Author's Note: Uhhhhh heyyyy guys heyyyy
(I'm the sound of a dead language I know
I waited for you
I'm everything you worry for)
The next morning Anna's mother raised her eyes, a bite of okayu halfway to her lips. "And what are you all dressed up for?"
"Church. I've found Jesus, didn't I mention?" When her mother's brow only knit together further, Anna sighed and went to pour herself some coffee. She'd always preferred an American breakfast, much to her parents' dismay. "Kidding. I was kidding. I was—trying to make a joke."
"Oh," said her mother.
"Guess I should stick to my day-job, huh," Anna smiled ruefully, before it occurred to her that she had in fact quit her day-job. Apparently it occurred to her mother as well: an awkward silence fell over the tiny kitchen. Anna tried to ignore it by taking a quick swig of coffee from her chipped blue mug. "Gwagrfeh."
"It's hot, yes," her mother murmured. "I believe that's that point of fresh coffee." Far more elegantly, she took a sip of her own cup of green tea. "So what are you actually dressed up for, then? Do you—"
—have a date?
"No, Mama." Anna's voice was tense. "Just a tennis thing, that's all." It was what she'd had all her life: just a tennis thing, never a date. In fact, Anna had never been on a date.
In all her seventeen years of life, she'd never even kissed a boy.
Now that her face was burning, same as her tongue, she turned away from her mother to rummage through the stainless steel refrigerator, extracting eggs, spinach, and tomatoes. Automatically she reached for whole-wheat bread as well, but reconsidered. She no longer needed to eat nearly as much as she had when on tour.
Her dress was tighter around the middle than it had been when she'd worn it last.
Once she'd prepared her omelette, she sat down across from her mother, murmured itadakimasu, and began to eat. Her mother, still nursing her tea, asked, "So tournament season has already begun?"
Anna shook her head, swallowed a bite of her breakfast. Checked the clock on the oven. 8:29. "No, not for another week. It's just this thing they do to start off the season. All the teams in the region meet at this conference center in Tokyo to be updated on this year's rules and regulations, and to like, mingle."
"Your favorite thing," observed her mother wryly.
Anna scrunched up her nose, making her mother laugh.
The temperature outside was cool for spring, the sky overcast. There was an 80% chance of a rainstorm that afternoon, and the people Anna passed on the streets as she walked to school seemed in a hurry to finish their errands before then. A harried young man gripping reusable grocery bags and the hand of a toddler jostled her without apologizing.
Anna flinched, but said nothing. She was still trying to re-familiarize herself with Japan's sheer population density. Kanagawa was part of the Greater Tokyo Area, but at least it wasn't Tokyo proper. Tokyo lay to the north, Mount Fuji to the northwest, and the Sagami Bay and Tokyo Bay to the south and east, respectively. Her family's new apartment was in Kanagawa's capital, Yokohama, a port city along Tokyo Bay.
Her old apartment was also in Yokohama, but more toward the center of the city. Anna had very deliberately avoided being in its vicinity since her return.
The Rikkaidai High School and Middle School campuses were right outside Yokohama, bordered by Tokyo Bay. Anna had never been one for the ocean, but she knew her classmates loved to while away their time on the beaches. Even with today's ugly weather and far-too-cold waters, people walked along the coast or drew figures in the sand.
Outside the high school a fleet of coach buses idled, and around the buses a swarm of dressed-up high schoolers gathered. Suddenly feeling intimidated and unsure, Anna hesitated, her steps slowing. There was no reason for it. She had met the best athletes in the world, had attended social functions populated by actors, rock stars, and minor royalty.
Why could a group of kids her own age make her want to flee civilization and live the rest of her life as a hermit?
And I would be a terrible hermit, too, she thought mournfully. I can't even whittle.
"Hasegawa-chan," called a vaguely familiar voice. Ueno Sakura, another regular on the girls' team, detached herself from the group she'd been talking to and approached Anna, for which the latter felt pathetically grateful.
"Ueno-san." Anna smiled tentatively. "You look really nice." The other girl wore a lacy, long-sleeved white dress over tights, her cedar-colored hair curling softly around her shoulders.
"So do you." Ueno tilted her head. "That dress… isn't that what you wore when you accepted the Laureus World Sports Breakthrough Award?"
For her performance at the French Open. Anna recalled her shock when they'd announced she'd won, the way her coach had nudged her out of her seat and up toward the stage, the flash of the cameras like the stars that appeared after a hard hit to your head.
