It was about 10 am when Tezuka heard the doorbell ring. He was alone at home and just having breakfast. At the door waiting for him stood Oishi.
“Good morning. Am I interrupting anything?”
Oishi smiled. “May I come in?”
“Of course. I just started breakfast, do you want to join me?”
“No, I already had mine.”
“A cup of tea then?”
“That would be nice, thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Oishi sat down on the kitchen table, wondering how everything had changed from when he’d last visited Tezuka at home. There were hardly any pictures left on the walls.
“Everything here look’s like as if you’re leaving within the next days and not in two weeks.”
“Yea, my mother is eager to move. The sooner the better.” Tezuka placed a cup of tea in front of his friend.
“Why would that be?”
“Well, my father has been in Germany for quite some time now. I guess she simply wants to get over with this whole thing.”
“You didn’t come here right after breakfast to inspect the progress of our relocation, did you?”
“No, I didn’t. Eiji wants me to talk to you.”
“Eiji? Seriously, I can’t think of something your boyfriend would want you to talk to me about.”
Unless he’s talking about…
“Well, in that case let me help you. He want’s me to talk to you about a friend of ours.”
…Syusuke. “I don’t know what you’re hinting at.”
“Don’t lie at me, Tezuka. It wouldn’t work, ‘cause you’re an awfully bad lier. You know very well, that I’m talking about Fuji.”
I wonder if it would hel ,to practise lieing to myself in front of an mirror. It sucks how everybody seems to see right through me.
“What did you tell him last night?”
“The same thing I told you guys. That I’d be moving to Germany.”
“That’s it? That’s all?”
“What else was there to say?”
“Don’t fool around. Or are you trying to tell me, that he doesn’t mean anything to you?”
“He’s a good friend.”
“So, he’s nothing but a friend?”
“I don’t know why you want me to repeat everything, but yes, he’s nothing but a friend. A good one.”
Oishi sighed. “Tezuka, that doesn’t sound very convincing.”
“In that case, I could write it down for you. That would make the pronounciation meaningless.”
“That sounds like something Fuji might retort with. – You have to tell him.”
“I can’t – tell him what anyway?”
Damn this, Oishi. You cannot come here to tell me I should confess. And think I would actually do so. I probably should, but what sense does it make to tell him right before I leave for good? I don’t want to leave him with some false hope. I don’t know wether I’ll come back or not, so confessing would make it even harder to leave. For the both of us.
“What are you afraid off?”
Plus, he deserves someone better than me. Someone, who’s not going to let him wait for more then two hours… He’s an angel after all…
“One mustn’t catch an angel.”
…and I won’t. I won’t take this angel’s freedom away.
“I’d prefere changing the topic if you don’t mind.”
“But you –”
“I won’t talk about it.”
“Fine. I have to accept your decission. Even if it means, that you’re going to leave him behind without ever telling him…” He emptied the cup in front of him. “I better get going, Eiji might already be waiting for me. We’re having lunch at his place with the whole family there, and he wants me to help him prepare.”
“I’ll show you out then.”
— — —
Fuji sat in his room staring at a picture standing on his desk. It showed the whole team of Seigaku. They had gone to climb the mountain to see the sunrise together. This was five years ago, and back then, Tezuka was also about to leave to Germany.
The difference was, we all knew you’d come back soon to support us during the nationals. There’re not nationals this time and god knows when I’ll see you again. And do you know, what’s the worst thing about it, Kunimitsu? I regret. I regret that I never even tried to ask you out… I think I was afraid of what you might answer. That you might reject me, might not want to be friends with me any longer as soon as you knew that I felt more than friendship.
Since the day we first met, there were always a lot of girls that wanted to go out with you. But you never realized. For you the only thing in the world was tennis, and by ignoring them all, you broke their hearts.
Just as you broke mine yesterday.
I’ll miss you. I’ll miss talking to you, seeing you,watching you, playing against you, feeling the thrill when you go all out on me. The thrill and excitement. I want to feel it one more time.
Making a decission Fuji stood up, grabbed his racket, a tin of tennis balls and put everything in his bag. He changed to his sport clothes and throwing only a general “I’m out. Bye.” into the house, he left before anybody could say something against it.
— — —
Tezuka was just putting his dishes into the dishwasher, when the doorbell rang again.
