Author's Note: Break point is when you're a point away from losing your serve. It's very bad.
(Can't leave it behind you
Everything you were
You wanna be someone new)
In the beginning, there was a boy.
(There was also a girl, a little girl whose whole life would have been different had it not been for that boy, that boy who'd begun everything the day that it was supposed to end, but—
But really, there was just the boy.)
Anna's first thought, upon stepping foot on Rikkaidai High School's main campus, was that the school was big.
Her second was that she was about to throw up.
She hadn't eaten breakfast that morning to avoid expressly that, though, so while she had to bite down hard on the inside of her cheek, she did not actually spew vomit all over the dignified gray flagstones.
Though that would have been one hell of a first impression.
Anna smiled grimly to herself. Who was she kidding? These people already had their impressions of her, their opinions. More than that, they knew the truth of her, what she was. A loser, a failure. An embarrassment to her nation.
"Hasegawa-kun, how do you feel about returning to Japan?"
"Do you have any comments about your results at the Australian Open?"
"Have you really retired for good, Hasegawa-kun?"
"Rumor has it that you're still in the draw for the French Open!"
Reporters were clustered around the school gates, snapping photos. She'd forgotten about them, so anxious was she about the other students. But she'd come to school very early; only a handful of kids were on the grounds. They eyed the spectacle she made, but did not stop to stare. They had places to go.
Places they belonged.
"Come along, Hasegawa-kun," the headmaster urged, touching her shoulder carefully. She flinched. "Let's get you inside, away from all this." He placed himself between her and the newspeople.
She wanted to tell him that the reporters, their questions, the flash of their cameras, those things didn't bother her anymore. She was more daunted by the looming buildings before her, the ones that would soon fill with other students in their crisp maroon and black uniforms, other students that knew one another.
Other students that didn't know her, but knew of her. Knew every damning thing.
She almost turned and fled. But where would she go? The apartment her family had moved into only three days ago? The tennis academy, back in Florida? How about the hotel room in Melbourne? Paris, New York, Miami.
I have to go back.
I can't go back.
That boy. The one from the beginning? His name was Yukimura Seiichi.
(And she hated him, oh God how she hated him, except she adored him too, adored him becaue he was everything she wasn't.
Hated him because that was the case.)
"Welcome to Rikkaidai, Hasegawa-kun. Please come up and introduce yourself to the class."
Anna could not breathe.
He was here. He was here, in her class, or rather, she was in his. 3-C. She'd known he attended Rikkaidai—stalkerish though it was, he was why she'd chosen the school—but hadn't suspected she'd have to face him first thing Monday morning.
Yukimura Seiichi. Yukimura Seiichi.
"… Hasegawa-kun? Are you all right? Did you hear me?" And suddenly the teacher was in her face, peering concernedly.
Anna jerked back. Her chair scraped loudly against the tile floor; the sound hung in the air. "… Um." She swallowed hard, stood up, wiping clammy hands on her black pleated skirt. "I, I'm. My name is—"
"Up front, dear." The teacher, Ishii-sensei, pursed her lips. They were bright red. Snow White's lips. "Please stand in front of the class so that we can all see and hear you."
Anna hunched her shoulders and did as instructed. She looked down, avoiding eye-contact and counting every step. One, two, three… (Love-fifteen, love-thirty, love-forty, she was losing, losing, losing—) She reached her destination, turned and stared fixedly at the far wall. Cinderblock.
They were all staring. He was staring.
She took a breath. "Mynameis—" Her voice cracked. "My name is Hasegawa Anna."
There. She'd done it.
But Ishii-sensei was gesturing. Go on, go on. Continue. Anna's mouth worked. Continue and say what? An uncomfortable moment passed, before Ishii-sensei prompted gently, "Where are you from?"
Anna blinked once, twice. "I… I'm from…"
Where am I from?
Hotel rooms. Hotel rooms and foreign cities and tennis courts surrounded by roaring crowds. Before that, from Florida. The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. And before that?
She snuck a glance at Yukimura. His face had lost its baby fat; his eyes were blue as ever. "I guess… I'm from around here. Originally."
(In the beginning, there was a boy. But there was also a girl.)
Ishii-sensei smiled encouragingly. Good, good. The girl's not completely thick in the head. "And your hobbies? What do you like to do?"
Anna froze. She's making fun of me. She's got to be making fun of me. What do I like to do? What sort of question is that? What can I possibly say?
Helpless, miserable laughter bubbled up in her. She fought it back enough to say, "I play tennis."
