The Features Editor
It was raining horridly that night.
The loud patter of rain and ferocious whiplash of the wind were enough to keep him off his usual train of thought. The surroundings were pretty much a blur from where he sat, the glass window fogged up from the chill of the evening. The dance of the rain may have soothed others to a certain extent, but each drop only fettered him with more distressing thoughts.
He quickly switched his gaze towards the dining table. It was his father who had called him, the usually stoic man looking at him with a hint of concern. His mother and grandparents were regarding him as well.
"Is something wrong?" his mother asked, her tone a mixture of curiosity and worry. "You haven't touched your food yet."
"It's nothing," Tezuka replied politely, quickly picking up his chopsticks and began eating his now cold dinner.
Silence ensued for the next several minutes before the sky roared, and the heavens wept harder.
"Your attention wouldn't easily be caught, Kunimitsu, even with a sudden a clap of thunder," his grandfather quipped, sipping his soup bowl in a gradual, elegant manner. He smiled knowingly at his grandson who remained pokerfaced despite what the old man was hinting at. "That was the fifth time tonight," he grinned, and then turned to his daughter from across the table, "As always, your soup's delicious, Ayako!"
Ayako returned the smile. "Why thank you, tou-san. Would you like another serving?"
Light chatter followed right after.
Then another clap of thunder resounded in the sky.
Anyone looking closely would have seen Tezuka throw another subtle, fleeting glance at the window, but everyone else was too preoccupied with either dinner or the ongoing conversation.
Well, except for one.
"Such an awful weather, ne Kuni-kun?"
Tezuka turned to look at his calm grandmother who was currently concentrated on peeling her banana. "Aa."
"A bad omen," she declared nonchalantly.
Tezuka remained silent.
"I wonder how Sakuno's doing. She's home alone right now, isn't she?" she whispered, watching her grandson's expression, which cracked for a split moment, from the corner of her eye.
Without another word, the Seigaku captain carefully stacked all the empty rice bowls from the table, gathered them up, and pushed back his chair to head towards the kitchen.
"Kuni-kun, will you kindly check if the local store has my favourite banana chips?" Tezuka stopped in his tracks and turned to his grandmother who spoke loud enough for everyone to hear this time.
"Kaa-san, we still have some in the cupboard," Ayako supplied.
The old woman popped the end of the fruit in her mouth, "The limited edition's out right now, and that's what I want," she said with finality. She looked up and met her grandson's amused gaze, "Kuni-kun, buy me three packs."
Like an inexperienced skater who first stepped foot in the ice rink, Sakuno fantastically skidded her way in the living room, her hands flailing about, and her entire body moving on its own accord until she slammed on the opposite wall with a loud thump. In the next moment, the sound of porcelain breaking into a hundred pieces resounded in the silent Ryuuzaki household.
It was still early in the evening when Sakuno was already prepared to go to bed. There was nothing particularly tiring she did that day, but she had nothing else to do. Tomoka wasn't available because she had to baby-sit. Watching movies was out of the question especially when all that was left in the dvd rack were horror movies (courtesy of Sumire). Her home works were finished, the dishes were washed, and all the other tasks she needed to do were already completed. So she resorted to sleeping early to pass the night.
She would be comfortably under her blankets by now if it weren't for the sudden downpour.
Sitting up from her sprawled position on the floor, she stared horrified at the sight before her. There were puddles all over the living room floor, furniture that now lay as shards on the carpet, and big leaks on the ceiling – the place was a complete mess.
She bit her lip, "Obaa-chan's going to kill me…"
It took her quite some time to put away the broken figurines, mop the floor, and place small buckets under the cracks. The water droplets that landed on the plastic containers created a rhythm that was irritating to Sakuno's ears. But the girl had to bear with it unless she would choose to flood the house by morning.
And much to Sakuno's inner chagrin, the more she dealt with leaks, the more she thought of a certain Seigaku captain. And as far as she knew, they should have been fixed by now. Oh well, even people like her senpai made mistakes, no matter how tiny they are.
