?”
“Don’t know my dude, no one has said anything,” Dan said smiling.
“OK,” Miles nodded, the dizziness had long since gone, as had the feeling he couldn’t move ahead.
“Oh, yeah, you do know that Kou and Hidi aren’t dating right?” Dan added, “You scare that poor girl with your death glares.”
“But, their always together!” Miles blurted out before he could stop himself.
“Yeah,” Dan said his smile shifting into a smirk, “So are we Bro…”
“So dense,” Alice said laughing, “Pretty-Boy, you’re so, so, dense.”