Once upon a time, there was a boy.

Akaya fidgeted in the auditorium seat, fiddling with his blue graduation gown. This was lame. They didn't even get those cool graduation caps to throw in the air.

He turned around for what must have been the fiftieth time—ignoring the quiet scolding of a teacher—and searched for his teammates. Yukimura smiled at him, whereas Sanada seemed mildly annoyed that Akaya couldn't sit still. Marui and Jackal sat with Marui's younger brothers, and Yanagi mouthed, "Turn back around." Niou and Yagyuu sat with Naomi, who'd come back for a brief vacation—and to visit her little brother.

Reassured that they were watching him, Akaya turned back around and tried to pay attention to whatever the principal was rambling about onstage.

"Kirihara Akaya?" the principal was calling, confused and a little panicky. "Kirihara Akaya, are you here? You have to present your speech—Kirihara Akaya?"

Oh, shoot.

So that was why Yanagi-senpai told him to turn around. He grinned sheepishly and stood up. "Hi!"

The audience snickered. Akaya could faintly hear Sanada muffle an exasperated groan.

--

The boy had many friends, and they were all very happy.

--

Head held high, he walked toward the stage. "Sorry 'bout that," he whispered, and grabbed the microphone. The principal stopped him.

"Where's your speech?"

Akaya blurted a swear word. "I, uh, think I left it at home."

Clearly the audience heard the conversation, for Sanada sank further in his seat and Yukimura gave a little amused chuckle. "Oh, Akaya."

"You say that like you're proud of him," Sanada replied, covering his face with a hand.

"Shouldn't we help him?" Yagyuu asked, slightly worried. Naomi murmured agreement, but Niou merely shrugged.

"He'll think of something."

Akaya straightened proudly at that. He couldn't act like an idiot—not now. It was the last day of school, the graduation ceremony. It was the last chance he had to leave a strong impression on his graduating peers. And he wanted to sound like he actually knew what he was talking about, for once.

So he talked. "When I was but a child, an old family friend said to my mom, who was going through a tough time in her life, "Things only get better. You have to get past the pain and let the good reach you."

"I don't think I really understood a single word in that sentence back then, to be honest. As a six year old, well, you don't know a whole lot of words. And besides, I was a little slower than usual. I forgot about that sentence as time wore on.

"One day, I came home crying because I lost my favorite watch: an expensive, important watch that had belonged to my deceased granduncle. It was a few years later; I was around nine. My mother smiled down at me and pulled me into a hug. "Akaya-chan," she said quietly, rocking back and forth, "things can only get better. You have to get past the pain and let the good reach you."

"I was bewildered, but by then I was old enough to understand the basic meaning of that line. I began applying to everyday life. I wanted so much to believe it was true. Amazingly, my grades began to improve, my popularity hit the charts, and I was simply happier in general. I was overjoyed. I knew it. I could feel it. Things would get better, would improve. All I had to do was let it. I knew I would eventually reach my well-deserved day of perfection.

"And I did, as a second year. I had a fantastic captain and assistant captain, great teammates who all cared about me, and an infamous reputation. I thought what they said was true, about things growing better and better. After all, as a first year, my nonexistent reputation as a tennis player was . . . well, nonexistent."

Akaya heard Niou chuckle, and promptly glared at him before continuing.

"But things only got better from there on. It was miraculous how the team managed to stay together. How we managed to win every school we attended a good old tennis trophy. How we had everything planned out, how we arranged to meet again from time to time when we became adults, how we managed to keep our silliness and childish antics even as high school students. From my senior year in junior high, my freshman year in high school, and my junior year; things got better and better. But then again, I was so blind at the time I wouldn't have noticed a crisis if it were dancing in front of my nose in pink boxers.

"In any case, I couldn't wait for senior year. I could feel it; it was going to be the best. It was going to be epic. It was going to be memorable, something I would one day tell my love-struck fans and fanatics. Everything about my senior year was going to be special. I would breeze through it, graduate, and go to the same college as the rest of my teammates because we were all just awesome that way.

"But things started crumbling before I got there.

"That was when I began to realize that they were wrong. They were all wrong. I had been living, been hoping, been trying . . . for a lie."

--

Then something went wrong. One thing, two things, then more than he could begin to count. And he felt hopeless.

--

Akaya paused—partially for dramatic effect, partially because he had no idea what to say next. "But it wasn't a lie, not really. At least, not so much a lie as a misunderstanding. I was too young, even then, to really get what was going on. I took things for granted—it became a habit of sorts. And I think that was what led to an untimely downfall.

"For a while, our problems just kind of drifted. It didn't seem like there was anything to do—and I wanted so badly to apply that line of hope to it. So I let it drift. That was my second mistake, I guess. Because things didn't get better; they got worse. From worse to worse to worse to worst, and I thought I was going to drown.

"That was my third mistake—believing I'd drown." He raised his head high then, and scanned the audience. "Believing I'd lose control over everything, forever. I'd never let that happen, and I'd forgotten that." He grinned. "But then I remembered. There was something I'd overlooked, and that what changed everything.

"You can't really get past anything without trying, can you?

"So the statement wasn't a lie. Like I said, I think it was just a misunderstanding. And it's not like my efforts went to waste. Things got better. From better to better to better to best, and I realized I wasn't drowning after all."

--

But the boy had forgotten he had friends, best friends. He'd forgotten the morals that had gotten him so far. So he began to remember, he began to climb back. It was a slow climb. He changed along the way, but his heart remained the same.

--

"Now I'm going to the same university as my teammates. I'm going to be number one, I'm going to be the best. And if I ever fall, I'll remember what happened in high school, I'll remember what disaster it was, and what a blessing it became."

He gave a lopsided smile. "I'll remember I can try."

There was silence, then a smattering applause, then a thunderous applause, and then somebody stood. Then two people stood, then three, then four—ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred. And soon the entire audience was standing, applauding him, applauding something that had been made up on the spot.

Akaya's first thought was, Wow, I got lucky.

He hopped down the stage, ignoring the principal's protest of "That's not how we rehearsed it!" and plopped back on his seat, ready to receive his diploma.

--

Once upon a time, there was Kirihara Akaya.

And that says it all.


After a gazillion chapters, it's over! I'm kind of disappointed, but I'm also relieved I finished it. I was always a bit afraid I'd leave it unfinished, but it's not! It's complete—my first dramatic work, haha. I sincerely hope you liked it.