NOTE: All old chapters (I - XIII, including the Supplement Collection) were briefly edited in 2011 and were written between 2009 - 2011, so they SUCK. SO HARD. I'm really sorry. But chapters I through V (thank goodness, because V was hot garbage) are tentatively revised, so it's not too bad of an introduction. Maybe. The rest will be rewritten ASAP.
"Is that really a guy?"
"Look at his legs. They're pretty feminine."
"But he has a flat chest..."
"There's no way a girl could get into the Junior Invitational so that has to be a guy."
They're so confused, the "guy" thought to herself, walking almost stiffly, brusquely as would a male. It was time for her performance to begin. No matter how many doubts they have I will be a male in their eyes. Looks like I have everyone fooled.
Imako, her female name so foreign to anyone's ears, ignored the stares as she entered the tennis camp grounds. Beyond the grand gate and driveway stood the humongous dormitory of rich and modern design. Behind it was a seemingly infinite expanse of perfectly manicured tennis courts, the familiar pops of tennis ball against racquet the sound of home.
Imako contained her excitement as she adjusted the tennis bag slung over her shoulder. With a confident inhalation she climbed the entrance steps and entered the dormitory. The usual effeminate sway of her hips was absent, her wide emerald green eyes hardened with her imitation masculinity. Her shoulders were squared. Her head was held high.
She had to make this work.
Since Imako was playing the role of a young man in an environment where being female was presumed impossible, Imako freely displayed her long dark brown hair. The shining, wavy locks bounced slightly with every step she took. Her face was bare and unchanged (though she never really understood makeup, so that was not much of a sacrifice), and her legs...well, she could not bring herself to give up shaving, but in a crowd of athletic boys smooth legs were not entirely uncommon. Besides, based on her first impressions of the other, rather eccentric, camp attendees she had very few worries about fitting in.
Still, Imako had to be manly. She had to act gruffly to pull it off, even if it was uncomfortable. To succeed she had to act, smell, look, think like a man (as impossible as it was). She had to believe she had a flat chest and a bulge in her pants—
Wait. That didn't come out quite right...maybe because someone else's bulge was distracting her.
Gah! When her thoughts cleared, Imako found herself in a random hallway, her line of vision directly on the crotch region of someone's pristine white shorts.
Her face turned red.
"So—" she started, but when she looked up and met that hard, cold golden stare, her voice withered. Under the shade of a black-rimmed cap, that glare was all it took to steal her voice.
Well, when she was Imako Usami. When she was Keiichiro, on the other hand, everything was a lot easier.
Smirking, Imako held her nose in the air. "Oi, are you Sanada?" She thought that, as a guy, perhaps she would come off as a confident, if not a little cocky, provoker.
His expression never changing and his eyes never blinking were so difficult to combat. "You are?" he asked.
"Usami. Back from America."
The information was apparently unimportant, for he returned to a topic relevant to him. "We will be rooming together, then."
"I see," Imako muttered. Then, she laughed casually, rubbing the back of her head. "Uh, where is our room? All the hallways seem the same!" The masculine and confident tenor laugh eased the nerves of those eavesdropping from behind corners and cracked open doors.
Sanada Genichirou stared at her for another second as if he could make her succumb to the almighty power of his stone face. "This way."
With his back to her Imako sighed, relieved that she survived her first encounter. Real life interaction was much more daunting than all the practice in the mirror. Imako shook her head. By just glimpsing the stares of many suspicious and on edge (but hot) boys, she could tell that it was going to be a stressful week.
She felt the competitive spirit and the adrenaline to her very core, but the stalwart determination hiccuped when she caught a glimpse of the open showers.
Imako grimaced as she stood beside Genichirou in the entrance of room 11. There were four beds crammed into the small room, two on either side. Immediately to the left of the door was a small bathroom, and at the opposite side of the room was a table, two chairs and a small window. Though there was potential for four residents, it seemed that Sanada was the only one so far.
"Sakaki-sensei requested that I'd be in charge of your…assimilation," he explained. He stared deep into her soul, perhaps measuring her up by her responses to his terse tone and his unshakeable authority.
Imako was unsure if this meant that he was privy to her situation or that his coach thought that the stern boy needed to socialize. She decided on the latter, since a Rikkai Dai team member would have no reason to be closely associated with Ryuzaki-sensei, the woman who reluctantly abided to Imako's wish to compete.