Admittedly, the girl didn't like bordering on thoughts that had something to do with Tezuka-senpai because it made her flustered for reasons she didn't know.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another miniature waterfall by the window.
"Mou… I guess I have to settle with a flower pot for now."
And with that, she unlocked the front door, ambled on the covered porch, and crouched down near the shrubberies. Just as she finally poured out the soil in the pot, she stood up… and was greeted with the tall figure of Tezuka standing by her door.
She dropped the flower pot in surprise.
Tezuka's head quickly turned towards her direction.
Tezuka and Sakuno gazed at each other for several moments; the boy wondering what in the world happened to his kouhai this time, and the latter wondering what in the world her senpai was doing in her porch at such an ungodly hour.
Uncomfortable with the heightening awkwardness, "Is there something you want, senpai—?"
Sakuno gaped when Tezuka disregarded her question and opened the front door instead.
But before Sakuno could prevent her senpai from seeing the state of the house, it was too late. Her front door was now fully open, her chaotic living room exposed. Ashamed, Sakuno looked at Tezuka from her peripheral vision and flinched when she saw his eyes narrow considerably.
The sound of the rain echoed in the deathly silence.
"Get your things."
Sakuno snapped her head towards him, "What?"
"You're staying over in my house tonight," he said, looking at Sakuno from the corner of his eye.
All Sakuno could do was gape at her senpai, her mouth opening and closing like a fish. "T-That's not necessary, senpai!"
"It is." His tone left no room for arguments.
Sakuno felt hurt. Why can't Tezuka have a little bit of faith in her? "But—"
Suddenly, the lights in the living room began to flicker. Alarmed, Sakuno impulsively entered the house in an attempt to check the light switches, but it went out soon enough, bathing the Ryuuzaki household in darkness.
"Let's go," Tezuka's voice resounded in the dark.
Sakuno blushed. She knew she had to yield.
Turning towards the door, Sakuno found Tezuka standing by the hallway. He was wearing a white cotton shirt and a pair of blue, baggy shorts. Seeing the hailed Seigaku captain in his sleeping clothes made her so uncomfortable that all she could do was blush and stare at him in silence. And the fact that she was going to sleep in his house still generated thoughts that everything was just a dream.
To be honest, Sakuno thought that the Tezuka family would be scary and intimidating – the usual stereotype for her senpai or anything associated with him. Not to mention that the house across hers was enormous and old-fashioned that she even thought that it was owned by a Yakuza group. However, the moment she stepped foot inside the Tezuka household, all her previous thoughts were proven wrong.
Tezuka Ayako was gentle-hearted and sweet. Although she had been surprised to see a twin-braided girl in pajamas tailing after her son, she had welcomed her with open arms. It was she who prepared the guest room and was responsible for the comfy accommodation Sakuno received for the night.
Tezuka Kazuki was the old man of the house. When Sakuno first laid her eyes on him, she thought he was Tezuka-senpai fifty years later, for he carried with him this air of authority and had sharpness in his coal eyes. But when the man's face broke into a big, bright smile and started cracking jokes about Tezuka finally getting a girl, she quickly dismissed her previous thoughts of his being an older version of her senpai.
Tezuka Izumi was a witty sixty-year old, and her interactions with Tezuka amazed Sakuno. The woman was the only person who hadn't been surprised with Sakuno's presence. In fact, when Tezuka informed the old lady that the banana chips never had a limited edition, she merely smiled and said, 'I know'. The conversation between grandmother and grandson baffled Sakuno. But what totally blew her away was her senpai's reaction to that – the Seigaku Iceman actually smiled back.
Up to that moment, she couldn't help but replay the image in her head over and over again.
"Just knock if you need anything."
She suddenly remembered she wasn't alone. Gathering up enough courage, she looked up and smiled softly, "Thank you, senpai."
