Facets of Me
Facet One: Onyx
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis or the associated characters.
Warning: Death of an OC
Notes About the Japanese School System: Kindergarten is from the age of three to six and is not mandatory. The Japanese school year begins in April, not in September like in the United States and other countries. The first term runs to around July 20, when summer vacation begins. Kids return to school in early September for the second term, which lasts until about December 25. The final term begins in early January and continues to late March. Students go to school on Saturdays, but only for half the day. They're off on Sundays.
Story Note: I started writing this and had the last chapter completely plotted out around the beginning of November, before issue 324, so some of the things happening in this fic are a freakish coincidence.
It's the thirteenth of April, only a couple of weeks into my first year at high school, but creative writing is already my favorite class. Hongo-sensei comes in and the annoying chatter of my classmates ceases. I sit up even straighter at my desk, eagerly awaiting the next assignment.
"The characters are a very important part of any story," she begins. "If the people you write about are flat and boring, no one is going to care about what happens to them. Real people have many facets, like a gemstone.
"During class, we'll continue to focus on plot and setting, but for the next several weeks, I want you to work on characterization at home. Pick out ten gemstones and write about times in your life that match the meanings of the gemstones or their colors.
"You won't be turning these in, so don't worry about writing things that are very personal. Don't force yourself to write about a different side of yourself for each situation. Unlike gemstones, the facets of a human overlap and merge.
"I'll give you ten weeks to work on these, and I highly suggest you do so, even though they won't be graded on them. During the eleventh week, you will write a story. It can be purely your own experiences or you can use a combination of your life and things you've made up."
The assignment sounds interesting, especially the option of mixing fact with fiction in the final part. It'll give us a chance to write what we know without having to bare our souls to the teacher or our classmates.
I can already tell that several of my classmates aren't going to bother with anything but the final part of the assignment. I hiss softly to myself in contempt. Morons. If nothing else, the first parts of the project will be valuable writing experience.
Once class is over, I gather my things and head to tennis practice. I hate being a first year again. Even though I have more tennis experience than some of the regulars, I don't get to do much other than fetch balls, swing a racket, and help with the cleaning.
At least I conduct myself with quiet resignation, unlike that idiot, Momoshiro. If I had known he was taking the entrance exam to get into this school, I would have tried for the high school Fuji-senpai and Kawamura-senpai are going to.
Oishi-senpai and Kikumaru-senpai attend this high school as well and are both second-year regulars. The latter snickers at a loudly complaining Momoshiro while the former looks at us both with sympathy.
I grunt noncommittally as Oishi-senpai offers to help collect balls. Momoshiro and several of the other first-years shower him with gratitude. I ignore them all, especially Momoshiro. My mind is still on the creative writing assignment.
It's all I can think about as I jog home, Inui-senpai joining me as I pass the high school he and Tezuka-buchou are attending. He seems concerned by my obvious preoccupation, but smiles at me fondly when I absently mutter that I'm thinking about an interesting school project. After that, we run in companionable silence until we get to my house.
I greet my parents and head to my room, immediately pulling my creative writing notebook out of my school bag and sitting down at my desk with it. It's Saturday, so I have more of the day than usual to do my homework, plus all of Sunday. I could put the assignment off, but I want to go ahead and get started. I have a lot of ideas, but I'm still not sure what I want to write about.
I shudder as a specific memory surfaces, pushing aside all of my other ideas. Good characters are the ones who have several facets, the ones who have had a life of both pain and pleasure. If I'm ever going to excel at writing, I need practice at writing both.
I take a deep breath and, with a shaking hand, start writing about what led to the most painful time in my life.
Onyx is a black stone. The stone itself is said to help release negative emotions such as sorrow and grief. The color can stand for negativity, death, and depression. Negativity and depression certainly describe most of my fifth year of life, but in order to really understand that, we have to go back to when I was four.
I was walking to school by myself when I first met Aoyuki Katashi. It was my second year of kindergarten and I considered myself quite old enough to walk to school without adult supervision.
The boy who came running up behind me, squealing loudly in childish glee, clearly felt the same way, though without much reason. I was a quiet, thoughtful child and clearly mature for my age while the other boy sounded like an escapee from the monkey house at the zoo.
