Holding hands with Kaidoh was making Momo's palm sweat. Kaidoh's hand was sweating too, and any second now, all the sweat was going to ooze out from between their linked fingers and drip onto the ground.
"So," Ann said, "how long have you two been going out?"
Kaidoh hissed and Momo began to sweat in a few other places as well.
It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
"I need a favour, Mamushi," Momo said.
"Why should I do you a favour?"
"Remember last month how you had a cold and had to stay home from school and I brought you your homework?"
"That?" Kaidoh said. "That's just what any normal person would do. Are you saying you only did that so I would owe you a favour?"
"Are you saying you would only do someone a favour if they owed you?"
Kaidoh glared but didn't say anything.
"I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend."
"What?" Kaidoh's eyes opened wide and Momo got ready in case he had to duck a punch. "Pretend to be your–" Kaidoh stopped, like he couldn't get the word out of his mouth.
"Just in front of Tachibana Ann," Momo said. "To make her jealous."
"So you won't help a friend in need?"
"Since when are you my friend?"
"Teammate, then. Schoolmate. And don't forget how I bought you lunch that day when we were on the team outing."
"I paid you back for that the next day."
"But I still had to go with only two-thirds of my normal lunch that day."
"No." Kaidoh turned to leave.
"Or are you scared?"
What Kaidoh didn't know was that it was really just an elaborate prank to get incriminating photos of Kaidoh pretending to be gay. The problem was that nobody else knew that either. And that Echizen hadn't shown up with the camera. And that when Ann arrived, Kamio and Ibu were with her.
So now Momo was stuck, holding hands with Kaidoh in front of freaking everybody, and sweating. His shirt was starting to stick to his shoulders.
"Not long," Momo mumbled.
Kamio stared at Momo, at Kaidoh, back at Momo. Momo wasn't sure he wanted to know what Kamio was thinking. Probably about how gay Momo was.
"I don't know about Seigaku," Ibu said, "but at Fudomine, we're not allowed to date because they think we're too young, even though we're really not all that young. I wonder if Momoshiro and Kaidoh are breaking the rules by going out with each other. People at Seigaku don't seem very concerned with rules."
"I think it's really cute." Ann took out her phone and flashed a picture of them.
It was then that the major flaw in the plan became really apparent to Momo: any photos of Kaidoh pretending to be gay would also be photos of Momo pretending to be gay.
It was also then that Kaidoh let go of Momo and walked away, wiping his hand on his shorts and slouching like he did when he was cranky.
"Is something wrong?" Ann said.
"He's just shy," Momo said.
"Maybe he just doesn't want to break the rules. I don't think I would want to break the rules. Unless there was someone that I liked a lot, then maybe I would do it. But I might not go around doing stuff like that in public. I wonder what would be the most fun thing to do on a date. Maybe go to the arcade or out shopping or play tennis, if the person I was on the date with liked tennis."
"Shouldn't you go after him?" Ann said.
"Oh, he'll be fine," Momo said. The last thing he wanted to do now was catch up with Kaidoh. "I'll…uh…see him later."
"Well, have fun." Ann waved and left, Ibu trailing behind her. Kamio hung back.
"Hey, Momoshiro, are you and Kaidoh really going out?"
"No! It was just a joke, a joke." If Kamio would believe him.
"Yeah, why would anyone go out with you?"
"Hey!" Momo said but Kamio was already jogging away. Momo pulled out his phone. "Echizen, where were you?"
"How could you forget?"
"I don't know. Did you really want a picture of you and Kaidoh-senpai anyhow?"
Mail from Ann appeared on his screen and Momo found that whether or not he really wanted a picture, he had one now.
Momo spent the whole day at school waiting for someone to say something to him. But the news hadn't jumped the Fudomine-Seigaku barrier just yet, so Momo figured he was safe for now. It wasn't like Kaidoh was going to tell anyone. And Echizen had probably forgotten already.
Just to be extra-safe, Momo avoided Kaidoh altogether, even when there was a perfect chance at practice to trip him during a warm-up exercise. Anyhow, Kamio knew it was all a joke, so he would tell Tachibana Ann and Ibu and everyone would forget.
