BEEP BEEP BEEP
Suddenly Karupin seemed a whole lot of heavier that Ryoma had ever remembered. He opened his eyes to see Poppy sat practically on top of him.
up, up, up! Super special training today!'
He rubbed his eyes as she bounced out to meet Nanako in the kitchen. He could hear her retelling the story of yesterday's mishap in the park and her time at the party, while he pulled on his training clothes and regular's jacket.
He came in and sat at the kitchen where his cousin handed him a bottle of milk.
'Hey kiddo. Are you excited? I finally get to show you what I did for all these years!' the English girl beamed at him.
He shrugged, knowing this wouldn't deflate her enthusiasm one bit.
'Eiji has already sent me a whole bunch of text messages. It's very sweet but I think he's forgotten I can't read Japanese.' she passed her phone over to the boy at the table. He took it and looked through them.
'Basically, he says he's very excited.' Ryoma flicked through the next couple. 'Very, very excited. Very, very ... you get the idea.' He returned to his milk.
wasn't long before they were getting off the bus outside of the
'We're early,' Ryoma said.
'I know. New concept for you, huh? I need to go in and meet the trainer and check the equipment.'
He followed her in and asked at the desk for the trampolining studio. They followed the corridor round, finding a large open room with 3 full size trampolines set over foam pits and mats and a large sprung floor for tumbling.
Poppy whistled appreciatively 'Nice' she said approvingly.
'Ah, Poppy-san. Welcome!' a young man in a vest and stirrup pants greeted her.
'Kirishi-san, thank you for letting me use your facilities.' she smiled.
'It is an honour to have you here at last.' he bowed.
'Echizen-kun, this is Kirishi-san. He is Japan's no.1 trampolinist and a student of English here at the university.'
They greeted each other in Japanese.
'Are the team you are bringing gymnasts?' he asked the blonde girl.
'Nope, they are a junior high tennis team. But, trust me, they'll put everything into this session. They're those kind of kids.'
If the trampolinist thought there was anything strange in this he didn't show it, merely smiling and gesturing towards the equipment.
'Well, we have thirty minutes before the team arrive. Ryoma-kun, would you help me warm up?' Poppy said beginning to bounce on her toes.
'Sure.' He put down his rackets .'Wait, how do you warm up here?'
'Well, we'll do some gentle stretches and then you can sit on the trampoline and bounce with me. You'll make a good target' she winked.
both of them were on the trampoline and Poppy was showing Ryoma how
to balance his weight to best propel himself. To his own mild suprise
he found he was rather enjoying it, timing his bounces to land with
Poppy bouncing opposite him.
'The point ' she said between bounces 'of this' BOUNCE 'is to see' BOUNCE 'what you could' BOUNCE 'do if you no' BOUNCE 'longer' BOUNCE 'had to' BOUNCE 'jump'. She slowed the trampoline bed. 'You see? You are all going to feel what muscles you use most when you jump and how to harness that power with your shots.' A wicked smiled crossed her face. 'Then we will see how your accuracy drops when you're tired from jumping .'
As the trampoline bed stopped rebounding, Ryoma was aware that his calves tingled with the contractions from his jumps.
Poppy watched him gain control of his movement again.'Could you go out and show the rest of the team in for me? Thanks.' Ryoma dropped off the trampoline, wobbling a little as he stepped onto steady ground.
'Mind how you are, be careful!' the blonde student called. She turned to the Japanese number one on the trampoline to her left.
'Come on then. Let's scare them silly. Show me your latest routine.'
met the regulars at the front of the building, practically smothered
whole by an over-excited Eiji.
'Ochibi! Have you been inside?! What are we doing?' he said breathlessly.
'Follow me,' the freshman said.
A few minutes later they were in the gym, watching the two trampolinists give a near synchronised routine of bounces and twists.
'Wow wow wow wow!' said Eiji under his breath.
Kaidoh stepped back 'We're not doing that, are we?'
Poppy came to her last jump and slowed her bouncing, beckoning them over.
