Chapter 3: Liars and Pretending.

I can hear the twang of balls being hit back and forth. The perfect twang. You know, that sound when the ball hits the sweet-spot of the racket, the dead-center. It's soothing. Momo's my opponent in the practice matches today, and he seems to have created a new move. It doesn't have a name yet, but I don't see much point in giving something that can be beaten so easily such a thing as that.

Then again, Momo isn't really using his full strength...so maybe it would be harder to stop. I bet that if the ball hit the ground with his full strength, and if he put a certain amount of backspin on it, then surely it could become a nearly unstoppable weapon.
It also depends on the opponent he's facing. In a serious match, if it were a person with a slight frame but excelled in speed and reading movements or had exceptional instincts like me, then it would (admittedly) be hard to overcome...but once they get a grasp on the timing and angle to hit the ball and what strength to use, it shouldn't be that hard right? And if it's a person with the same body-build as Momo, then—

I'm ripped out of my thoughts and everything goes black for moment. Then the lights are back on and I find myself laying on the ground, a few feet from where I had been standing previously. My jogging pants are torn above the knee. There's a fierce ache in my head and the palms of my hands are bleeding. I can see small pieces of gravel stuck in the cuts and scrapes all along them. I breathe in and can feel a dull pain along my back and the left side of my body.

I underestimated his strength. Is all I can think.

Pounding footsteps echo across the pavement, getting louder as they near me and increasing the pain in my head.

"Ryoma! Sorry, I didn't think you'd suddenly stop moving in the middle of a match. You okay?" Momoshiro's head came into view, a worried look on his face. I nodded once, my mind blank for that moment.

"Ochibi~! Are you alright?" Bright red hair popped into sight, bobbing up and down as the hyper-active senpai bounced all around me.

"Kikumaru-senpai, would you please stop running around in circles? It's making me dizzy." My cool voice sounded far from me. Like it wasn't my own and I was simply listening in.

"Nya~ Ochibi, are you alright? Maybe you hit your head too hard? Is that what's making you dizzy?"

"No. It's you senpai." I said with a glare, though I know there may be some truth in what he's said.

"Echizen! Oh my gosh, you're bleeding, we need to get you to the nurses office!" ….worry wart.

"Saa~ Besides the scratches and cuts, I don't think there's much wrong with him. How's your head?"

"Fshhhh...whatever. He's alive right?" Kaidoh stood off to the side, arms crossed, back facing me, as if he didn't care. And for all I knew, he didn't; after all, there was no reason to worry about a brat like me.

"Of course he's alive Mamushi! That wasn't the point! He could've –!" I tuned out the argument that was bound to get louder. Noisy senpai-tachi.

"E-echizen, are you alright? That looked like it hurt. What happened?" Taka-san's timid voice rang in my ears.
"Data says there's a 99.9% chance he wasn't paying attention and so he was hit with the ball." Said Inui-senpai, notebook in hand while his pen flashed across the paper.

"Echizen, can you stand?"

I look over to the head of our tennis club, Tezuka, and get up while dusting myself off and picking what gravel I can get a hold of, out of my hands. Oishi starts to work on the rest of my scrapes by applying the rubbing alcohol and bandages one of the non-regular kids had gone to get.


"Sorry Buchou, it won't happen again." I say turning away from the group of friends and walking back over to my side of the court, hoping that they'll do the same so that activities can continue as normal. They do.…...

After tennis practice, I'm ambushed by Kikumaru on the way to the changing rooms.

"Ne~ Ochibi, are you sure you're alright? You haven't really been paying attention lately..."
Eiji whispers in my ear as he catches up with me and walks (bounces and hops is more like it) alongside me, matching my pace. But he isn't really whispering because Momo and a few other non-regulars nearby can hear him just fine. I glare at the freshmen and second years who look like they just might try to get a bit too close for my liking as Momoshiro makes his way beside me.
He's right, I've been losing focus a lot these past weeks. It's not only in tennis practice, but regular classes as well.

"He's right you know." Momoshiro says. "And besides that, you've seemed a bit down these days." He has his arms crossed behind his head in a casual manner and I think it has to be uncomfortable without some for of stability behind him.

"I'm the same as always. Maybe you're just too cheerful." I retort.

"Mou. Ryoma-kun, that's not true! Like Momo-chan said, Ochibi's just too gloomy." My childish senpai pouted cutely.

"Saa~ I do believe Eiji-san is right. Spacing out during practice, missing easy lobs and volleys...it;s unlike you." Fuji-senpai appears on my left side and stares down at me, his eyes closed. The ever present smile on his face has toned down a bit but to a nearly unnoticeable amount. Only his closest friends would've been able to notice.

"Yep, yep. It's not you Ryoma. I mean, I know you always seem lethargic but you never let an easy one go by...unless it's to taunt an opponent and annoy the hell outta them." Momo-senpai added with that stupid easy grin of his.

