Chapter Twenty Eight: A Trip Down Memory Lane
The next morning, Rikkaidai's tennis team were down at the courts nice and early where the Nationals were to be held. In fact, not a single soul was there when Rikkaidai arrived, hoping to get in some practice done before they went to watch Seigaku's match against Higa.
"Looking good, Rika!" said Yagyuu, impressed, as he served another fast ball to Rika. The freshman had grown stronger and faster than before, and the Gentleman didn't doubt that there's not a person out there who can match up to her speed now.
"Isn't it about time for Higa's match with Seigaku now?" asked Kevin who was seated on the sidelines, watching the practice going on right now with the rest of the team members. Yukimura who was seated next to him glanced at his watch and nodded.
"Yeah. But let's give them another five minutes," said the Rikkaidai's captain.
Kevin blinked just then before turning towards the side, looking upwards to the outside of the courts, staring. Yukimura noticed this gesture, and turned towards the blonde.
"What's wrong, Kevin?" he asked before he paused in mid-sentence, noticing that Higa's tennis team were currently walking past the tennis courts that they were in.
Everyone in the team noticed it, but they didn't give any sign that they've noticed Higa's presence, save for the fact that Kirihara and a few others like Niou and Marui tensed up a little. Rika who was practicing with Yagyuu scowled as she saw Higa. Yagyuu who had lobbed a ball to her blinked as the ball whizzed past him so quickly and banged against the fence, being lodged in the diamond-shaped grooves in the fence, knocking one of the Higa players – Kai – off his feet, causing him to land on his butt.
"Sorry, I misaimed!" Rika called out to the gaping Higa players, a glint in her eyes which the rest of her team noticed.
"What did you say—" Kai got to his feet and looked ready to leap into the courts had his captain not stopped him. Grumbling, Higa went on their way, every single one of them walking faster than necessary.
Yagyuu sighed. "Rika…you did that on purpose, didn't you?"
Rika only grinned.
Seigaku's match against Higa granted Seigaku a clean victory with 5-0 – all Seigaku players clinching a victory against their individual opponents.
All of Rikkaidai's regulars were present at this match…along with Hyotei who happened to not have a match scheduled that day as well, and needless to say, this caused a lot of tension at the courts when the people surrounding the courts recognised the tennis jerseys of Kantou's number one team, along with one of Tokyo's best teams.
The first match of singles three was Shinderui Shiki versus the largest player that Higa had – Tainishi Kei. Shiki clinched the game easily against the large Higa player by using his small size and speed to his advantage, and mostly used Drive As and a variation off Atobe's Tannhauser Serve. Atobe muttered something about suing Shiki for copyrights purposes when the referee was announcing the score of 7-6 for the singles three match, with Shiki being the victor.
Doubles two was Kawamura-Fuji pair versus Hirakoba-Chinen pair. The one point of interest is that Fuji showed his fourth counter – Kagerou Zutsumi (Dragonfly Illusion) – hereby clinching the game with a score of 7-5.
Singles two was Kikumaru Eiji versus Kai Yuujirou. That was a first for everyone as one half of the Golden Pair of Seigaku was playing in singles. In fact, halfway into the match, Kikumaru actually played as doubles in a singles match, causing the poor referee to faint because of brain overload.
Doubles one was Inui-Kaidoh pair versus Shiranui-Kouichi pair. The match ended with Seigaku the victors…because Higa forfeited when one half of Higa's doubles one fainted because of heat exhaustion.
Singles one…is a captains' showdown. And the victor was the captain of Seigaku…with everyone present at the match seeing for the first time just what Tezuka was capable of when he used the Pinnacle. Yukimura and Sanada were impressed as this was the first time ever since they were freshmen when they saw Tezuka using the Pinnacle.
Three Days Later:
The sun was slowly sinking down into the horizon when Rika arrived at the seaside not too far away from Kanagawa riding her bike. This was the same beach that Marui had taken her to when she had first attained her regular spot when she wanted to say her final farewells to Yuki.
Rika latched her bike to the bicycle parking spot before she headed to the cliff where she saw that Kevin was already present, squatting down at the edge of the cliff, watching the waves crash against it.
"You're here early," said Rika, blinking, and Kevin turned around to face her with a smile.
"So did you," said Kevin. "I've brought it."
Both friends then sat down on the cliff as Kevin took out a small cake that he'd bought at the nearby confectionary earlier that day, and lit the candles. The sun had set by then, and darkness was falling, the stars coming out.
That day was August 27…the birthday of Yakiwa Yuki…and also her death anniversary.
Meanwhile in America:
It was early morning and dawn was just starting to break.