'Hi everyone, this is Kirishi-san. He is Japan's no.1 trampolinist, currently training for the world championships in a few months time.'
Tezuka immediately broke into a bow and said 'Thankyou for taking the time away from your training to spend it with us. We are very grateful.' He translated what Poppy had said and the others followed suit. Poppy smiled, pleased by this show of appreciation for her colleague.
'Okay then, sit on the mats and let's talk.'
They gathered in a group on the mats
behind them. Poppy continued 'I'm extra lucky because Kirishi-san is
also a student of English here at Tokyo Dai and so he can be a
translator for us as I explain some of the more complex ideas I have.
So let's begin...'
Kirishi introduced himself and then Poppy showed them some examples of what muscle contraction looked like in real time. Inui mentioned the split-step asking Ryoma to demonstrate what he meant. Poppy and Kirishi explained that trampolinists and gymnasts use something similar to get height and extra spins into their jumps. Poppy explained she had a theory that if you could better time your jumping in tennis, using a spring mat or a trampoline for practise, then you could improve your reach and the height of your return.
'It might not work,' she said in conclusion 'but I have seen something similar done back home, so I thought we could give it a try.' Kirishi translated for her and then the group looked at her for instructions. 'Okay, Kirishi-san will lead you through a typical male gymnasts' warm up while I double check the equipment and get ready to put you through your paces.' He did so and soon they were gathered at the trampolines.
round, we will have one of you on the trampoline and everyone else
spotting them. That means ready to catch them if they bounce off.'
said Kirishi, before speaking to Poppy rapidly in English about his
plan. She nodded. She got on to the bed. 'Okay, I've done this with
Ryoma-kun already so get up here kiddo and show everyone what we
'Hey, go Echizen!' cheered Momo.
The freshman climbed up, determined to look as cool as possible while jumping in front of his team mates, a feat not simple especially when Eiji was crying 'Ochibi! Bounce, ochibi!'. Poppy talked Ryoma through the instructions in English and Kirishi translated for the rest of the team. First, he made a number of jumps to find his momentum. Next, Poppy handed him a racket and ball and he began to jump again. It was more difficult but once he was at a height that felt comfortable and controlled he threw the ball up. As soon as his muscles next contracted he made contact, sending the ball at a shuddering speed across the gym. He slowed his jump and looked at where it had got to.
'Hm, not bad,' he conceeded.'It's harder to time but if you hit it at the right moment it is easier to put more power into the ball.' He repeated this to Poppy in English.
'Good, good' said Poppy. 'Next one then?'
Next came Eiji who positively delighted in bouncing as high as possible.
'That's great, Eiji, but we need you to hit it at a similar height you would when playing tennis. It's to get the timing right, remember.'
'Hoi hoi! Kikamaru beam!', he sent a ball across the gym before tripping and clattering to a stop face down on the trampoline.
'Yup, that's it. It's all in the timing.' Poppy said sarcastically. 'Next!'
Each regular took a turn on
the trampoline with varying degrees of success, Kaidoh being
suprisingly good - suprising himself especially - and Inui being
really rather poor.
'Your height is probably a disadvantage' said Poppy, which Kirishi translated before adding 'and you are over thinking it a little.' watching the boy take a protactor from his pocket and draw a diagram.
Finally, it was time for Fuji and Tezuka. Ryoma looked on, he didn't doubt Fuji would pick it up straight away - he was a prodigy after all - but he wondered about the captain. Bouncing up and down wasn't very dignified unless you were very good at it. He suspected his captain didn't do undignified all that often.
True enough Fuji took just a few bounces to get the feel of it and send a ball scuttling straight for the opposite wall, dropping sharply approximately where the baseline would be.
'Hmm, fun.' he smiled. As he got down, Poppy reached down to help Tezuka up.
'First, move to the cross in the centre and get a sense of it, then start to swing your arms to get momentum.' Poppy nodded as Tezuka moved his body with purpose, gaining height.
'Okay, now you know how it moves, try it again and then serve the ball.'
