"So, Ryoma-kun," whispered Sakuno, as if she were about to ask the world's most personal question. "Why did you come back?"
Five seconds and a sip of Ponta later came the four most foreign words to ever penetrate her line of hearing. "I'm sick of tennis."
Had Sakuno's eyes shot open any wider they would have fallen out rolled right across the table. Now, the Ryoma she knew had the nastiest sense of humor, and a habit of using it at the worst possible times. Still, Sakuno was a well-mannered young girl, so when the boy she admired most happened to be sitting right across the table from her, it was only polite to laugh when he told a joke, bad or otherwise.
Judging by the hard, pointed scowl his face sunk into mid-laughter, the simple words he uttered suddenly weren't a joke, and her forced amusement came to an abrupt halt.
He couldn't be serious. There was no way.
"Ryoma-kun," she squeaked, throat still tight with the sting of laughter and chest suddenly heavy with disbelief. "It couldn't be."
"Why not?" He took another sip of Ponta and allowed his bored gaze to wander, refamiliarizing himself with this place. The place he and his best friend, Mighty Momo-chan (or so he called himself these days), sat and had burgers. Back when Ryoma lived in Japan, Sakuno would occasionally stumble upon one of his conversations with Momo which, 9.9 out of 10 times, pertained to tennis. Always tennis. Tennis followed Ryoma wherever he went. He lived tennis. He breathed tennis. Birds sang, fish swam, and Echizen Ryoma played tennis. That was the natural balance of the world.
Ryoma throwing off the balance of the world was not very funny. Soon the sky would fall, all land would sink beneath the ocean, and Horio-kun would have two eyebrows. And Ryoma wouldn't be playing tennis.
Sakuno decided that this was the worst thing in the world.
"Ryoma-kun, will you... will you please meet me at the old playground tomorrow? Perhaps around three-ish?" She couldn't accept this as the truth until she saw it for herself.
He eyed her suspiciously, knowing that this girl was far too shy to ask anything of him so directly. Even Sakuno was surprised by her abrupt request, and spent the next few moments with cheeks so hot you could fry an egg on them. Ryoma remembered how the old woman or his old man used to trap the two of them into ridiculous situations together, making for a very annoying and wasteful afternoon on his part. That was because he could have been spending that time playing tennis, playing tennis, or what do you know, playing tennis. Sakuno hated to impose upon his tennis time, so it didn't happen often.
Now that he had no tennis time, she saw no reason why he couldn't come out and see her. And since the natural balance of the world was now in ruins, she saw no reason why she shouldn't be a bit braver. Her trembling gaze finally met his, scrutinizing every thought in his eyes until he just couldn't take it anymore. This girl had very subtle ways of being authoritative, and that made him nervous.
"Sure," he answered, breaking eye contact with a pretend hiccup. "But don't expect me to bring my rackets or anything."
"O-of course not," she said with a nervous grin. She suspected, hoped rather, that he would, if only that a tennis racket was like an extra appendage to him. This would take much getting used to.
"Nice haircut, by the way."
She'd forgotten all about that.
Clear proof that this world was coming to an end.
Sakuno had no clear-cut plans when she had asked Ryoma to meet her in the park the following day. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and she was often told the she has great intuition. Silly as it seemed, she felt she may be the hand that placed the world back into the correct order of things.
"Yosh," she said, pumping her tiny fist in a heroic fashion. When passer-byers caught a glimpse of her sudden burst of exuberance, an embarrassed blush burned across her cheeks. No matter how many times Tomoka told her to toughen up, it never made things any easier. If nothing else, it just made Sakuno's naturally shy nature more real to her. She just wasn't the type to willingly draw attention toward herself.
Suddenly, there were more eyes fixed upon her. The butt end of a cold can against her neck caused her to yelp, stumble, and fall over. Her rear end hit the ground with a loud 'fump', and thus came the curious whispers. She may as well have her own little comedy act by now, not that it'd douse the fire in her cheeks any.
"You're just as big a klutz as ever," a voice murmured from above. Suddenly, all the fear and embarrassment melted into an emotion that came to Sakuno so rarely that it was as though Ryoma were staring down at a whole new person. With brows kitted tightly together, Sakuno pushed herself up from the ground, clenched her fists together, and leveled her piercing eyes with Ryoma's.
"DON'T STARTLE ME LIKE THAT!" she bellowed, causing his jaw to drop and Ponta can to fall to the ground. He blinked once, twice, and by the time the third was twitching in his lids, Sakuno caught her breath, and a blush so vivid streamed across her face that Ryoma thought it could to light a dark room. That was more like it.
"S-sorry!" she bowed, her shoulder-length hair shadowing her mortified features. Surely the entire playground was watching them now, and-and she was on the verge of fainting, having so much attention drawn toward her. If she didn't have a duty to fulfill here, she would have long since ran for her life.
