Date: 20 April, 1997 (?)
Rating/Warnings: They're ten. What do you think? XD;
Summary: It's Bunta's tenth birthday, and Seiichi's come over with his mother to give Bunta both a present and also the greatest gift of all: the gift of tennis.
If there was one thing that never ceased to amaze Seiichi, it was that his friend Bunta was nearly a full year older than him. It was especially impressive since the older boy had always been the one to do dumb things like eat markers in kindergarten (even Seiichi knew, back then, that just because something smelled good, it didn't necessarily taste good) and jump off the swings to see how far he could land (that hadn't ended well at all). In a lot of ways, Seiichi felt like the older one.
But it was Bunta's tenth birthday, and that meant that the almost two months that they'd both been nine were over. Ten was important, Seiichi decided -- it was two numbers. Bunta was closer to grown up, now (even if he did still eat strange things sometimes). Seiichi's mother had agreed to let him go over to Bunta's house for the afternoon, on the condition that she drove him (April was still kind of chilly, and she didn't want him catching a cold) and that they bring the birthday boy a gift. Seiichi was more than okay with that -- he had picked out the perfect card and folded a 1000 yen note inside -- because grown-ups didn't give each other toys or cookies for their birthdays; Seiichi had seen his parents send their friends cheques, and he didn't have any cheques, but a bill was still money, so it would be very grown up. He addressed the envelope "to Marui-kun", because ten was too old to still be called by your given name.
He rang the bell himself (it was his friend's house, after all) and clutched the envelope between his fingers and wished his mother hadn't made him wear the stupid scarf. It was itchy.
Discussed in great length, ten had somehow become a very important age to Bunta - it occured to he and Seiichi that at ten, his age would be two digits long, which was the length his age would continue to be for the rest of his life unless he somehow managed to live to see 100 or older. Therefore, ten was almost a teenager, which was almost an adult, which in turn meant that Bunta was practically an adult, now, and it was time he started acting like a man. (Granted, there was some contention as to how well he had been managing acting like a boy - becoming even girlier in Seiichi's presence - so how he was going to pull off man was a mystery.)
What were manly things to do? For one, he couldn't call his best (if not only) friend Seii-chan, anymore. Not only did it suggest that Seiichi was female (Seiichi was practically ten, as he was nine, there for practically a teenager which was practically an adult, so very nearly a man, himself), it simply lacked the testosterone a manly nickname would have. Men also certainly did not go around calling one another by their first names - when he heard his father speaking with the people he worked with or neighbors or any other man they were not related to, he always called them by their family name. Seiichi would be "Yukimura" from then on, because a man certainly would not call any man but his own brother by his first name.
Which brought Bunta to the matter of his own brothers - Naota was going to turn six in July; he was going to be starting kindergarten in just a couple weeks, which meant he would be subject to the same ridicule as Bunta had been - to be a man, Bunta would stick up for his brother's pride and protect Naota at school - and he certainly would not call him "Nao" in front of the other kids - that was in no way manly.
When the doorbell rang, Bunta had to remind himself to not jump up and run to the door - that was what a child or a girl would do - as he was a man, he had to walk calmly to the door, calling out to his parents that he would get it. Naota was too young to ever answer the door, and Teppei was just a baby. Calmly, he went to the door, turning the knob to greet his closest (and really only) friend from school with a bright grin - well, a bright grin that he forced into a more demure smile. "Sei - er - Yukimura. Thanks for coming."
"You're welcome," Seiichi -- Yukimura, now -- said, and extended the hand with the envelope. "This is for you. Happy birthday."
But then his mother came up the path behind him. She hadn't said anything about coming into the house behind him! Wasn't she supposed to just ... drive off and go back home and do something motherly? What did mothers do all day, anyway?
Not that Seiichi was really wondering that. Because whatever they did, they certainly didn't come over to their sons' houses while they were still there. It was like an invasion or something! They couldn't possibly get anything done with a mother there. And she would probably make Seiichi wear that stupid scarf! Inside! In an act of retaliation, he pulled off the scarf before going into the Marui household. He'd refuse to put it back on, and that would show her just how grown up he was now.