His team mates watched from the edge. They could see the captain focus on his goal; jumping at the right height with the right timing. He missed the first ball but this just redoubled his efforts to get it right again. As soon as he made contact with the ball, it didn't matter that he was jumping on a trampoline. He was set in motion, his body answering the call of his brain, his muscles flowing one to another in response to what he was trying to do. There was never any doubt. They could see his muscles, the impact, the contraction and finally the release of power as the ball left his racket.
Even Poppy and Kirishi could see that was a special gift. The blonde student smiled as the third-year slowed down his bounces on the trampoline in preperation to get off.
'Good work, captain. I think everyone has the idea now? So, let's go for a few rounds more. Everyone has 3 attempts and then we'll move onto something else. Ah, Ryuzuki-sensei ...' she finished, seeing the team's coach come though the door with her granddaughter just behind her. 'Kirishi-san, could you spot please?'
She got off the trampoline bed and went to
greet the coach at the door.
'Thankyou for coming,' she said smiling
'No, thank you for arranging this for us.' Ryuzuki-sensei looked around the facilities approvingly. 'Hmm, that is Kirishi-san, is it not? I watched him at an event last year.'
'Yes, he owed me a favour so I asked him to help us today.' Ryuzuki-sensei caught the wicked look in the college student's eyes and smiled too. 'He speaks good English?'
'Yes, he does. It's been very helpful. So, I have started the regulars training already. Let's see if they enjoy getting tired legs!' the coach laughed heartily at this idea. 'It's a good idea Poppy-san. Thankyou.'
They watched as the regulars went through their moves, practising their serve shots and then trying to receive balls and time the returns. It was difficult but it was fun and they enjoyed watching each other bounce about, occasionally misstepping and landing heavily on the trampoline. Only Eiji actually needed catching from an over excitable bounce.
Poppy said going over as they all completed their turn. 'Now we're
going to do an endurance game.' she said, the wicked gleam returning
to her eye once more. 'We will spread out over two trampolines and
you'll bounce in pairs.' She climbed up onto the middle trampoline
with Kirishi and demonstrated the two of them bouncing together,
counting to twelve - she in English and he in Japanese - before they
got off and ran to the mats where the team's racquets were. 'Then you
play tennis' Poppy finished with a smile, 'a rally of twenty balls,
before getting onto the trampoline and doing it again. We'll go three
times through again.' Kirishi translated quickly.
'You will find your accuracy will deplete the more tired you get, as this is aerobic exercise. It's like a speeded up way of getting to how you feel after five games of tennis.'
Ryoma smirked 'Poppy-sensai has a streak of evil.' She grinned in return. 'Just doing my job, ochibi.'
looked at the boys beginning to pair off 'I think you should pair
up with approximate weights for balance,' he said.
Eiji grabbed Echizen and said 'That means we are a pair, ochibi!' Fuji and Oishi stood together watching Eiji and Echizen on one trampoline while Kaidoh and Inui got onto another spotted by Kawamura and Momo. Poppy invited Tezuka over to watch the results with Ryuzuki-sensei. The college student saw Sakuno sat on a bench by the entrance watching everything with a shy sort of excitment.
'Sakuno-kun,' she walked over and sat next to the girl 'Could you get some drinks for everyone? They'll need them for after this.' she handed over her purse, making a drinking motion and indicating the group.
'Hai,' said the girl enthusiastically and heading for the door.
Poppy watched her go with a small smile and then went over to the trampolines to help with the spotting and to encourage Inui to put his notebook down while bouncing.
minutes later, eight regulars were flat out on the gym mats panting
'Legs. Can't move' groaned Momo.
'Chance of recovery 0' mumbled Inui into the mat.
Even Eiji seemed to have lost his bounce 'my batteries are flat, nyaaa!'
They had all started confidently enough but were disappointed to discover that bouncing took a lot out of their legs, even Eiji who spent whole double games springing about, and this then affected their ability to get to the ball with even a simple rally. It became discouraging very quickly.
