Once upon a time, there were four boys. Their names were Makoto, Rin, Haruka, and Nagisa. They lived in a peaceful little Japanese town on the sea.
They were friends. And they were swimmers.
They swam together at their neighborhood swim club where they laughed, played, and did what kids do.
Swim meets are long. Kids become friends by spending many hours together, playing, quarreling, and trying to outdo each other.
Haruka was the best swimmer of all four of them. But Rin was also a great swimmer, and swimming with Haruka made him better. In fact, swimming against Haruka made him better. It also made him want to be better.
At the end of sixth grade, the four boys did something remarkable.
They joined together and swam a medley relay.
Makoto started the relay off with backstroke. Next, Nagisa swam breaststroke. Rin followed and swam butterfly. And Haruka anchored the relay with his blistering freestyle.
When Haruka hit the touchpad at the end of race, he gasped for air, then looked up at the scoreboard, to find the number 1 next to his lane number. His three buddies were jumping up and down.
They had won.
And when they saw what they had done, they knew that it was their friendship that had done it. Not their speed, not their work, not their talent.
It was a win for friendship.
Relays are about teamwork. But they're also about magic. When a relay does what it's supposed to do, each individual member surpasses what he can do alone. Swimmers look at their individual splits and are amazed that they somehow overreached what they thought they could possibly do in their own races. But that's normal. Relays are like that.
You plug into a force that is greater than yourself, and it pulls you along, faster than you could possibly have gone by yourself.
Sometimes the force is pride in your team. Sometimes it's joy in representing your country.
For these boys, it was the depth of their friendship. They swam with each other, and for each other.
But Rin wanted to be a great swimmer. He wanted to go to the Olympics and represent his country. He had a burden to carry. His father had given up the Olympic dream in order to raise and care for a family. Rin wanted to continue to pursue his dad's dream, now that his dad was no longer alive.
So at the end of sixth grade, Rin left for Australia, determined to swim at a special school that would train him the way that Olympians need to be trained.
The other three boys drifted into middle school. They swam, but with a little less excitement, a little less exhilaration. The magic had dissolved.
Unfortunately, that's just as normal as having a fast relay.
Makoto and Haruka went to the same high school, and they were joined later by Nagisa. Haruka was as devoted as ever to the water, but had not swum competitively in a couple of years. In the fall of their eleventh grade year it was Nagisa, the breaststroker, who began to clamor for the old relay to swim together again.
Of course, they would have to swim without Rin, who was still in Australia.
Or was he?
As it turned out, Rin had returned, but he was different. He was no longer the happy kid of sixth grade.
He was angry.
The boys couldn't figure it out.
But Haruka knew.
He knew that during one winter vacation, he had raced Rin at the local pool. Just for fun.
And when he had won, Rin was devastated.
All that work. All that sacrifice in Australia. And it was meaningless. Because Haruka, who wasn't training like he was training, could beat him.
He sat on the pool deck and sobbed. He returned to Australia.
And Haruka gave up competitive swimming after that. There was no way he was going to swim in order to destroy his best friend's dream.
But now they were in high school, and Nagisa wanted the three remaining friends to swim together once again. He persuaded them to join him in starting a swim club at school, and found a fourth member, Rei, with whom they could swim a relay.
After all, it was all about the relay, right? Why else would you swim, except to be with your friends in a relay?
Rin was at a fancy private boarding school nearby. A school with a stellar swim team. He wasn't going to be satisfied until he had shown that his work in Australia had paid off.
He wanted to beat Haruka. He needed to beat him.
He did exactly that at prefectural championships. He swam only a single event, the 100 meter freestyle, in order to focus all of his attention on beating the kid who had beat him years ago.
And Haruka swam badly, not even making it out of prelims. Rin triumphed, and was none too graceful about it. Smugly, he reminded Haruka that his only purpose had been to race him and beat him. He was done now, and had no interest in any further contests.
But much to Rin's shock, the three original boys from his childhood relay, plus one new boy, emerged on deck the following day. They were there to swim the medley relay.
He stood on deck, watching in increasing dismay as he realized that he had never forgotten what their strokes looked like. They swam exactly as they had as children. Watching them swim their medley relay was like reliving their medley relay.
Who was the guy swimming his leg, the butterfly?
He had been replaced.
Then he watched as Haruka sprinted past four other swimmers in his heat and got his hand onto the touchpad first.
He watched as the three boys cheered Haruka, shouting and jumping up and down at the head of the lane.
They were a team. Without him.
He was devastated. And angry.
How was it possible that it wasn't enough for him to beat Haruka at the 100 meter race? Haruka hadn't even advanced into finals. It should have been enough for him. He should be feeling great.
But he felt like crap. It wasn't fair. Haruka and the boys still had something he didn't have. And now he understood why.
That relay was the missing metaphor for swimming. It was how it was supposed to be.
He made up his mind. He would swim the medley relay with his own school, to try to grab a piece of the joy that he didn't have.
When the four boys heard that Rin would be entering the medley relay as well as his own 100 meter freestyle race, they were startled. He had beaten Haruka decisively in the 100 meter freestyle. In fact, Haruka hadn't even qualified to move on to the regional meet. Wasn't that enough for Rin? Why did he feel compelled to swim against them in the medley relay as well?
For the first time, Rei heard the story of the original medley relay. Confused, he went to confront Rin. As the newest member of the swim club, he needed to ask him why he seemed endlessly compelled to defeat his old friends.
Rin did not answer him…
…until the night before the race, when he told him the truth about his time in Australia. And the real reason he had cut himself off from his old friends. And the reason why he hadn't planned to swim at all at his Japanese high school.
And the reason he changed his mind.
The following day, at the regional championship….
Are you still following the story?
I need to stop right here, right before the last chapter. I don't want to spoil the story for you! If you read until the end of my story, however, I'll tell you what happens!
My story is called, “Fly!” And my girls are called Shizuka, Heart, Flower, and Sugar.
However, there is one more girl…Paloma. You will find out soon what role she plays….
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