And then Seiichi's mother did one of the most appalling things she could've done: she gave Bunta a plastic tub full of homemade cookies. "Happy birthday, Bunta," she said. "Would you mind letting your mother know that I'm here? I want to talk to her about some things."
Bunta accepted the card as graciously as he could - after all, a man would be gracious but silent, giving merely a nod to the words Seiichi had spoken. He could be the strong silent type; his mother sometimes talked about how her husband (Bunta's father) was the strong, silent type. Though, if that was what the strong, silent type was like, Bunta would hate to see the strong, loud type - his father always spoke loudly, as though his words had to reach every corner of the room - he commanded respect, of course, but it was hardly "silent." Perhaps it was because he did not talk often - only when a bunch of men gathered around in the house drinking foul-smelling alcohol and talking about business. Always business. Business was not very quiet.
With a faint blush, Bunta accepted the cookies - it had always been a bit embarrassing that Seiichi's mother coddled Bunta as though he were her own son. Certainly now, when he was a man. Men did not recieve cookies on their birthday. Not real men. Not the strong silent type that were mysteriously loud when it came to Business. "Thank you, Yukimura-san," he said on reflex, giving a small bow, and motioning to welcome mother and son inside. "I'll go tell Mom you're here." He left his guests at the door to toe their shoes, going in search of his mother.
The lady of the house, not to mention the only female in the house, was situated on the floor in the living room bouncing her youngest son on her knees while they watched some sort of video together - that video had once been Bunta's, and then it was Naota's after him, but it was something of the past, now - Bunta was a man and that video was for babies. He would not be watching such a video again unless it was with Teppei or with his own children in some far-off future.
"Hey Mom," the eldest Marui sibling called out, "Yukimura-san and Sei - er... the Yukimuras are here." He ignored the look his mother gave him as though he had something on his face. "Yukimura-san said she had something to talk to you about."
"Oh, well, send her in, dear."
Dear. Dear was the sort of thing a mother called her son, of course, but certainly not her son who was practically a man. Dear was not manly. Dear conjured up images of a feel-good sitcom family and their perfect mother sweetly calling out to her perfect son. Of course, Bunta's father often encouraged him to be the perfect son - or what he thought was the perfect son. Somehow, Bunta was never right. He wasn't right about the right things, anyway. Good at all the wrong things - but very, very good at those wrong things. He did just fine at what his father expected of him, too, but his father seemed to think Bunta should be groomed into the sort of man who sat around and talked Business.
Now that Bunta was a man (practically), he did not think so.
Bunta quickly relayed the message to Seiichi's mother before inviting his younger friend to come sit out on the porch with him - it was a nice day (and he could tell Seiichi wanted the chance to rebel and not wear that damn silly-looking scarf outside), and now that they were men, certainly they did not go up to his room and play nintendo or have pillow fights or play with action figures or pretend to be action heroes or mecha pilots or whathaveyou. No, they plopped down on the porch and talked. Just not about Business.
Bunta's fingers fiddled with the envelope - men also did not open a present while the giver was there (a confusing tradition among adults) - as he looked out at the street. The neighborhood was just rural enough that cars rarely passed down the street that did not belong to someone who lived on that street, or someone looking to take a back route and avoid city traffic. So, they had relative quiet for their talk - whatever their talk was supposed to be about. "Is your mom worried you're gonna get sick?" Bunta asked, immediately kicking himself for choosing such a topic. Was that really something an adult would ask?
"I guess so," Seiichi said with a shrug. "I mean, yes." Yes, she undoubtedly was, because there was no other explanation for the scarf (unless she thought it was cute, but Seiichi wasn't prepared to take that as an acceptable excuse). "She's the one who made you the cookies, too," he added. Best to leave out the fact that he'd helped, but then, he was still nine. It was okay to help your mother bake cookies if you were nine, Seiichi supposed, but it was a habit that would have to go by next year.