Poppy watched them all for a minute or two, and then beckoned Sakuno to hand out the drinks she had bought.
'Hard work, hm? Sakuno has brought you something.' The younger girl handed out drinks, to enthusiastic thanks, smiling shyly as she handed Ryoma a grape Ponta.
'I've got something to show you all.' the college
student said, once they had recovered enough to sit up and drink. She
walked over to her bag by the edge of the gym and pulled something
out. As she walked back she held it up. Ryoma recognised it as the
silver medal he had seen in her bag.
'This is my silver medal for the group event at the World Juniors Trampolining competiton, held in 2002.' She handed it to Oishi was nearest to her. He rubbed his thumb over the engraving, turned it over in his hand, held it by its thick ribbon for a moment or two before passing it to Eiji. 'I think it's my most precious posession.' Kirishi translated this for her and she waited a moment as it was passed around before continuing. 'You see, it's not that it's a silver medal, because I was lucky enough to win a couple of golds in subsequent events, but because it was a team event. Once I graduated from the Juniors I never competed in a team event again. I remember competiting in a team event spurred me to do my very best because it wasn't just for myself, it was for my friends too. I think you feel the same way, right?' Kirishi translated again and the regulars looked at each other a little, smiling. 'Playing the way you do, even in a singles match you are never truly alone. On your way to the Nationals, at some point one of you is going to feel like you did when you came off that trampoline and couldn't even move. That is when your friends, your team mates, will help you because you need everyone to compete.' As Kirishi translated, Poppy went and sat just behind Ryoma and whispered in his ear
'Even those of you that could stand alone will be ten times stronger when you stand with others.'
'Okay then,' Poppy said from the back,
standing again. 'Eiji, I think I promised you some tumbling? Let's
take a break.'
'Yay! Yay!' Eiji sprung up again, seemingly having forgotten his aching legs.
As Kirishi and Poppy helped Eiji learn a series of tumbles across the mats, Fuji got up and stood beside Tezuka who was watching. The smallest hint of a smile was on his captain's lips.
'I think Poppy-chan has picked a good career, motivating others.'
Fuji watched his captain watching Poppy coach Eiji for a moment; he was watching the college student cheer with her whole being as Eiji managed to land a difficult jump.
'I'm pleased she came to Seigaku.' the reticent third-year stated.
Fuji turned back to watch Eiji turn a cartwheel with his smile ever so slightly wider at what his friend and captain had just said.
'I think you should tell her that, Kunimitsu. I think she would find that encouraging.' he said lightly before going to join his team mates.
The captain remained where he was towards the back turning this thought over in his head. Eiji landed another jump and then said 'Nya, Poppysensei-chan. You should jump for us!' Kirishi laughed and nodded. 'I also want to see one of your famous floor tumbles. I shall tell them how you came to be a trampolinist while you prepare.' the older boy said with a sly smile.
'Okay, okay.' the blonde girl said, seeing that there would be no escape.
Kirishi cleared the floor explaining that
Poppy would go corner to corner diagonally, 'She used to be a
gymnast up until the age of seventeen. At fifteen, she also started
trampolining and her gymnastic skills quickly helped her climb the
ladder. Within a year she was competiting for her country. That was
when I first met her. Ah, Eiji-kun, I think she is about to grant
your wish. Remember she hasn't trained for a while so this might not
be perfect. We gymnasts go rusty quickly!'
They watched from the side as Poppy automatically pulled her body up to present and then took a slow breath in and out. Finally, she began a powerhouse of a run and threw her hands down to begin a series of jumps and twists, pulling from pike to somersault to midair twist as if she was pulled on an invisible wire finally landing, slightly wobbly, at the corner of the mat. The gym rang with applause and whistles, led by Ryuzuki-sensei. Even so Kirishi pouted a little 'Aw, she held out on us. No triples.'
'That was holding out?' asked Momo incredulously.
'Well, she's old and retired now. I guess I should let her off.'
Poppy looked up 'Oi! Who are you calling old?!'
Kirishi grinned 'I see your Japanese is improving.'
