An Unusual Telephone Call

Calliope Medina Erato

            How hard could it be? All he had to do is pick up the phone and dial, there, easy as that. So what was stopping him? Rukawa Kaede picked up the handset and stared at it, like someone not seeing a phone before. He sighed and began to punch in the numbers.

            His eyes widened when he heard the ringing sound at the other side of the line. Hurriedly, he slammed it back to its cradle. You are a chicken. He said to himself.

            It was the second day since he along with his other teammates arrived at Jousei High to train themselves for the upcoming inter-high nationals. Playing with the team of Jousei was more difficult than they could imagine. They are after all, the number one team in Shizuoka region, but they managed to play well, even beat them. One win, one loss. Not bad.

            Tonight was declared by the captain as resting time, much to the relief of the whole team. They have been practicing the whole day and add another practice game with Jousei, it was more enough for the Shohoku team to die from exhaustion. So while everyone else is resting or going out, Rukawa was here at his room at the youth hostel staring at the telephone like it was going to spring at him and bite his head off.

            Sighing for the second time, he looked at the slip of paper and picked up the phone again. Then put it back without even doing anything. If only he came with them, he wouldn't have this kind of problem. They would probably spend the whole night calling each other names until the next day or when the other occupants of the hostel had enough.

            But he didn't. He was left behind to be trained by Anzai-sensei, much to Mitsui and Miyagi's dismay, saying on how much they envy him since he gets to spend time with the coach. While they were complaining about that, he was dreading the next few days without him. By now he was bored and had no one to talk to.

            He could have gotten out of his room, see the sights and be with his other teammates, but that was not possible. He didn't want to catch too much attention to himself if he goes out especially the girls and he had nothing in common with his other teammates. The older ones like Akagi, Mitsui and Kogure would only be too preoccupied about colleges and scholarships, something he did not want to dwell on. Miyagi would probably ask Ayako out and he hates to interfere while the first year members hardly talk to him since he is much scarier than the redhead, self-proclaimed genius and loudmouth.

            So this is why he was here in his room beside the telephone. Discreetly, he asked Miyagi for his number, puzzling the pointguard but kept his mouth shut and gave it to him. He wanted to call him, say hello and maybe talk. But why would he do that? It was apparent why.

            He missed him and he knew so did the other members of the team. He was the lively one in the group, the life of the party even if he is a little too brash. He would probably shout on how bored he is and would either ask them to play poker with him or go out at a karaoke bar.

            Rukawa could already imagine the noise they would make especially with the two of them bickering like kids, Akagi getting really mad, Kogure would try to stop them, Mitsui and Miyagi joining in their squabble and Ayako would whack them with her paper fan of doom. He missed their fights, his voice, and his nyahahaha laugh…everything. He was the only one who made an impact in his life. With his cheerful and devil-may-care attitude, he never fails to brighten up his day and puts spice in his usually dull life. Not to mention that he was the only one who would bother to approach him (even if it is to call him kitsune or punch his face).

             For the third time, Rukawa picked up the phone and dialed his number. It may be risky, but it would be better to gamble than think what he could have been done. He tightened the hold on the handset when it rang and when a kind female voice he assumed was his mother answered he gripped it even tighter.

                        " May I speak with Hanamichi please?" He asked politely, the first time he used his name in ages.

                        " Who is this please?"

                        " Rukawa."

                        " Oh you must be one of my son's friends." The older woman said cheerfully.

            One of Sakuragi's friends? Rivals, sure. Punching partners, definitely. But friends? He had no idea. " Uh in a way." He said instead.

                        " Of course you are." Mrs. Sakuragi said as if sensing his uncertainty at the other line. " Anyway, I'll call him in a moment, he's at the living room with friends."

            Rukawa sighed. This was a bad idea. He didn't have to Einstein to know whom he was with. The Sakuragi Gundan was always at his side, whether to make fun of him or support him in games even protect him from danger. He envied him to have such great friends like Yohei, wishing he was part of their group but of course that can't happen. Sakuragi hates him, his friends may admire his skills at the court, but they kept their distance.

                        " Hello?" His rough voice made him jump.

            He opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. Wonderful, perfect timing for him to be tongue-tied.

                        " Hey, is there someone at the other line?!" By this time, Sakuragi was now getting annoyed.

            Rukawa was still silent. What was he supposed to say anyway? Hi, Hanamichi how are you?

                        " Oi, kitsune if this is your way of joking around it's not funny! Now it's either you answer or you get beaten up by the tensaii!"

                        " Do'aho."

            There was silence at the other line. He knew he was surprised to hear from him, but he would eventually recover and be verbally assaulted. Five seconds has passed and there was still silence at the other side. Now it was his turn to panic. What was happening? Did he get struck by lightning? Or stabbed? Did he drop the phone? Did he drop dead?