Ishii-sensei's smile became somewhat strained. The other students began whispering. "Oh, yes," she said, shushing them. "Yes, we've heard all about your success." Success. Hah. What bullshit. "You must really love tennis, Hasegawa-kun. Don't you?"
(And she remembered a day nearly ten years before, a bright sure voice saying, Don't quit. Play with me.)
Somehow, Anna found the strength to look straight at Yukimura. "Actually," she said quietly, and wondered if this was how it felt to tell the truth, "I hate tennis."
"Is it true that Hasegawa Anna walked into your homeroom and challenged you to a tennis match?"
"Hardly," Yukimura replied dryly, pulling his jersey over his head. "Don't believe everything you hear, Akaya. And change quickly. Practice begins in five minutes."
"You'll run five extra laps for each minute that you're late," added Sanada, already dressed and lacing up his shoes.
"I'm not going to be late," Kirihara grumbled, but hurried to his locker. All the other regulars were already present. Niou and Yagyuu were talking quietly, while Marui hummed to himself and Jackal secured his wrist-weights. Yanagi was checking his racquet strings.
"So what did happen?" the second-year ace wanted to know, grappling with his tie. "She is in your class, I know that, and people keep saying stuff about you and her. Did you challenge her to a match? You could take her, buchou, for sure. Even if she is a French Open semifinalist."
"Thank you for your vote of confidence." Yukimura kept his tone wry, knowing how much it irked the younger boy. "But no one challenged anyone." He frowned, just the slightest bit. "She just… she only looked at me for a moment. That's all."
Niou smirked, but it was Marui who teased, "You are just such a catch, aren't you? Jesus, Yukimura, leave some girls for the rest of us."
It's not that, Yukimura almost said. There'd been nothing like that in Hasegawa's gaze. He almost told them, then, about the tennis club all those years ago, but Jackal pulled a copy of Pro Tennis Monthly from his bag, tossed it on one of the benches.
"There's actually an article about her in yesterday's issue," the dark-skinned boy said conversationally. "My subscription ran out, but I picked this one up at a newsstand because it also has the piece about which teams are predicted to make it to Nationals this year."
It went without saying that Rikkaidai was among them.
Kirihara snatched up the magazine, flipped to the correct page, and read aloud. "'How many people can say they retired from their career at seventeen years of age? Japan's own Hasegawa Anna can.
"'Long touted as Japan's best hope on the professional tennis scene, Hasegawa, a pupil of the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, launched her career two years ago by qualifying for the U.S. Open. She lost in the first round to the number thirteen seed, but her performance promised great things to come.
"'She moved up steadily through the rankings, relying on her excellent forehand, footwork, and serve. She posted her best results at last year's French Open, reaching the semifinals and achieving a career-high ranking of number nine in the world. But things went downhill from there for the then-sixteen-year-old.
"'She had an appallingly poor grass-court season, losing all six matches she played on the surface. She fared better on the hard courts, winning in Cincinnati and making it to the U.S. Open round of sixteen before being knocked out in straight sets.
"'That third round at Flushing Meadows was her last victory. From then on, she played little and achieved even less, only making it into this year's Australian Open as a wildcard. The opportunity was wasted on her. Hasegawa played abysmally—she didn't win a single game!—and skipped the post-match press conference, instead boarding the first flight back to the U.S.
"'Days later, her retirement was officially announced. Despite a minor media frenzy, the girl in question made no appearances or statements. The latest news fit to print is that she and her parents have returned to the Kanagawa region, and that Hasegawa will attend Rikkadai High School, famed for its tennis teams.
"'Does the former pro plan to downgrade to the high school circuit?'"
"I'm impressed," drawled Niou, tucking his racquet under his arm as he made his way to the locker room door, Yagyuu and Jackal following.
Kirihara's eyebrows drew together. "That the girls' team might have a former pro playing for them?"
"That you can read."
The second-year went after him, slinging insults, and Marui, laughing, trailed after him. When the door shut on the loud group, Yukimura picked up the magazine from where Kirihara had dropped it on the floor. Accompanying the article was a photo of Hasegawa. It'd been taken right after her French Open quarterfinals victory.
Her arms were raised, accepting the fans' applause. Pieces of her long dark hair had escaped from her ponytail, stuck to her flushed cheeks. Her dark eyes were lit with—triumph? Happiness?
She looked quite different than the girl who'd stood before the class that morning, with her quick darting glances and nervous hands. And neither girl, the victorious one from the picture or the anxious one from a couple hours before, looked like the girl he'd met…
Had it been eight years ago? Nine? Ten?
"Seiichi?" Yanagi hovered by the door, Sanada beside him. "Is something the matter?"