'Hmph. Only 'cos Ochibi over there gave me a reason to look it up earlier in the week.' Half a dozen pairs of accusing eyes swung for an explanation from the freshman.
'Che,' he said looking at Poppy 'Mada mada dane.' He pulled down his cap.
'Pah, I'll 'mada mada' you. You want 100 bounces on the trampoline, kiddo?' she lunged at him and began tickling furiously.
Eiji and Momo took that to mean 'bundle' and
before long Ryoma found himself squashed under the combined weight of
'All this and we didn't even get to play tennis,' he grumbled picking himself up. Kirishi smiled waiting for Poppy's trump card.
'Not so fast. As a special treat I booked you all an hour on the University courts and practise cages...' Poppy said with a sly smile. 'Now, Ryoma, say thankyou to the nice lady ...'
'Hmph 'bout time.' mumbled the freshman. Poppy stuck out her tongue.
'Come on then, it's this way ...' she said, thrusting the freshman's arm forward and using Echizen as a directional device.
6 full-size courts, set-up, complete with practise equipment for exercise and a fridge full of water and isotonic drinks awaited them. Poppy was pleased to see they looked suitable impressed.
Kirishi indicated a figure in the clubhouse watching out as they arrived. The young lady stepped out quickly and came to meet them. She greeted everyone in Japanese and Kirishi and Ryuzuki-sensei made their introductions. As she bowed to leave, Poppy walked over to her college friend.
'What did she say?'
'Oh she just welcomed everyone, said the tennis club here were watching the school tournaments with interest and to enjoy the practise. She's the head of facilities here.'
'Oh, I thought for one terrible moment that they didn't get our booking.' she paused and turned to the group 'Anyway, get on with it. I'm getting hungry!' she said with a grin.
The group didn't need telling twice and soon there was just the 'thwock, thwock' of tennis balls against racquets.
An hour later, the regulars gathered their stuff and
thanked Poppy and Kirishi for their time and help. Kirishi said he
had to go back in as he now had his own training to attend to, so
Poppy gave him a tight squeeze and promised to call. He promised to
come and watch the next tennis tournament and returned inside.
'I should also go,' Poppy said 'It's such a lovely day but I have to finish all my notes about my time here before I move on on Tuesday.'
'Nya, that's so sad Poppy-chan. You should come and live with us here!' said Eiji pouting.
'Maybe you could sneak her into your house to replace your giant teddy-bear?' suggested Fuji.
'Street courts?' said Ryoma, pulling down his cap.
'Yup,' agreed Momo.
'A chance to gather further data,' said Inui, eyes gleaming.
'Maybe we can take out those punks from Yamabuki.' growled Kaidoh
'Sounds fun.' agreed Fuji 'We're near St.Rudolph, I'll call Yuutu'.
'Ooooh, they play doubles there, don't they?' said Eiji, bouncing.
'I'd better go to make sure it's alright,' said Oishi looking worried
'Yeah,' agreed Kawamura 'We don't want anyone getting hurt before the tournament...' Echizen passed him his racquet.
'GREAT-O, BURNING STREET BABY! LET'S GO!'
'Are you going Tezuka-kun?' asked Poppy watching as the others began to pick up their bags and leave. He looked at her for a moment, seemingly turning something over in his head.
'You mentioned you were hungry. Would you like to get lunch with me?' he asked. She looked up, suprised, and paused for a moment before looking delighted.
'It's been a long time since I've been asked out to lunch.' He blushed slightly at this 'I would love to.'
She picked up her bag and waved to the boys leaving in the opposite direction.
'Hey, where's buchou going?' asked Momo with an animated expression of confusion playing out across his features.
Fuji looked to where Poppy and Tezuka were beginning to walk away. 'I think our captain is taking Poppy for lunch.' he said with a small smile. He knew this would involve an eruption of rumours but it was too fun to stop especially when that statement was actually completely true. He thought maybe that was the best bit.
Poppy walked alongside her younger companion for a few
moments thinking over what she should say to set the record straight.
