How This Feels

I have to cancel our practice session this Saturday, Shinji. Gotta take my sisters out to buy new clothes.

Aren't they big enough to buy clothes without you?

Sure, but if I'm not with 'em, they're going to overspend! You know kids nowadays, especially girls, no sense of money...

But you know that if you go with them, you're going to spend your own money, on top of the money your parents gave you. And end up overspending anyway.

Yeah well, it's only reasonable. I'm their big brother.

Don't you think you spoil them a little?

You don't have younger sisters, Shinji. You just don't know how it feels.

And Shinji didn't have a father who only came home late at night, slept, and then left home even before his children could wake up and get ready for school. He didn't have a father whom he barely remembered, whom he knew by the sound of his snoring alone.

Shinji didn't have a mother who was trying too hard to make ends meet, she couldn't be bothered to attend to little PTA meetings, homework that needed checking, shoes and clothes that had been outgrown and needed replacing. Shinji didn't know what it was like to have a mother who regularly dumped shopping lists and medical prescriptions on him just before running out the door on her way to her next working shift.

He didn't grow up with a latchkey tied around his neck, never had to keep close watch over two baby sisters so that among other things, they wouldn't have to go through their primary school years wearing latchkeys around their necks, either.

And Shinji didn't have two little sisters who called him "Oniisan" and bothered him while he was studying and came to him crying over every scratch and scrape. He didn't have two little sisters who depended on him to keep them from being bullied for being "poor" and "scraggly" sometimes, even if the truth was they weren't really poor and scraggly, they just had to look after themselves a lot and were obviously still learning how to.

Akira's little sisters came to him for every little need. He wasn't going to pretend he knew how to deal with every little need, but dammit, he was going to give it his best. Because he was the only one they relied on. And Akira liked to be needed.

Akira knew that other people saw this as self-punishment. No one knew how it felt.

When Tachibana Kippei announced that Akira Kamio was going to be his vice-captain for the new Fudomine middle school tennis club, no one knew how Akira felt like his heart would burst. It was no less than the happiest day of his life.

Tachibana, someone stronger than he was, depended on him.

"Oniisan," his littlest sister Naoko said, tugging at his sleeve, "I want this one."

Naoko was his youngest sister. Eight going on nine. She had large, pretty dark eyes like his, a fair complexion, and most white things suited her.

She was aware of it, Akira supposed, when she took him to see a particularly cute white blazer.

Akira took one glance at the price tag and said "It's over the budget we agreed upon, Naoko-chan, isn't it?"

Naoko's face fell. She must not have looked at the price tag first. Unlike her older sister Manami, she hadn't learned that rudimentary rule of shopping from her brother yet.

"Oh...well, I don't want it that much anyway."

Akira couldn't take his eyes away from the look on her face.

"You don't want these ones, Naoko-chan. They're too expensive," Manami told her little sister. "Come on, let's go look over there. You have to take your time shopping, just like Oniisan said."

Akira watched his sisters walk off with a sinking feeling.

Outside his thoughts, he heard a familiar voice call, "Hey, Kamio."

Akira's head snapped up in surprise. It was Tachibana. He had just come from jogging, was still flushed a little and catching his breath.

"Saw you from the window. What are you doing here?" Tachibana was saying. "I thought Shinji told me you two were practicing today."

Akira rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, but...I had to take my sisters shopping."

"Oh? Where are they?" Tachibana planted his hands on his hips and looked around. "I'd like to meet Kamio's little sisters. Kamio's already met mine."

And Akira liked Tachibana's little sister An. She was so different from his own sisters -- An was independent and decisive, she spoke her mind. At the same time, there was an air about An that asked for protection, and Akira gravitated to it...

"Oniisan!" Manami called.

Both Akira and Tachibana turned to see Manami coming up with a thin gray blouse the exact size of Naoko. Who walked behind her older sister with a dejection she bravely fought from coming to the surface.

"I saw this for Naoko. It suits her and it's cheap, but I'm not sure if the color -- oh." Manami stopped when she saw Tachibana.

Akira got the blouse from Manami. "Well...I think the color is okay." Then before he could stop himself, he asked "What do you think, Tachibana-san?"

Tachibana, to Akira's surprise, crossed his arms over his chest and studied the blouse in all seriousness.

" it for your sister?" he asked Manami. "Something lighter would suit her better."

"Really?" Naoko said shyly from the background. She was smiling at Tachibana. "I think so too. Are you...are you Tachibana-san?"

Tachibana blinked at this. Before awkwardness could set in, Akira made the proper introductions. "Manami and Naoko, this is the Fudominechuu tennis club captain, Tachibana Kippei." He turned to Tachibana. "I'm sorry...I tell them all about the tennis club, you see..."

"It's all right." Tachibana was smiling. He said to Akira's sisters, "I'm glad to meet you both. I hope you enjoy shopping today. Please don't let me get in the way."