                        " Oi, do'aho, you still there?" He asked.

            That did it. " Teme kitsune why the hell are you calling me?!"

                        " Nothing." Perfect, everything was now ruined just like their first meeting. He had beaten up several third year students who disturbed his sleep, snaps at a girl who was only being concerned for his welfare. Most of all, gotten several head-butts from a guy whom he unwittingly saved and almost became his friend just because he hurt the feelings of the girl of his dreams.

                        " Hey fox, if you called just to gloat forget it! I, tensaii Sakuragi Hanamichi, will beat you!" He shouted.

                        " Why would I gloat at you, fool?"

                        " Nandato?!"

                        " Why would I gloat at you?"

                        " Hahahaha, wait 'till I finish my training with oyaji! I'll beat the crap out of you and be the best player of the region! Nyahahahaha!!"

                        " Yare, yare."

            For the first fifteen minutes, they spent arguing and provoking each other. Rukawa felt much better already, his boredom and homesickness gone. If he lets his mind drift further, he would be back in Kanagawa at the Shohoku gym with Sakuragi breathing down his neck for being a show-off and he would just say do'aho and leave, but the redhead would come running after him calling him teme kitsune. Odd, he even missed that name.

                        " Oi, Rukawa, you didn't answer my question." Sakuragi said jolting him to reality.

                        " What question?" Rukawa asked.

                        " Why did you call me?"

            He almost forgot about that. " Nothing."

                        " Oh really? And I thought you missed me."

            He nearly dropped the phone. How did he know that? He tried his best not to show it in his voice, but eventually he noticed. " Why would I do that, nuts?"

                        " Gee, I don't know." For once, he did not shout at him. " Possibly I'll do the same when I miss someone. You know when a friend misses another friend."

                        " Oh." Is that how he sees him?

                        " Don't tell me you never had a friend before?"

            Maybe they should go back to bickering. At least there, he didn't have to reveal too much of himself. But here…

            He didn't know Sakuragi is that sensitive. Oh he did know, once when they lost a game against Kainan. He took it so badly that he had to do something. No one's blaming him, yes, but still he felt guilty. He told him that people don't expect him to do well all the time since he was just a beginner. Mistakes were always a part of learning. And what did he get? A verbal assault and several punches. He was grateful for that though at least he had stopped brooding in the corner of the locker room where he first found him.

            His parents wondered why he never had friends. They even wondered about his nature, his aloof, cool, quiet and hostile son but loved and accepted him just the same because that was just his surface area. They knew who he really was. He shows his true self to others deserving of such. Which is never.

            Except now. He hides his concern for him with his aloofness, his respect in coldness and his care for him by calling him names or kicking him. He was being a friend to him without him knowing it.

                        " So, how's everyone else?"

            Rukawa told him relieved that he changed the subject.

            While listening to the low monotonous voice at the other line, Sakuragi Hanamichi has a lot of questions running in his mind. Why did he call? And why did it have to be me of all people? It's not like we're best friends or anything. Hell, we hate each other so why are we talking like old chums?

            Insulting one another was not what he called friendship, even punching each other while taking the blame of a lost game was not even considered as being friends with someone. Besides how could two people who are extremely proud be friends? How could someone as cold as Kaede be his friend? He would rather be dead.

            He was his rival, he's supposed to beat him basketball not be on the phone with him asking about the other guys of the team. But bizarrely, he was happy that he was able to. He missed them, especially Miyagi, Mitsui, Akagi and Kogure who all helped him out inspite of the headaches he had given them.

            But the person who had helped him most was Rukawa. How many times did the kitsune knock (most of the time literally) some sense into him? How many times did he help him get focused on the games they played? How many times did they manage to bring the team to victory with their lethal combination play? It was odd thinking about this now in the middle of a phone conversation with the guy himself, but a person's mind works in strange ways.

            Maybe he was being drastic about what he said awhileback. Rukawa was more of a friend to him than his army had. Not that he hates to have them around. They support him, yes, but the support coming from the rookie is much different. They are part of a team; they both play basketball, maybe that's why they work so well if they stop fighting like fools. It seems to him that he was the only friend Rukawa had ever had in his whole life and that was flattering for him.

            What surprised him was that this guy could talk after all. There was enthusiasm and life in his voice as he related on the games they had with Jousei, unlike the usual cold and dull voice he hears in school and in practices. Sakuragi has so much to learn about Rukawa and he was glad that he did not slam the phone down as his first thing that came into his mind when his mother told him that he was on the line.

            Rukawa had just finished talking about the victory they had with Jousei the other day when Sakuragi said: " So you didn't need the tensaii's help after all." He laughed.

                        " No, not really." How would he tell him that it was because of him that they won? That they hate to let him down? That they can't stand being made fun of him if they lost? That they can't depend on him all the time?

