Part 2: Tennis Players
By the time the heaviest boxes had been carried in, Eiji was ready to flop on the couch and take a long nap. The sun was too bright, too hot, and his hair was
starting to stick to his temples, something he absolutely hated. His sister looked fine, but he'd demanded to be allowed to carry his share of the heavier
loads. He'd had to. One look at Kaidoh's sweat-free, uncomplaining face had him jumping to prove to his doubting sister that he could carry just as much. Of
course, he didn't mention that it had taken him five times as long to load the car as it took to unload it. And he was too busy thinking to complain about the
heat, or the fact that he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt compared to his sister's loose button up and Kaidoh's teeshirt. He was trying to figure out what to do
with his new friend once he got rid of his sister.
If the teen had looked at all worn out he'd have thought of offering a drink or something. But he didn't think that would work. He was fairly sure the silent boy
would disappear back to his apartment the moment the last of the bags was carried in. He could always take his sister up on her offer of lunch and try
dragging the teen along, but that didn't look like it would work, either. She'd stopped looking at the dark-haired boy as if he were going to snap around and
bite her, but she still seemed to be skirting him when they passed each other. If Kaidoh wasn't pointedly ignoring both of them, Eiji would have been
embarrassed by her continued wariness. The taller boy really didn't seem very friendly for someone going out of his way to be nice. He about had Eiji
He tried starting a conversation once they got to the light bags of groceries and such. A single question established Kaidoh was a Sophomore, and that they
were both undecided on their majors. But that conversation ended quickly when the older boy walked away from him midsentence. A glance found his sister's
eyes telling him how rude the teen was, but he shrugged it off. Some people were annoyed by chatter, that was all. He really wanted to figure the guy out and
fast, if only he knew where to start.
Kaidoh was strong, that much he knew. And he'd said he was unloading supplies, so maybe he lifted weights or something. Or he could be in sports, he
certainly had the build. But it was going to be pretty hard finding a subject to talk about when the teen was doing such a good job ignoring him. If he pushed
too hard, he'd run him off before his sister left. And that would leave him alone to wait for the roommates to come home, something he didn't particularly want.
They were getting very close to the end of the unpacking, and Eiji sighed as he carried in a load of sacks, Kaidoh passing him at the doorway without so much
as looking up. It was just so hard being careful, he wasn't used to it. At home he'd said whatever he felt like, and his friends had never complained, let alone
walked away on him. It was almost depressing.
They'd piled up the bed first, then the livingroom floor, so he set the bags on the circular table in the part of the kitchen that was open to the carpeted area.
At least he'd be able to keep occupied unpacking after his sister left. He did so hate being bored. Not really thinking about it, he opened one of the bags he'd
carried, in, putting the juice and refrigerated items away. There were enough places cleared on the shelves and along the door that he'd have room for
everything he'd brought. His roommates didn't seem to carry much along the lines of junk food, and everything in the refridgerator was placed neatly. Almost
too neatly, now that he was in a less than cheerful mood. He liked things orderly and all, but now he was worried that they would be picky. It would be just his
luck to be stuck with two guys who would find fault with everything he did and make his life miserable.
It wasn't until he wadded the now-empty sack in his suddenly tense hands that he realized what he was doing, and he wanted to smack himself. He hadn't
even met his roommates yet and already he was looking for problems. Just because he'd met someone he didn't know how to talk to didn't mean he wasn't
going to get along great with his roommates. Sniffing at himself, he stuffed the wadded bag into one of the still full ones, keeping it by habit. He jumped when
he saw something out of the corner of his eye, a sharp sound making it past his lips. He'd bumped the trash can in his startlement, and he steadied it quickly,
scowling at his sister's surprised expression. "Don't sneak up on me," he complained.
"Eiji, that--your friend, he left." Dark blue eyes widened, and she grabbed him when he started to dart past her, wincing at his abruptly upset face. "He's not
"What?" Turning back slowly, Eiji couldn't help his downcast and confused expression. "Where did he go? He just left?"
"I'm sorry. I got the last few bags and told him that was it and he just turned around and went into his apartment. Then he came back out with a towel on his
shoulders and left. I think he was going running or something. At least, that's what it looked like."
"Oh." With a scowl at the brown carpet, he scuffed a shoe over it. "I guess I can thank him when he comes back." He blinked slowly, a smile easing back onto
his face. "It's not like he can hide, living next door and all."
"I guess," his sister said, looking at him doubtfully. "But maybe you should just leave him alone. He doesn't-"
"He went running in this heat," Eiji mused, glancing out the open door. "I figured he worked out, but that's a bit much. He probably does that all the time,
though, so he was just keeping to his routine, that's all."
