Ryoma's first Christmas gift is a bright red racket left on his dresser when he came home from the hospital. Ryoma's first birthday present is a yellow tennis ball that he clutches in his sleep until he is six. Ryoma's first word is "ball" but "tennis" is his second, and Rinko suspects that's only because "ball" is easier to say.
Ryoma does not understand anything that doesn't relate to tennis. This is Nanjiroh's doing, and Rinko only starts realizing this when Ryoma comes back from first grade with a "Needs work" scrawled at the top of a math test in red marker for the fifth time.
Nanjiroh glances at the paper and scoffs, telling her that the boy didn't need to know stupid math anyway. All he needs to know, Nanjiroh says, is love, fifteen, thirty, forty, game.
After giving her husband a so-when-he's-a-retired-pro-you-want-him-to-lounge-around-the-house-like-a-lazy-drunk look (it is the same look she had given him when he had insisted that kindergarten was a waste of time and couldn't the boy just spend the year practicing his forehand?), Nanjiroh walks away with a lazy shrug of his shoulders. She hears the plodding of his feet and then the familiar sounds of the TV switching on.
She walks into their backyard where her son is repeating forehands and backhands and bouncing two balls on his racket. When he sees her, Ryoma tips down his cap and lets his racket fall into the grass before making his way over to her. He looks properly abashed and so guilty that Rinko gives him a hug. "Honey, you should know what 39 minus 12 is."
"School is boring, mom. Why can't I just play tennis instead?" Ryoma says instead. He scuffs his white-sneakered foot against the grass and pulls his cap down even lower.
"Do you want to end up like your dad?" she asks wryly, and glances meaningfully towards the sound of Days of Our Lives from the living room. Ryoma makes a face and shakes his head. "So what is 39 minus 12?" Ryoma's foot continues to kick into the ground, uprooting grass and dirtying his shoes. Rinko sighs, and rephrases the question: "Okay, if I have 39 balls and you smash 12 into your father's face, how many balls would I have left?"
Rinko can almost see the proverbial lightbulb glow above his head, and Ryoma replies, "27 balls."
Ryoma's fourth grade teacher is worried about him and Nanjiroh can't see why. "His grades are perfect," he complains to Rinko as she wrestles him into something clean and presentable. "What more do they want from him?"
Her husband is far more worried about the control of Ryoma's top-spin than the amount of A's on Ryoma's report card, but Rinko drags him to the parent-teacher conference anyway.
Ms. Jones ("She would be a 'Mrs.' if she stopped wearing things from the fourties," Nanjiroh whines when Rinko pulls him out of the classroom by his ear after he had given the woman a porn magazine for fashion references) is concerned that Ryoma would never "expand his horizons."
"All of his work revolves around tennis," she explains. "His science project detailed what would happen if you put a certain amount of spin on a tennis ball. His history project was a timeline of tennis players and how, in his opinion, most of them 'sucked'. His 'I have a dream' speech consisted mostly of how he would humiliate his father in a tennis match--" ("Ha!" Nanjiroh calls from the door, "Like that would happen anytime soon. The boy still has lots more to work on.") "--and his work is very well researched and very informative, but I'm afraid Ryoma isn't considering all his options. Especially at such a young age, Ryoma should have more than one interest."
Rinko exchanges handshakes and polite nods with Ms. Jones, and then returns home with a petulant husband: "She's only trying to take away time from tennis. I was only interested in tennis and look at me, I grew up a sex god."
Staring at her husband for one long moment, Rinko decides that Ryoma really does need a another hobby.
When Ryoma comes home from school the next day, he finds a small ball of fur on his bed. He tentatively picks it up after placing his bag carefully onto his desk. The ball of fur snuggles into Ryoma's shirt and purrs happily.
Ryoma walks downstairs slowly, calling out for his mom and finds his dad at the bottom of the stairs instead.
"A pet?" Nanjiroh screeches and gestures wildly. "This was your brilliant idea? Rinko, you bought the boy an animal?" He reaches for the small bundle in Ryoma's arms as Ryoma tries to maneuver away and Nanjiroh suddenly yelps, "It bit me!"
Rinko walks into the scene while toweling her hands off. "I think a cat would teach Ryoma responsibility," she says, eyes dancing in amusement. "Do you like him, dear?"
Nanjiroh rants angrily about dangerous animals in the house while Ryoma alternates staring at his father sucking on his bitten thumb and the purring cat settled securely in his arms. "I think we'll get along fine, mom," he finally says, a large grin spreading across his face.
Ryoma's fifth grade science project is about how his cat is smarter than his father. In sixth grade, Ryoma discovers Fanta in the vending machine by the courts he practices on and receives an A for his project about the carbonation of grape soda.