Just as she was about to speak she heard Tezuka speak first.
'Is there any particular food you wanted?'
'Oh, um, well, I don't know a lot of Japanese foods - noodles and sushi aside - so whatever you recommend. Oh, and I'm dreadful with chopsticks.'
'Do you like Italian? There is a nice place near here that serves good pasta.'
'Sounds great. Thanks!'
She was suddenly aware that of the two of them she was much more uncomfortable. I should tell him this isn't a date. He's just a junior high school kid. It isn't fair to ...
Her thoughts were interrupted when her companion spoke again.
'I appreciate the time you have spent with our team. I hope you have learnt as much from it as I have.'
'You've learnt things from me? That's ... wonderful. I just hoped not to be a nuisance.'
'When do you return to England?'
'I go back in a week's time. I am meant to have three days in Osaka at a school there and then I am back in Tokyo just for one further afternoon before I fly out.'
'I see. Ah, the restaurant is just here.'
went inside and were sat at a table at the back by a window
overlooking a small garden.
'Thanks for taking lunch with me. It's nice to have company.' Poppy smiled.
'You're welcome.' Tezuka nearly smiled but instead he looked down at his menu. 'Do you need me to translate the foods?' he asked.
'No, I did Italian at school so I can read the Italian names. Thanks,' she looked over the menu 'I think I'll have the seafood risotto.'
'I think I'll have the same.'
There was a long pause.
'Kunimitsu, I wish you were a few years older or I were a few years younger. You seem like a very sweet person. I'm amazed you don't have a girlfriend.' he blushed a little but eventually looked up to meet her gaze. 'But I'm 23. I live in England. My Japanese is terrible and I can't play tennis. Right now, I'm not the girl for you.' She sighed a little. 'But that doesn't mean to say we can't be friends, proper friends. I know a lot about training and preparation to go professional. It can be very lonely.' She paused again. 'It still is lonely'. She met his eyes dead on 'You will need the support of your friends just as they need you.'
Just then the waiter came over and Poppy ordered for both of them before sitting back to hear what, if anything, Tezuka had to say.
'Echizen told me earler this week that I have a lot to learn from you and he is right. I would be honoured to call you my friend.' His face broke into the most genuine smile she had seen from him 'Just don't tell Echizen he was right. He'll challenge me to another match while he think he's on a roll.' Poppy laughed, tickled by this idea.
'Are you and he rivals then?' she asked curiously.
'I suppose, of sorts. Echizen has something I haven't seen in any other player. I think he gets it from his father ...'
The conversation continued comfortably over their meal. Tezuka found, although he was speaking in a different language, that somehow it was easier for him to open up knowing that it was just he and Poppy there with no regulars overhearing or anyone he knew around. She had good advice for handling the different personalities in their team and ways to motivate them to improve.
Fuji was right, Tezuka thought, she is good at this. I'm glad I didn't shy away from being around her purely because of my own discomfort.
On the street courts, Eiji and
Momo were filling in their own details. Oishi was attempting to stop
them, Inui was taking notes, Kawamura was shaking his head and Fuji
merely inserted an encouraging adjective or two where he thought it
would enhance the narrative. Kaidoh and Echizen were taking on a
couple of players from St.Rudolph.
Momo was just reaching the bit where he was describing how Tezuka would sweep Poppy off her feet and take her into a love hotel when Kaidoh finally turned and hissed.
'Hey Momo-senpai,' said Echizen with his racket behind his head 'We're at match point here.'
'Yeah, so shut up moron!' said Kaidoh
'Who are you calling moron, moron?' yelled Momo stomping over.
'Hmm.' said Mizuki smoothly, hopping over a bleacher and walking onto the court. 'Aren't you forgetting what's important here?'
'Are you about to give us spiel about teamwork because we went on the motivational course this morning.' said Echizen pulling down his cap.
'Of course not,' replied the purple clad boy smoothly 'My sources tell me that your captain is on a romantic date with a girl and none of you are watching him. Why not? Where has that famous Seigaku curiosity gone?'