"Good night," was all he said before he went off to his room.
"Good night," she whispered, watching him close his bedroom door across the hall. Then she returned to fixing her futon and arranging the extra pillows in a way that would easily block the sounds of the thunderstorm.
Lightning struck and the roar of thunder reverberated throughout the night.
He stared blankly at the ceiling. No matter how hard he tried to drift off to sleep, it evaded him like the plague. He knew that the thunderstorm played a part, but he was fully aware that it also had something to do with the person sleeping in the room just across his. It puzzled him why after Sumire left for Qatar, things had been somewhat different.
Tezuka was suddenly broken from his thoughts by a sudden knock on his door. He quickly got up from bed to open it, only to find Sakuno standing in the hallway. The girl was completely red in the face, her hair sticking out, and her hands were restlessly wringing the hem of her blouse.
When she looked up, her eyes widened and the words she intended to say were caught in her throat. It made Tezuka wonder why her kouhai reddened even more but he kept his mouth shut and patiently waited for the girl to state her purpose for dropping by in the middle of the night.
Several more moments of silent staring passed before Sakuno snapped out of it and finally voiced her concern.
"T-The thunderstorm sure is scary... ne, senpai?"
Although the brand new sleeping arrangements had been settled long ago and the two were now comfortably under their blankets, tension hung thick in the air and Sakuno couldn't find it in herself to drift off to dreamland just yet. For the past minutes, she had unceasingly turned about in bed, thoughts of the thunderstorm no longer her present worry.
It has been several days after Sakuno's interview with Kogane Era, and Sakuno's display of gratitude towards her senpai-tachi, most especially Tezuka had persisted all through-out the week. For the first time in years, Sakuno had dropped by in the tennis courts and watched the Seigaku regulars put their all into practice. Just like the old days, Sakuno watched in awe as everyone showed their newly-developed techniques, which she knew would let them bring home the bacon. After seeing them practice, she had no doubts of their victory. However, she began to doubt whether she was going to be chosen as the lucky one to tag along with senpai-tachi and Ryoma in all the circuits that year. She had been worrying about it for days, and no matter what she did, the growing fear pervaded her thoughts.
After a few moments of internal debate, she finally decided.
Although she had seen the regulars more often, her exchanges with Tezuka had been less frequent since he had been busy preparing Seigaku for the tournaments. She didn't want to bother him in any way, so she took the initiative not to bombard him with her issues. But now the opportunity to finally voice her concern came about, and Sakuno didn't want to miss her chance of putting an end to her anxiety.
After all, it was always Tezuka who sets things straight.
The soft rustling of blankets told her that she had his ears.
"Do you..." Sakuno sighed softly, "Do you think I made it?"
"You just have to believe in yourself."
Sakuno smiled and felt much better at her senpai's reassurance. "Thank you."
There was another ensuing silence.
"Y-You must find my sudden interest towards writing quite random..." It took some flare of courage for Sakuno to gather her thoughts and speak again. She wasn't expecting any response from Tezuka, so she continued, "Even obaa-chan was surprised when she first heard I was going to apply for the school newspaper... She never expected I'd have the streak of writer in me, so she was quite opposed to the idea at first, saying that I'd encounter... certain kinds of people..."
Sakuno didn't know what propelled her to bring up this topic, but the words flowed.
At her abrupt silence, there was another rustle of sheets, an indication for her to continue.
"But she must have realized how important it was to me... that—that I want to prove something... that's why I joined... And so she said she'd support me, pretty much like how she supported me when I wanted to play tennis..." The word 'tennis' brought a small ache to her chest but she ignored it and continued, "But unlike tennis... I feel that I'd make a difference in writing... Unlike tennis which was merely an attempt to make someone notice me..."
The words just kept on going, the emotions buried in her chest all this time yearning for an out.
"But in writing for the paper, I do not mind if the spotlight isn't on me... It's because I feel much more elated to speak about other people's achievements... to let others know that I've witnessed such victories... that I'm lucky enough to be friends with such amazing people..."
