He looked at the circled variation one more time. It was just perfect for them. After lunch, he threw the notes in his bag along with his racquet and went out to meet Kaidoh.
Momo was early and he sat in the grass, waiting. It was a sunny day and after a few minutes, he lay on his back and closed his eyes.
A foot in the ribs made him open them again. Kaidoh was standing over him. "You're lazy, Momoshiro."
"It's important to relax." Momo jumped to his feet. "Anyhow, you're late."
"I am not," Kaidoh said.
Momo checked his watch. "Thirty seconds late."
"Save your breath for running," Kaidoh said and started to warm up.
"I have lots of breath," Momo said. He stretched too and then they took off.
They paced each other well, running side by side. The run was getting easier for Momo. He figured it was about the eight kilometre mark now where he wished for death, instead of the seventh.
Back in the park, they started on their racquet swings. Momo stood a little behind Kaidoh and watched him. Sweat beaded on the back of Kaidoh's neck. The muscles in his arms moved smoothly with each swing.
Momo wondered why Kaidoh always wore sleeveless shirts. Did he want to show off his arms? Momo wouldn't have thought Kaidoh to be vain about his appearance like that, but then he wouldn't have thought a lot of things about Kaidoh that had turned out to be true.
Kaidoh was a lot more relaxed today, so far as Momo could tell. Momo, on the other hand, was feeling a little jumpy. Somehow, watching Kaidoh like that was giving Momo those feelings again and he wasn't sure what to do about it.
They moved on to calisthenics and Momo didn't have as much chance to stare. Also, it was hard to think about kissing when his body felt so miserable.
When the shuttle runs were done, they sprawled on the grass. "I can't breathe," Momo said. "Can't breathe."
"Then shut up," Kaidoh said.
"I can't do that either," Momo said.
Kaidoh laughed at that. Momo sat up straight. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard Kaidoh laugh. Kaidoh really was in a good mood.
There wasn't anybody around, not right now. Maybe Momo could just lean in and kiss Kaidoh on the cheek and then Kaidoh would turn his head and kiss Momo and they'd both be happy.
It was risky, though. Someone might come by. Or Kaidoh might get mad. But he might not. Momo thought for a minute and decided he would chance it.
He turned his head and looked at Kaidoh's face. Okay, he would aim for the spot just below Kaidoh's cheekbone. On the count of five. Five... four... three...
"Where are we going to practice?" Kaidoh said.
Momo jerked back. Damn. And practice. He checked the time. Double damn. "We're late," he said. "Let's go."
They picked up their things and started walking. "You didn't answer my question," Kaidoh said.
"Oh, street tennis," Momo said.
"How is playing street tennis going to help us?"
"Don't worry," Momo said. "I arranged everything."
The courts weren't busy when they arrived. There were a couple of boys rallying. "Gyokurin!" Momo called to them.
"Momoshiro," one yelled back. They stopped playing and came over to Momo and Kaidoh.
"Kaidoh, you remember Izumi and Fukawa from Gyokurin, right?"
"The ones who lost to you and Echizen when you didn't even know how to play doubles?"
"Hey, hey," Izumi said. "You don't need to bring that up."
"I had to get someone to play with us, Mamushi," Momo said. "Don't be difficult."
"You're the difficult one," Kaidoh said.
Fukawa laughed. "Do you fight with all your partners, Momoshiro?"
"Just the annoying ones," Momo said.
"Who's annoying?" Kaidoh said and narrowed his eyes.
Oh, damn. Momo wanted to smack himself. "Can we just play without fighting? If we don't get this and soon, Tezuka-buchou is going to get mad at us and he's more scary than you are."
Kaidoh glared at Momo. Then he passed his hand over his forehead. "All right," he said. "Let's do it."
"Ready?" Fukawa said. He and Izumi moved into position.
"Just concentrate on the formations for now," Momo said to Kaidoh. "We can beat them later."
Kaidoh nodded and they started the game.
Momo thought about the notes and diagrams he'd looked at earlier. He tried to keep the major points in his head as he moved around the court. He could do this. They could do this.
It didn't go too well at first. They left holes and Gyokurin took easy points from them. It made Momo crazy. It was making Kaidoh crazy too. Momo could hear him hiss and swear, could see him grimace and clutch his racquet tighter.
They lost the first set 6-1. Halfway through the second set, Momo ran the wrong way and bumped into Kaidoh. "Idiot," Kaidoh said and glared at Momo.
Momo opened his mouth to snap back. Then he closed it and took a deep breath. "Sorry," he said. "I went the wrong way."
Kaidoh stared. "It's okay," he muttered.