The birds were chirping as Billy Cassidy, Tom Griffy and Terri Griffy entered the graveyard and made a beeline straight to a fairly elaborate grave where there was the image of twin angels above the gravestone.
For a while, the three stood in silence, eyeing the gravestone. The words engraved on the gravestone were, 'Here lies Yakiwa Yukira, friend to all, sister to some, and beloved daughter of Yakiwa Shuusuke and Yakiwa Marimo. 1994 – 2006.'
Billy swallowed a lump that suddenly came in his throat, willing himself not to cry. All of St. Andrew's tennis club members always felt like crying whenever they came here. Unlike most schools in America, St. Andrew's tennis team was extremely united, and they were close, like a family.
Yuki was like the pillar that kept the team together. And when she died, everything fell apart.
"You've never played tennis before?"
"I told you already, Yuki."
"I know. Come with me, Billy. First and foremost, you must know how to hold a racquet properly…"
She was one of the few…the others being Kevin and Rika, who had taught him tennis and turned him into what he is today. He had Stephanie as a girlfriend now, and they're to be engaged once he enters high school. He owed everything that he had today to the three, but…
Tom and Terri eyed the gravestone of their beloved vice-captain. No one had the heart to appoint a new vice-captain as they don't want to feel like they're replacing Yuki. It's alright with the team if they appoint a new captain or co-captains even, but never a vice-captain. In fact, a riot nearly broke out within the team with the veteran members of the tennis team back when Baker tried to appoint a new vice-captain until the coach let it be.
"I don't care about your past. Rika is a good judge of character, and since she likes you two, I'll give you a chance. St. Andrews isn't like other schools. All we ask is that you put in your own hard work. And in the meantime…welcome to St. Andrews."
The three were startled from their thoughts when a message tone sounded from Billy's phone, and he flustered about, reaching for his phone and flipping it opened to see that it's a message from his old friend.
"It's from Rika and Kevin," said Billy, and Terri and Tom peered over his shoulder to see what it says.
'Send our greetings to Yuki and the rest of the team.'
Tom smiled sadly. "…I see. They remembered after all."
"…I'm not giving into their demands. I'm playing."
Terri turned towards the gravestone.
"…vice-captain…it's been a year." Terri begun awkwardly, swallowing the lump in her throat, and her eyes looked suspiciously moist. "How time flies. It's been a while, hasn't it? Long time no see. When I think about how things came to when you died in that 'accident', I simply can't stomach it. It affected both the captains as well…to the extent when the captain left America in order to heal." Terri chuckled sadly. "We don't like it…the whole team don't, but we all understood and supported her. There are too many memories here for the captain who is your best friend. The whole team fell apart after your death. Then…about a few months ago, we went to Japan. We saw the captain again for the first time ever since she left America. She looked…happier. We met her boyfriend too. Everything was going right for her…but…"
"And then…we received news from Jasper that Krauser is in Japan…the team captain of that no-brains team…and that the captain might have the chance to face him in the National tournament in Japan. And if she actually does face him…she'll see to it that he don't walk away breathing…or sane at least." Terri paused. "It's been a year since then…since that tournament when everything went wrong…"
One year ago:
"G-Game, St. John's Academy's Weiser. Four games to three."
The singles three player of St. Andrew's – Yakiwa Yuki – was on her hands and knees on the courts, clutching an injured ankle which her opponent had hit with the tennis ball on purpose. Over at St. Andrew's bleachers, the players were all on their feet, some on the verge of barging into the court and tearing the members of the other team to pieces.
"Yuki!" shouted Kevin, half-leaning over the bleachers, seeing Yuki clutching her left ankle in agony.
"That bastard…" growled Alexander Greene – Billy's doubles partner, clenching a fist in fury. "That's playing dirty!"
St. Andrews had already lost both doubles matches earlier. Terri and Tom would have won their match had their opponents not attacked Terri all the time, resulting in Rika forfeiting the match, despite Terri's protests when she got injured seriously, with a possibility of head trauma.
Rika who was bench coach eyed her best friend with an unreadable expression, standing up from the bench as well. "Yuki…" Rika sighed. "That is enough…"
"Don't stop the match!" Yuki nearly growled from her place on the court, getting to her feet shakily, her left ankle throbbing, grabbing her racquet from beside her. "Don't stop it, no matter what, Rika."
"But—" Kevin begun hesitantly, looking from Rika to Yuki.
Rika sighed before looking at the referee who was looking at Yuki, an alarmed look in his eyes. "Referee, may we have ten minutes of break-time to tend to our player's injuries?"
The referee blinked as he realised that Rika was talking to him, and nodded. "S-Sure. Go ahead."
"Thank you," said Rika grimly before walking towards the court and helping Yuki up, the girl testing her ankle gingerly on the ground. "Can you walk?"