'It's not a date' stated Echizen flatly. 'He's having lunch with a visiting exchange student'
'Sounds like a date to me ...'
'Well, you're ...' Echizen paused, aware that his words were sinking into a din of a dozen junior high students suddenly enveloped by massive curiosity.
The freshman looked back at the manager of St.Rudolph's. 'You did this because we were about the thrash your doubles pair, didn't you?' he said with a scowl.
'Who, me?' Mizuki tried to feign innocence but the ever present smirk crept back over his face. 'Better follow the parade, Echizen, or you'll miss out.'
Ryoma picked up his bag and stomped off the court to follow his senpais who were hurrying out of the park.
Eiji were right at the front.
'How can we find out where they are, nya?'
'We could ring Tezuka?' suggested Momo
'Too obvious,' said Inui 'There is only 0.1 chance he'll pick up.'
'We could text Poppy?' said Eiji 'She'll tell us.'
'They were heading away from the university courts.' said Fuji 'To go eat. I think they'll be in one of the restaurants across the street.'
'Maybe we should just leave them in peace?' suggested Oishi desperately.
The entire group turned back to look at him. 'Okay, it was just a suggestion ...' he wavered.
'Hey, Echizen, Echizen!' Momo called to the freshman joining the group as they reached the crossing to the street.'Where do you think Poppy and Tezuka have gone to eat?'
'I don't care.'
'Ohh, Echizen, I'll buy you Ponta for a week, nyaa!'
The smallest player sighed and looked across at the options.
'Tezuka would have asked her what she wanted to eat. She doesn't know a lot of Japanese food, so Tezuka will suggest European food - like that Italian place right there.'
Fuji smiled. 'Echizen-tensai.'
They gathered outside the
restaurant, peering over the red, green and white flower displays
into the windows, Kawamuru urging everyone to be careful with the
'Echizen, you have to go in and see if they're there!' said Momo, propelling the boy towards the door
'Huh? Why me? I don't care!'
'Because you're the smallest and you can creep in an unseen.'
Echizen turned away, 'No thanks', only for his chest to meet the hands of Eiji, Inui, Kaidoh and Momo who forcefully pushed him through the door backwards. He stumbled into the counter, stood up and took in his surroundings only to discover with dismay that not only were Poppy and his captain there, they were the only patrons there and so his entrance had not got unnoticed. Ryoma decided to go for the path of least resistance
'Buchou, Poppy-chan. The team is outside and they want to come in.' He said it as stoically as possible, aware that this transgression was likely to lead to a record number of laps for all concerned.
'I see,' said Tezuka. He meant this literally and figuratively as, when Echizen turned to face the window, it was clear to see every one of his team mates looking in. The glass was only darkened on the outside. Ryoma looked at Poppy. He thought for one horrible moment she was crying before he realised she was shaking, unable to speak from laughing.
'You boys ...' she started before collapsing into giggles once again. It seemed to be infectious because even Tezuka had to look down for a moment and regain his composure before looking at Echizen again. 'Tell them there is lots of space for lunch in here.' Echizen nodded and went to the door to get them in.
By now, Poppy had tears
running down her face from laughing so hard as the team sheepishly
came in. She called over a waiter and asked him in her best
schoolgirl Italian to set up a table for ten, which he did, moving
tables together for the group to sit down.
'You are all incorrigible!' she said wiping her eyes. When this was met with blank looks she looked to Ryoma, who shrugged.
'Okay, you're all very very badly behaved.' she wagged a finger. At this the regulars looked suitably chastised. 'Anyway, let's eat. Or rather you eat. I'm getting dessert.'
Tezuka sat opposite her, watching as she interacted warmly with each member of his team, even though she didn't speak their language. He found himself torn - torn between being fifteen and captain of a successful and talented tennis team and wishing he were a college student in Europe studying with the girl who he had already found to be an inspiration.
He looked down at the tea that he had ordered, idly wondering what was predicted in the leaves at the bottom. He murmured to himself in English, 'Right now, she is not the girl for me. Right now.'