"I…" Anna looked down at herself. It was, indeed, that same dress: a shimmery emerald green sheath that clung to her hips. For the awards ceremony she'd dressed it up with stilettos and diamond jewelry, but today she'd dressed it down with ballet flats and a conservative black cardigan. "Yeah. Is that bad? Should I not be wearing it twice?"
"It's fine," Ueno giggled. "I can't imagine anyone else will even know. I just remember really loving that dress."
"Did you also love the way I dropped my award as soon as they handed it to me?" asked Anna dryly, recalling the trophy slipping right through her hands, sweat-slick as they were with nervousness.
"Hey, give yourself some credit. You recovered really well."
As the announcer had bent to pick up the trophy, Anna had leaned into the microphone and said lightly, "Apparently I need to wrap grip-tape around everything I hold, not just my racquets. Or maybe I'll just play soccer from now on." The audience had the grace to laugh.
She only remembered all this because later that night she'd watched a recording of the ceremony. In the moment her mind had gone blank with mortification, and a primal instinct for self-preservation had taken over her vocal cords.
"I guess so," said Anna currently, her laughter uncomfortable. To her immense relief, a school official spoke up before she had to attempt further conversation, instructing the students to board the buses. The assembled masses did so, forming lines that were surprisingly orderly, given their age group—though doubtlessly that could be attributed to the presence of their captains and vice-captains.
Anna glimpsed Yukimura just as he was boarding the first bus. He wore a charcoal gray suit with a white button-down and a navy tie, and was half-smiling vaguely at something Kirihara was saying to him. They hadn't spoken since the day before, and she wondered if he recalled the promise he'd made to help her, before scolding herself inwardly.
Yukimura was not the type to make idle promises.
A handful of reporters loitered by the entrance to the Tokyo Grand Tennis Center. Other buses had already arrived and were unloading their teams, but as Rikkai's fleet pulled in, the journalists raised their cameras and tape-recorders and moved forward.
Yukimura exited the bus first, spared them a glance, and kept walking, knowing his team would fan out behind him. He heard his picture being snapped a couple times, but knew he was not the one the reporters were really after.
Privately he admitted to himself that he was unfamiliar with being something other than the center of attention. This private admission was disconcerting enough that he admitted it vocally to Yanagi, who assured him, "The change of pace does you good. It will help you build character."
"There are some," noted Yukimura with just a touch of wicked humor, "that would say I have too much character as it is."
From behind them Niou said in a lowly conversational tone, "Well, these days you always have to account for inflation, don't you," and then there was the sound of a bubble bursting as Marui was startled into laughter.
Over the years Yukimura had gradually learned to laugh at himself, and so was smiling as he glanced over his shoulder. Hasegawa was only just exiting her bus, and looked faintly nauseous at being accosted by reporters. For a moment he considered retrieving her, before lightly biting the inside of his cheek. Hasegawa was a girl his own age, not a child to be coddled.
He would help her improve her tennis as best he could, but he would not be her babysitter.
He looked ahead once again.
The TGTC, as it was called, had been built only two years before. It was a giant, artless pile of chrome and steel and glass that housed state-of-the-art gyms, locker rooms, and, of course, rows upon rows of tennis courts, even one set up as the center stage of a huge indoor stadium. The TGTC also featured dormitories, an auditorium, various conference rooms, and a food court.
There was talk it would host the Japan Open in the future.
All eyes turned toward him and his team as they stepped into the lobby. This, he was used to. Making brief eye-contact with a few select people—there was Yamabuki's Sengoku, and there, St. Rudolph's Fuji—he strode across the gleaming marble floors, other tennis players parting for him like long grasses in a field, and led the way into the auditorium.
The Seigaku players—boys and girls—looked up as he approached, and from behind him, Yukimura swore he heard Kirihara smile a slow, sharp smile.
Kirihara's stint as captain had not, to Yukimura's unending vexation, changed him in any fundamental way.
Non-regulars of both Rikkai and Seigaku were already murmuring, but ceased when Yukimura called clearly, "Tezuka. I'm glad you could make it." He smiled, aware that it made Momoshiro, Kikumaru and the like wince. Not Tezuka, though, nor Fuji, whose eyes were open just a sliver. "Prepared for our final year?"
It was Echizen, smirking, who answered. "Are you?" He'd grown considerably, and ditched that absurd hat, yet still the sight of him made Yukimura want to break something lovely, an impulse entirely against the grain of his usual nature.