"Yeah," said Yuki before beginning to hobble back to the bench. Over at the bleachers, Kevin turned towards Billy.
"Billy, get me the first aid kit!"
A few moments later, Yuki was seated on the bench whilst Rika was spraying the coolant spray onto Yuki's injured ankle, her tennis shoe off, and her sock partially rolled down. All St. Andrew's players winced as they saw the black and blue bruise on her ankle.
"Are you sure that you want to continue?" asked Kevin worriedly, bounding Yuki's foot with a roll of bandage that he had with him. "If you're not careful, that guy might break your ankle next time."
"I'm continuing the match," said Yuki stubbornly before putting on her shoe and grabbing her racquet before walking back to the court.
"Oi…is the vice-captain going to be alright?" asked Terri, worried, pressing a packet of ice to her forehead, trying to ease her headache which is hopefully not the signs of a head concussion. "She's still going to continue playing in this state?"
"She has no choice, does she?" said her brother, biting on his lip nervously. "If she forfeits this match, and the singles three match goes to St. John's Academy, they will win the championship. Singles two and singles one are Kevin and Rika. If the vice-captain can win this, we'll be able to have a high chance of clinching the championship."
"Game and match. Game won by St. Andrew's Smith. Six games to two."
Kevin grinned triumphantly at his opponent, walking off the courts, whistling all the while, ignoring the heated glares from their opponent's team as his opponent had to be catered off on a stretcher.
"The next match is singles one. St. John's Academy's Liliaden Krauser versus St. Andrew's Rika Echizen. Both players, please step forth."
Krauser smirked at Rika as both captains stepped towards the net. "I suppose that your team has been incredibly lucky so far," he sneered. "It shall come to an end in this match."
Rika stared back coldly. "We'll see about that," she said, Krauser missing the look of dislike that flashed briefly in her eyes.
Ten minutes later, Rika was walking off the courts, with the incredibly shocked referee announcing the score of 6-0.
"Rika, watch out!"
Rika was by her side in an instant, cradling Yuki in her arms whilst Kevin was dialling 911. She looked up as the screeching of tires sounded only to see the black BMW screeching away. Her eyes narrowed as she recognised the emblem on the license plate.
Yuki grabbed Rika's hand, and she immediately turned her attention to her friend who was currently dying in her arms. A crowd was starting to gather, and most of them were looking on in horror.
"Yuki, just hang on! The ambulance is on it's way!" said Kevin urgently, kneeling by Rika and Yuki both.
"Don't…kid yourselves…" Yuki wheezed, trying to get her words out. "We knew…that…I won't…survive…"
Rika shook her head. "Yuki, don't talk! Save your strength!"
Yuki smiled gently at Rika and Kevin both, not seeming to care that she's going to die. "It…doesn't matter with me…" she said. "Don't…blame yourselves… The time…that I've spent with you both…is my treasure…" She coughed up some blood. "Live…on…Rika…"
And her hand fell limply to her side, much to Rika and Kevin's horror.
Three days later on a Sunday, the entire Rikkaidai tennis team was training at school as usual, despite it being a Sunday. The school was empty save for the tennis club regulars themselves who were preparing themselves for the Nationals.
Sunday training usually lasted from morning to mid-afternoon, and it's the most strenuous as well. This is also usually why most of the tennis club regulars missed morning lessons on Monday. The school never really said anything about it as long as their grades don't drop.
Half-an-hour before training is dismissed for the day can find Rika washing up at the sinks not too far away from the tennis courts, rinsing her face with water, cooling herself down after playing a fast-paced match against Niou.
Niou is usually one of the most difficult opponents for her in the Rikkaidai team, second only to the Three Demons of Rikkaidai – Yukimura, Sanada and Yanagi. Yanagi, Rika managed to beat before…but it's a close one at 7-6. Whilst Yukimura and Sanada…she's never managed to beat before. Niou had the same ability as her, which is why Rika usually found it difficult to even get one point past him. The two usually had the equal number of wins and losses against each other, and that day is no exception. Their match ended up in a tiebreak of 71-70 until Sanada decided to end their match, since watching their match is enough to make anyone tired.
The Rikkaidai tennis regulars found their female freshman regular extremely quiet for the past few days until Kevin mentioned briefly without Rika within hearing distance that it's her best friend's birthday and death anniversary three days ago. And not to mention the fact that everyone knew that if Rikkaidai wins their next match against Shitenhouji, they'll face Nadoya Academy next…the school where Rika's arch nemesis currently resides in as captain.
Originally, Seigaku was supposed to face Shitenhouji, but the authorities decided to change the line-ups a little for some reason at the start of the Nationals, which resulted in Seigaku facing Aichi's Murigaoka, followed by Hyotei Gakuen.