And then she stopped.
What have I been saying? Sakuno panicked, her cheeks blazing.
Taken aback at her senpai's response, Sakuno sat up from bed and glanced at Tezuka lying face up who was looking at her with an unexpectedly tender gaze. She reddened even more at the sight, but she was too caught in his gaze that she couldn't bring herself to look away.
Tezuka-senpai sure looks different without his glasses...
"Are you scared, Ryuuzaki?"
For a moment, Sakuno thought he was referring to the thunderstorm. But she realized soon after that he was referring to the Newspaper Circle. Admittedly, she was. Her grandmother had been right about meeting certain kinds of people who would bring her down at any given instant. The memory of her encounter with Watannabe Meira in the girl's bathroom suffused in her mind, but the remembrance of her senpai-tachi's sudden appearance when the situation looked bleak washed away her dread.
"No," was her soft reply.
After all, this was for them.
"Who locked you in the bathroom that day?"
Sakuno stilled, her heart beat in frenzy as Tezuka scrutinized her, his lips pulled into a thin line.
Sakuno was well aware of her tendency to attract disaster like a magnet. She still remembers how she first met Ryoma, and although he had not meant to save her from the high school boys, she was still grateful to what he had done. Countless times someone would come to her aid and all she could do was offering them bento as repayment.
"...I didn't see any faces, senpai... They were wearing masks."
Perhaps just this once, she could spare someone the trouble of saving her.
Tezuka watched her quietly, gauging her expression.
She tried to look dejected, and then smiled, "But there's nothing to worry about anymore... I don't think it will happen again."
Tezuka-senpai doesn't have room to worry about me anymore... The tournaments are near. Watannabe will learn her lesson soon enough...
"Don't let your guard down," he said, his eyes never leaving her face.
"Yeah," she smiled and lay back down in bed. "You too."
Tezuka turned on his side, a small smile on his face. "Aa."
"I'll be there to write about Seigaku's win," Sakuno whispered with a hopeful look on her face before her eyes gradually fluttered close.
When Sakuno woke up the next morning, it took some time for her to recover from her confusion and remember that she slept in Tezuka-senpai's room. Turning to the side, she saw her senpai folding the futon he had slept in. She also noticed that he had his eyeglasses back on.
"Good morning, senpai," she said rather shyly as she sat up from bed.
Tezuka turned to her and took in the sight of Sakuno's dishevelled look and the flush on her face, "Good morning."
Recollecting last night's events, most especially the warm welcome she received from Tezuka's family, Sakuno thought that nothing would go wrong the moment she stepped out of her senpai's room. But how mistaken she was when she came face to face with an unfamiliar well-dressed man in the hallway the moment she opened her senpai's bedroom door.
No one moved from their spot as both merely gazed at the other in surprise.
It was only when Tezuka appeared behind the doorway when the man came back to his senses.
"Kunimitsu. What is the meaning of this?"
It had been a struggle explaining things to Tezuka's father when he would spurt sceptical statements in between sentences, but things were eventually cleared out when Ayako, Kazuki, and Izumi came to their aid not long after. Breakfast in the Tezuka household had been generally good (save for Kazuki's jokes about Tezuka and her) that it almost made her forget they had school that morning. After taking a shower, she quickly put on the uniform Ayako had so kindly gotten for her, and met up with Tezuka in the living room where he had waited. Several minutes later, both Tezuka and Sakuno were walking side by side to Seigaku.
"S-Stop staring at me like that."
Sakuno tried her best to suppress the redness creeping on her face by looking away, but to no avail, her blush worsened for she was met with more curious gazes from passers-by. She decided it was better to face the wrath of her best friend than being eye-to-eye with people who seem to hunger for any interesting developments in campus.
"You slept in Tezuka-senpai's house last night."
"You slept in his room—"
"Shhh! N-Not too loud, Tomo-chan."