"We can do this," Momo said. He held out his hand. After a few seconds, Kaidoh gripped it.
"All right," Kaidoh said.
They got back in position. Your opponents, Momo thought, watch your opponents. Think about where they are, not where Kaidoh is.
They lost that game. But during the next one, something seemed to click. Momo's feet were moving to where they were supposed to be before he told them to. He could tell where Kaidoh was without looking at him. And they started to put the points away.
"Good job," Momo said, as they changed up before the next serve. He lifted his hand and Kaidoh slapped it. They took the final point and changed courts.
Oishi was right, Momo thought as they walked. Their combination was stronger now, with more than just determination holding it together. He just hoped there wasn't some mysterious third level of doubles that they could only reach through fire-walking and ritual fasting or something.
"Hey, Kaidoh," Momo said. "We need to shake these guys up a little. Let's try that formation, the one you circled."
Kaidoh nodded and Momo got ready to serve. "Now!"
They destroyed Gyokurin. Momo and Kaidoh won the second set and the third as well. Momo felt like he was flying, like he had won a lottery, like he was putting on his Regulars jacket for the first time. He grabbed Kaidoh by the shoulders. "We did it! We did it!"
"You're too noisy," Kaidoh said, but he put his hand on Momo's arm.
"It's kind of like dancing, don't you think?" Momo said.
"Don't be stupid."
"What happened?" Izumi called across the net. "Your game just changed in the middle."
"Fire-walking," Momo said.
"We're better than you," Kaidoh said.
"Jeez," Fukawa said. "Is it polite to say it like that?"
"Come on, Momoshiro," Izumi said. "Don't forget your promise."
"Oh, right," Momo said. He turned to Kaidoh. "I had to promise these guys ramen before they would agree to be slaughtered by us. Let's go eat."
Kaidoh put his racquet in his bag. "I should go home."
"It's Momoshiro's treat," Izumi said.
"It's our victory celebration," Momo said. "Don't make me face these two alone." He smiled at Kaidoh.
"All right," Kaidoh said at last.
"Excellent," Momo said. "Doubles partners always eat ramen together."
They walked to the restaurant and sat at the counter and Momo watched all his spare cash disappear as Gyokurin demanded seconds.
It was fun. Izumi and Fukawa were good guys to hang out with. Kaidoh didn't really join in the conversation, except when someone asked him a direct question, but Momo thought he was enjoying himself. He certainly ate enough.
"How about thirds?" Fukawa asked.
"I'm out of money," Momo said. "But if you want to buy this round..."
"Maybe next time." Fukawa grinned. He pulled Izumi off the stool. "Thanks for the food, Momoshiro. See you guys later."
"They sure ate a lot," Momo said when they had gone.
"Like you didn't?" Kaidoh said. "You can eat more than anyone."
"It's a gift," Momo said and picked up his bag. They walked out and down the street. When they came to the place where Kaidoh turned off, they stopped and stood on the sidewalk.
Momo found that he didn't really want the afternoon to end. "Do you ... want some ice cream?"
"It's too sweet," Kaidoh said. He was looking away from Momo, out into the road.
"Oh, okay. I still have those notes you gave me."
"Keep them for now," Kaidoh said.
"Okay then," Momo said. "Good work today."
"You too." And Kaidoh did look at Momo.
"Oishi-senpai will be surprised tomorrow."
"Well, okay, see you." Momo wasn't sure just what to do so he socked Kaidoh's arm in a manly fashion and waved.
"See you," Kaidoh said and socked Momo back.
Maybe this thing with Kaidoh was like the doubles, Momo thought as he walked home. It would just take some time to start working.
On Monday, Momo could hardly wait until afternoon practice. When they got out on the court, Oishi looked concerned. "I hope you're ready to concentrate," he said.
"Of course," Kaidoh said. Momo just grinned.
"Ready for the walrus show!" Eiji called out.
"Eiji," Oishi said. He frowned. Then he served.
Momo and Kaidoh lost the first game. But they put up a good fight. Momo had that same feeling as Sunday, that "working well together" feeling. From the look on Kaidoh's face, he thought Kaidoh had it as well. Together, they could do it.
It was Kaidoh's serve and they took the first point. "Oh ho," Eiji laughed. "I'm getting worried."
"Momoshiro," Kaidoh said. Momo went over to him. "We should make them play seriously."
"Time for that?"
"All right!" They pressed their fists together. Kaidoh moved back to serve and Momo stood on the other side of the court, right at the baseline.
Oishi looked puzzled. He opened his mouth, like he was about to say something, and then closed it again.