                        " Oh. I see." Then he added. " Glad you called, kitsune."

            Hearing that from him made Rukawa strangely happy. It was a good thing he called after all some risks were worth it. " So am I, do'aho."

            The name-callings they were exchanging were not as harsh as it used to be, but laced with brotherly fondness. Sakuragi glanced at the wall clock on the living room wall. The first he saw the clock, it was only 9:30, not it's almost ten minutes before eleven in the evening. Had they been talking that long? Life sure is full of surprises.

                        " Hey, love to chat more but it's late. Knowing Gori, he'll wake you guys early just to train and besides this is getting expensive." Sakuragi said.

                        " I'll pay for it." Rukawa said.

                        " I was just kidding."

                        " No, I insist."

                        " I said I was just kidding. Jeez."

                        " And I said I will insist on paying for the bill of this call."

                        " And I said--!"

            Rukawa narrowed his eyes at the phone. " What are you laughing at?" He asked as he heard loud laughter at the other line.

            Sakuragi took a deep breath. " We're arguing again."

            He smiled slightly. " So we are."

            Then they burst out of laughing. A few seconds later, Rukawa sobered. " I would still pay for the call."

                        " Fine, fine, if that makes you happy pay for it. Pay for the entire bill if you want." Sakuragi said.

                        " I'm not that generous."

                        " I know. You're an arrogant, selfish, cold, aloof..."

            And to think everything has changed between them. Each word he heard was like a stab in his heart. He was just like everybody else, not looking beyond the façade he wears each day of his life. He just wasted his time.

                        " ...Quiet, impassive, unresponsive, self-centered…"

            Rukawa can't take it anymore. If this is Sakuragi's way of getting back at him, he would rather be beaten up to death than be verbally and emotionally battered. He was about to slam the phone when he stopped.

                        " But hey, that doesn't matter to me."

            And that I would always be your friend no matter what. Was the unspoken message between them. Good thing he didn't do anything stupid or he would really regret it. " Really?" He asked dumbly.

                        " Yeah, count on that. We'll still fight though."

                        " Right. But who says we can't be friends in the process?"

            He heard his laugh at the other line. " Good thing you still remembered. Anyway, let's call it a night we both have to wake up early you know or make that I have to wake up early. You sleep like a log."

                        " Hey I resent that. I do not."

                        " Fine, good night."

                        " Yeah, night do'aho."

            Rukawa was about to place the phone back on the cradle, but he thought of it again. " Oi matte."

            There was silence and he thought Sakuragi had hung up. But when he heard a hm, he sighed in relief. " I called because I…"

                        " I know. You don't have to tell me. Me too, much as I hate to admit it. Oyasumi kitsune. For real."

            He had to laugh at that. Stifling a yawn, he realized that he was sleepy himself. " You too, do'aho."

                        " Oi, Hanamichi, who were you talking to?" Yohei asked as his tall friend sat down beside him on the couch.

            Yuji tossed a can of soda in his direction. " Yeah, you missed the whole movie. So who's your phone pal this evening?"

                        " Haruko-chan I'll bet!" Sauchiro said.

                        " She's crazy about Rukawa, why would she call Hanamichi here?" Takamiya asked.

                        " Takamiya!" Yohei glared at him.

            Sakuragi ignored them and drank his soda. He took out the " Collateral Damage" VCD and handed it to Yuji who was closer to the VCD player. Maybe he'll invite Rukawa over to watch some VCDs in their spare time during their training for the nationals. Hmm, after practice would be even better. He thought and settled on a more comfortable position taking a handful of chips from Yohei.

            He would like that. He knew he would.

           Rukawa went to the cashier and paid for the things he had bought. After a hasty thank you at the woman behind the counter, he nearly ran out of the gift shop towards his room upstairs.

                        " What the..?!" Ayako nearly collided against him if it weren't for Miyagi who pulled her out of harm's way. The pair stared at the speeding guy climbing the stairs three steps at a time. " Isn't that Rukawa?"

                        " Yeah that's him." Miyagi said. " Wonder why he's so worked up all of a sudden."

            Ayako shrugged. " Beats me, but I'll bet it's something good."

            While the pair was pondering on what was going on with the super rookie of Shohoku, the guy himself was sitting on top of the bed and dumped the contents of the paperbag on it. After organizing the things he bought for himself (like food and more food), he took the keychain with a basketball dangling on the chain and grinned.

            Sakuragi will definitely like this. He knew he would.

Note: I had just taped the Jousei-Shohoku practice game episode and something came into my mind and this is it. Ok, so they both sound OOC, but aren't we all sometimes?.

Slam Dunk is not mine, as always, but by Inoue Takehiko and IT Planning Inc.

Oh and reviews are welcome! But not flames, people have feelings too.