"You walked with Tezuka-senpai to school this morning."
"I was supposed to walk with you to school this morning."
And then Tomoka stopped in her tracks, turned to face Sakuno with a goofy grin on her face. "Oh hush, Sakuno-chan. There's no need to apologize. Do you think really think I'd stand in the way of two lovebirds?"
Sakuno blushed. "W-We're not lovebirds! He-He just invited me over because my house was leaking, and I'm so grateful to him and his family for letting me in, and well, I kind of imposed on him to make me sleep in his room because of the awful thunderstorm and I couldn't sleep—"
"Whoa! Calm down, Sakuno-chan!" Tomoka giggled heartily. "You're so defensive!"
"B-Because I know what you're thinking right now," Sakuno puffed her cheeks as a sign of frustration, but this only made Tomoka burst into another fit of giggles. "Tomo-chan!"
"Alright, alright! It's just that it's so amusing seeing you so flustered. The last time I saw you like this was when you still liked Ryoma-sama," Tomoka mused, remaining unaware of Sakuno's growing discomfort and darkening cheeks.
"I just don't like it when Tezuka-senpai's bothered with such nonsense..." Sakuno said softly, her eyes flitting towards the direction of the tennis courts. "I hope he's handling this better than I am."
The tennis club was no good as well. All due to the members' incessant chatter, everyone was asked to run 15 laps around campus. But this only gave everyone opportunity to talk about the issue even more. Everyone broke into small groups, discussing their own versions and thoughts about the matter.
"Did Tezuka really enter school with Ryuuzaki-chan this morning?" Eiji asked.
"100 percent. Even if I wasn't there to see it myself, there were a lot of witnesses," Inui replied, "Ask Fuji."
Fuji smiled and nodded, "They were holding hands and kissing when they entered the gates."
He chuckled at the regulars' aghast expression, "I was kidding."
Everyone threw him deathly glares.
"Tsk. We're talking about such useless things instead of practicing tennis," Kaidoh muttered.
"Shut up, mamushi. If I know, you're also curious about what's going on between buchou and Ryuuzaki," Momoshiro quipped, and then turned to look at the silent Echizen. "Ne, Ryoma?"
Ryoma returned the gaze blankly, "Whatever."
"It's not good to talk about Tezuka and Ryuuzaki like this. Just imagine what sensei would say when she finds out what we're doing," Oishi remarked, his eyebrows drawn together.
"And it's not our place to say such things when Tezuka's merely taking responsibility over Ryuuzaki at sensei's absence," Kawamura added, which silenced further comments about the two.
"By the way… there's penalty for the last person who comes back to the courts," Inui said, casually breaking the awkward silence.
And so began the rampage in Seigaku.
Upon return in the tennis courts, the Seigaku tennis club was surprised to see players in white and blue-colored jackets talking to Tezuka. At closer proximity, the club realized it was Hyotei. Although the line-up of players hadn't changed, the physique of Hyoutei's regulars had considerably improved which made them emit such a dangerous and intimidating aura. But as expected of Seigaku's hailed tennis captain, he stood his ground and kept his cool.
"What's happening, Tezuka?" Oishi asked as soon as the regulars reached Tezuka and came to back him up.
"They're requesting for a practice game," Tezuka replied impassively.
"But I thought unofficial matches between participants of the tournaments aren't allowed?" Fuji regarded the Hyoutei team.
"Atobe asked permission from the council, and they agreed," Oshitari responded, unflinchingly returning Fuji's firm gaze.
"Tezuka..." Oishi started, eyeing the contemplative captain.
"I'm sorry, but we won't play you today," Tezuka's tone left no room for arguments. "I can't risk my team to sport injuries before the official tournament."
"As expected," Shishido muttered, looking very much disgruntled as they walked away from the courts and headed back to their bus. "It was useless going here."
Choutaro smiled, "Ah well, it was worth a shot."
