The First Encounter
"Sayuri, can you go check to see if Ayumi is still at the pool? She hasn't returned yet," my supervisor asked.
I sat the stack of math books that I was holding down on a nearby table before replying with, "No problem."
"Thank you," he said.
I left the room at a fast pace, worried that the six-year-old Ayumi was stuck in the woman's locker room, or had wandered off from the group on their way back to the classroom. I volunteered part-time at the community center near my college as a tutor for kids in need of help with math and English studies. I was going to school to be an elementary teacher, and helping out when I had time reminded me why I was working so hard at university.
Entering the sports wing of the massive building I took the hall that led to pool. I hurried inside searching for the pigtailed brunette, but that was harder said than done since so many small children were scurrying about the pools' edge. I began circling the larger of the two pools calling Ayumi's name and scanning each face as I past. She had to be here somewhere. She wasn't the type of child to stray very from what she knows, and as far as I knew she only attended the swimming training and the academic assistance. She only knew the pool and the tutoring rooms. I had made it all the way around larger pool with no luck, and began hurrying around the shallower pool which had more kids around it, but I didn't see any with pigtails.
"Ayumi-chan! Where are you?" I called as I went.
"Excuse me," I heard someone called. "Excuse me miss!"
Ignoring that voice I continued to search for the little girl, only to be startled by a whistle being blown in my direction. I jumped away from the pools edge grabbing my chest as my heart raced. Turning in the direction of the loud shrill noise I was staring at a man around my age standing in the shallow pool with several kids surrounding him. He let the whistle he wore around his neck fall against his broad chest as his green eyes stared back at me.
"No outdoor shoes around the pool," he addressed to me. "Can you please take them off?"
He was polite, and seemed slightly flustered himself having drawn the attention of everyone in the immediate area. My face flushed embarrassed at being called out in such a direct way, but I guess I had ignored his calls aside completely.
Bowing my head I said, "My apologies." As I lifted my gaze back to the man in the pool he seemed to relax like that was enough to make up for my poor mistake. I knew the rules of the building, but had been in such a hurry to find the girl I had brushed them aside.
He began to turn back to the father kids having accomplished what he wanted. From the uniform swimsuit and the way the kids were waiting for him to speak I could only conclude that he worked here.
"Um, excuse me," I said. I had begun stepping towards the pool, but stopped to quickly slip off the flats that I was wearing before continuing. He turned back to me with a perplexed look. "You wouldn't happened to have seen a little girl with pigtails and big brown eyes around here, have you?" I asked.
"There are lots of girls like that here," he commented.
"R-right," I stuttered. That was such a stupid question to ask. "Her name's Ayumi. She had practice here about ten minutes ago. She didn't show up for here tutoring session," I explained.
The man looked deep in thought for several moments before shaking his head and turning to the kids again. "Do you guys know an Ayumi-chan like she's describing?" he inquired gesturing to me.
Two girls raised their hands at the same time. The one with her goggles on spoke first.
"She said she wanted to keep swimming, so she hid in the locker room when her group left."
The girl without goggles nodded and added, "Yeah. She was going to go in the big pool to show off."
"But I didn't see her over there," I sighed under my breath. "Thank you, you two. I'll keep looking," I smiled.
I stepped back from the pool's side as I scanned across the open area to the larger pool I had just checked out. I began walking back around the larger pool looking for Ayumi in the mix of kids bobbing in the water. I was about to go back to the shallow pool when I spotted her paddling about the pool with a foam board held tightly in her hands. There was a small group of teenagers screwing about next to her, and I couldn't move fast enough to stop them from colliding with the small girl.
The board left her hands, and it seemed to be the only thing that was keeping afloat with it gone she began thrashing and slipping below the surface of the water.
"Ayumi!" I screamed.
Dropping my shoes and ignoring the pool rules once more I ran to the side she was on, and I was about to jump in when someone pulled me back. I wasn't given the chance to fight as they jumped in for me diving towards Ayumi who was practically getting trampled by the teenagers. My heartbeat was fierce in my chest as I watched Ayumi get pulled free from the mess of rough housing bodies and brought tithe surface. She coughed and sputtered for air as she was carried to the edge where I was now I kneeling waiting for her.
"Ayumi," I breathed, almost in tears.
Crying and coughing she was placed into my arms soaking my shirt and lap, but I didn't care. Hugging her tightly to comfort her I looked over at the person climbing out of the pool to thank them profusely for saving her, yet I froze when I saw it was the whistle guy.
Grinning down at me he said, "I'm glad she's okay."
"Thank you so much," I said.
"Tsubaki-sensei! That was so scary," Ayumi cried into my shoulder.
"Ayumi say thank you to-," I said. I paused not knowing the name of the guy who saved her.
"You don't have to thank me. I was just doing what anyone would," he smiled.
It wasn't an arrogant grin like most guys in Tokyo like to give, but instead it was sincere, kind, and innocent. I hadn't met many guys like him in my life, but then again impressions can be very wrong.
He turned at the voice and waved at another man who was waiting by the door. Turning back to us his grin widened as he said, "You should be more careful from now on."
I wasn't sure if he was directing that at Ayumi or I, but we both nodded before he made his way to his waiting friend. When she calmed down enough to walk we went to the locker room after grabbing my shoes that laid discarded on the ground in a puddle of pool water. She apologized multiple times for not attending her session, and causing me trouble, and getting me wet, but I didn't get mad -my supervisor would do that enough for the both of us when we got back. I patted her on the head and assured her that everything was going to be okay.
As I waited for Ayumi to change I awkwardly stood in the hall having done my best to dry my clothes with a provided towel. It didn't help much, my slacks were clinging to my legs and my blouse could have been entered into a bar's wet t-shirt contest and own hands down. I kept my arms crossed trying to hide the worse of my revealing bra until I could slide on my jacket that was back in the academics wing of the community center.
"So what do you want to have for dinner Haru?"
People were chatting as they stepped out of a locker room. I recognized the one, and I saw I was correct when he stepped out of the males side with his friend in tow. It was whistle guy; Makoto is what I think is friend called him.
He stopped walking when he caught me staring at him. I adverted my gaze to the white and green tile floor as my cheeks heated once more while his friend said, "Makoto?"
Bingo. I thought.
My vision of the floor was suddenly blocked by a mass of gray fabric. I stared at it as the whistle guy, Makoto said, "Here. You shouldn't walk around here like that."
I glanced up at him to see he wasn't looking directly at me either. His cheeks were tinged pink, as were the tips of his ears. Could this guy be for real? Were there still bashful guys in this world? Was this just an elaborate act?
Taking what he handed to me I replied with, "Thank you."
With a friendly smile he hurried back to his blue eyed friend that didn't look too interested in our exchange. When they disappeared around the corner I inspected what whistle guy had given me. It was a balled up gray sweater with a high collar, that I usually see athletes around the sports wing wear. I guess it made sense he would have one too, he seemed to be in shape and he was working at the pool.
"Yamato-sensei where did you get that?" Ayumi asked.
I was drowning in the sweater. The collar reached above my chin blocking my mouth if I didn't have it partly unzipped. My hands were hidden inside the sleeves, and the hem was practically at my knees. If I could actually see myself I would bet that I looked like a child trying on their father's clothes.
"Someone just let me borrow it. Now come along. I should call your parents and have them pick you up," I said avoiding the question.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"I know," I smiled down at her.