Published: November 21, 2016
The middle-school gymnasium erupted in a chorus of cheers from parents and other students alike as the team in blue received another point. The boys of corresponding color whooped and hollered, while the opposing color hissed through their gritted teeth.
To anyone looking from the outside, it was a innocent match between grade-school boys; a game that, perhaps, wouldn't officially matter until they were older --more advanced, for fame instead of plastic trophies. But for a certain boy, a boy on the aforementioned opposing team, this game was everything. Far from the lead, the brunette was losing his sense of determination. He heaved heavily to replace the oxygen he'd spent diving for that chance ball before clenching his jaw tight to wipe away the sweat hanging off his chin.
There was a hesitancy in the way his eyes searched the stands above, and his posture only straightened when he met the narrowed hues identical to his.
For your son, it was the first time his father was able to watch him play.
You knew that look better than anyone, and you felt the urge to ram your elbow into your husband's side. Ushijima's spine was rigid, his arms crossed and his lids were slanted with his infamous scowl. He didn't mean it he would say; Wakatoshi didn't intend to come across cold or calloused. You knew that, and you knew he most definitely did not want to act so toward his first born. You wondered if he was even aware of the grizzly way in which he was watching his son's volleyball game, or perhaps he was mentally preparing for the press waiting for a moment of his time.
"Toshi," you cooed with a gentle nudge, "I trust you'll remember to be gentle?"
Ushijima blinked as the referee's whistle's shrill cry reverberated off the walls. His olive pools latched onto his son, hunkered over, his dejected expression on the verge of tears and fists cinch the fabric of his shorts.
Defeat is never easy. Whether it is expected or not matters little, either can destroy one's pride.
Ushijima wondered your meaning, and if your implication was directed toward his brutally blunt tendencies. He, of course, would never purposefully crush is child and thought that would have been obvious to you. He had been trying to be better with his words. However, fatherhood was still very new to him and there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't feel utterly inept. Professional volleyball, even marriage, was a cakewalk by comparison. What would he say? How would he be perceived if he said nothing at all? He may have been bound and determined not to over-coach and hound his child, but he lacked even an ounce of the nurturing skills that came so naturally to you.
Children and their parents began to clear out, and the chattering press could be heard outside. You held Ushijima's hands gently, if not reassuringly, as you waited for your son's exit from the court. Your husband was the epitome of the strong and silent type, but his quietude had taken on an entirely new shape. A squeeze of his fingers couldn't gain his attention, and they separated the moment his hawk-like stare met his sulking boy.
On the outside you were keeping it together, your soft smile a facade for your shattering heart. Ushijima's hardened mien relaxed very little as the miniature version of himself stood before him with a lowly hung head. For a moment you felt the tickling wings of butterflies in your stomach, [colored] irises flickering between them alternately while nameless faces passed the three of you by. Your son flinched when the parents of the champion team's children praised them, a deep-set grimace holding back a fountain of tears.
Just when you opened you mouth to break the unbearable silence, your boy's head popped up toward Ushijima. Knuckles white, cheeks red, puffy and wet, he pitifully asked, "Are you disappointed in me, Papa?"
An audible gasp caught itself in the base of Ushijima's throat and his eyes visibly widened. Had it not been for the murmur of voices surrounding you, you would have sworn you heard your husband's icy outer shell crack.
Where would he have ever gotten such an idea?
Hearing such words was a defeat much worse than losing any match. The thought that Ushijima's own flesh and blood would think he was capable of failing his father over something so minuscule, that it would change his love and opinion of him was enough to bring the man to his knees.
A pang disrupted the steady beating of your heart and your rims burned with moisture. Ushijima's large hands captured his son by the shoulders and pulled him into his arms,