"Also, they don't seem to have any special training or whatsoever," Gakuto chuckled.
"It would be stupid to underestimate them," Oshitari replied, his eyes on alert for a particular narcissist. "But Atobe sure is an idiot."
Sakuno was stunned to see Atobe Keigo standing in her way towards the Newspaper Circle office. Ignoring the probing glances he was receiving from the passers-by, he continued to innocuously smile at her, a bouquet of red roses in his hands.
Sakuno turned red and fidgeted with her sling bag when the boy began to walk towards her, his eyes never leaving her face.
"W-What are you doing here, Atobe-san?"
"It's nice to visit Seigaku once in a while," he smiled charismatically, handing out the bouquet of roses he carried with him once he stood in front of Sakuno. "For a charming young lady who was kind enough to help Ore-sama in a moment of crisis."
In spite of herself, Sakuno smiled softly and accepted the flowers, "Thank you... Though I hardly think that being chased by girls is a crisis."
"Ah well, you still helped Ore-sama, did you not?" he chuckled, inserting his hands in his pants pocket.
"It was nothing," she insisted and smiled.
Sakuno was aware of the growing attention they were receiving, and as much as she wanted to chat with Atobe longer, she didn't want to give the student body another reason to gossip about her. Moreover, she was going to be late for the meeting.
"Ore-sama heard you're part of your school newspaper?" Atobe asked, raising one perfect eyebrow.
"Y-Yeah," Sakuno stuttered, rather taken aback. "How did you know?"
"Ore-sama has his sources," he replied, still smiling. "Ore-sama expects to see you soon then?" At Sakuno's bewildered expression, Atobe can't help but laugh and pat her head, "At the tournaments of course. You'll be covering the matches, aren't you? With that, ore-sama expects to see his name in Seigaku's paper. Hyoutei will defeat Seigaku after all."
"Seigaku won't lose," Sakuno said firmly, looking at Atobe with fire in her eyes.
"Ore-sama's glorious school won't easily be defeated this time," he smirked and pulled his hand back from the crown of her head. "Nevertheless, it was nice seeing you again, Ryuuzaki."
Sakuno merely nodded, still quite offended at Atobe's sudden declarations.
"Ore-sama hopes to see you again. Later." Atobe smiled at Sakuno one last time before walking away.
As Sakuno proceeded in her transit to the Newspaper Circle office, she was preoccupied with a mixture of pleasant, irritating, and bewildering thoughts. After mindlessly turning the knob of the door, she stepped inside the room, unaware of the stares she was receiving from the rest of the board. It was only when she took her usual seat in the front when she felt the thickness of the atmosphere.
"Ryuuzaki..." Ayame greeted from her seat, a small smile on her face. "Don't worry about it... I'm sure you'll make a fine Opinion editor."
That caused Sakuno to snap out of it and regard everything for the first time since she entered.
"W-What?" Sakuno's blood ran cold.
"Haven't you seen the list yet?" Ayame asked, her eyes wide.
Sakuno quickly stood up from her chair and headed outside the office. Approaching the bulletin board where she first saw her name posted, Sakuno paled the moment her eyes fell upon the list.
News Editor: Masuda Toshiro
Literary Editor: Natsume Ayame
Features Editor: Wattanabe Meira
Sports Editor: Misora Aki
Layout Editor: Otake Kumi
Opinion Editor: Ryuuzaki Sakuno
Chief Cartoonist: Igahara Hikari
Chief Photojournalist: Uchimura Yuka
Editorial Board of the Newspaper Circle
"I win," came an unexpected proclamation from behind her. Still overridden with shock, all Sakuno could do was watch Watannabe Meira enter the office with a triumphant smile on her face.
A/N: Finally updated, woot! It'd be nice to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think will happen next? Hopefully, you enjoyed the various character interactions in this chapter. It was difficult writing the Tezuka household part, but I guess it turned out okay. Reviews are very much appreciated. (:))