"Hiya!" he chirped, slowing down as he reached my side. "I'm Aoyuki Katashi, but you can call me Tashi-chan! My family just moved here, and Mama doesn't think I should be going to school by myself yet, but I ran out while she was busy with my little sister, so now I'm off by myself. I think you go to the same school as me, so I'll just follow you." He paused for just a moment to catch his breath. "So, who are you?"
"Kaidoh Kaoru," I replied, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. He was a fairly average looking boy with black hair and dark brown eyes. He wore a yellow bandana with white diamond patterns on his head.
Tashi's eyes widened with glee. "My sister's name is Kaoru! Her hair is longer than yours though, but I think you're prettier. How come you're wearing a boy's uniform instead of a skirt?"
I stopped and stared at him. "Because I'm a boy," I growled.
Tashi stared back. "But my sister's name is Kaoru, so it's a girl's name. And if your name is Kaoru, you must be a girl too," he said, obviously pleased with his logic.
"It's a boy name too," I grumbled, starting to get angry.
"Nuh-uh. My little sister is a girl and Mama wouldn't give her a boy name, so it's a girl's name, and you're a girl. But sometimes boys can be really mean to girls. Mama says only bad boys are mean to girls and that I should be nice to my sister and take care of her. But you don't have a big brother here with you, so if you want to pretend to be a boy, I'll go along with it, so the bad boys won't be mean to you."
"I'm not a girl!" I snapped, clenching my fists. I really wanted to punch him. He was annoying, and he kept babbling. Before I could act on my violent impulses, he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. My face suddenly felt hot, and I knew I was blushing.
"Don't worry, Kaoru-chan, I'll keep your secret and keep you safe," he announced proudly, grabbing my arm and dragging me off toward the school.
Normally, I sat by myself in the back of the class, but Tashi forced me to sit next to him at the front. He chattered animatedly with some of our classmates, often trying to get me involved in the conversation. He referred to me as a girl a few times, but he always corrected himself, giving me an exaggerated wink as he did so. The others looked at him strangely, but nobody said anything, mostly out of fear of my wrath.
I sighed sadly. I didn't want to be teased or called a girl, but it would have been nice if the other kids weren't so afraid of me. They all thought I was mean because of my looks, making judgments without bothering to get to know me.
By the time school was over, I had had more than enough of Tashi's weird assumption. Before he could head home, I grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him with me behind the school building, where no one could see us.
"I'm a boy," I insisted, dropping my pants to prove it. I quickly pulled them back up, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment while Tashi stared at me in stunned disbelief. I suddenly wondered if he'd be mad at me for not being what he thought I was. He was annoying, but it was kind of nice to be around someone who wanted to be my friend.
"Wow," Tashi finally said. "I've seen my sister get a bath, and she doesn't have one of those. You must be a really special type of girl!"
I twitched a couple of times, but kept myself from hitting him. He was nice to me, and he wasn't afraid of me. It wasn't his fault he was an idiot and convinced I was a girl.
From then on, we walked to and from school together everyday. Tashi liked to talk about whatever happened to cross his mind, and I learned a lot about him just from listening. He adored his baby sister, and he had a lot of strange hobbies, including collecting and wearing bandanas.
I didn't talk as much, but he did manage to learn at least a bit about me. Including my birthday. On the morning that I turned five, he gave me a cookie and his yellow bandana as we walked to school. I gave him a quick, awkward kiss on the cheek. At the time, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. He thought I was a girl and no one else was around to see.
He still babbled all the time, and he was still really annoying, but he was my friend. And sometimes he'd shut up long enough for me to talk. He would always listen intently when I spoke, especially when the subject was animals. It usually was. I really liked cats, dogs, and even snakes, though a lot of people made fun of me and called me a snake.
About a month and a week after my birthday, Tashi got in trouble and had to stay after for five minutes. I went on without him, but walked slowly and stopped by the side of the road several times to look at squirrels and birds.
It was during one of those stops that a group of fifth graders, two girls and three boys, found me. I sighed when I saw them and didn't bother trying to run. I'd had encounters with them before. All they'd do was push me around a bit and call me names. Then they'd get bored and leave me alone.