As Yukimura went to reply, Miyamoto appeared by his side, and he closed his mouth to allow her whatever entrance she desired. "Hey, wonder boy," she threw casually to Echizen, who let out a low "Che," before she strode purposefully down the aisle toward where Seigaku's female captain, Maeda, leaned against the stage.
"Maeda-chan, darling," Miyamoto cooed, and had the audacity to give her fellow captain a quick hug. Maeda went so still and stiff you might have thought she'd turn to stone, if not for the interesting shade of eggplant her face turned. "You look stunning. Is that a new dress? It must be. I saw it on sale at—"
"Enough, Hinano," said Otsuka boredly, though Yukimura and most everyone else knew they were tag-teaming. He couldn't say that he and Miyamoto had the same style when it came to addressing opponents, but he had a reasonable amount of respect for hers. "Let's just sit down and see if maybe we can get out of here without wasting too much of our time."
The glance she cast at Maeda made it clear exactly whom she considered the waste of time.
Hasegawa, he saw then, stood by Otsuka's elbow, looking decidedly less queasy. Immediately she noticed him noticing her, and turned, her large dark eyes watchful, somewhat uncertain. For a moment he saw her as she'd looked the day before: her face fragmented by her racquet strings as she laughed and laughed and laughed…
He couldn't help it. He smiled again, even at the memory. Motioning for her once with his left hand, he used his right to extract his phone from his pocket. "Your number," he said by way of greeting, aware and unconcerned that his team was looking on curiously. "I don't have it yet."
"Seeing as I haven't given it to you, I'd think you were creepy if you did," she murmured, ducking her head before sneaking a glance at his face. It was nebulous, this newly minted friendship of theirs, and clearly she was unsure exactly how to treat him, exactly how much he would let her get away with.
I must be getting benevolent in my old age, thought Yukimura ruefully, for he really didn't mind her quiet humor, even when it was directed at him. There was always a line, of course—how soft, dear God, how soft and stony her voice had been when she'd said "You know what? Fuck you"—but Hasegawa was not at all the type to cross it without good reason.
And, of course, Yukimura very rarely gave such a reason. It wasn't his fault that sometimes Hasegawa just got to him.
Still smiling, he responded lightly, "I have ways, but one of them—this one, in fact—involves me simply asking for it. So." He made another hand gesture, and obligingly she recited her phone number, before glancing at Otsuka, who had gone to intercept Miyamoto, still delighting in tormenting Maeda. The other Rikkai players, boys and girls both had, under Sanada's direction, begun filling the seats in the front of the auditorium.
As the teams who'd lingered in the lobby now streamed through the open doors, Yukimura said, "Go ahead and join your team. I'll text you so you have my number, and we can begin arranging times to work together." Foolish, chided a half-hearted voice in his head. You do not have time to waste on this girl. Remember your policy on endeavors that are doomed to fail?
Yet his words made something stir in Hasegawa's eyes, and that made something stir in his chest. Somewhere inside Hasegawa still existed the girl who once upon a time had loved tennis, had been so tremendously gifted at it that a stadium of Roland Garros had shaken as stands full of people pounded their feet and clapped their hands and screamed her name.
The girl who'd once been the Japanese tennis scene's last best hope smiled at him, her face glowing like city lights on the bay—a wavering light, indistinct and impossible to pin down, useless but for its loveliness, but perhaps more precious for that. "Thank you, Yukimura-san. I—"
"Just go," he said, not sharply, but it doused the light in her face. She seemed to consider saying something sharp herself, but when he leveled her a look, she just turned on her heel and rejoined her team.
Well, that was nice while it lasted, he sighed inwardly, and had he been alone would have pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, but in this crowded auditorium settled for merely passing a hand over his face. Without doing or saying anything, Yanagi, in that peculiar way of his, suddenly made his presence known, and Yukimura said to him resignedly, "Oh, shut up."
"Seiichi," said his best friend, and it was all he had to say.
"I don't know." Yukimura looked at the phone he still held, and had he been anyone else, would have stuffed it back in his pocket. Instead he placed it there neatly. "Occasionally I'm just unable to reconcile who she is with who she was, and it—I don't know. I don't know," he said once more, frowning.
Yukimura liked not knowing things about as much as Yanagi liked not knowing things.
Which was to say, not at all.
Short chapter, I am aware. Let's focus on the fact that it's a new chapter. Please please please, no one get their hopes up for consistent updates on this story or any other... I really am swamped with school, and completely rusty at creative writing, and really full of excuses, I know.
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis or Paper Route's "You and I" (lyrics at the top).