Momoshiro-Senpai frowned in concentration, putting a hand on Ryoma's shoulder. Ryoma stared into the boy's eyes for a moment, then looked away as they widened in shock.
'I can't feel anything,' he murmured. 'It's like...'
When everyone but you has telepathy, how much would you miss out on? How could you connect with people?
Chapter 10: Confrontation
[Out! Winner, Echizen Ryoma! 6-4, 6-7, 7-6!]
The crowds at the US Open exploded into cheers as the umpire announced Ryoma's victory. Ryoma's body felt light as a feather, despite the long tie-breaker game, as he smirked at Lleyton Hewitt over the net.
'Oi, Ryoma! Wake up! Come on, get your bum outta bed!'
Ryoma was jerked out of his dream and found himself not on the cement courts of the Arthur Ashe Stadium but in his bed in Japan. Dammit.
'Wakey wakey, Ryoma.' Oya-Jii loomed over him with a grin on his face.
Ryoma glared sleepily and pulled the covers over his face. Oya-Jii yanked them down again.
'Come on now, we've got work to do.'
'Go away. I'm tired.'
'I don't care. If you don't get up, I'm gonna eat your breakfast. We're having rolled omelette and miso soup.'
He laughed as Ryoma crawled out of bed, tripped on his tennis bag and stumbled out the door. He really would eat Ryoma's breakfast if he stayed in bed. One time he'd done it five days in a row during a school vacation.
After he'd eaten and drunk his milk, Ryoma felt almost awake. Oya-Jii told him to grab his tennis gear and bundled him into their ute.
'Where are we going, Oya-Jii?'
'My old coach's granddaughter recently started playing tennis and I've been asked to give her some training. Here, have a manju.' He held a box of manju in front of Ryoma's face with one hand.
'Anyway, I don't wanna do it, so I said you would.'
'You have to do it, now that you've had a manju! That was the payment!'
The ute braked suddenly outside a park and Oya-Jii hustled Ryoma out, tossing his tennis bag after him.
'I'll pick you up later! Good luck!'
XXX xxx XXX
Twenty minutes later, Ryoma slouched on a step, supervising Ryuuzaki and her loud friend - Osakada was it? - as they hit tennis balls against a cement wall in the park.
'Bend your legs more,' he told Ryuuzaki.
Osakada was growing faster right now, getting more hits before her ball went flying away across the grass.
'Don't stand in one spot, keep moving your feet. And move further back. It's easier to run forward than backward.'
Ryuuzaki's ball struck with a loud thud! and went flying over her head and into the trees behind them.
'Whoa!' Osakada whistled.
'I'm sorry! I'll get it back!'
'Do you want me to come?'
'No, I'll be fine!'
She dashed off into the trees with her long braids flapping behind her.
Ryoma had Osakada continue hitting the wall but she got distracted when Ryuuzaki didn't return so they gave up and went looking.
'Sakuno-Chan!' Osakada called out. 'Sakuno-Chan! Are you OK?'
They found her inside some school's tennis courts on her knees, surrounded by dozens of tennis balls. Ryoma could tell at a glance that the guys standing around there were being dicks.
An idea popped into his head. There was a hole in the fence, pretty close to the biggest dick standing over Ryuuzaki. Ryoma took aim and, thock! the girls' other ball powered through the hole and whacked the guy on the arm.
'Sorry,' he called. 'My ball went in!'
'Ryoma-Kun!' Ryuuzaki relaxed seeing him.
'Hee, that was awesome!' said Osakada.
Ryoma entered the courts to wait there for Ryuuzaki.
'Have you found it yet?' he asked.
'No, I can't find which one is mine!'
Argh, this could take a while.
'Oi!' The guy he'd hit stormed up to Ryoma with a furious face. 'Don't fuck with me, chibi! You hit me!'
'Eh? Did that hurt? Sorry.' Ryoma hadn't hit him that hard. Wimp.
'Oh, by the way, you guys go look for the ball too. It's taking ages.'
'You look for it, asshole!'
'Don't pick fights with kids,' one of the other boys.