"Ready?" Kaidoh asked.
"Ready," Momo said.
Kaidoh served. Then they both yelled and rushed the net.
Eiji's eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open. Oishi returned the serve, but weakly, and Momo easily picked it up and put it past Eiji. Eiji didn't even try to hit it.
"Yes!" Momo said. He and Kaidoh slapped hands. "Worked like a charm."
"Oh, you scared me," Eiji said. "I thought you were going to come right through and trample me."
"What was that?" Oishi asked.
"Two Back Rushing Formation," Momo said.
"More like the Walrus Rush," Eiji said.
"That's a stupid name," Kaidoh said. But Momo could hear voices at the sidelines pick it up and repeat it and he figured they were stuck with it now.
"Come on," Momo said, "let's play."
They took three games before the set was over.
Oishi jumped over the net to clap them both on the back. Eiji hugged Kaidoh and made him grimace. "You guys are so much better," Oishi said. "Good work. I think you've got it now."
"Of course we do," Momo said. "It's us."
"Momoshiro, Kaidoh." Tezuka walked onto the court.
"Buchou," they said. Even though they had done so well, Momo was a bit worried. He never knew what Tezuka was going to say.
"You've improved a lot," Tezuka said. "Don't get sloppy now."
"Yes, buchou." That wasn't too bad. Momo relaxed.
"You've been playing basketball."
Momo un-relaxed. They were going to get it now. Two hundred laps, maybe, and a look of death. Kaidoh was going to blame it all on Momo and they would fight some more. And they wouldn't even be able to play to blow off steam.
"Don't get injured," Tezuka said. And he walked away.
"That was close," Momo said to Kaidoh. "I thought for sure we were in trouble."
"But we're not. You worry too much."
"You don't worry enough."
"If you would just concentrate more, you wouldn't have to worry."
"You had better start to worry. I'm going to crush you today."
Kaidoh shrugged. "Unlikely." They started off to the clubhouse to change.
"I'll make you cry," Momo said.
"You'll be the one crying."
Kaidoh won the basketball game, which put him one up. Tomorrow, for sure, Momo would even the score.
Then they did their training. As they were resting in the park afterwards, Momo turned to Kaidoh. "Hey, Mamushi," he said.
Kaidoh looked at Momo. "What?"
"That was fun today."
"Losing at basketball?"
Momo punched Kaidoh's shoulder. "Dumbass. The doubles. It's fun."
"Mmm," Kaidoh said and drank his water.
Momo supposed that was the closest to agreement he was going to get from Kaidoh. He grinned and leaned back against the tree. "Do you want to come over now?"
"I just got Backstreet Racer," Momo said. "It's more fun to play against somebody."
Kaidoh looked out into the park. "I guess I have time."
More enthusiasm would be nice, but this was Kaidoh. Momo figured this was good enough for now. "Let's go, then." He jumped up, then gave his hand to Kaidoh to help him up. When their fingers touched, Momo got that jumpy frog feeling.
They went to Momo's house. Momo wanted to put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder while they walked, but he didn't quite dare. When they got there, Momo talked his mother into making them snacks while they cleaned up.
In Momo's room, they sat on cushions in front of the TV. Momo put in the game. "I'm the blue car," he said.
"Why should you get to pick?" Kaidoh said.
"I'm used to the blue car." Momo turned his head and looked at Kaidoh. Kaidoh looked at Momo.
The both moved at the same time and their teeth cracked together. Momo thought about the walruses bashing their tusks and laughed out loud.
"It's not funny," Kaidoh muttered. He reached out and took Momo's chin in his hand. Momo let Kaidoh tilt his head and they leaned in.
The kiss was slower than last time. They moved their mouths together almost lazily, pulling apart for a moment, coming back together. Momo felt so in sync with Kaidoh, like they were still on the court, bodies moving before their brains could think.
Kaidoh moved his hand back along Momo's jaw, behind his head. He brushed Momo's neck, just like that first day in the park, and it made Momo shiver, half from the touch, half from the memory. He slid his arm behind Kaidoh's back. He kissed the corner of Kaidoh's mouth, then the spot on his cheek Momo had aimed at the other day. Kaidoh stroked Momo's neck one more time, then they pulled apart.
Momo sat for a moment with his eyes closed, breathing deeply. When he looked up, Kaidoh had taken the blue car. "Jerk!" Momo said. "I already called it."
"Baby," Kaidoh said. "You need your special car to win?"
"Not against you," Momo said. And he took the orange car and won.
"Next time," Kaidoh said, "I'll beat you."
"I'd like to see you try," Momo said and started the game again.