He didn't delete the picture, though, in case it would come in handy some day. Maybe he could paste someone else's head on over his own. Like Arai or Ikeda. Kaidoh looked really grouchy in the photo, but he probably looked like that in every photo of him ever. Momo looked pretty grouchy himself. And they were holding hands. It made Momo's palms sweat just to look at it.
After three days, Momo decided the coast was clear and he could go back to harassing Kaidoh like normal. But Kaidoh seemed to be avoiding him now. And Kaidoh didn't even have the picture to remind him.
Well, Momo wasn't going to worry about that now. He collared Echizen and dragged him out for hamburgers after practice. He was halfway through his third burger, telling Echizen a story about the time he went out to buy new CDs and got stuck in the middle of a brass band parade, when his phone chimed.
Mail from Ann. I'm so sorry, it said, which made no sense to Momo, since he couldn't think of anything there was to be sorry about. Then he noticed there was a photo.
Of Kaidoh. And Kamio. Holding hands.
Momo choked on his burger. "Are you okay?" Echizen said. Momo choked some more, then managed to swallow.
"Look!" he said and held the phone out to Echizen.
"It's Kaidoh-senpai and that rhythm guy."
"Yes! Look at them!"
"How can they do that?"
Echizen shrugged. "Can I have one of your burgers?"
Unbelievable. Kaidoh and Kamio. Was that why Kamio had asked if they were really going out? Was Kaidoh really gay after all? This was so annoying.
"Are you eating those fries?"
Momo sucked on his straw but all that was left was ice. That stupid snake. Kaidoh shouldn't be going out with one of their rivals. What was he thinking? "Echizen, I need you to do me a favour."
Echizen paused with a fry halfway to his mouth. "What?"
"You have to pretend to be my boyfriend," Momo said. "Just in front of Kaidoh."
"Because Kaidoh…uh…" But Momo couldn't think of a reason why. It just seemed like the thing to do. "Never mind. Hey, are those my fries?"
Momo headed out to the street tennis courts. Maybe Kaidoh and Kamio were there. And then he could challenge them or something. But challenge Kaidoh or Kamio? Or both? And what would he do if he won?
Anyhow, just playing them would make him feel better. As long as he didn't lose. Which he of course would never do. He would Dunk Smash them both and then they would think twice about messing with Momoshiro Takeshi.
But they weren't at street tennis. Probably out on a date or something. Momo had matches with some other kids but everybody complained that he was playing too fiercely. It started to rain and soon he was the only one left. He hit the ball against the wall over and over, while the water ran down his face and back and arms.
When he got home, he downloaded the picture of Kaidoh and Kamio to his computer. He used his graphics software to distort Kamio's face and give him a long pointy nose and thick black eyebrows. The effect made him kind of dizzy.
He decided to give Kaidoh green skin, like the sneaky snake he was, but he was already looking green for some reason. Momo stared at the picture for a long time. Then he sneezed three times and got into bed.
"Here's your homework, dumbass."
A stack of paper hit Momo in the stomach and he blinked awake. "Not a dumbass," he mumbled, struggling to sit up.
"Only a dumbass would give himself a cold like that," Kaidoh said. He was standing beside the bed and it made Momo uncomfortable to have him looming over him.
"You had a cold last month!"
"Only because you sprayed me with water and I couldn't change!"
"Well, my cold is your fault, so I guess we're even."
"How is this my fault?"
"Because you–" Momo caught himself just in time. "It just is." He looked up at Kaidoh, then away to the homework. Jeez, stupid Kaidoh, making Momo feel so weird. Momo's palms were all sweaty again and they weren't even holding hands.
Kaidoh just kept standing there, not talking, like some stupid annoying tree that was never going to go away and spend time with his stupid boyfriend instead. The atmosphere in the room was strange, not like usual, and it made Momo feel like he should do something about it.