"Is it really that big of a deal? I've..." My body is tense, my breathing tight and jaw clenched. All these questions and too many eyes on me are making me nervous. I clench my fists into tight balls, fingernails digging into the skin of my palms. It's a bit painful but I can handle it. What I can't deal with— what I don't want to deal with are the questions they're asking me. They don't really care anyways. All of them are just nosy. They don't care. Never have, never will.

I want to tell them to buzz off, leave me the fuck alone; to stop pretending to care, it only hurts me more in the end anyways. I want to say these things and more but

"I've... just been tired lately." is what I say instead.

"Then why—?" Too many questions!

"I'm fine, alright!? Get off my back!" Just then, the bell rings, signaling the end of lunch and the starting of classes for all the students.

I turn on my heel and stalk towards my first class getting lost in the swarm of students and leaving my startled and confused senpai-tachi behind me.

Jeez! I was so tired of everyone bothering me just because I wasn't 'myself.' Like they even knew what my 'true self' was, or how 'I' acted. Please! They don't know anything about me. Never cared to get to know the real me. All anyone knows is that I play tennis, 'enjoy' it immensely, and have a pet cat named Karupin that I adore. And only a handful of people actually know about Karupin.

They don't know anything! I bet they don't know what my favorite color is, my favorite instrument, if I like to draw, what other clubs I'm in, what type of music I like or dislike, or if I even like or play any sports other than tennis...

If they don't know things as simple as these...then how can they expect me to tell them the truth of what's going on?

I huff these thoughts through my head as I walk though the hallways. I'm around the corner from my classroom when I realize that I haven't changed. I look down at my torn jogging pants and the white t-shirt that's still marked with dirt and patches of dried blood. Second bell rings, and I stand in place wondering if I should walk inside or show up late to class. I turn around, heading towards the boys' bathroom while yawning widely, and figure that it's fine if I miss all of first period to take a nap on the school roof instead.

...

The rest of the day passes by without a quirk. His classmates and the trio don't approach him, his fan girls (and boys) don't follow him everywhere he goes, and the regulars keep their distance.

Practice went by quickly and, before he knew it, Ryoma was already heading home. With a bit of hesitation, Kikumaru Eiji had asked if he wanted to get burgers along with Momoshiro and Kaidoh, but he'd turned them done politely.

He wouldn't admit it, but he felt guilty for what had happened that morning. They were only trying to help after all. It was their duty, as senpai, to make sure that their kouhai was feeling alright...

That's right...it was their duty. They didn't do it because they actually cared, it was their job. They were only following common courtesy guidelines...

Just the same, he supposed that he should at least actcivilized with his teammates.

Ryoma continued walking home, albeit very slowly. To be honest, he didn't want to go there; He hadn't wanted to turn down his senpai-tachi with their offers either, even if he was a little annoyed with them. He could deal with the irritation and ignore the minor questions. He could find excuses, he was sure. What he couldn't ignore though, was the fear he had of being left alone in that house. Of being in the same vicinity as his father and the anxiety that came crashing down on him every time he realised that it would be impossible to get away once he stepped past the threshold.
The hate that radiated off of himas soon as he stepped through the threshold of the door. The yelling and crashing and banging as drawers filled with sharp utensils were slammed and half empty beer bottles were smashed into tiny shards on the ground. The threats of what was inevitably going to happen if he 'DIDN'T GET HIS ASS UPSTAIRS RIGHT NOW!' …...It had been going on for a couple of years now, though it wasn't so bad when his mom was home or when Nanako came to visit on her breaks from the university. Just a simple pinch on his leg or arm underneath the dinner table, an "affectionate" hand on his shoulder squeezing just a little too hard.

Probably because he wanted to seem like the 'good' father everyone seemed to think he was. But now that his mother had dwindled to places unknown and because Nanako was so busy, there was no reason to pretend to be 'good' anymore.

Well, no matter. Just another two years and he'll be able to persuade them to let him live on his own. Two more years and he won't have to worry about what might happen when he walks through the door. Two more years until he could relax without having all the anxiety, fear, hatred and insecurity bottled up inside him. Two more years and he won't have to deal with the nightmares or sleepless nights. Two more years until he didn't have to lie to his senpai-tachi and cause them worry, until he didn't have to be a burden anymore. Just two more years until he didn't have to try so damn hard to be 'fine.'
It was getting to be so tiresome, all the pretending and lying he did these days.
He didn't think he could put up with it—all of it— anymore. Not after four years. But he had to; because, regardless of everything he's thought to himself or said to Karupin in his room during those late insomnia-filled nights, Ryoma wants to live; he wants to make it through the rest of the night and through another day because, deep down, he still believes that tomorrow will be a better day.