But Akira's sisters had already gone starry-eyed on Tachibana. Akira had built him up to be this amazing person, and he wasn't sure what their reaction would be if they saw him in the flesh. He at least hoped that Tachibana wasn't getting offended by their fawning.

"You aren't in the way, Tachibana-san! Thank you for your opinion on this blouse! I'll try to find something lighter..."

"We're so lucky to have met you...Tachibana-san. Oniisan doesn't take us out shopping very often..."

It was true. In the past, Akira'd had to shop alone and pick out things for his sisters because he was in charge of the budget. He stopped this routine when his mother told him that he couldn't pick out clothes worth a damn.

Manami even proceeded to supply that Akira had picked out the clothes she and her sister were wearing that day. All bargain bin combinations so drab they were almost monochrome. It was embarrassing.

"Really," Tachibana replied, amusement in his voice. "Your oniisan has good taste in clothes. But you really must start picking out your own clothes now. You're already young women and you know your style best."

Naoko seemed energized by this. Tachibana had exercised his talent for lifting up bowed heads.

Without a second thought, Naoko sprinted over to the white blouse she'd seen earlier. She took it from the rack and showed it to her brother.

"Oniisan, I really want this," she said with renewed confidence. "If I try it on and it fits, could you buy it for me?"

Manami was staring at her sister wide-eyed. The expression on her face was halfway between incredulity and hopefulness that their Oniisan would actually agree to her request.

While Akira was torn, he wasn't really suffering a crisis. He had brought some of his savings and he could actually overspend a little beyond their shopping allowance, like Shinji had warned him he would. Tachibana's presence just made it easier for him to admit that to himself.

"All right, Naoko-chan," he answered. "Go try it on."

Both Manami and Naoko fled the scene. Manami came back faster, a pink long-sleeved item in her hands, saying quickly:

"Oniisan, this is the latest style. It's what all the girls in school are wearing. I know it's a little expensive, but can we please get it? Please?"

"Oh, An has a blouse like that," Tachibana remarked offhand. "It looks good on slim girls like Manami."

Akira rather liked the idea of having one of his little sisters wearing something like what Tachibana's sister was wearing.

Manami and Naoko flitted around like delicate butterflies within the large bargain store, scrounging for other stylish items of clothing. The other, more leisurely shoppers smiled to look at them.

While waiting for his sisters, Akira found a bench and sat beside Tachibana, chatted up his captain over the tennis club's itinerary for the coming week.

And finally Akira ended up spending WAY over his budget and not feeling the slightest remorse.

Akira had never seen his sisters so happy with their purchases before. There was a lilt in their steps as they walked ahead, side by side.

Tachibana said to him, "Your little sisters are charming. And they have great taste in clothes." A sly sideways look. "They probably didn't get that from you."

Akira chuckled openly. "Tachibana-san sure has great fashion sense," he laughed. "Do you...pick out An's clothes, too?"

Tachibana snorted. "An buys her own clothes. God forbid that one let me mess with her wardrobe."

Good fashion sense ran in Tachibana's family, Akira supposed. Tachibana knew how to dress himself well enough, made the simplest street clothes look elegant.


Akira looked up at his captain.

"It's Sunday tomorrow, so you're free, right? I'd like to meet up with you. Tomorrow, in front of that store we just went to, at around 10 AM."

Eh? "For practice...?" The store was a bit far from the courts...

"No. Just to meet up. If you're not going to be busy, of course."

Akira took a little time to think. Then he wondered why he was even hesitating. There was no harm in just meeting up. After all, Tachibana was as much his friend as he was his captain, right?

"Sure, Tachibana-san. Let's meet up tomorrow."

"I'm so happy to have finally met Tachibana-san! Ne, Oniisan, he was even cooler in person!"

"Wasn't he? Wasn't he? He was so handsome! And so nice! He said I would be so pretty in my new clothes, all the girls in school will envy me!"

"I liked shopping, Oniisan. I wish we can do this a lot."

"But I've never shopped like that before...I'm beat, and...Oniisan! I'm starving!"

When Manami said that, Akira felt his stomach rumbling. He suddenly realized it was way past lunch time. His sisters had shopped for over three hours, and they were still a long way from home.

"Let's get something from A.Hamburger. Ne, Oniisan...?"

At A.Hamburger, Akira took out his wallet and inspected the contents. Train fare had been set aside, of course...but even with the last remnants of his savings, there was barely enough for three meals. He wasn't even sure he could still afford anything filling.

So he got two complete hamburger meals for his sisters. And when they asked him why he wasn't eating, he smiled and said "I'm not hungry."

(to be concluded)


Notes: For my younger sister Lyntek, who was sick earlier today, and isn't sick now. This was her brainchild to begin with ^______^

Disclaimer: Um... I suck at this, and summaries. All right, Prince of Tennis and its characters are copyright to Konomi Takeshi. The Kamio family, including the grade-school age sisters Manami and Naoko, were named and characterized by me, although I am aware that official information states Vice Captain Kamio Akira of the Fudomine team has two younger sisters.

That is all.