"Uh…practice was good," Kaidoh said finally. "Inui-senpai said that you should use your downtime to visualize different shots. Oishi-senpai said you should just take it easy." His hands were jammed inside his pockets so Momo couldn't see if they were sweating.
"I'll be back at school tomorrow," Momo said. Kaidoh was looking right at him and when Momo looked back, it was like their eyes were magnetized or something because Momo couldn't make himself look away. His hands were all clammy now and so was his back.
"You have a fever." Kaidoh put a hand on his own forehead and reached down to lay the other hand on Momo's. But first he stopped to wipe it on his pants.
Momo grabbed Kaidoh's arm, yanked him down, and kissed him.
It was awkward and not quite on target and Kaidoh's arm got trapped at a strange angle against Momo's chest. It made Momo flash hot and cold all over. Or maybe he really did have a fever. He let go so Kaidoh could yell at him and storm out.
But Kaidoh straightened his arm and kissed Momo back, short kisses, over and over, open mouthed and a little wet. Momo had only kissed one other person before, a girl in his class at school, and it hadn't been anything like this.
Momo got his arm around Kaidoh's neck. His nose was stuffed up and he couldn't quite catch his breath between kisses. And he was probably a little gay after all because this was really, really good.
Did Kaidoh do this with Kamio? Thinking about that made Momo angry and he sort of growled in the back of his throat. Then Kaidoh hissed and Momo pulled him all the way onto the bed and they pushed close to each other, kissing and tangling the blankets and sweating everywhere they touched.
Momo had never been so turned on in all his life. They were getting past just kissing now, into an area of gayness that Momo was still kind of freaked out about, so he wanted to stop. Or parts of him wanted to stop. Other parts wanted to veto that idea.
He didn't know how to stop, though, there was no secret signal. So he moved his face away from Kaidoh's, as a hint. But Kaidoh just sucked on Momo's throat and more of Momo's parts changed their minds about stopping.
Then he sneezed. It threw Momo forward and Kaidoh back and jostled them both out of make-out position.
Kaidoh slid onto the floor, his back against the side of the bed. Momo blew his nose and watched Kaidoh's shoulders rise and fall.
"Now I'm going to get your stupid cold," Kaidoh said.
"Only a dumbass would get sick." Momo's chest heaved, trying to get his breath back. His mouth was tingling and so was just about every other bit of him. And his joints ached, but that was because of his cold.
Kaidoh got up and walked over to Momo's computer. The photo was still on the screen, the messed up one of Kaidoh and Kamio.
"About that," Momo said. "I was trying to turn your skin green, but I was too sick to finish."
"He asked me to do it," Kaidoh said, still facing away. "As a favour. In front of that girl."
"Did your hands get sweaty?" Momo asked.
"No," Kaidoh said and came back to the bed.
They ran into Kamio and Ibu by the street tennis courts. Kamio blushed but he didn't let go of Ibu's hand. "Did you hear?" he said. "Ann-chan is going out with Kirihara from Rikkai."
"That jerk?" Momo said.
"She says he's reformed."
"So we're all breaking the rules now," Ibu said. "I hope that nobody reports us. What if we got in trouble and had to quit playing tennis? I like tennis a lot. I don't want to stop playing. Though it's not my fault, really. We're young and so we have urges that are hard to keep under control."
Kaidoh's face got a little pink at "urges" and Momo laughed. Kaidoh hissed and Momo laughed again. "Doubles?" he said to Kamio. "We'll kick your asses."
"Next time," Kamio said, his face still a little pink as well. "We're, um, on our way somewhere."
"Of course it's not something we could say as an excuse if we got caught. But they should remember what it's like to be young and want to do things. Unless they didn't do things like that back then. I kind of want to explain it to them."
Kamio waved and dragged Ibu away.
Momo watched them go, leaning in a little so his shoulder pressed against Kaidoh's.
"Come on," Kaidoh said. "Let's play." He wiped his hand on his shirt. Momo wiped his hand on Kaidoh's shirt too. "Asshole," Kaidoh said.
"Snake," Momo said and hoped he'd be able to play without the racquet sliding out of his grip.