Now, just to remember what that duty was...
"Mou, you made me spill my Ponta," said Ryoma, pretending as though he weren't just on the brink of death. After all, getting Sakuno angry was a challenge. It was easy to make her cry, but to make her explode in fury? It took a special kind annoying to do so. Ryoma clearly had this mastered, just by being himself.
He would never change, except for the whole tennis thing.
"Ryoma-kun, let's go for a walk," she said, clutching his wrist. She dragged him as far as two steps before realizing how they looked. She released his wrist with a small, uttered apology that he acknowledged with a grunt. They then walked side-by-side, exchanging no looks, no words, and barely any evidence that they were in any way acquainted with one another. This was turning out to be one dull afternoon.
Two hours went by, and Sakuno's feet were finally spent from walking, walking, walking, so the two of them stopped for a break at the bench. They must have gone around the park at least three times, and barely spoke to one another at all. She did manage to find out that Ryoma was accepted into the same school as her, hence his nice new haircut. It wasn't much different from the way he kept his hair before, though now it was off his neck and out of his eyes. It was easier to see his face, which would be much more handsome if he'd just smile every now and then.
Oh well, just having him here was enough of a treat. Speaking of treats, he had given her a Ponta that she'd yet to touch, being so lost in thought. She had to go over everything peculiar she noticed about his behavior during their walk.
Now, by no means was Ryoma a social butterfly. She had the sinking suspicion that he was just one of those guys who hated people, which was fine by her. She was too shy to be around a conversationalist that dragged hoards of people into a discussion, which made him, the exact opposite, easy to be around. However, he did have a certain sense of justice when it came to people who were in trouble. He was almost like a masked super hero who came in, saved the day, and left before even getting thanked.
At least, he used to be.
There was something about the Kantou region and thieves on roller skates, because one just happened to zip between them at one point during their walk. Ryoma showed no concern, and the two of them just proceeded on their path. Sakuno suggested that they try and stop the thief somehow. When he zipped by again, Ryoma threw a good palm-sized rock at the guy just to make her happy, clipping his hip and causing him to lose balance and drop the purse.
That's when all hell broke loose. The thief stood, stomped on over (skates clacking with every stomp), and socked Ryoma right across the cheek. Sakuno covered her eyes and screamed as loud as she could. Next thing she knew, the police were carrying the thief off in handcuffs, and the lady whose purse was stolen was delighted to have it back. Ryoma saved the day!
Still, that would have gone over so much smoother if he just used a tennis racket.
"Ne, Ryoma-kun, your cheek's beginning to swell, you-" she lifted her untouched Ponta to his cheek and giggled when he flinched. That's karma for you. "-here."
Clearly he was confused, and after a moment he grabbed her wrist and pushed it back. Now, Sakuno may not be terribly bold, but she was as stubborn as stubborn could be, and the shade of purple Ryoma's cheek was turning was not making her happy. She tried to push the Ponta back against his cheek, but was completely unmatched by his strength. He even had the balls to 'mada mada dane' at her, which got her using both her arms to push his back, still no use. He was smirking now, and she couldn't figure out why he found this so amusing. She was only trying to help him.
Ryoma's attention was suddenly drawn toward that voice, and Sakuno, unable to control all the force and weight she was putting into Echizen's now limp arm, smashed into him Ponta-first. The force was so great that he flew right off the bench and onto the ground. Now his bruise was going to be even worse.
Once she was on her feet, her nose almost came into contact with a laughing Momoshiro, someone she didn't even notice was there until just that moment. He was bouncing a tennis racket against his shoulder as he clutched his stomach in tumultuous laughter with his free arm. She looked down toward Ryoma, who looked about as amused as an angry cat being hung upside down by its tail.
"Sorry to interrupt your little date there, hehe," said Momo, offering his hand to Ryoma, who promptly ignored it as he pulled himself up. As the shorter boy brushed all the dirt off his clothes the gut of Momo's racket tapped against his head, earning him one of Ryoma patented frowns of doom. Momo was in no way affected by these, though.
"Come on!" said Momo, turning toward the road that led to the street courts. "You've gotta show me how much better you've gotten."
All time seemed to freeze at Sakuno's feet. There was no way Ryoma was going to turn down his own best friend, was he?
T B C
A/N: Uh-oh, how's this one going to blow over? Sakuno's one thing, but Momo-chan-senpai? Time for some shit to hit the fan.
Thanks for all the reviews everyone. You're all fantastic support! I keep forgetting the has a feature where I can quickly repsond to your reviews individually, so you'll have to forgive me if you don't hear from me. Just know that I DO appreciate the support and am glad you're enjoying yourselves. I hope you'll all continue to read, review, and enjoy. 'Til next time! (I'll try not to take over two months to update this again, ehehe.)