Tuesday morning's practise was a
solemn one. The next tournament was at the end of the week and the
regulars redoubled their efforts in practise. Somehow the courts
seemed quieter than usual. Poppy had left to go to Osaka and would
fly out of Tokyo the day before their tournament. She had made
everyone promise to stay in touch, leaving everyone with a kiss on
the cheek and a promise to return to watch them in the finals of the
'Look, I'm even going to leave my medal with Ochibi so you have to win one, then I can get mine back!' she said over lunch, pulling the medal round the youngest boys neck. 'So, don't let me down!'
The boys had cheered and laughed at Ryoma's discomfort at wearing a medal with a trampolinist on the front but he found himself touched that she had so much faith in them as to leave her prize behind. 'Don't worry, ' he said 'We'll win.'
'Hai!' agreed the team, as one.
And now it was time to work harder towards that goal.
Returning to the locker room, Ryoma remembered what he
had in his bag. Poppy had thrust a bunch of envelopes into his hand
the night before.
'These are thank yous for your team mates. Sorry they are in English, maybe you can help translate them for your friends?' he had rolled his eyes but accepted them and even the gentle hug the girl had given him the night before she was due to leave. 'There's one in there for you too. Don't open it until tomorrow with your team.'
'Next time we meet, you should weigh more.' he said to her. She smiled 'Next time we meet, you can actually buy me tea.' and she kissed him on the cheek.
'Hmm?' he turned from the doorway of his room
'I left something on your bed for you.' she smiled and went to Nanako's room to finish packing.
He walked inside to see Karupin asleep on his pillow and just by her snoozing head was a large print of Ryoma in his regular's jacket sending a ball away from his racket, every ounce of determination visible. Poppy had signed it with a note saying 'I hope you always feel this way about tennis.' . Beside it was a large colour programme for the previous summer's Wimbledon with a post-it note 'Next year's must see: Echizen Ryoma.' Finally there was a subscription to an American tennis magazine, the same Ryoma had seen Tezuka reading the other day, and he was sure this was not a coincidence.
Now Ryoma pulled out the envelopes for his
team-mates and put them in their lockers. He sat quietly lacing his
shoes watching as one by one they came to open their letters. Kaidoh
was first, taking out a piece of card with some lines drawn on it. He
turned it over a few times but clearly didn't know what to make of
it. By then Momo, Fuji and Eiji had opened their cards as well, and
found the same card but with different lines. Ryoma stood up and
walked closer to look at them, opening his own card.
'Oishi!' Eiji said spotting his doubles partner 'Open your card!'
'Hmm?' he said picking up the envelope from his locker, recognising the Romaji of his name. He opened it. Same plain card, more lines.
'Hey look,' said Eiji 'Ours match.' putting his and Oishi's cards together.
'Hmm, I see.' said Ryoma, stepping forward. 'Do you recognise the lines now?'
Tezuka, Kawamura and Inui opened their envelopes.
'I see it' said Fuji. He took the cards from everyone and arranged them.
'Ahhh!' they said together.
Eiji smiled 'Seigaku Tennis Club. Drawn just like on our jerseys.'
'And all of us together make up the team' said Tezuka. 'Let's put these on the wall.'
I'm waiting at the airport to get on my plane back
home now so I thought I'd send you a postcard before I leave. I had a
great time meeting you all. You are all super-special people. As you
know, Ryoma made me buy a racquet while I was out in Tokyo so I'm
going to sign up to lessons when I get home. I'd say we should play
when we next meet but I've seen you practise - it's terrifying!
I look forward to hearing about your next matches in the tournament. I'm guessing you won't get a chance to go on holiday between now and the nationals but if you do end up in Europe for any reason let me know. I'd come and visit you in a heartbeat. In the meantime please keep in touch by phone, letter and email and let me know if you want any coaching advice. Or anything at all. Keep Ryoma in his place for me.
So, I'll say good bye Right Now but I really hope to see you in the future. I guess we'll know when we get there,
All my love,