Maybe at ten he could bake them all by himself. He knew plenty of men who cooked. They were on TV. Certainly they didn't have any problems with their adulthood.
The front steps were warm when Seiichi sat on them, and he was quick to toss the stupid scarf behind him. He half wanted to suggest that they go back inside, but what would they do? Men didn't play.
Not with toys, anyway. Toys were for kids. Sports, on the other hand ... "Do you want to go to the park?"
The birthday boy could not help but perk at that suggestion - yes, he would very much like to go to the park. When he was allowed to be, Bunta had always been very active - mostly, he had to contain it to when his father was not around to try to keep him doing boring things like playing the piano. But, just like every other kid their age, he loved to go play on the jungle gym and rent out boats for the lake and... well... the jungle gym would have to be a thing of the past. They could play a game, though - he was good at volleyball; maybe they could set up a net.
"Yeah!" Bunta agreed enthusiastically, getting to his feet and giving a million-watt grin that, once more, he attempted (more or less in vain) to dim. "Did you have something in mind?"
"Um..." Seiichi began. He knew that he liked tennis (he had been playing since he was a little kid, after all), and he knew that Bunta wouldn't mind watching, but he wasn't sure if Bunta would want to play a game with him. They'd need racquets for that, and at least one ball -- maybe more if they lost one in the bushes or a dog ran off with it or something. That had happened before, and Seiichi didn't want to risk it when he actually had a friend with him. Men always had backup plans.
But Seiichi really liked tennis, and he couldn't play alone. Unless he played against the wall. But that wasn't fun at all. "Do you think your family has any tennis racquets or anything in the garage? There's a court at the park we could play on...."
Blinking, Bunta tilted his head to the side and confirmed, "Yeah, I know we have a couple racquets - Mom and Dad used to play doubles together at the rec center in some sort of coed league. Mom's racquet's really light - Dad's is heavier, but you might be able to play with it, since you're so good at tennis." The older boy gave a little adoring smile - the sort that would normally be followed directly by pressing their shoulders together or some similar physical display of affection... but men did not just touch each other. No. No, there would be none of that.
"Let me go get them - I think we have some tennis balls, too." With that, Bunta was on his feet, going over to the garage and opening the door to investigate what had been stored away.
The garage held an assorted mishmash of old sporting equipment and boxes in addition to the car that belonged there. Seiichi hung back while Bunta squeezed along the wall to get to one of the boxes. Helping would've been a good idea, but he didn't want to just start going through someone else's stuff without permission, even if it was just Bunta's. Well, his family's, but he knew them just as well.
He debated running inside to tell their mothers where they would be for the next hour or so, but decided against it. Men didn't need to report back to their mothers.
Bunta's father's racquet was a little heavy, and much bigger than the one that Seiichi was used to (he still had a kids' racquet, and would probably have to buy an adult-sized one soon; he was getting much taller, after all). "This'll work," he said, grinning. "You find the balls yet?"
Squeezing through the gaps between the car and its nest of yardsale fodder, Bunta flopped over the box previously containing the racquets, his feet off the ground to help him hold his balance, and reached for a box that would have been out of his reach (by clutter alone) had he tried to step around the boxes. "There should be some in here," he murmured, responding to the question, but speaking more or less to himself as he battled against the cardboard. His father had once told him that cardboard boxes were a woman's job - much like opening and closing the blinds, it was something that required a "woman's touch," for a man would try to complete the task by asserting strength while a woman would use finesse.
How that really applied to cardboard boxes, Bunta would never know, but struggling with one while balancing on his stomach was not exactly his idea of a grand old time. When his fingers closed around a plastic container with three tennis balls, he wiggled back to his feet, holding them up triumphantly and asking, "Is that everything we need?"