'Ah... OK, this is disturbing our training for the tournament. They are three hundred balls here and since that girl knocked over the cart -'
'He lying, Ryoma-Sama!' Osakada screeched from outside. 'He's hiding our balls behind his back! They've got Ryoma-Sama's face on them!'
'Shut up, bitch!'
I thought it was something like that.
'One game each,' Ryoma said. 'I'll play a game with each of you and if I lose, I give up the balls we hit in here. But if I win, you have to check ten balls each.'
The boys laughed at him.
'He'll play all thirty of us? Can he count?'
'We'll give you all three hundred balls if you win!'
XXX xxx XXX
Ryoma defeated every person on the team by the time his dad arrived.
'What kind of tennis lesson is this, young man?'
Osakada gleefully explained it to him while Ryoma emptied his drink bottle.
'It's a good thing I brought the ute then. Oi Ryoma, are we really taking all of these?'
'I don't care.'
'Hey! Something's going on in here!' someone yelled from the clubrooms. 'It's Yayoi, he's in trouble!'
'Take them and get out of here.'
The guy who'd offered Ryoma the three hundred got up.
'We deserve it for being dumbasses. Now get lost!'
'Alright then. Get to work, Ryoma!' Oya-Jii laughed.
They filled the back of the ute and took off to bring the girls home. Ryoma fell asleep in the front seat listening to his dad and the girls talking about famous female tennis players.
XXX xxx XXX
Horio's loud, panicked voice filled the whole library.
Ryoma sighed and wondered if he could hide behind this shelf.
'Echizen! Where are you?'
Geeze, he'd only missed a little bit of tennis practise today, what could possible have happened since then? Ryoma didn't usually have his library shift at the same time as tennis, but several student librarians were sick today, so he'd had fill in. Tezuka-Buchou said it was OK.
'Echizen!' Horio's eyes were wide with fear and he was panting.
'Danger! This guy showed up and attacked Arai-Senpai and Kachirou! He's looking for you!'
'He's gonna beat you up! You have to hide! I - he's coming here!'
Horio peeked out around the shelf and shrieked.
He pushed Ryoma along, still clutching the returns cart. Ryoma was shoving it aside when Horio's grip on his arm tightened and jerked him to a stop.
A tall, older boy wearing a white tracksuit with a strip down the middle stepped around the other end of the bookshelf. His hair was white-ish and wavy, slicked back from his forehead. He had a tennis racket.
'Are you Seigaku's freshman regular?' he growled through a cigarette. 'You interrupted my fun yesterday. I wanted to play around at Ginka Middle.'
Ryoma didn't remember seeing anyone like him yesterday.
'I don't who you are.'
The smoking boy took a rock from his pocket and smashed at them.
Ryoma had only a second to snatch a book off the cart beside him and protect his face.
'Oh my god,' Horio gasped.
'Ha ha! isn't this the best!?'
Ryoma shoved Horio back and hit more rocks away.
They struck him with pin-point accuracy. His head, his stomach, his legs. Sharp, stinging pain blossomed.
'Quick, he's out of rocks!'
Horio grabbed Ryoma and dragged him away from the stranger.
'Trying to run away?'
Even though he'd barely done anything, Ryoma's heart pounded. They sprinted passed the fiction shelves and empty study tables. Around the issue desk and there was the exit!
'Ha - ha - There's - argh!'
A book struck Horio on the head, sending him sprawling to the floor, dragging Ryoma with him.
The stranger stalked towards them, racket tucked under his arm. He gave them a blank look and said,
'Today is just a greeting! See you, brat.'
'Bastard...' Ryoma muttered. He clenched his fists and pushed himself up.
'Echizen! No!' Horio clutched his leg. 'You'll get hurt!'
The stranger glanced back at Ryoma and raised his eyebrows.
'Don't be in such a rush,' he said. 'Make it to the finals at the Prefectural tournament. I'm Yamabuki Middle's third year, Akutsu Jin.'
Notes and translations
Chibi - Cute, but can also mean shorty, squirt, pipsqueak...
Manju - A popular tradition Japanese confection. Usually made from flour and rice powder and filled with a red bean paste, of which there are many varieties.