"No," Yukimura said, and placed the magazine, still open to the article on Hasegawa, back on the bench. He picked up his racquet, approached his friends. "Nothing's wrong."
"Move your feet!" a girl shouted, cranking up the pace of the ball-machine. The girl on the the other side of the net hastened to do as bid.
But Anna, watching, stood motionless, frozen. Move your feet. Watch the ball. Come on, come on, faster, harder, for God's sakes, Anna, you've got to try, to fight for it, what's going on out there, you're falling apart, faster faster hit the goddamned ball love-fifteen love-thirty love-forty—
"Hasegawa-san, are you all right?"
She whirled. Stared. "Yu—… Yukimura-san. I. I just…"
He tilted his head. How could such a tiny motion encompass such grace? "Are you lost? Finding your way around campus must be difficult on your first day."
"I," she said. "No, I… I'm not lost."
His eyebrows rose fractionally. Slowly, he turned to look at the girls' courts, then back at her. "… So you meant to come here?"
Had she? Vehemently, she shook her head. "No," she told him. "No, definitely not."
At that, he may have been a little frustrated by her short, incongruous answers. It was hard to tell, though. His face might as well have been a porcelain opera mask. "Well," he said, and paused. "I suppose I'll see you in class tomorrow, then."
He turned to enter the courts. She wanted to run after him, to snatch at his sleeve. She wanted to turn and run away from him, away from this place and these people and most especially him. But she'd already run away, hadn't she? Run away to come here. There was nowhere left to run.
She said, "Wait."
He slowed. "Yes?"
Her lips parted. Could she say it? Did she dare? Dredge up those memories, confess to the huge role he'd played in her life? To how she felt about him? He probably didn't even remember her. No recognition was present in his expression.
She deflated. Gave up. Once a quitter, always a quitter. "Nothing," she said. "It's nothing."
"So," said Miyamoto Hinano casually, "would you like to tell me why Hasegawa Anna is standing outside my courts?"
Another person might have shrugged. Yukimura only gestured vaguely. "I don't know, and I doubt she does, either. I spoke to her for a moment—she said she wasn't lost, but that she didn't mean to come here. She certainly seemed lost."
Otsuka Rina, passing by, overheard, and crossed her arms. "You don't think she actually means to join the team, do you?"
Yukimura did not reply, but Miyamoto grinned. "Wouldn't that be something? She was ranked ninth in the world at one point. To have her on our team…"
"No," said Otsuka firmly, throwing up her hands. Her fingernails sported a perfect French manicure. "No, no, no, absolutely and unequivocably no! God, Hinano, not another one of your ideas. We don't need Hasegawa. She's more trouble than she's worth."
"Are you kidding? I know you watched her French Open matches last year! She was fantastic. Can you imagine us showing up to play Hyotei with Hasegawa Anna in our lineup?" Her grin sharpened. "The look on Tamura's face…"
"That backstabbing bitch," said Otsuka automatically, before shaking her head. Not a single brown hair strayed from her bun. "But so what if she played great then? She's terrible now. Any one of our first-year sub-regulars could have played better than she did in the Australian Open."
"I'm inclined to agree with Otsuka," said Yukimura to Miyamoto. Calmly, he went on, "Tennis is a mental game, and Hasegawa's mentally broken. She's burned out. It doesn't matter how much potential she once had. Her mind will fail her, and if she were on your team, she'd fail you."
That should have been the end of the matter. Failure was unacceptable. Failure went against the Law. And Yukimura, though of course not in charge of the girls' team, was someone whose opinion typically went undisputed by both captain and vice-captain.
"But Tamura," said Miyamoto simply. Her grin was gone, her gaze hard, even. "She's told Hyotei everything about us. Every strength and weakness, every strategy and statistic. Sure, we've altered our practices since she left, but you can't change the dynamic of a team, not so quickly."
"The situation with Tamura is unfortunate," acknowledged Yukimura. In his hands were the supply forms he'd come to get from them. "But I don't know that it's one that Hasegawa could remedy."
"Just having her as a reserve would give us an edge." Miyamoto's grin returned, flickered around the corners of her mouth. "Tamura's got nothing on her except whatever she might have gleaned from watching the televised matches. And how intimidated would you be if you knew you might have to play a former pro?"
Yukimura raised his eyebrows.
"Okay, maybe not you," Miyamoto conceded, "but normal people. Normal people would freak out."
"You've already made up your mind about this," sighed Otsuka. "Haven't you."