"You just have to think the best, don't you." Bright blue eyes blinked at her and she sighed, shaking her head as she set the bags down. "I hope you don't
get your feelings hurt chasing after him. He really doesn't seem like the type to-"
"That's a great idea!" Eiji interrupted, grinning at his sister. "I can go looking for him. I can run, too. And then I won't have to worry about what to talk about,
since he doesn't like talking. Thanks!"
"That's not what I meant."
"I know, but it's still a good idea. I just need to get unpacked first. But that shouldn't take too long."
The suddenly cheerful boy hugged her and she frowned, watching as he hurried toward the bags on the table. "Are you kicking me out?"
"Thanks for driving me up," Eiji smiled, tossing her a wink over his shoulder. "You know the number. But you don't have to help me unpack this stuff, I can do
"You rotten thing." The boy's smile disappeared, his lips curving down in a sad expression, and she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Fine, kick me out. A four hour
drive and you run me off so you can go chasing after some weird antisocial creep. That's just great, Eiji."
"He's not a creep!"
"You never think so," she shrugged. With a tired smile, she grabbed his shoulders and hugged him again, one hand jerking through his damp red hair until it
stood in odd ruffs. "You're welcome, Eiji-kun." A pained groan answered her, and she sighed again, stepping back to watch him smooth the strands back
down. "Mom will probably be calling this evening, so don't spend too long looking for him."
"I won't," Eiji promised, forgetting his hair to see her to the door. The parting was quick, quite easy in fact, but exactly what he'd expected and hoped for.
There was no point dragging it out. That was one of the reasons he'd asked her to drive him instead of his mother, so he wouldn't have to sit for hours
listening to complaints about his having chosen a school so far from home. His sister waved a hand from her car and he waved back, watching as she pulled
out. Then he was alone. Minutes passed before he finally shut the door and faced his empty apartment. This was another thing he'd wanted to avoid.
Determined to get done quickly, he managed to unpack all the kitchen bags in a matter of minutes. The drawers were filled quickly as well, teaching him how
much easier it was to unpack than it had been to pack all of the clothing. He didn't bother to make his bed, leaving the blankets and pillows in a stack in the
corner near the window. The box of books he had no place to put, so he set it in the closet, half of which was conveniently empty. He could always dig
through it if he needed anything. It was easy to fill his half of the shelf in the top of the closet, and the one above the dresser. And he simply set the bag of
bathroom things under the sink. Mostly he just wanted to get the boxes out of the livingroom and off the floor in case his roommates got back before he did.
He finished in what had to be some sort of record, though he would have to really unpack some things when he got back. With a quick nod to the cleared
livingroom, he headed to his bedroom. It was upon entering the now baren room that he noticed how odd it looked. The walls were white, just like the
livingroom, and it had that same brown carpet. But it was the walls that made it look strange. There weren't any pictures or posters or anything. It was just
bare. He hadn't really thought about walls when he'd packed, but he made up his mind to cover all that white space one way or another. It was disconcerting.
A glance out the cream blinds found the sun just as bright as ever, so he dug through his newly filled drawers for something more appropriate. There was no
way he'd go back out there in his stifling clothes.
A few moments of hurried changing and a quick glance in the mirror later had him ready to go. He'd switched into his loose blue and white shirt and short
outfit that he'd worn when he went to the gym at home. It was a few years old, but he hadn't grown that much since he'd gotten it, and the colors were nice
and bright, nothing to attract the heat like his dark shirt had done. He reached the door before he remembered his key, and he smacked a hand over his
forehead. There weren't any pockets in his shorts. Luckily the key had a hole in it for a keyring, so he dug through the box he'd left on his desk until he found
a long chain to hang it on. That way he wouldn't lose it, and he could still slip it off quickly enough to unlock the door without having to fumble with a clasp.
It felt strange to lock the door of what was now his apartment, but he forgot about the sensation when he looked around. He abruptly realized he didn't know
where to look. He didn't know anything at all about the layout of the campus. Where did students go to run when the gym wasn't open? And where was the
gym? There had to be one. Feeling completely lost, Eiji looked over the parkinglot, his eyes locking on the green-topped booth he'd gone to earlier. His
eyesight was good enough to make out the light-haired boy still seated behind the table. And this time there wasn't a line. With a quick smile, he darted
across the parkinglot. Stretching his legs felt nice after being cooped up in the car, and the heavy carrying had served as something of a warmup. He was
practically shivering with positive energy by the time he reached the booth, waving a hand at the surprised boy who looked up at him.
"Hi!" Eiji smiled, glancing around to make sure there weren't any students coming to get packages. "I didn't get a chance to introduce myself earlier. I'm Eiji."