"Thank you," she muttered, head bowed.
Sanada handed Imako her key and said nothing more.
I don't like anti-social people, Imako thought distantly as she dropped her large bag on the bed farthest from the one neatly claimed by Sanada.
She hoped that someone friendlier would claim another spot in room eleven.
"Renji. This is a new student from America. Usami Keiichiro."
Imako smiled brightly as she entered the cafeteria behind Sanada. "Hi!"
Silence. The Rikkaidai boy, eyes closed but brows furrowed in unmistakable confusion, turned his head towards his vice-captain. "Sanada…?"
"I-I mean-!" Body burning, Imako quickly corrected herself, her eyes steel hard and voice low and tough. "…Nice to meet you."
Looking relieved, but still a bit perturbed, the three new Rikkaidai faces opened with smiles and voiced greetings. After an uncomfortable glance at Imako, Sanada sat down at the dinner table. Alone in her humiliation, Imako quickly took the seat between him and Renji as she inwardly scolded herself for letting her guard down. She needed to be better than this.
"Where in America are you from, Usami-kun?" the boy with the ebony curls and bright emerald eyes inquired.
Imako gave him a tiny smile better interpreted as a smirk (none of that girly stuff anymore). "I was actually born and raised here in Japan, but I lived in Florida for five years."
"Like Ochibi!" A stranger loudly exclaimed as he wrapped his long arms around Imako from behind.
Imako turned and found a cheesy but kind smile and a blue and white jersey. She knew immediately that it was Kikumaru Eiji, the genuine and joyous half of Seigaku's Golden Pair. Behind him was the rest of the renowned Seigaku gang. Imako had to keep her jaw from dropping. After all the wonderful things Ryuzaki told her about her team Imako was almost starstruck.
"Ochibi?" Imako stammered, shrugging out of those invasive arms.
Kikumaru beamed. "Echizen!"
Echizen. Imako narrowed her eyes. He better not be here.
In the tall sea of azure and ivory, there was a smaller wave coming at her with more force than any of the others could imagine.
His bright gold, innocent eyes gave away his immediate shock. "I-Imako?"
No! She was absolutely frozen. She could hear their exclamations of confusion, but was unable to make words. Damn brat didn't read his e-mail.
Then suddenly, everything happened on its own accord. "Imako?!" she barked a loud and hearty laugh. "Who's that? I'm Usami Keiichiro." Another chuckle. "I guess that's one way to introduce yourself."
Another silence until there was such a large explosion of laughs and formal introductions that she barely knew the difference between any of them. Her smile persuaded them to the table with an invisible feminine tug and, by the time the rest of the students filtered into the dining room, she engaged both schools in conversation.
She watched the other competitors. Fudomine, Yamabuki, St. Rudolph. These schools and more had representatives, each of which Imako observed carefully, picking out which faces she would rather avoid. Of Seigaku it was Inui-senpai and Fuji-senpai that could possibly figure her out. She was not secretive or insidious or dark, but she had to make this work. None of them would be able to understand.
"Usami-san," was the quiet mutter.
Imako faced those those innocent golden eyes.
"Mada mada dane."
Her own emerald gaze, dimmed by silent regret of her time in America, lightened with those familiar words. "Am I too obvious?" she asked, giving a certain visage under the shadow of a black cap a meaningful glance.
Ryoma was visibly disappointed by her composure. He adjusted his hat, a smirk underneath the rim. "He's not as smart as you think."
"Is that why I'm rooming with him?"
"Who knows? But he won't figure you out. He's too focused." Echizen squinted at her. "So, what are you doing here?"
"Check your e-mail, dummy."
"What do you need to check, Echizen?" the kindly smiling Fuji inquired, head tilted to one side as he joined the conversation.
"Nothing, Fuji-senpai," the kohai muttered.
The conversation was cut short when a girl stumbled into the room with clean dining trays, her humble face scrunched with concentration, her long braids bouncing behind her. Echizen's focus was entirely upon her.
Imako raised an eyebrow, and leaned in to tease. "Is that your girlfriend, Echizen?"
Surprised, Ryoma looked into her eyes, then broke his gaze from both her and the other female. "Don't act silly, Usami-san."
Imako laughed, and Fuji left them to their own, perhaps satisfied by what he observed. All was forgotten when the renowned coaches entered the room.