"Nope!" Seiichi declared. He was getting excited just thinking about getting to play with a friend -- it would be different than playing at the sports centre that he went to after school, because he wouldn't have to concentrate on getting things just right all the time; he could just play, and it would be fun. Even if Bunta wasn't all that great -- after all, he would just be starting out -- he could teach him, and that might even be more fun. "Come on," he said, and motioned for Bunta to follow him.
Seiichi had almost forgotten entirely about being a man now -- he couldn't stop grinning almost the whole way to the park. Happily, there didn't seem to be anyone on the tennis courts, which were behind their own tall, green fences, hidden from the playground, probably so that no stray balls would hit anyone in the head. There was a sign posted on the fence stating the court rules. Proper footwear: check; both he and Bunta were wearing sneakers. Time limit of one hour: check; an hour was enough time to play a zillion games, and they wouldn't be staying for that long. Children must be accompanied by an adult ...
... well, they were nearly adults. Close enough! Besides, it wasn't like anyone else was around.
"Stand over there," Seiichi said, indicating the service area on one side of the court. "I've got to serve it in the box, there. And these are the boundary lines for the singles court -- which we'll be using -- these are for doubles, so don't worry about those. Um ..." He wasn't sure what else he had to say to explain it to him; Bunta had been to some of his own games so he must know the most general idea of how tennis worked. "Anything you need to know?"
Bunta took in the explanation from his friend, nodding as though he understood with perfect clarity, while in truth Seiichi seemed to have taken to speaking Greek. Singles court. Doubles court. Sure. Men did not ask for directions - and Bunta was still bound and determined to be affirmed in his adulthood and masculinity. So, he shook his head, and took his position, regardless of the fact that he did not even know how to hold the racquet properly, or when to hit the ball... or, really, anything at all about tennis. Well. Better to make an ass of himself than to admit he did not know what he was doing - that was the manly thing to do.
"Go right ahead," he said, taking position on his side of the court, in the box Seiichi had indicated. With any luck, he might just be able to figure this tennis thing out. Bunta was, though it sometimes appeared otherwise when it came to the things that he would eat, a genius. If he could not figure it out, well, no one could.
Seiichi thought it would be a good idea to go easy on Bunta, since he was pretty sure that he hadn't really played before. Unfortunately, he didn't really know how to 'go easy on' someone short of purposely missing shots, and that didn't really work when serving. He supposed he could aim it a little closer to the middle of the service area, though, where Bunta was standing, so he did. And watched.
One of the troubles with not really knowing a sport was not really knowing what the rules were regarding how many bounces the ball was allowed. It seemed, in Bunta's mind, that he remembered at least one bounce... but, he doubted it was more than one. Maybe in doubles there was more than one bounce allowed? It probably worked like ping-pong. Or maybe no bounce was allowed at all, but that seemed too hard, and from watching Seiichi, Bunta remembered tennis not being that face-paced. One bounce. But, by the time he had worked all this out, Bunta was on top of the ball, anticipating not being allowed a bounce, catching the ball early on the rise, and hitting it, to his dismay, right into the net.
...Where it balanced at the very top, rolling along the edge of the net before dropping directly down, falling harmlessly motionless near the base of the net. Both boys stared at it for a moment before Bunta put his free hand to the back of his head, sighing, and saying, "I guess that's your point, right? It's against the rules to hit the net, isn't it." Never mind that he was accidentally bending the laws of physics... or that a small part of him was curiously working through the shot, trying to remember what he had done - if he could duplicate that hit.
If Seiichi was the sort of kid to use expletives of awe, then would be the time that he would use them. Instead, he just blinked and stared at the ball and then back up at his friend. That should've been ... impossible. It balanced on the net.
"No, it can hit the -- well," Seiichi amended, as he approached the net and picked up the ball. He motioned for Bunta to come closer so he wouldn't have to shout. "You have to let it bounce once on a serve, so that's why it's my point, but if that hadn't been a serve then it would've been yours, since it landed over here." The ball seemed to be free of defects; so did the net, so that meant the freak move had to be entirely Bunta's fault. "How did you do that?"