Pale blue eyes blinked at him, and the teen gave a slow smile.
"Ah," the boy nodded, "Kawamura Takashi."
"It's nice to meet you," Eiji said. "I take it you've been going to school here for a while?" The teen nodded and he glanced around again. "You didn't happen
to see a dark-haired guy go jogging by here a little bit ago, did you?"
Looking a little uncertain, Kawamura shook his head. "I don't think so, but it was pretty busy earlier. I could have missed him."
"Ah. Well, where do you go to run around here?" Shrugging lightly, Eiji smiled. "Do you mind me asking directions?"
"No, not at all. You can run over there," he said, gesturing to the intersection and the sidewalk that began just where they'd pulled in. "Or anywhere on
campus when there aren't classes. And there's a little track in the PAC building."
Eiji smirked, tilting his head. "Where's that?"
"You go past the buildings over there," Kawamura pointed, "just after Hendrix you'll see the woods and a road that takes you down to the main campus
parkinglots. The PAC is over on the left. But it's not open today." Blue eyes dimmed, and he frowned a little, glancing at the table before giving the boy a
hopeful smile. "But you can jog in the woods, too, if you don't mind that. There's a path beside the road that leads to the parkinglots. It goes from the
apartments to the tennis court. And there's another one on the other side of the road that'll take you down the hill, it has a few branches in a circle you could
run." Eiji's eyes lit up, and he blinked when the boy abruptly leaned on the table.
"Are the tennis courts open?"
Kawamura eased back a little, blinking at the boy's expression. "There's always unlocked, but if you're there after dark security might stop by to make sure
you have a student ID."
"Oh," Eiji sniffed, scowling abruptly. "I won't be able to get one of those for a few days."
"Well, so long as you're with someone who has one, you'll be okay."
"Actually," Eiji shrugged, "I was just planning to practice a little if I don't run into who I'm looking for. I don't really know anyone who plays here. And if security
comes, they'll just make me get off the court, right? That's no problem."
Looking at the boy with a shy smile, Kawamura waved a hand. "If you're still down there later, I was planning to meet a friend for a match or two."
Eiji's eyes lit up again and he blinked in surprised pleasure. "You play tennis?" The orange-haired boy gave a slow nod.
"That's cool," Eiji grinned. "I don't play much since my friends at home weren't really into it, but I wouldn't mind watching your match."
"Well," Kawamura said, looking away, "I'm not really that good."
"As long as you're having fun, that's all that matters." The boy gave him another of those shy smiles, and Eiji grinned. "I'll definitely look for you down there
later." With a wave, he turned and ran back to his apartment. There really weren't as many people unpacking as there had been earlier, but a few looked up
as he went by. He didn't mind, though. It wasn't like he hit anybody. Unlocking his apartment, he smiled to himself. Not only had he made two friends now,
counting the one who'd run away, but one of them played tennis. And the courts were open at night, within walking distance of his apartment. He'd just found
himself a guaranteed passtime. His racket was in its case where he'd stuck it, just under his bed, and he grabbed it up, tucking it under an arm. Locking his
door again, he headed down the sidewalk.
The buildings were two stories, with two small starwells leaving room to cross from one to the other. Eiji followed the sidewalk down past the three apartment
buildings separating him from the road Kawamura had told him about. There were steps at the foot of each stairwell, and he barely kept from jumping them.
He really would rather have been running, but there were still a few students carrying things, and he didn't want to knock anyone over. He was glad he'd
slowed down because the last set of steps was occupied. A dark-haired girl was reclining on the black metal railing that stood on the left side of the steps.
She turned toward him when he reached her, eyes glinting back over the top of dark sunglasses. He smiled as he moved to the side, meaning to pass her,
but she stopped him.
"Are you a tennis player?"
Eiji blinked in surprise, turning back to really look at her. His first thought was that she looked old, at least a senior, and there was something about her slight,
knowing smile that reminded him of his sister. "Sort of," he said, shrugging, "you?"
"Me?" the girl smirked, rising slowly as she shook her head. "Oh, no, I don't care much for the game. My brothers are the tennis players. I was actually waiting
for one of them, but he hasn't shown up yet. You were heading for the courts, weren't you?" The redhaired boy gave a quick nod and she smiled. "Fuji
Smiling quickly, Eiji shook her hand. "Kikumaru Eiji."
"Well, Eiji-kun, do you mind if I join you?"
