Sakuno rounded the corner, dark circles under her eyes.
She was greeted, as always, with the sound of tennis.
Tennis. She thought. Is all I seem to be doing these days.
"Ryoma-sama!" She could hear her friend Tomoka screaming from here.
Recently, all she had been doing on her weekends was going to tennis match after tennis match to watch Ryoma play against other schools.
It was mid-interschool competitions and, at first, she had willingly gone.
But recently, Ryoma had begun to grate on her.
Yesterday had been the final straw.
"Look, Ryoma-kun," She pointed to a picture on her mobile. "Mariko-chan got a new poodle. Isn't he cute?"
"Mm." Ryoma muttered, not even glancing at the screen.
Sakuno sighed and pocketed the phone.
They walked some more.
"So," She said. "For fall, it's quite hot actually, don't you think?"
"I guess." Ryoma said.
Sakuno fiddled with the collar of her uniform as silence reigned again.
"So," She tried again. "What's new with tennis?"
Ryoma stopped in his tracks and gave her one of his finest You Are A Complete Idiot looks.
"Y-you know," Sakuno said desperately. "Tennis. Anything…new with that?"
Ryoma turned on his heel. "Stop talking." He had said and, with that, walked off on his own.
Now, Sakuno was a patient person. Especially with Ryoma, she liked to think.
But this time, after all she done for him and how much she had devotedly supported him recently, she had had enough.
She passed the Seigaku regulars as they had a team talk. Inoue and Shiba were there and so was Tomoka. And Ryoma.
"Sakuno!" Tomoka waved her over.
"Good morning." Sakuno said pleasantly, completely avoiding Ryoma as she said it.
"Did you see Ryoma-sama's last drop shot? It was so-!"
"I need to get to class." Sakuno said airily, walking past.
The abruptness that appeared in her voice was so rare that even Tezuka glanced at her.
"Sakuno…" Tomoka said.
Sakuno could feel Ryoma's eyes on her.
Serves him right. It's about time he sees what being snubbed is like.
Sakuno walked past. "See you in class, Tomoka-chan."
"Er," Tomoka said. "S-sure."
"Jeez," Momoshiro nudged Ryoma, laughing. "What did you do to piss her off?"
Ryoma shrugged and took a sip of his drink. "I have no idea."
"She seemed pretty angry."
Ryoma picked up his racquet and slung it on his shoulder, making his way towards the court. "That's her problem." He said.
"Ryoma-sama has a huge match tomorrow morning!" Tomoka gushed. "We have to make sure we're there bright and-!"
"I'm not going." Sakuno said.
Tomoka deflated, looking at her friend. "But…but we're Ryoma-sama's cheering squad."
"Well, I don't want to be a part of his cheering squad anymore." Sakuno slammed her desk top down primly. "And he made it quite clear yesterday that everything I say annoys him. So."
"Hey!" Momoshiro made his way towards the girls, snacks crammed in his arms. He was closely followed by Ryoma, who was sipping juice, and Eiji and Oishi.
"Hello!" Tomoka waved, gaining a little more spirit upon seeing Ryoma.
"Hope you girls are gonna be there for the match tomorrow." Eiji grinned. "It's pretty important."
Sakuno couldn't resist getting there before Tomoka.
"No, sorry," She smiled. "I'm busy."
"But…" Momo blinked, looking lost. "You always come to our matches."
"Something came up." Sakuno shrugged. "Sorry."
"Like what?" It was Ryoma who spoke now and Sakuno looked at him pointedly.
"I'd tell you," She said. "But I wouldn't want to bore you."
She walked off towards the canteen, thinking that she had really pulled off the dramatic 'sweep away', when she heard footsteps behind her and, the second she looked around, Ryoma snatched her wrist.
"Hey!" She yelped.
"What's with you anyway?" Ryoma's voice was still calm, but his hand wouldn't let go of her wrist.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Are you seriously mad at what I said the other day?"
Sakuno flushed. He always did this.
His tone made her feel like she was being a hysterical child, but she knew she was in the right.
"I'm not coming to one of your tennis matches. So what? You need me there or something?"
Ryoma's eyes met hers.
She felt a tiny tinge of hope until he dropped her wrist.
"Don't be ridiculous." He said and wandered off.
Sakuno rubbed her wrist, thinking that she'd never go to another of his matches again.
Sakuno woke up the next day.
This was nice.
She didn't need to get up, get dressed, rush to the courts.
She could take it easy.
Yes, this was exactly what she wanted.
"Echizen to serve!" The ref announced.
Ryoma bounced the ball slowly on the clay of the court and it echoed with every hit.
He glanced over his shoulder towards the bleachers.