Blinking, Bunta shrugged and moved his racquet to his left hand - no, it was not more comfortable in that hand, but he had to check just in case - before shifting it back to the right. "It was an accident - I don't think I could do that again." But he did - he knew he could replicate the seemingly impossible shot. He had already worked though his stance, when he hit the ball relative to height, the angle of his wrist, the angle of the racquet... he could do it again... just maybe not on the first try.
"Alright ..." Seiichi said slowly. "I'm going to serve again. Oh, and --" He stepped back to the net, holding his racquet out to show Bunta the proper grip. "Hold it like this. That'll be easier for you now. Not too close to the strings, you won't be able to control it that way." He racked his brain for anything else he needed to explain. It was hard when all the rules seemed more like second nature to him by now -- he'd been playing for almost half his life, after all!
Coming up with nothing, he went back to the baseline, and launched another serve.
This time, Bunta was patient - he waited for the ball to bounce, returning it with some difficulty (he still was not sure he understood the concept, and Seiichi's serve was surprisingly strong), watching Seiichi once more effortlessly return the ball. He was good. Bunta could never hope to be that good, but he could get under the ball, swiping it out of the air before it even bounced... turn of the wrist, keep the elbow straight...
The ball bounced against the net, balancing and rolling across the top before once more dropping just inside Seiichi's side of the court, motionless.
A smirk pulled at Bunta's lips - he did not understand this tennis business, but he sure enjoyed doing that. Maybe if he worked at it, he could be like a Harlem Globetrotter of tennis, being nothing but fancy moves - cool moves. Bunta had never been good at anything even resembling cool in his whole life. This was his chance...
"So, how 'bout it." Bunta stood straight, resting his racquet against his shoulders, eyes narrowing to Seiichi. "Aren't I a tensai?"
"That was cool!" Seiichi exclaimed, eyes wide. "You should come to club with me sometime, I bet you'd be really good if you can do that twice. Can you do it again? What else can you do? I bet you can do some other cool stuff like that. I mean, as long as you can keep playing for real, too." And he forced himself to regain something akin to composure, but it was hard -- tennis made him excited anyway; the thought of Bunta coming with him just compounded that excitement.
Turning red, Bunta could only twist the racquet between his fingers, as though wringing a towel out, surprised by Seiichi's reaction. Seiichi had never said anything Bunta did was cool before - and certainly had not acting quite so excited... perhaps it was because it was tennis, and tennis was a Seiichi thing... but it could be a Bunta and Seiichi thing. Everything else about Bunta was shared with Seiichi, so why not this?
"I could do it again," confirmed Bunta, the blush fading and becoming a smile. "I donno what else, but..." Join the club? Would that not require...some actual tennis ability? The Rikkai tennis club, even in the younger divisions, was very competitive. "Well... I'll think about it."
"Just to come visit," Seiichi clarified. "Just to check it out. It's really fun, you'll like it." He smiled again, and tossed the ball over the net to Bunta. "Here, try serving."
Serving wasn't as easy as it looked. Seiichi could make it look effortless now, but he remembered when even he had difficulty with it. If Bunta really was the genius that he claimed to be, then this shouldn't be much of a problem for him. And if not, well ... they'd work on it. Either way, they had plenty to work on -- rules and stance and grip and aim and all kinds of things that you had to keep in mind while playing tennis. But first Seiichi had to see what he was working with.
Frowing a bit at the ball, Bunta tried to remember what it looked like when Seiichi served - he could serve a volleyball, so maybe if he relied on that same basic principle...
As he lined up at the baseline, Bunta had to remember one thing - he was much stronger than he thought he was. All his life, Bunta had been quick and strong - two qualities no one ever expected out of someone as... compact as himself. He had to keep this in mind, especially when serving a volleyball, so he did not just serve it straight out of bounds... and a tennis ball was much lighter than a volleyball.
With a "pong" sound, the racquet collided with the ball, the serve landing just within the baseline, inbounds by a handful of centimeters.
... and that's all we've got. XD;