Dark blue eyes widened for a moment, and Eiji had a flash of nervousness. Was she flirting with him? Wincing, he shook his head at himself and flashed the
girl a smile. "Of course not," he said quickly. "I just got here, so I haven't really been to the courts before." Looking around, he saw the 'road' Kawamura had
described, a cement path leading down a steep hill before opening into a wide set of parkinglots. And to the left of that was a wooded area, a small opening in
the trees marked by little wooden planks laid over a slight impression in the ground. That had to be the path. "But it should be down there, ne?"
"I wouldn't know," Yumiko smiled, shaking her head. "I haven't been to them either. I usually pick up Syusuke at his apartment, or on campus."
"Well," Eiji mused, "I guess it's better to get lost with someone than alone. But I think that's the way. I did get directions."
"That's nice," Yumiko said, following the boy when Eiji turned to cross the grass. "I always heard that guys didn't like to ask directions." Dark eyes flashed
back to her and she waved the comment away. "So you're a freshmen?"
"Just moved in about an hour ago," Eiji nodded. The path was packed dirt between the trees, and he tread the right side, being careful to leave room for her.
"I was planning to go running, and maybe look around, then I heard about the tennis court and figured I could hit a few balls around or something."
He'd already met one person who didn't like to talk, so Eiji glanced back, checking out the girl's expression. She was a little taller than him, definitely seemed
older, but she smiled when he looked at her. She seemed nice enough. "So you don't go to school here?"
"No, but I've been told it's a good school, for being so small."
"Nn." Turning his attention back to the path, Eiji grinned suddenly. The path really wasn't very long, with a vague curve ahead of them, but he could see white
and pale green through the thin brush. "There! This was the right way, the court's right up there." He would have run the rest of the way, but a quick glance
at the girl's nice clothing and dressy shoes told him that wasn't such a good idea. Instead, he took to walking half-backward so he could see her. "So, you live
near here? I always wanted to live in the country, that's why I picked this school."
"Country?" Raising an eyebrow at the boy's bright smile, she let out a small laugh. "I never really considered this the country, but I suppose if you're from a
large city this town would seem small. I have an apartment about an hour away from here, not too close, but close enough."
"I lived in the capital," Eiji sniffed, hopping over a branch as he continued his backward movement. "It's really crowded, and there isn't any place that's as
quiet as this."
The boy waved at the trees around them and she nodded. "I've been there a few times, but the freeways were nasty. I didn't care for the traffic, or the
"There's a lot more polution there," Eiji agreed.
"Oh, yes, but I was thinking more of the plate windows in the gas stations, and the people on the streets."
"Right," Eiji said quickly. "Guess I'm just used to that." With another look toward the path, he turned, his smile flashing back. There were matches going on,
and they were almost close enough to see them now. The path ended abruptly, the line of trees giving way to a grassy field that sloped up to the court. As far
as he could see, there were only two courts, each separated and surrounded by fencing. He started up the grass before he remembered, wincing a bit as he
glanced back to Yumiko. "Is your brother up there?"
"He certainly is," Yumiko drawled, her eyes narrowing as she gave a slow smile. "I was afraid he'd forgotten me, but I'd hoped it wasn't because of this."
"Tennis?" Eiji asked, blinking wide eyes at her oddly worrisome expression. He couldn't tell if she were angry or happy, her eyes and smile told two different
"His obsession," Yumiko nodded. "Well, he'll remember me soon enough."
The girl stepped past him and Eiji let her lead, following a few feet behind. She was headed for the court on the right side, the one facing the parkinglot, and
he looked at the boys playing there. One of them was so small that he didn't look old enough to be in college yet, but the other one was wearing a simple
smile that made him look like he was reading a book, rather than playing a game. The pale brown-haired boy's eyes seemed to be closed completely, but he
noticed when the girl came alongside the fence, his face turning toward her. Eiji caught a bare flash of what looked like dark blue before the boy's smile
widened and he dropped the hand that had been ready to serve the ball.
"You forgot me again," Yumiko called, her hands on her hips.
A tall boy who'd been watching from outside the fence moved to the girl, and he glanced at Eiji for a second before frowning. "Every time they play something
has to interrupt them. At this rate we'll never get to see who's better. And I swear Echizen was going to win this time."
"Saa, we weren't that far in the game," the smiling boy called, stepping toward the fence. He smiled at the girl, ducking his head a little as he moved his racket
partly behind his back. "Gomen."
"I'll forgive you," Yumiko smirked, "I always do."
Dark eyes glanced at Eiji as the taller boy exited the court, and the redhead blinked. "Ne," the tall black-haired boy said, "Yumiko-san, who's your friend?"
Yumiko smiled when Eiji looked at her, and she intoduced the two. "Eiji-kun, this is Momoshiro Takeshi, Momo, this is Kikumaru Eiji."