"What're you up to, Snake Boy?" the leader of the group asked, grabbing me from behind. "Gonna try to eat the birdies and squirrels?"
One of the other boys giggled. "If we catch a squirrel for him, do you think he'll swallow it?"
"Eeew!" the two girls squealed in unison.
"Don't!" I yelled as the third boy pulled a slingshot out of his pocket and aimed at a squirrel. I forced back tears as the innocent little animal hit the ground. How could anyone do something like that?
"Time for dinner, brat," the slingshot user called cheerfully as he picked the squirrel up by the tail. I tried to get away as he came toward me, but the leader of the group was holding me too tightly.
"Hey, leave Kaoru-chan alone!" Tashi yelled, seeming to appear out of nowhere. He slammed into the boy holding me and bit his arm.
The fifth grader yelped and let me go, shoving Tashi away from him. Tashi tripped and fell backwards into the street. There was a honk and the screech of breaks, and a small body flying away from the point of impact to land in a crumpled heap farther down the road.
I didn't rush to Tashi in a panic. I felt calm and sort of floaty as I walked into the road. I think I must have been in shock. He was still alive, coughing up blood, when I sat next to him and pulled him partially into my lap.
"It's Tashi-chan," he said weakly, grinning at me. His teeth were stained with blood. The smile quickly faltered. "I feel weird, Kaoru-chan. I think I got hurt, but I'm cold, and I don't hurt anywhere."
"You'll be okay, Tashi-chan," I lied.
"You're such a pretty girl, Kaoru-chan," he suddenly said. His eyes were strange as he looked at me, like he was seeing me from a great distance. "You should wear skirts. You'd look even prettier in skirts."
"I will. I promise."
Tashi smiled at me again, and then… he went away. His body was still there in my arms, but Tashi was gone…
His death had a large impact on me. I stole some clothes from a female cousin around my age, and for a little over a year, I wore nothing but dresses and skirts while insisting that I was a girl. Oddly enough, I didn't get teased for it. Tashi had slipped up so often that most of our classmates had started thinking I really was a girl pretending to be a boy.
My parents sent me to a therapist, which did some good, I suppose. I was back in boy's clothing by the time I started first grade.
I blink down at the notebook in mild surprise. The paper is damp in several places. I don't like to think about Tashi much. It always makes me feel weird. I wonder sometimes what my life would be like if he hadn't died.
I sigh and rub my arm across my eyes, getting rid of the annoying tears. It was a bad idea to write about Tashi. Now I'd be depressed and mopey for the rest of the day. I hate being depressed and mopey.
I hiss in annoyance at myself and change back into my usual training clothes. I hesitate as I reach for my green bandana, then go to my dresser instead and open the bottom drawer. It's stuffed full of bandanas. The one I want is near the bottom. It's yellow with a white diamond pattern. I've only worn it a few times since my first year of middle school.
I tell my parents that I'm going out for my evening jog, then head out the door, pausing only long enough to put my shoes on. Inui-senpai is waiting outside his apartment building and falls into step beside me as I run past. He glances at the yellow bandana, but doesn't say anything. He's used to me randomly wearing different ones.
I normally enjoy our quiet runs together, but right now the silence seems strange. Tashi had always chattered and jumped around like a demented squirrel. Inui-senpai likes to talk, but it's always about data and interesting things he's discovered. He's nothing like Tashi, but for some reason, being around him makes me feel the same way.
When we start running on the path through the park, a weird mood overtakes me. I give in to it, grabbing two long sticks from near a tree before running ahead of Inui-senpai. He looks at me oddly as I leap up onto one of the benches set along the path and toss one of the sticks at him.
"Kaidoh… are you feeling all right?" he asks, slowing as he catches the stick.
I poke him lightly in the shoulder as he comes to a stop beside the bench. "Do you ever do anything silly for fun, Senpai?"
He cocks his head slightly, studying me and no doubt wondering about my strange behavior. "No, I don't suppose I do," he answers slowly. He smiles slightly. "But it seems like it would be fun to try. If nothing else, I could collect some good data."
For the next fifteen minutes, we run around the park like a couple of little kids, pretending our sticks are swords. Inui-senpai manages to "kill" me and we continue our run, both of us smiling a bit.
Everything is normal after that, until we get into the shopping district and pass a dress shop. I stop abruptly and stare at the dress in the window. Its bodice is dark blue and the sleeves and full skirt are pale lavender. Buried deeply in my mother's box of family photos, there's a picture of me wearing a little girl version of that dress.
"Inui-senpai, can I borrow forty-seven hundred yen?" I ask suddenly. "I didn't bring my wallet with me, but I can pay you back when we get to my house."
He looks at me strangely but pulls his wallet out of his pocket and gives me the money. He waits patiently until I come back out with a large bag. He raises a brow, obviously curious but willing to wait until I feel like telling him what's going on.
I blush and fidget uncomfortably. "It's… for a friend," I explain.
Inui-senpai's expression becomes unreadable. "I see. I didn't realize you had any female friends."
He thinks Tashi is a girl. It takes a lot more effort than I like to think about to keep from bursting into a disturbing fit of giggles at that.
"Kaidoh?" Inui-senpai says in growing alarm.
I cough and manage to get myself under control. My eyes gleam slightly as I look up at him with a small smile. "Don't worry, Senpai, you don't have any competition from Tashi-chan. He's been dead for years."
His jaw drops and he stutters out a few words, clearly unsure of what to say. I just smile wider and start jogging again. I know I'm acting pretty strangely, but it's fitting. Tashi was a pretty strange little kid. Bizarre behavior seems like a better tribute to his memory than depression.
We run in silence back to my house, Inui-senpai glancing at me every few minutes, probably to see if I'm going to do anything else vastly out of character. I just smile at him, which doesn't seem to reassure him in the least.
"Do you want to stay for dinner?" I ask. He accepts the offer and follows me into the house.
"Mom, Inui-senpai is staying for dinner," I say, poking my head into the kitchen. "We'll be in my room."
The first thing I do is pay Inui-senpai back. Then I carefully take the blue and lavender dress out of the bag and hang it in my closet. Inui-senpai is sitting on my bed, watching with curiosity.
"You've been acting very strangely today, Kaidoh," he finally says. "Does it have something to do with that assignment you mentioned earlier?"
"Hongo-sensei asked us to practice characterization by writing about things that happened in our lives," I answer quietly. "I wrote about something I remember from when I was really young. It… wasn't a happy memory."
"May I read it?" Inui-senpai asks gently.
I hesitate a moment before giving him my creative writing notebook. If it had been anyone else asking, I would have refused. But Inui-senpai isn't anyone else.
I watch him as he reads, trying to figure out why he sometimes reminds me of Tashi. Tashi was an overly cheerful idiot. Inui-senpai is even-tempered and loves knowledge. Maybe it's because of how they both relate to me? They both got to know me instead of making snap judgments about my personality. Even Tashi's confusion about my gender had more to do with bizarre four-year-old logic than with making assumptions about me.
Inui-senpai finishes reading and sets the notebook beside on the bed. He sits there quietly for several moments before standing up and giving back the money I had repaid him. I blink at him in surprise.
"Consider it a gift for Tashi-chan," he says with a soft smile. "For being your friend and trying to stand up for you against those older kids."
He silences me with a kiss, which is just as well. I hadn't really known what to say. I still don't. I wrap my arms around him and deepen the kiss, then immediately jump back slightly as someone knocks at my door.
"Kaoru, Inui-kun, dinner is ready," my mother calls.
Inui-senpai adjusts his glasses and smiles wryly. "Your mother's timing is either horrible or excellent. I am uncertain which."
"All mothers have horrible timing," I mutter, heading for my bedroom door. "Though it could have been worse."
"Indeed," Inui-senpai agrees, following behind me. Before I can go out into the hall, he lightly grabs my shoulder. "Kaidoh, if you don't mind, I'd like to assist you with your creative writing assignment."
I glance over my shoulder at him, thinking about it. I have nine more papers to write, each one giving a glimpse into who I really am. That's something that no one else knows, not even my parents or Inui-senpai. Do I really want to give anyone that much insight into the real me?
I smile at him. "Thank you, Senpai, your help would be appreciated."