Miyamoto stretched her arms over her head. "All I know," she said airily, "is that I am required to accept the registration papers of students who enrolled here too late to meet the general deadline. Where's the harm in that?" She strolled over to where Hasegawa stood.
Otsuka wrinkled her nose. "She doesn't listen to me." She glanced at Yukimura. "But she'd listen to you, if you really impressed upon her what a bad idea this is."
Yukimura was watching Miyamoto approach Hasegawa. "Team decisions are to be made by the captain," he responded. His expression was distant, but his voice resolute. "I would not allow Miyamoto to interfere with my team, and I won't interfere with hers. She'll lead how she sees fit."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"Hi there." A girl came up to Anna. She had blue-black hair and a gleam in her green eyes. Anna knew that look, dreaded it. "I'm Miyamoto Hinano, the captain of the girls' team. I know who you are, of course. Would love to play you sometime."
Anna's stomach dropped. She'd been right. This girl wanted a match. Oh, God. What had she been thinking, coming here? "Maybe," she said quickly. A hasty nothing of a word.
Miyamoto didn't seem offended. "So here's the thing," she said conversationally, folding her arms. "Reliable sources have assured me that you would be a liability to have in the lineup. But what kind of a captain would I be if a former pro dropped out of the sky and I didn't take advantage of the opportunity?"
Anna's hands began to sweat. "I don't want to play tennis."
She heard the voice again, heard him saying, Don't quit. Play with me. He was right over there, watching. She tried not to notice, but it was like trying to ignore the Florida sun high in the sky, baking the tennis academy's outdoor courts, burning her pale skin.
"Then why are you here?"
Anna closed her eyes. She could feel a racquet in her hands, could hear the rush of a hundred-and-seven mile-per-hour serve rocketing toward her. Could see the white lines boxing her in, laying out her whole world in a grid of hit-it don't-hit-it, you-win you-lose lose lose.
"Tennis," she said simply. She could still feel the sunburn of Yukimura's gaze on her. "It's all I know how to do."
Later, she went home. Or, rather, to the apartment her parents had put down a deposit on that awful afternoon in Melbourne, when they'd been waiting for their flight to Miami. She remembered her own broken, strangled sobs, the pleas she'd voiced in front of all those strangers. God, the shame.
"I'm done I can't I j-just I quit I can't do it anymore I really just c-can't oh God I'm sorry I am so so s-sorry but can we p-please just stop? I'm done, I'm done, I can't d-do it anymore I just can't can we please go home? I just—I just—I can't. I quit. Please, Mommy, can't we just go home?"
She hadn't known exactly what "home" she had in mind.
Anna climbed the stairs up to the fifth floor of the building and made two circuits before finally remembering what apartment number they were. She was fumbling with her key and swearing under her breath when her mother opened the door, ushered her inside.
Hollowly, Anna said, "I'm home."
"Welcome home, honey." Her mother hovered hearby as Anna removed her shoes. "How was school? It ended over an hour ago, didn't it? Does that mean you stayed later? Did you make any friends?"
No. I'm too self-conscious to talk to people, too paranoid of all the whispers. Too humiliated that they all know what a loser I am.
"Maybe," said Anna. The nothing-word did not escape her mother. "I'm just. I'm going to go lie down, okay? I'm… tired."
"All right." Her mother smiled, a quick strained thing. "I'll call you when dinner's ready." She paused. "It's nice that we're all living together like a family again. Isn't it?"
"Yeah." Anna couldn't smile. "Yeah, it is." Ducking her head, she hurried into her small bedroom. Bed, desk, dresser. White walls, no posters or decorations. It may as well have been just another hotel room. She pulled a binder out of her bag, took out a stapled set of papers. They read GIRLS' TENNIS CLUB REGISTRATION FORMS.
Anna looked at them. Stared, swallowed, paced. Picked up a pen, put it down. Shoved the papers in her wastebasket, retrieved them and smoothed them out. She rooted around in the back of her closet, found a blue Babolat bag. Inside were four racquets, their grips worn and dirty.
She held the yellow racquet, the one she'd won the French Open quarterfinals with. The one she'd lost the first round of the Australian Open with. Turning it over in her hands, she bit down hard on her lower lip.
I can't do this anymore. This has to be the end.
I'm not ready for it to be the end.
In the beginning, there was a boy who loved tennis and a girl who hated it.
The end had not yet come, but the situation was still much the same.
Did not intend to share this story for fear of Mary Sue alerts. Luckily or not, Kasey went ahead and posted it. So.
Inspired by Andre Agassi's autobiography Open. A truly, truly amazing read.
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis or Green River Ordinance's "Brother" (lyrics at the top).