"Hi," the tall boy said, lifting a hand. "Just call me Momo-chan."
With a smile, the redhead nodded. "Eiji."
"And this," Yumiko said, smiling as her brother neared them, "is Syusuke, who you'll have to get to know another time since we're now about an hour late for
The brown-haired boy gave a guilty smile, and Eiji watched as the two siblings headed for the path he'd come down. He was startled from his view when a
hand landed on his shoulder, making him jump back around.
"So," Momo said, smiling when the boy tilted his head. "You a freshmen?" The redhead nodded, and he started to say something only to be interrupted.
"Momo-senpai," the short boy on the other side of the fence called, his cap hiding his expression. "Are you going to play or hit on the new guy?"
Eiji's eyes widened and he nearly laughed when the tall teen wheeled around to toss his friend a quick glare. "Who's the chibi?"
That brought a quick laugh from Momo and a vague look from the black-haired boy on the court. Patting Eiji's back again, Momo waved a hand at the court.
"Echizen," he smirked, "or Ryoma-kun as the girls like to call him. They're not here today, but he's got himself quite a following from our high school."
Echizen had taken to bouncing a ball on his racket, seemingly ignoring them both, and Eiji raised an eyebrow, lowering his voice. "He's in college?" he asked,
not bothering to hide his disbelief.
"He's a prodigy," Momo snorted, rolling his eyes. "Not like Fuji, but he skipped a grade to graduate when I did. Otherwise he'd still be in highschool."
"Momo-senpai doesn't like it that I graduated higher than him," the boy called, still not looking at either of them.
"Sometimes I think he followed me on purpose," Momo said, lowering his voice and sending a mock glare at the seemingly occupied boy. "Up until I graduated
he was a grade below me, then he showed up here last semester. He's a cocky punk, so don't let that innocent face of his fool you."
Eiji laughed, looking over at the dark-haired boy in question. Golden brown eyes met his, and he smiled when Echizen gave a slight smirk at Momo's back. "I
"So," Momo said, his voice rising again as he waved toward the door to that side of the court. "You came to play, right? We can have a mock match against
"I haven't played much doubles," Eiji said, eyeing Echizen warily. The boy was adjusting his cap with a smile that almost looked evil. He could just imagine how
bad it would be to get beaten his first day by someone who looked like he should still be in grade school. Momo clapped him on the back again, and he gave
the tall boy a strange look before following him to the door. "But I guess that's fine."
"It would be," Echizen commented, catching Eiji's gaze, "but he can't play doubles."
"Ignore him," Momo said sharply, frowning at the boy. "He just learned himself."
"Maybe you two should play," Eiji said, taking in the chemistry between the two boys. They looked like they spent quite a bit of time playing each other, and he
had an idea his presence on the court would just put him in the line of fire.
"No, I've got a better idea," Momo sniffed. "Echizen, you go sit out. We'll play a practice match." The redhead frowned at him, but he waved a hand at the
short boy. "He'd just use it as an excuse to show off."
"What?" Frowning at Momo, Echizen rolled his eyes and tossed the boy the ball. With a sniff of his own, he moved to the fence. "Doesn't want to be
embarrased in front of his new friend," he murmured, his voice just loud enough to be heard by the two on the other side of the net. Momo bristled. Taking a
seat against the fence, Echizen shot a knowing look over at the tall black-haired boy. "Try not to hit him with your dunk smash," he called.
Eiji turned wary eyes on the boy next to him, but decided not to ask when he saw Momo's twitching eyebrow. The teen took his place on the other side of the
net and Eiji took his racket out of its case. He'd gotten the lacings tightened not too long ago, but he hadn't played with it in nearly a month. Still, he had
plenty of energy bottled up. Putting his case down near Echizen, he paused for a moment, blinking at the boy's smirk. "Is he good?"
"Not too bad," Echizen shrugged, "but he uses too much power. His control over the ball needs improvement."
"Is he really liable to hit me with the ball?" Golden brown eyes sparkled at him, and Eiji straightened, a bit of sweat breaking out on his temple when he saw
the boy's smile. "Okay, I won't give him a chance to." Ducking his head, Eiji flexed his arms for a moment before flashing a bright smile over at Momo. "Right!
You serve, I want to chase some balls." The boy blinked at him, raising an eyebrow, but Eiji waved his left hand, grinning as he took his place. "Come on," he
called. "If you hit me, I won't sue. I promise!"
"I'm not going to hit you," Momo muttered, shooting a glare at Echizen's benign smile. The red-haired teen was crouched on the other side of the net, his
knees bent, just a bit. Moving back behind the line, Momo readied his serve.
* * *