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Looking Back

Written for the drabble theme "Road Trip".

Title: Looking Back
Series: Free!
Length: 1285 words
Genre: General
Characters: Miho, Rin
Summary: She simply offered him a ride back to school.

Looking back, she knew this was when it started. She couldn’t let him walk to the train station in the dark, especially after the surprise the boys had planned for him had been spoiled by the rain. She would have done it for anyone.

“Can I give you a ride back to school, Matsuoka-kun?”

He hesitated, then accepted.

It had seemed like a perfectly innocent, reasonable offer.

She wasn’t prepared for the way he occupied the passenger seat of her little pink car, the way his presence filled the space. The other boys had ridden with her on club outings, and there had always been plenty of cheerful chatter, talk about school or practice or ways to attract more members. In those cases, her position as advisor and chaperone was clear.

With him, there was silence, and in that silence, she found herself focusing on him. From the corner of her eye, she saw him rest one elbow along the doorframe to prop his chin in his hand as he stared out the window. His reflection appeared in the rain-streaked glass, his hair hiding his expression from her.

It wasn’t that silence was uncomfortable or unbearable. But beneath the hum of the road and the occasional swish of the windshield wipers, there was awareness. Awareness not just of him, but of herself, her own body, the sound of her own breathing and heartbeat, the tight grip her hands had on the steering wheel, whether she was blinking too much, the dryness in her mouth that made her swallow….

All of this in the silence. All of this next to him.

They were virtual strangers, despite everything. Perhaps that was all it was.

“You know,” she said in her sunniest teacher voice, “everyone talks about you so much that I feel like I know you a little.”

He shifted in his seat at her sudden words, either surprised or pulled out of whatever thoughts consumed him. The space between them seemed smaller now, and she wondered at the wisdom of trying to start a conversation. She didn’t expect him to be as effusive as Hazuki-kun or as reticent as Nanase-kun, but somewhere in the middle.

“Yeah, I know you, too,” he replied. He folded his arms in front of him now, the white sleeve of his jacket catching her eye. “Gou really looks up to you.”

“Does she?” This was taking the tone of a parent-teacher meeting and made her feel even older. “That’s nice to hear. She’s a very sweet girl.”

He made a noncommittal sound and went back to staring out the window. “But what I mean is… I know who you are.”

It was a statement of fact, not an accusation or a judgment, but she reacted physically, just as she did when anyone revealed that they knew about her past career. “Oh?” she said with a breathy, embarrassed laugh, willing her heartbeat to slow. She remembered a saying about how three people could keep a secret if two of them were dead. Mark Twain? No, Benjamin Franklin. “Do… the other boys know?”

He shrugged, his arm almost touching hers. “I don’t think so. Nagisa wouldn’t be able to shut up if he knew.” Still he didn’t look at her, but he shook his head. “Idiots,” he muttered.

“I see.” The rain had stopped, but she let the scritch of the wipers fill the silence a moment longer. “It’s just… I want my students to take me seriously, you understand. I don’t know if they would if they knew.”


The streets were slick, and she needed to focus on that, and on not getting lost. She’d driven to Samezuka before, but things had a tendency to look different in the dark.

“Can I ask you something, though?” he said, and this time she felt his eyes on her. Her tiny car had become smaller yet, the air heavier.

“All right.”

He raked his hand though his hair and let out a derisive chuckle. “Geez, this is so lame,” he said to himself, then continued. “Did you sign the pictures yourself, or was that some office assistant’s job?”

She hadn’t expected that. “The ones I sent out when people wrote to me?” she asked, and he nodded. “I signed them.”


“Oh,” she repeated stupidly, and then it hit her. “Oh! Did you write to me?”

“Yeah.” One corner of his mouth lifted in a sheepish grin, and she forced her eyes back onto the road. “You signed it to ‘Rin-chan’, so I figured someone just looked at the names and assumed I was a girl.”

Some of the other models did just that, flipped to the end for a name, or passed the task onto someone in the office. But she’d made a point to read every letter that came to her—well, almost every letter. Any that appeared threatening—fortunately, a rare circumstance—were screened and reported as necessary.

She’d read them all and kept them in a box at home. It had been at least a year since she’d looked at them, but she attempted a mental sorting of her archive. Many of the letters had been a brief request for an autograph, but some had touched her and made her realize that her shallow job was worth it. The connections that could be made through a simple photograph, the way people would share their dreams with her…. “Yes, I think I remember you.”

“You don’t have to say that.”

“No, I do. Most girls who wrote to me wanted advice on becoming a model, but I was impressed by your ambition to be an Olympic swimmer.” Now it was her turn to give a sheepish smile. “I did think you were a girl. I’m sorry.”

“Nah, I’m used to it. Besides, I probably forgot to say.”

“Well, I’ll try not to make that mistake again,” she joked, and she was rewarded with that low laugh of his. Something buzzed along her spine, and she reflexively straightened her shoulders against it.

How peculiar life could be sometimes. A chain of events and choices and struggles and changes had led a boy who wrote to her to the seat beside her. The thread once created between them had pulled them together. Neither of them could have imagined such a thing at the time. “’O, that one might read the book of fate,’” she mused as she pulled up to the school. The trip hadn’t taken as long as she expected.

“’Funny how the pages turn and hold us in between,’” he likewise recited in English, causing her to start. She hadn’t meant to speak aloud.

Her line was from Shakespeare, but his was unfamiliar. “Is that a poem?”

“No, Queen,” he explained. She raised her eyebrows at him and offered a pleasant but confused smile. His eyes widened in response. “Really? You need to expand your definition of classic, sensei.”

As he unlatched his seatbelt, his elbow bumped her arm, and any reply she might have formed died on her lips. His hair fell forward, and her itching fingers clutched the steering wheel.

Things always looked different in the dark.

He climbed out of the car and turned to look back at her. “Thanks for the ride, and don’t worry,” he said with a wink, “your secret’s safe with me.”

She giggled like a silly girl and waved as he shut the door. She sat and watched him jog into the building, to be sure he made it safely, she told herself.

For a beat too long she sat there, then shifted her car into gear and turned on the radio. She couldn’t be alone with silence for the drive home.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 24th, 2014 05:08 am (UTC)
It’s just… I want my students to take me seriously, you understand. I don’t know if they would if they knew.

*Light bulb* So obvious once someone says it out loud, but I doubt during the series most audience members realized (or even cared) about why Miho was so intent on keeping her past job secret. I was one of the ones who really didn't get why.

If word got out she used to be a swimsuit model, forget trying to teach a class full of high school boys, parents and even teachers would talk. Work would become a nightmare.

Which makes that line the most important line and the key to Miho's personality.

This is really good! The silent drive is a great way to create that atmosphere; the privacy and proximity. Run with this setting.
Nov. 25th, 2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that's a relief. It's always hard to have to flesh out characters who have such vague backstory. D and I joked about shipping this because there just aren't any other girls for him, but I'm starting to really like it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )