Kaidoh Kaoru would not be bullied.
The centerfolds fluttered from Kaidoh's tennis locker, flipping and rustling as they fell, giving glimpses of a thigh here, an exposed breast there. This was the third time in the last two weeks and, while the first time Kaidoh's cheeks flared to life and his stomach churned, now he just let the pictures fall, swept what remained out of his locker, and readied himself for practice.
Fuji eyed the centerfolds. "Is there a problem, Kaidoh? Something you'd like to talk about?"
"No." Kaidoh adjusted his bandana, checked its positioning in his locker mirror, and grabbed his racquet.
"If someone's bothering you, your senpai can help," Fuji said, stepping around the sea of magazine clippings and falling into step with his kouhai.
Kaidoh walked a little faster. "I'm fine."
"That pile on the floor indicates to the contrary, Kaidoh." Inui stood in the door, blocking their path.
"It's fine, senpai." Kaidoh waited for Inui to move. Fuji left the two doubles partners alone, opting to examine his racquet tension back by the lockers.
"I may not have been clear on this in previous discussions, but you can rely on me to assist you in any situation." Inui put a supportive hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. The hand was unsteady and lifted quickly. Inui didn't do sympathy well.
Kaidoh took a step back and set his face in stern lines. He didn't want anyone's pity. "I can handle it, senpai. Now please move. Practice is starting." Kaidoh waited through the long silence as Inui tried to form words and ultimately gave up, nodding slowly.
"My offer is an ongoing one, Kaidoh."
Because he was taught to be polite, Kaidoh said, "Thank you, senpai," as he swept out the door and into the wretched damp of the outside world.
A week before the harassment started, Kaidoh was sitting in the classroom, reviewing for a literature exam when a classmate approached him. Abe-kun sat three seats behind Kaidoh and was the loudest boy in the class, always questioning the sensei and mouthing off, just to get a rise out of the girls.
"Come on over to my house tonight, Kaidoh-kun. We're gonna have a party." Abe nudged Kaidoh's shoulder. Abe lived alone, funded by his mother who worked in Okinawa, where Abe would move when he finished middle school.
"I have practice," Kaidoh said, highlighting a passage in his book.
Abe crouched down, drawing an arm around Kaidoh's shoulders. "You never hang out with us anymore. The tennis team's taken all the fun out of you." In a whisper, he added, "We'll make it worth your while."
Nothing Abe could provide would make missing practice worth Kaidoh's while. Nationals were around the corner and Kaidoh needed to work with Inui-senpai to perfect his new Snake before the matches began. "Next time."
"You said that last month, Kaidoh. You going back on your promise?" Abe's teeth showed, crooked and yellow.
"Kaidoh Kaoru does not lie," Kaidoh snarled. "I'll be there."
"Good." Abe patted Kaidoh on the back and rose. "Good."
Kaidoh sliced his racquet through the fog that hugged the tennis courts. Forty swings.
"Hey Kaidoh, can you help me with my racquet. I keep fucking up my grip tape." Arai raised his racquet and a roll of aqua grip tape dangled from the end.
Forty-two. If he ignored everyone, they'd go away.
"I don't know what's up with me. I keep getting the spacing wrong." Arai trotted up, sticking his racquet handle toward Kaidoh. "I really appreciate it."
Kaidoh closed his eyes and let out a long hiss. Then, when one wasn't enough, he let another out. Concentrate on the exhalation. Ignore everything around you. Be zen.
"Fine," he said, taking Arai's racquet in hand and stalking over to a bench.
Arai's hand fell on Kaidoh's shoulder and rested there, a hot, damp weight. "You're the best."
Abe-kun's apartment looked much as it had the last time Kaidoh visited, though last time the carpet was clean. Now, junk mail and idol magazines littered the floor, some covered in soda, others in something slightly more viscous that Kaidoh prayed was dried ranch dressing from a salad but was fairly certain wasn't. The air was stagnant and smelled like week old coffee, heavy with spoiled cream.
Near the television, a circle was cleared and five of Kaidoh's classmates sat watching commercials.
"Hey Kaidoh. Long time no see." Miyaki-kun saluted then turned back to the entrancing glow of the television. Kaidoh didn't respond. He didn't talk to Miyaki-kun more than necessary. The other boy was on the principal's monitor list and Kaidoh didn't associate with those sorts anymore.
Behind Miyaki, Arai leaned back and waved. "Hey! Didn't know you were coming."
Kaidoh shrugged and raised a hand in greeting. There was no use being rude to another member of the team. Buchou could find out.
"Have a seat, Kaidoh-kun. You want a soda?" Abe smacked Kaidoh across the back, shoving him toward the mass of teens worshiping the television's glow.
"I'm fine, thank you." Kaidoh didn't want to ingest anything in Abe's refrigerator. Inui-senpai's energy drinks were less toxic.
"Bring me one," Arai called, waving his hands for Kaidoh to come sit down. "There's more space over here."
Kaidoh kicked at soiled newspapers and old, red-marked exams, shoving them under the nearby couch. He didn't speak. He was here because he promised, not because he wanted to have whatever brand of "fun" Abe planned for the evening.
"Perhaps it would be better if you left your things in my locker for the time being," Inui said, taking Kaidoh's school clothes, shaking the flour off before refolding them. "I doubt your aggressor will attempt anything on my property."
Kaidoh reached for his possessions but Inui already locked his locker, smiling down on Kaidoh's frustration. Kaidoh let out a long, low hiss. He didn't need to be babied by his senpai. He could take care of himself.
"Please do not misinterpret my intentions, Kaidoh." Inui handed Kaidoh a towel and began walking toward the showers. "I have an interest in your well being as a senpai and your doubles partner. I do not mean to make you uncomfortable or bring your autonomy into question."
"I know, senpai." Kaidoh followed Inui into the shower room, eyes cast to the ground. Even while they practiced, his things weren't safe. Someone came and dumped sugar and flour into his locker, coating everything. With the humidity in the air, the sugar and flower melted and molded into a crust around the locker, ruining everything inside. Inui's house was closer, so Kaidoh would wash his things there to keep from worrying his mother. In the meantime, Kaidoh would wear his practice jersey.
In the shower hall, Fuji ducked his head out of his curtained stall to smile at Kaidoh. He didn't say anything, just smiled before ducking back into the stall. The attention was a warning, though. If things continued, Fuji would get involved. Fuji was blindingly protective of the members of the tennis club and blanketed them in a web of protection that spread across most of the campus. There were some places, though, where Fuji-senpai's influence failed to reach.
"I'll wait for you when I'm done," Inui said, disappearing into a stall and turning on the water. Inui was efficient in the shower and took exactly five minutes. Kaidoh took ten to twenty minutes, depending on his mood. Today was a twenty minute day.
The heat of the room escalated through the night, filling with the stank of spilled beer and burned cigarettes, items Abe smuggled from an overly indulgent uncle. Kaidoh sat, squished between Arai and Abe, while Miyaki fidgeted with the DVD player, trying to convince it to ignore the sticky soda sheen on the disc and play. On the next patch of floor sat Abe's three other friends, whose names Kaidoh barely knew because, while they were in his grade, they were neither in his class nor came to school regularly enough to be recognizable.
"Just spit on it and wipe it on your shirt," one of the unknown three said, his fourth beer sloshing in his hand.
"You're such a genius, you get up here and do it," Miyaki said, taking out the disc and spitting on it before offering it up.
"Go on Itami, you're the one who wanted him to spit." Abe laughed and burped. The acid of it floated to Kaidoh's nose and he cringed. Kaidoh still held his first beer, opened but untasted. Every now and then he brought the can to his lips, which seemed to satisfy the others.
Itami stumbled up and grabbed the disc, wiping the spit off on his shirt then chucking the shirt across the room. "You're doing my wash before I go, man," he told Abe. He gave the disc back to Miyaki, who slipped it into the player and collapsed next to Abe, filling the gap between the two groups.
Abe fiddled with the remote and, when two bare breasts wobbled onto the screen, the boys gave a cheer. Kaidoh blushed and averted his eyes to the side of the room, occasionally peeking at the screen, but never outright staring.
Kaidoh stepped up to his house to find a basket of fruit sitting there, his name written in clean kanji on the tag tied to the basket's handle. His mother was home all day and probably went to the market early. Hazue was staying at a friend's for the weekend. Dad wouldn't be home until late, typical for a Friday. That meant the basket could've arrived any time in the afternoon and the delivery person could have easily passed, unseen.
"What's that dear?" his mother asked as he entered.
"A fruit basket. Someone at school gave it to me." Kaidoh hoped he wasn't telling a lie to his mother. Lying to his mother was worse than losing a match.
He shuffled up the stairs to his room, bits of unwoven and broken wicker cutting into the groove of his inner arm. The basket was large, half a meter at least in diameter, and heavy.
Closing his door, he ripped off the cellophane keeping the contents together. Blackberry jam, a pineapple, a mango, some starfruit – exotic things, but overall normal. A few pieces of melon bread, a red bean bun, kiwis, apples covered in wax to keep them fresh, cherry lubricant. He threw the last into the trash with the cellophane.
A layer of flatbreads and fruit spreads. A clear yellow rubber penis with various fruits on the inside like the gelatin desserts his mother put in his lunches – he also threw that away. A recipe book for the 100 greatest fruit drinks, along with a festive glass and stirrer.
Beneath the food and miscellany was a note, written in teal Sharpie on a piece of plain notebook paper.
Eat everything. Use everything. Think of me. I'll be watching.
Half an hour into the video, Kaidoh was bored. The initial thrill of a woman being shoved against a bed and having a surgically altered penis rammed into her crevices had worn away into a motley of ah and ooh and the sweaty pants of the other boys in the room, who seemed to find the display sexy. Kaidoh thought lace panties and a wet, white t-shirt were sexy. Seeing the woman's ribs lurch with the mattress was disgusting.
The guy on screen wasn't even impressive, save for his equipment. Kaidoh kept getting distracted by two spots on the man's back that whipped in and out with every thrust. It was probably the result of a vasectomy or something, but the little bobbing holes were distracting and slightly comical.
"This is hot, man," Miyaki said, running his hand over his poochy stomach. Somewhere during the last half hour, everyone save Kaidoh had stripped down to boxer shorts because of the "heat."
Itami grunted in agreement, running a hand down and under his boxers.
"My uncle's got a drawer full of these," Abe said. He leaned back on his hands, though his hips were wiggling about, sliding his boxer-briefs over his erection. "I'm visiting him next week. I'll put this one back and steal another one."
"Fuck yes," Arai hissed, more at the on screen display and the friction of his hand than at the prospect of another gathering.
Kaidoh pulled back to lean against the filthy couch. While the others got off, he planned to take a nap. No one would notice and it would fill time until he could go home.
Kaidoh's ketai rang at 3am, as it had every night for a week. He picked it up and growled a greeting out because it was expected. He knew who it was, though, and knew that things would be worse in the morning if he didn't answer.
"Do you have the basket?"
Predictable. Kaidoh rolled his eyes. "Yes."
"Did you throw anything away?"
Kaidoh thought about the abandoned products still in his wastebasket. He'd have to take those out in the trash in the morning so his mother didn't find them. "No."
"Don't lie to me. I'll know if you lie to me."
Kaidoh didn't respond, just set the phone on his bedside table and turned the volume down. His windows were locked, as were all the doors. If the crazy ass wanted to break in, Kaidoh's father had a baseball bat at the ready.
Content with that, Kaidoh fell asleep.
Kaidoh awoke to darkness and a pressing weight on his eyes and nose.
"Shhh, you don't want to wake them, do you?" A hand ran under Kaidoh's shirt, swirling in the hairs around his belly button, skittering along the grooves of his clenched abdominals.
"Don't touch me," he hissed, fist flying out and hitting nothing but the couch he was leaning against.
The hand continued to meander. "That really wasn't your thing, was it?" A tongue slid down Kaidoh's cheek. He wiped the moisture away then swatted where he thought a face might be. Nothing. "Chill out. I'm not hurting you." The hand quested down, curling around the belly button again, stabbing in with a nail to leave a small red crescent. "If you say anything, I'll tell them you asked for it."
Kaidoh kicked out with his leg, satisfied when he heard a grunt and the sound of a beer can falling off the nearby table. While his attacker was recovering, Kaidoh pulled down his blindfold.
"I took the liberty of investigating your locker before your arrival. The contents are in that bag." Inui pointed to a black trash bag in the corner.
"Thank you," Kaidoh said because, even though Inui-senpai was invading Kaidoh's privacy, he meant well. "I can handle it, senpai. You'll get suspended if you break into people's lockers. Buchou wouldn't approve." Inui was smart. He could take a hint.
"Ah, I suppose you're right. I hadn't thought of that." Inui blushed and looked away. "My concern overrode my judgment. I will be careful in the future." Inui looked at the ground, at the door, the other lockers, then finally fixed his gaze on Kaidoh's sneakers. "My offer of assistance still stands, Kaidoh. Should you wish to utilize my investigative resources, I would…"
"Thank you senpai. I'm fine." Kaidoh opened his locker and pulled out a stray pamphlet. "You missed one, senpai." He threw it into the trash.
"My apologies." Inui grabbed his racquet and left the room.
Finally alone – it would be another half hour before the rest of the regulars arrived for morning practice – Kaidoh allowed a sigh to escape and rested his forehead against the cool metal of his locker. If he didn't do something soon, things would get out of hand. Phone calls he could ignore. Lockers stuffed with porn, he could handle. His senpai and their concern was something altogether incomprehensible.
As soon as he could, he'd confront his attacker and be done with this.
Kaidoh didn't anticipate his molester's speed. He'd never seen evidence of it before, not in P.E. and certainly not on the tennis court.
Arai slammed Kaidoh to the ground, locking their legs and pinning Kaidoh's arms behind his body. "Go ahead. Scream," he said, licking his lips and looking down at Kaidoh in wonder, as if he couldn't believe he'd managed to pin the snake so easily.
Kaidoh closed his eyes, tried to figure out how to free his arms. Then, he could knock Arai out and go home before anyone was the wiser. "You're drunk," he said.
Arai snickered and nuzzled into Kaidoh's neck. "Just a little." He ground his hips into Kaidoh's leg. "It'll feel good."
While Arai went on to describe how good Kaidoh would feel and why, Kaidoh chose to divert his attention to the leg lock Arai had him in. It was a judo move, not easy to break, but Kaidoh had superior leg strength. If he could use his bulk to flip them, he could grind Arai's knee into the couch, which would give him enough time to break free.
Oishi and Arai stood at the far end of the tennis courts. Oishi was standing, arms over his chest, while Arai was yelling and waving his arms in the air.
"…I can still play!" Arai took a breath and waited for Oishi's response.
"I'm sure you can," Oishi said, mouth straining into a smile. "But you could injure yourself more if you play with a hurt knee." Around them, afternoon practice continued on as usual.
"It's healed!" Arai knocked on his kneecap by way of demonstration. "I can run on it just fine."
Inui and his notebook slid up behind Arai and, for the brief moment before he announced himself with a cough, Kaidoh saw him smile, a grim, thin-lipped expression. "There is a 90 percent likelihood of damaging the tendons permanently if you continue to work the joint at your current practice level." Inui tapped his notebook against Arai's knee. "You should be careful." Kaidoh watched Inui's megane glint in the sun and, as Arai stalked to the clubhouse, Inui's smile widened. He knew. For some reason that defied logic, Inui-senpai knew.
"Kaidoh-senpai, the ball." Echizen pointed to the spinning tennis ball beside Kaidoh's feet.
Kaidoh closed his eyes and let out his apprehension in a long hiss. Tennis time. This was tennis time. "Sorry," he said, picking up the ball and resolutely not thinking about what Inui-senpai might be saying to Oishi or the principal or the police.
Practice was long and full of errors. Kaidoh's Boomerang Snake never made it into the singles court. His Short Snake appeared to be tossed by the wind and spun wildly across the court, missing its mark every time. Halfway through, Oishi gave him laps and sent him home to relax. As Kaidoh left, he felt two pairs of eyes boring into his spine.
The next day, Kaidoh's locker was empty, completely empty. No uniform, no socks, nothing.
"Oh, Kaidoh, you're early." Fuji ducked out of the shower room and waved him over. "I was just doing some light cleaning up and thought your PE uniform looked a little…dirty. I'm cleaning the rest while I'm at it. Hope you don't mind."
Kaidoh did mind, but done was done. He followed into the shower room, pausing when he saw the contents of his locker, strewn across the floor. The substance clinging to each and every item certainly wasn't flour.
Fuji snapped on a pair of latex gloves. "I was hoping to have it done before you got here, but you're earlier than usual." He filled a bucket from the showerhead and kneeled down, reaching for a scrub brush.
"Senpai, please don't." Kaidoh took the brush and bent down. "I can do it."
Fuji pulled the brush back. "You'll get your uniform wet, Kaidoh. Just relax. You have an exam this afternoon, don't you? Why don't' you go study for it while I finish up here?" Fuji's knuckles were white around the brush. Kaidoh nodded and left the room.
Arai wasn't at practice, and no one seemed to notice, which told Kaidoh that everyone knew and was pretending not to know. Fuji senpai didn't go to classes that day. Instead, he cleaned Kaidoh's locker, bleaching out the scent of two weeks worth of humiliation. No one commented on that, either.
"You should widen your stance a little, Kaidoh. You'll pull a muscle." Inui didn't place his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder like he usually did. Instead, he walked around into Kaidoh's line of vision, making sure his sneakers slapped against the pavement to warn of his approach.
It was pissing Kaidoh off.
"Come on Mamushi, let's play a game. I'll kick your ass." Momoshiro thundered past, grabbing Kaidoh's elbow and hauling him to the far court.
Kaidoh pulled free once they reached their destination. "Don't touch me." He pulled a tennis ball from his pocket and threw it. "Your serve."
Momo tossed the ball in the air and sent it into the service court with a thwack. "Don't go thinking you're special just because everyone's paying attention to you," he said.
"I didn't ask anyone to pay attention to anything," Kaidoh snarled back, sending a short snake and delighting when Momo could barely catch it.
"Don't get all pissy just because they're trying to help you. Just be a man about it and let them do what they want." Momo was trying to lure Kaidoh into a lob, forcing topspin to mess up Kaidoh's snake.
Kaidoh lobbed the ball. He could return a stupid Dunk Smash. "What the hell do you know about it?"
Momo launched into the air and slammed the ball down, hitting the baseline. "Dun!" He stood, dusting off his knees. "None of your business, Mamushi. Just…quit the tough guy act for a few days and let them take care of it. It's what senpai are for." Momo left the court, tossing a tennis ball and calling Echizen over for a rally, claiming he was sufficiently warmed up.
Inui tied up Kaidoh's phone line all night, talking about possible doubles formations, Kaidoh's new training menu and, when tennis talk wore out, a new film he saw the week previous – and would Kaidoh like to go see it if he had time – and an argument he had with his mother that morning that, while resolved, was still causing tension in the house.
Kaidoh smiled while Inui prattled on. It was nice to talk to his senpai about normal things, and to know Inui had worries that went beyond racquets and jiru. It was almost 3am, though, and there was bound to be another call soon. "I should go, senpai. We have school tomorrow and…"
"Don't answer it, Kaidoh." Inui's voice was a whisper, a tone Kaidoh had never heard before.
"Senpai, if I don't answer he'll just call back later. I need to get to sleep soon." As he said it, he realized he was tired, horribly so. Two weeks worth of 3am wake up calls and early risings to destroy evidence were wearing Kaidoh thin. Maybe he'd fake sick tomorrow and sleep. He probably looked pale enough to be convincing.
"Would you like to stay at my house this weekend, Kaidoh? It would be safe and my mother is an excellent cook."
Though they'd been playing doubles, Kaidoh had never been to Inui's house. It was a tempting offer, but a pity visit was worthless. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you, senpai. I'll be fine. Good night senpai." He pulled the phone from his ear and moved to press disconnect when he blurted, "but a movie would be nice." He flipped his phone closed and threw it across the room. He wouldn't answer it. The voicemail could fill up for all he cared. He wasn't answering and he wasn't going to school in the morning, end of story.
Kaidoh's sleep was deep and refreshing, though cut short by the alarm he forgot to turn off.
"You get up way too early, senpai."
Kaidoh shot out of his bed, looking around his room in shock. "What are you two doing here?"
"We came for breakfast," Momoshiro said, reaching out to give Echizen a noogie. "The kid came along because he didn't want to walk to school."
Kaidoh threw his pillow at the pair. "Get out!" His plans to stay at home and sleep were ruined by the two most annoying members of the team.
"Come on, senpai, I'm hungry." Echizen had circles under his eyes. Momoshiro probably picked him up before dawn. Ridiculous.
"Then go back home and eat." Kaidoh buried himself under his blankets. Ignore them. Ignore them all and go back to sleep.
A weight pressed against his stomach and, without thinking, he shoved the covers off and let his fist fly.
"Shit, shouldn't have done that," Momoshiro mumbled, nursing his jaw. "I'll be downstairs. Echizen, make sure he gets his ass out of bed so we're not late for practice." Momo continued to grumble to himself as he left the room.
"Nice punch, senpai." Echizen grinned and turned away from watching Momo leave. "He'll probably have a nice, big bruise."
"Go away," Kaidoh sighed, curling back into his blankets.
Echizen shrugged and sat at Kaidoh's desk. He squinted down at an open notebook. "This sentence is wrong, senpai. I'll fix it."
Kaidoh didn't need Echizen fixing his English homework. He didn't need Momoshiro barging into his house to make sure he went to school. He was Kaidoh Kaoru and could take care of himself. "Echizen?"
"Take the idiot and leave." Kaidoh spoke from inside his blankets.
Echizen didn't reply, but Kaidoh heard his desk chair move and some papers shuffling. The door opened and closed and he heard his mother talking downstairs but couldn't make out what she was saying. Content, he fell back to sleep.
The day was nice. Normal. Kaidoh left his room at noon and jogged around the block a few times. Skipping school didn't mean he had license to slack on his training. After his workout, he did the homework he knew was due on Monday and had a late lunch.
"You look better," his mother said, shoveling an extra helping of noodles into his bowl. "Everything okay?"
"I was under a lot of stress," he said honestly. "My senpai are helping me out, though."
"That's good." Kaidoh-san sat down across from her son and watched him eat. "You're such a good son," she said, as if discovering the fact for the first time. "Your father and I are very proud."
Kaoru smiled. No teeth gritting, no eye rolling, just lips turning up in love and gratitude. "Thanks." He leaned over the table and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I feel better now."
"Good." Kaidoh-san picked up the dishes and walked to the sink. "If you're feeling better, then mowing the lawn shouldn't be a problem."
He smiled again as he stood. "I'll do it now."
After school and practice, Momoshiro and Echizen brought Kaidoh's homework. It was not, Momoshiro pointed out, a gesture of friendship or concern. Oishi-senpai asked them to come and deliver the information, that was all.
"Why are you still here?" Kaidoh watched Momoshiro gorge himself on watermelon. His mother was in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner, and Hazue and Papa were watching a television program in the living room.
"Didn't want to say no to your mom," Momoshiro garbled out through a full mouth.
"Don't talk with your mouth full Momo-senpai." Echizen handed him a napkin.
Kaidoh was about to reach across the table and strangle the idiot when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Momoshiro jumped up and ran from the room.
There was a long silence as the door opened and a familiar voice echoed into the dining room. Kaidoh's spine stiffened and he wondered if it would be cowardly to just stay at the table and let Momoshiro take care of it. He was enjoying his day off and didn't really have it in him to deal with the drama.
"Kaoru, a friend from tennis club is here!" his father called just as Momoshiro let out a scream that caused something to drop in Kaidoh's stomach.
What was he going to tell his mother?
Kaidoh bounded from the table, jumping over the couch in a shortcut to the door. "Stop!" he bellowed, pulling Momoshiro off of Arai's prone form.
"Don't worry, I got it covered, Mamushi. Just finish dessert." Momo smiled and gave a thumbs up.
Echizen shoved past Kaidoh and, taking off his hat, thwapped Momoshiro on the head. "Come on senpai, we're interrupting Kaidoh-san's show." He continued walking, not looking back as he unchained Momo's bike from the fence.
Momo hefted a struggling Arai onto his shoulder. "See ya Mamushi."
Kaidoh could feel his family watching his back, their wondering gazes burning through his tank top. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, willing his heart to slow down. When it refused, he slid on his sneakers and, voice raspy, called out, "I'm training. Be back." If he couldn't slow his heart rate down, he'd just have to use it to his advantage. Now would be a good time for muscle training at the park.
Three o'clock came and went. Kaidoh's phone, for the first time in two weeks, was silent. He stared at it. Full reception. Full battery.
Perhaps Arai was in a hospital. Perhaps that idiot Momoshiro went overboard and was now in police custody for manslaughter. Echizen would be annoyed. He'd have to walk to school instead of hitching a ride.
Kaidoh dialed the one person who would know.
"Hello?" Inui-senpai sounded tired.
"Sorry senpai, did I wake you?" Guilt flooded through Kaidoh. He should've waited until morning, a decent hour, to call. Just because Inui-senpai said he'd always be available didn't mean he wanted to be called at three in the morning for silly things like this.
"It's okay. I wake up several times in the night anyway. Is there a problem, Kaidoh?" There was a rustling in the background. Senpai was probably looking for his glasses, knocking into things. The thought almost made Kaidoh smile.
"I…today, senpai. Do you know what happened?"
More rustling, the familiar pages of the notebook. "According to my notes, Echizen and Momoshiro left practice earlier than usual. There was a strong probability that the event was related to your…situation. Did they bother you?"
"They came over. They wouldn't leave."
"Ah. I see." Kaidoh imagined Inui pushing up his glasses. "Would you like me to speak with them?"
"It's not that senpai…" He shouldn't have called. Inui didn't know and Kaidoh felt foolish for expecting him to.
"He came – to my house. Momoshiro dealt with it. I thought you would know." This next part was difficult to say. It went against everything Kaidoh stood for.
"You are concerned for them?" Luckily, Inui-senpai was smart, and kind enough to spare Kaidoh the embarrassment of having to admit to worrying about an idiot and a stalker. "I will do some research and text you with my conclusion shortly. Please get some rest." Inui paused. Kaidoh heard him sigh, though the sound was far away, as if Inui covered the receptor to prevent Kaidoh from hearing. "Perhaps it would be wise to cancel our meeting tomorrow."
"I would like to see the movie, senpai." Kaidoh felt a stinging in his cheeks. "I…you can call when you know. I'll be up. Thank you, senpai." Kaidoh disconnected the phone and fell forward onto his bed, hiding his embarrassment in his pillow. This was all Momoshiro's fault, that bastard. Kaidoh was going to wipe the floor with him at Monday's practice, provided he was okay and not in jail. Served him right if he was.
According to Inui-senpai's email – he refused to wake Kaidoh from much needed sleep, even though Kaidoh gave permission – Arai only suffered minor bruises and Momoshiro was not in jail. No one even knew what happened save Arai, who was unlikely to tell anyone, Echizen, who didn't care, and Momoshiro, who would have to be at gunpoint to admit he did anything to help his rival.
"Kaoru, you have a visitor!" Kaidoh's family had already forgotten the incident on the porch. That was one thing Kaoru liked about his family: they didn't pry.
"Coming!" Kaidoh slipped a bandana over his hair and checked his jeans in the mirror. Good, everything was clean. He supposed he should dress a bit less casually, but he was just going to a movie with Inui-senpai. Jeans and a t-shirt were good enough for the movies.
Especially when Inui-senpai was wearing black and red polka dot pants.
"Ah, Kaidoh, I expected you would be prepared." Inui looked at his watch. "We have half an hour to get into town for optimum seating. The film is gaining in popularity in the second week and 87 of showings are selling out within ten minutes of show time. We do not want to be late."
"Yes senpai." Kaidoh kissed his mother goodbye and verified with his father that no, they were not meeting any girls, just going to see a movie. Kaidoh half expected his parents to get wise to his plan and demand that they have a talk before he left. They didn't suspect anything, though. They appeared to be delighted that their son was finally going out with friends from the tennis club instead of holing himself up in his room or burning the day away training.
The train station was busy and the cars were crowded. Kaidoh gave his seat up to old ladies twice and Inui chose to stand for the ride. It was odd seeing him without a notebook or clipboard in his hands, almost unnatural.
Two stops from their destination, Inui leaned down to speak into Kaidoh's ear. "Please do not be alarmed, but we're being followed." He stood back up, glancing over the crowd.
Kaidoh grabbed the loose fabric over his knees. There went his nice afternoon with Inui-senpai.
The movie was good. The plot was sound, the actors were well chosen and, despite the predominance of females in the audience, it was not a chick flick. Best of all, unlike the movies Hazue dragged him to see, this film had a happy ending and no major bloodshed. The main character's dog was cute, too.
As far as dates went, though, everything was wrong. Inui-senpai watched the movie, refilled the popcorn, and kept watching over their shoulders to make sure Arai wasn't anywhere near them. He wasn't. Arai was hiding, third row from the front, and watching the movie. First dates weren't kissing affairs, but Kaidoh felt a few shy brushes to the arm or a tap of the foot would have been nice. Maybe Inui-senpai didn't know about those kinds of things.
"I enjoyed watching the movie with you, Kaidoh." Inui adjusted his glasses and smiled. "It was unfortunate that we couldn't be alone."
"It's okay senpai. I'm sorry you had to deal with my problem." Kaidoh caught light flashing off the zipper on Arai's jacket. This was getting ridiculous. He should've put a stop to it much sooner. "Excuse me, senpai, I need to-"
"Inui! Kaidoh!" Fuji Syusuke ran up, dragging Yuuta along. "Imagine seeing you here. Did your movie just get out?"
Fuji Yuuta looked how Kaidoh felt: struggling, angry, and resigned all at once. "Aniki, leave them alone." He tugged, but Syusuke wouldn't budge.
Kaidoh turned to Aria's hiding place to find him gone. "We were just leaving," he said, taking hold of Inui's wrist. "Senpai and I were going to the new park to evaluate the equipment."
"Ah, yes," Inui said, smiling at Fuji. "I don't have enough data to determine if it would be suitable for a training venue."
"Have fun." Syusuke tugged Yuuta toward an ice cream vendor. "Come on Yuuta, I think they have aloe flavor."
"My apologies, Kaidoh. I was unaware that-"
"It's okay, senpai." Kaidoh wanted to go home. He wanted to go home and ignore every apology Inui made that afternoon and every incident of helpful senpai that had transpired. Mostly, he wanted to go home so he could take out his pillow and hit it, hard, for at least an hour. "It's late, we should probably head home before our parents worry."
Inui's demeanor seemed to droop. He tried to cover it with an adjust of his glasses and a cheesy smile. "Ah, that would probably be best. Would you like me to accompany you?"
"It's out of the way. I wouldn't want to be a bother." The date – if it had really been a date and not some ploy to make sure Kaidoh was safe from Arai, whom Kaidoh could beat into oblivion at will – was ruined. There was no use trying to salvage it. Kaidoh was clearly not destined for nice, wonderful things, only sweaty, bitter things. Fine. Fuck it all. "I'll see you at practice on Monday, senpai." He took off toward home after bowing, not bothering to look at his senpai. Inui was either going to look confused or hurt, possibly both. If Kaidoh didn't see it, he couldn't feel guilty.
Two blocks from home, Kaidoh felt a chill roll up his spine. "Come out," he barked, scaring the cat off a nearby fence.
Arai emerged from around the corner, head bent low. "I'm sorry," he said, lowering himself to the ground. "I didn't mean…"
Kaidoh kicked him. "You meant it," Kaidoh snarled, curling his hands into fists, digging his nails into his palms. Calm down. Calm down. "Just leave me alone."
Arai clutched his stomach as he rose. "I'm sorry." He winced, waiting for another kick. Kaidoh was tempted, really and truly tempted, but refrained. Kicking Arai didn't change anything and would just make him feel guilty later. "I'll quit the team," Arai whimpered. "Change schools. Whatever you want."
"Get up," Kaidoh said, his eye catching a glint from down the street. "Get up and go home. I'll see you at school on Monday."
"But I want to make it up…"
"Go home!" Kaidoh unclenched his fists and stared at the red crescents marked in his palms. He didn't look up until he heard the sound of Arai's sneakers slapping against the pavement.
Homeroom on Monday made Kaidoh nauseous. Arai kept looking back, shooting him glances, mouthing apologies that Kaidoh didn't believe. Sure he sounded like he meant it, but Kaidoh doubted two weeks of perversions were ready to fly away after a beating and a warning from Fuji-senpai. People didn't change that quickly, they just changed tactics.
Kaidoh's locker at afternoon practice confirmed his suspicions. As he opened it, rose petals wafted down. Not a locker's worth, just a few handfuls. Three teddy bear shaped erasers sat amidst the remaining petals, smiling at Kaidoh's running shoes. He swept the erasers and flowers out of the locker with his hand and removed his shoes.
"Are you still having difficulties, Kaidoh?" Inui looked over from his own locker and jotted a few notes in his book. "If I can assist you in any way, I-"
"Ignore it, senpai. Someone's just putting his trash in my locker. It's nothing." Kaidoh tied his shoes and changed his shirt. He ignored Arai watching him from the corner of the room. He ignored Inui-senpai scribbling in his notebook.
"What's going on in here?" Oishi asked when he entered the lockeroom. "Clean that up before someone trips," he said, pointing to the flowers at Kaidoh's feet.
"Yes, senpai." Kaidoh took the broom from the supply closet and swept up Arai's affection, placing it in the trash where it belonged.
"That bandana of yours on too tight, mamushi? You're extra pissy today." Momoshiro lobbed a ball across the court. Oishi-senpai thought rallying with the idiot would be good for them, teach them to work together. All it did was piss Kaidoh off and force him to retreat further into himself.
Kaidoh retuned the ball with an answering lob. Eventually Momoshiro would get tired of the slow pace and play. Failing that, there would be laps for slacking off, which was fine. Kaidoh liked laps. Laps were quiet.
"Hey, I'm talkin' to you, mamushi." Momo smashed the ball.
Kaidoh let it fly past then moved to the baseline to serve. "Shut up," he hissed, bouncing the ball against the ground with slow smacks. He tossed the ball in the air and leaned back, positioning his serve.
"You can do it, Kaidoh!"
Kaidoh's racquet swung past the ball and flew out of his hand at the sound of Arai's encouragement. Closing his eyes, Kaidoh took a deep breath. After practice, he'd pull Arai aside and they'd finish this.
"You!" Momoshiro stomped toward Arai and took him by the collar. "You don't get it, do you? He's not interested."
Kaidoh served the ball at Momo's head. "I don't need you butting in on my business," he growled. Everyone was staring. Now Kaidoh couldn't even pretend to have privacy. Fantastic. Fucking fantastic. "Get your ass back on the court where it belongs."
Two courts down, Kikumaru-senpai was waving frantically. It looked like he was trying to distract Oishi and save Kaidoh what little face he had left. Kaidoh had an extra autographed single from The Chocolate that he'd been planning to give to Kikumaru-senpai for Christmas, but giving it a little earlier wouldn't hurt.
Momo released Arai's collar and flicked the other boy on nose. "We're watching you," he said before stomping back onto the court. "You should've let me handle it, mamushi. No one picks on you but me."
Momo was so involved in puffing up his chest and looking manly that he didn't notice Echizen come up until the freshman pounded on his back with a fist. "Momo-senpai, Oishi-fukubuchou wants to talk to you. I'll rally with Kaidoh-senpai."
Watching Momoshiro jump into the air and squeal like a girl brought a small smile to Kaidoh's face. After practice, he'd buy Echizen a Ponta. Maybe a whole six pack. Echizen was a good kid.
"Your serve, senpai." Echizen tossed a ball over and they began a nice, quiet practice.
At 7 am, the phone rang. Kaidoh cursed himself for not turning the damn thing to silent. He'd kept it on in the stupid hope that Inui would call before bed, wanting Kaidoh's opinion on a new training item or perhaps to arrange to see another movie.
Kaidoh stared at the text message. Good morning. I wanted to know if I could bring you breakfast?
He stared at the message, debating an answer before typing back. Fine. Meet me at the corner.
Foregoing his bandana for a less recognizable baseball cap, Kaidoh dressed in street clothes, packing his uniform into an overnight bag – his tennis bag was too conspicuous. No one saw him as he left, back straight and eyes looking forward. No one recognized him as he passed his neighbors, all shuffling children off to school in shortpants and yellow caps. No one stopped to wave or to ask Kaoru-nii for a piggy back.
"Kaidoh?" Arai stood at the corner, a pastry box in hand. "I brought some doughnuts. I know they aren't healthy, but there's a really good place by my house and-"
"Let's go." Kaidoh craned his neck, indicating a nearby bus stop. "We're going out."
"Out." He took a doughnut from Arai's box and ate it solemnly while waiting for the bus.
They rode the bus under the disapproving stare of the bus driver. "Kids these days," he said to the elderly woman in the front seat. "Think they can get somewhere without an education. Spend all their time slacking off, smoking, and doin' drugs."
Kaidoh didn't correct him. The driver didn't know he was talking to an esteemed Seigaku regular and, if he did, he'd probably send word to the school and Kaidoh would be benched for skipping classes. Kaidoh would make sure to write a letter, though, complaining about the biased and unfriendly driver. It wouldn't get him fired, but it might shut him the hell up the next time a school ditcher hopped a ride.
Twenty minutes later, Kaidoh led them off the bus and toward an amusement park. It was slow, filled with mostly the very young and their mothers, though a few teens scuttled about, most of them in groups, a few of them on dates. "Let's ride the ferris wheel." Kaidoh took hold of Arai's wrist and pulled. "I want to talk to you."
Ignoring the few stares they received for entering the ferris wheel together, Kaidoh tugged Arai into the box. He continued to hold Arai's hand as the attendant closed the door.
"You can let go now," Arai whispered, tugging his hand free.
Kaidoh took the hand back. "This is what you wanted, isn't it?" Once they were on their way up and were decently out of the attendant's view, Kaidoh leaned forward. "You can kiss me if you want."
Arai cleared his throat and leaned forward, hand moving to cup Kaidoh's cheek. He licked his lips. "Here I go."
The kiss was slick and light. Boring. Arai's lips pressed forward with all the excitement of a frozen fish, scaly from chap but cold and wet. Kaidoh only had one previous kiss to compare it to, a memory of a soft, quiet girl from first year, but even she, with her shyness and lack of experience, was better than this.
Kaidoh pressed forward, tilting his head a little, and swiped his tongue across Arai's lower lip.
Arai pulled back with a start. "Wha-what are you doing?" He rubbed at his mouth and stared down at his lap.
"Nothing." Kaidoh reclined his head back against the metal seat and looked to the side. They weren't too high up yet, but the tops of nearby complexes were coming into view. Below them, people were shrinking, becoming nothing more than bug shaped bits of the scenery.
"It's really pretty down there," Arai said, scooting closer to Kaidoh, pressing their legs together. His hand rubbed at Kaidoh's thigh, fingers reaching for Kaidoh's zipper. "No one'll see us up here."
He couldn't kiss any better than an excited canine and he wanted Kaidoh to slip off his pants in a ferris wheel? "You're not a regular," Kaidoh said, pushing Arai's hand away. "You never will be now that everyone on the team knows you've been stalking me for the last month." Direct was the best route, after all. Kaidoh tried to be nice and subtle, but Arai was dumb. Very dumb. "You'll never be better than a second string player and you'll be lucky to get into a third rate university with your grades. You can't even kiss." He turned, locking eyes with Arai. "I'm not interested and I never will be. Get it through your stupid skull and stop bothering me. I have better things to do than deal with you."
Arai scooted back as far as he could get. His face was white and his hands shook as he held the side railing. "K-Kaidoh."
"I thought you would get over it, but you kept it up and now all the senpai know." Kaidoh turned away from his classmate and looked out over the city. "You ruined my movie with Inui-senpai and embarrassed me in front of that Dunk Smash idiot." He turned back. "If you do it again, I'll crush you." The last of Kaidoh's anger left him in a deep exhalation. He closed his eyes and focused on getting his heart rate down. He clenched his feet, his fists, his eyebrows. Slowly, muscle by muscle, he released his tension until he was able to look at the boy next to him without hissing. "You're forgiven," he said, feeling numb inside. "We'll never mention this again."
"Never again," Arai agreed, still pushing himself into the wall. "I'll never bother you again."
When the ride stopped, Kaidoh paid for another round while Arai scampered out of the car. As he ascended above the city, Kaidoh saw the cute couples watch as a frightened boy ran through the park.
The ferris wheel was nice. Kaidoh would have to invite Inui-senpai for a ride sometime.
It was two weeks before Arai returned to practice, another week beyond that until Momoshiro got the hint and stopped threatening to beat Arai's head in if he went within ten feet of Kaidoh.
Kaidoh's training continued on as usual. Every afternoon, he went to the river with Inui-senpai and hauled the towel through the water while Inui took figures, did his homework, or napped. They never talked about Arai and they never talked about their less than perfect date. Ignoring things was fine with Kaidoh. He had a match to win and thinking about dates and crazy asses would ruin his focus.
"Your arm is overarching, Kaidoh." Inui waded into the water and adjusted Kaidoh's stance. "There. Don't want you pulling a muscle. The ranking matches are next week."
Even though Inui only touched his shoulder, Kaidoh's body felt heavy and was sparking on the inside.
"Kaidoh?" Inui put a hand to Kaidoh's forehead. "No fever. Did you remember to drink plenty of water?"
Kaidoh nodded. The dizzy feeling increased.
"Did you eat lunch?"
"Yes, senpai." When did his voice get so gritty? He was making a fool of himself in front of Inui-senpai and ruining his training time. "I'm fine. Just didn't breathe right."
"Please be careful, Kaidoh." Inui's smiles used to be scary. Had they softened recently? "Perhaps you should stop for the day. You've been training hard."
"Yes, senpai." The current was strong against Kaidoh's shaking legs but, with Inui's help, he managed to get out of the river and dried in short order. "Do you want to go to dinner, senpai?"
Inui slid his notebook into his tennis bag. "That would be nice." He offered Kaidoh a hand up before busying himself wringing out Kaidoh's towel.
Kaidoh wondered why the dizziness was fading.
Dinner after training became a regular occurance. They didn't discuss it, just packed their things and headed to a ramen stand Inui said the salt was good for them. Kaidoh just knew he felt better while watching ramen noodles flick against Inui's glasses when he ate.
"Senpai, are you busy this weekend?" Kaidoh poked at the pork floating atop his ramen.
Inui checked his notebook. "Not particularly."
"Would you…" Kaidoh trailed off, noticing two nearby girls were whispering and pointing at them.
"I'll meet you there at 9," Inui said, clapping Kaidoh on the shoulder. "If that's okay with you?"
Kaidoh nodded and returned to eating his ramen. While Inui was busy observing the chattering girls, Kaidoh put his pork piece in Inui's bowl. Senpai said he needed a higher protein intake to stabilize his new ultra secret training.
Since it was a Saturday, the line for the ferris wheel was long and couples crowded the park, holding hands, kissing in the open, sharing ice cream cones. Kaidoh felt stupid and out of place, standing in line alone while he waited for Inui to arrive – if Inui wasn't at the river, waiting to train because he thought Kaidoh was asking for help with tennis instead of a date.
This was a stupid idea.
"Kaidoh!" Inui jogged up, waving his hand in the air. Everyone was staring. "Sorry, I missed my bus." He reached into his pocket and pulled out slips of newsprint. "There were coupons in this morning's paper for a second ride free. I estimated that the patronage of this attraction would rise by 32 but I seem to have been off by 2 in my calculation. I failed to take into account the variant for weekend attendance."
"It's okay." Kaidoh looked away from Inui's flushed cheeks and toward the front of the line. "We're almost up."
Inui filled the wait with talk of the ride's origin and observations on the crowd around them. 80 of the attendees were between the ages of 14 and 26. It was likely that 64 of attendees had previously patroned the ride. Kaidoh nodded and hummed at the proper intervals, even though he didn't really listen to much of Inui's figures.
The attendant looked at them weird when they entered the car together, but Kaidoh's scowl soon had the man looking past them to the next group of riders. As the car rose into the air, Kaidoh looked out the side window. "The view's nice, senpai. I thought you would like it."
"I'm sure it will be wonderful," Inui said, craning his neck back to rest on the graffiti-laden plexiglass and stretching his legs out in front of him. He closed his eyes.
The week had been hard for Inui. The data player stayed up late each night preparing training menus for the team, often scraping to get his homework done before catching a few hours of sleep. Kaidoh knew this because Inui asked Kaidoh to call hourly to make sure he was awake and productive. Inui was never done with his work before Kaidoh went to bed.
Kaidoh looked out the side; the crowds below were already out of view. Slowly, he scooted closet to his senpai.
"Kaidoh?" Inui turned, his eyebrows raised above his glasses. "Is something the matter?"
Even though his stomach was turning somersaults, Kaidoh rushed forward, pressing his lips to Inui's. He squeaked when Inui's arms wrapped around him and pulled him closer, moving him to straddle Inui's lap.
Inui was a much better kisser than Arai.
Instead of being bored and counting the seconds as they passed, Kaidoh was busy soaking in the sensation of Inui's hands on his back, Inui's tongue sliding on his lip, the sound of Inui laughing.
Kaidoh pulled back, wiping at his mouth. "Senpai?"
Inui pulled him forward again, touching their noses together. "We have a full minute until we're in view of the line, Kaidoh. We will remain in view for another two minutes while we ascend for our second round."
"That's nice, senpai." Kaidoh pressed their lips together again. He was used to people watching him. Today, he'd give them a reason to.