As such, everyone wisely decided to give Rika some breathing space as she's still boiling in anger over what had happened in America. Yanagi was also currently collecting data on said school and said captain, and no one knew what he had found out thus far.
Rika rinsed her face with the cool tap water before turning it off, listening to the droplets from the tap dripping into the sink, drying her face with her towel atop the tap, leaning over the sink, watching her reflection in the puddles of water currently dripping slowly into the drainage holes of the sink.
'Krauser… If I ever faced him again in the Nationals…assuming that his school managed to beat their opponents before facing us…can I even beat him in the first place? That is assuming if he don't use psychological tactics. Yuki's death…is still hung up on me…that is a fact. What should I do?'
Rika gasped when she felt someone come up behind her, and a pair of hands was pressed on each side of the sink that she's currently at, barricading her in. Rika didn't even need to turn to know that it's her captain aka boyfriend, Yukimura Seiichi, currently standing behind her.
"Kevin told me what happened." Yukimura said in her ear. "He told me the whole story…instead of what little bits that he told the rest of the team and left them to put it together themselves. Marui is probably the only one other than myself whom he told. Rika, listen to me. If your friend is still alive, she wouldn't want you to be like this. Please remember this: it isn't your fault that she died. It's that Krauser's fault."
There was silence for a while before Rika answered. "I know," she said so quietly that Yukimura probably wouldn't have heard her if it wasn't for the fact that he's currently right next to her ear. "I know that. Tom, Terri and Billy drilled that enough times into my head after the Junior Senbatsu camp. And Kevin repeated that enough times during the time when we were both in America to participate in the US Open. I've been preparing myself for this for a long time…ever since I heard from Tom, Terri and Billy that Krauser is currently in Japan." She paused. "And I also know that if I don't face him during the Nationals and beat him, I won't be able to move on."
Rika straightened herself up from the sink and felt Yukimura's body pressed up against her, practically wrapping his arms around her. "Our next match is against Shitenhouji," said Yukimura. "If Shitenhouji defeats Fudomine in the first place. And if Nadoya Academy beats their next opponent, and we beat Shitenhouji, we'll get to face them. Yanagi is currently collecting data on them as we speak, and we should be able to predict which spot that Krauser fellow will take soon enough."
Rika turned around slowly so that she's now currently facing Yukimura, still being barricaded in by his hands. Yukimura's eyes softened as he combed part of her hair behind her ear, his hand trailing down her jaw to the back of her neck, leaning in closer to her.
"I'm sorry if I sound too harsh," said Yukimura. "And I know that it isn't easy for you to deal with, but if letting you face Krauser might help you get over this, I'll change the line-ups a little once Yanagi gives me the findings of his data on Nadoya. But in exchange, you have to promise me that you won't break down easily if Krauser uses psychological tactics on you during your match."
Rika nodded. "I promise."
Yukimura leaned forward just then, and Rika's eyes widened a little when she felt his lips on hers, his tongue lapping against her lips, demanding entrance. Rika closed her eyes, leaning into the kiss as Yukimura's tongue entered her mouth, savouring her taste.
His kisses grew more urgent as Yukimura slipped one hand into her hair, Rika wrapping her arms around Yukimura's neck. Rika gasped as Yukimura quickened his kisses, strange feelings overwhelming her as his body moved against hers.
Yukimura muttered something against her lips before plunging his tongue back into her mouth. Without meaning to, Rika moaned against his lips, her body moulding together into his. Yukimura tilted her head up with one finger to make up for their height differences before he roughly pulled her closer, sucking on the tender skin of her throat when…
"OH MY GOD!"
Yukimura and Rika jumped and sprang apart, blinking as they turned towards the source of the noise to see a wide-eyed Kirihara staring at them with goldfish-like eyes, a gaping Sanada, and Yagyuu who stood there staring as if what had been going on a few moments earlier is extremely common.
A light blush was covering Kirihara's face as he placed both hands over his eyes. "Gah! My eyes! I do not need to see that!" he wailed.
"Is there anything that you need, Genichirou?" asked Yukimura politely, one arm wrapped possessively around Rika's waist.
Sanada was still tongue-tied, and so, Yagyuu decided to answer for their currently tongue-tied fukubuchou. "Training's over for the day, Yukimura," he said.
"So it has," said Yukimura, glancing at his watch. "Very well. We'll meet at the courts tomorrow at the same time. Genichirou, can you clean up?"
Without waiting for a reply, the two walked away from the sinks and towards the tennis clubroom. Kirihara was still wailing to the heavens whilst covering his eyes, and Sanada was still left with his mouth gaping open until Yagyuu decided to say as kindly as possible.
"Sanada, you look like a fish."