What was he doing?
She wasn't coming.
She had said as much.
He adjusted his hat slightly.
And that was just fine with him.
"This is bad." Momo muttered.
Shiba looked up. "What?" She asked. "The game hasn't even started."
"Not the game." Tezuka said quietly, glancing around.
"Where is she?" Eiji drummed his fingers impatiently on the bench.
"Who?" Shiba wanted to know.
"Sakuno-san." Fuji explained.
"Why do you want to know where she is?"
"Because we need her!" Eiji cried, then glanced out toward the court. "Or rather…"
Ryoma's opponent returned his serve.
"Easy!" Shiba clapped her hands. The return was well within the boundaries of what Ryoma could handle.
And yet it bounced off the court and onto the net, untouched.
"Fifteen love!" The ref yelled.
"Or…" Shiba stared. "Not?" She whirled round. "W-what's wrong with Ryoma-kun?"
"We noticed it a while back," Fuji said quietly. "Ryoma can't play when it comes to big tournaments like this if Sakuno-san isn't here."
Shiba's mouth dropped open. "You're kidding."
"Thirty love!" The ref shouted as Ryoma missed yet another easy hit.
"We wish." Tezuka murmured.
Sakuno had gone through her magazines, organized her clothes, made breakfast, and fed the stray cat that hung around her house.
If I was going to the tournament, She thought. Which I'm not. I'd definitely wear that little pink top I bought the other day.
She turned it over in her hands.
"You look good in pink."
Now, who had said that to her again?
With a start, she remembered.
It was Ryoma.
But those hadn't been his exact words.
She had picked up the top whilst walking home from school with him.
"What do you think?" She had held it up. "Will it look good on me?"
Ryoma shrugged. "I guess." Then he had said something very strange. "You could wear anything."
At the time, Sakuno had been offended by his disinterest.
But now she got it.
He had been trying to say that she'd look good no matter what she wore.
Sakuno held the top in her hands.
She had thought that she understood Ryoma better than he understood her.
"Jiro High- two games to zero!" The ref announced.
"This is ridiculous!" Shiba exclaimed. "There's no way Ryoma-kun could be losing this badly!"
"We told ya." Momo said grimly.
"Well someone needs to call Sakuno! We need to call Sakuno and-!"
"It's alright." Tezuka said.
"What do you mean?" Shiba turned on him. "How can you say 'it's alright', when he's losing like this? How can you be so calm? How can you-?"
"Because she's here."
Shiba turned to see the long-plaited brunette girl racing towards the court.
"Oh." She said.
Ryoma looked up and the first thing he saw was her.
She banged on the net fence.
"Time." He requested.
"Time!" Called the ref.
Ryoma ran over to the fence where Sakuno stood.
"How's it going?" She asked.
"Oh," Ryoma said nonchalantly. "Fine."
"How many games have you won?"
"That's not important."
"I…" She fiddled with her plait. "I decided to come after all."
Ryoma was silent.
With Ryoma there was to be no great flashing neon sign of emotion.
"Maybe you don't care, but I'm here anyway." Sakuno said. "I won't leave you."
She blushed a little as she said this.
Still, Ryoma was silent.
"W-well," She turned. "I'll be over there with the others-"
Ryoma's finger pushed through the fence and it lightly linked with hers.
Sakuno looked up at him.
"Thank you," Ryoma said quietly. "Thank you, Sakuno."
Sakuno smiled. "Sure."
Ryoma took his hand back and did Sakuno imagine it or was the movement almost …reluctant?
The boy turned and made his way back to the court.
Sakuno ran over to join the others and couldn't understand why Momo muttered "Thank God."
Of course, Ryoma pulled off what appeared to be a flawless victory.
"That was close," Sumire remarked, walking towards the group afterwards. "I thought we were goners after the first two games."
"Ryoma-kun lost the first two games?" Sakuno was surprised. "He was so perfect in the others though."
The group exchanged looks.
"Well," Momo attempted quickly. "He's not his best on clay, so…ya know…"
Sakuno's eyes trailed towards Ryoma as he swung his racquet placidly over his wrist.
Could her presence have affected him that much?
She strolled over to him.
"So," She smiled. "Good game."
"I guess." Ryoma said.
"Wanna walk home with me tonight?"
Ryoma shrugged. "I got nothing else to do."
Sakuno was outraged as he grabbed his towel and bag and walked off.
"You really do talk too much." Was his passing comment.
I really did imagine it! She thought angrily. As if a guy as cold as that needs anyone!
She was so engrossed in her furious thoughts, that she didn't see the lingering backward glance that Ryoma threw her as he walked away.