The day just begann and it’s already getting on my nerves. Is there no way one could just have a quite start, with a taking a shower, having a nice breakfast and reading the newspaper afterwards?
Opening the door he stared surprised at a smiling Fuji.
“Do you have any plans for today?”
“None so far.”
“Great. Join me playing a bit of tennis?”
“You didn’t play me yesterday night, so I figured you might like to play now. At least the light’s much better, you know?”
Tezuka smiled. You’re trying to pull my leg? Of course the light’s much better; it’s daytime after all.
“Give me a second to change, will you?”
“No problem. Take your time. I’ll wait.”
It only took some minutes untill Tezuka was at Fuji’s side again. Together they started searching for a free court, where they could play singles without catching too much attention.
“Let’s play some balls, before we get started.”
“You know that I don’t like anybody playing without warming up propperly.”
“That’s the captain speaking. You want me to run laps?”
There it was again. One of the reason’s why he loved this guy so much. He was glibly and always had something to retort with, whatever Tezuka said. On the other hand he would never undermine his authority in front of their teammates.
“I’ll let you go without running, this time. Just make sure you’re fully wamred up, before we start.”
“Yes, sir. By the way, Tezuka.”
“I’m almost 20, remember?”
The match took much longer than Fuji had expected it to do. Neither of them was giving in. Their strength had grown even more since the nationals and Fuji felt his blood rush through his veins. There was no game that was taken without leading to deuce. Finally the match ended with a game count of 7:5. Tezuka had won again.
Shaking hands Fuji complaint. “I wonder if I’ll ever beat you.”
“If you try hard enough…”
“In whatever way I improve. You always have something to counterattack with.”
“Just like you’ll always have the last word whenever we talk.”
“That’s something completely different.”
“Plus, you’re not the slightest bit better, are you?”
At that Fuji didn’t know what to do, but laugh and he could swear that he just saw a smile on the stoic captain’s face. They sat down on the bench together, wiping the sweat out of their faces with a towel and enjoying the feeling of cold water running down their throat.
“For everything. – For the past years. From the day we first met at junior high to the match we just had.”
“There’s no need to thank me for that.”
“Yes, there is!”
Tezuka looked once again into Fuji’s blue eyes. It was quite rare that he let others get a glimpse at them. That meant he was serious after all. Unsure of what was to come, Tezuka waited for Fuji to go on.
“You were always one of those to take me serious, so please don’t stop all of a sudden. ~ Your friendship meant a lot to me and it still does.”
“Remember what you always told us before a match? Don’t hold back. So that there’d be no regrets.”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“But I did hold back.”
“We already talked about it and you got much better nevertheless.”
“I’m not talking about tennis, Tezuka. – Now that I know you’re going to leave, I do regret. – I regret that I never had the courage to really face you.”
Is he about to tell me, what I think he is? There’s no way.
“I love you.”
It hurt. He had longed to hear those words from him. He had never admitted it, but he did now. Tezuka had always wanted to hear these three words from Fuji and even more. He had wanted to say them himself, too. But now…
It is too late, Syusuke. There’s no way I’m going to leave giving you any hope that I myself don’t have.
Fuji no longer looked at him. His gaze was fixed at the court in front of them. Tezuka saw his eyes shimmering with uncried tears. He couldn’t stand it. He had to leave if he didn’t want to start crying himself. So he just stood up, grabbed his bag and left. Left Fuji behind.
Was it wrong to tell him after all? It felt right. I thought I’d feel better afterwards, but I feel miserable. Why are you leaving me like this, Kunimtsu? Tezuka? Can’t you see that it hurts? Hurts more than anything I felt so far.
Like in trance Fuji took his belongings and walked all his way home, not taking the bus and avoiding the bigger streets. Back home he went to his room and closed the door. He had been so excited about playing against Tezuka, but now only the physical exhaustion reminded him of the match.
He could still hear Tezuka’s voice inside is head.
— — —
“Syusuke? Are you back? We already had lunch, do you want me to – Syusuke?”
When Yumiko entered the room, she found her younger brother laying at his bed crying almost soundlessly into his pillow.
“Syusuke, are you alright?”
Getting no answer Yumiko sat down next to him on the bed. In silence she started stroking her brothers back, trying to comfort him. It took Fuji some minutes to surpress the tears. Still sobbing he sat up, wiping away the remaining tears.
“It’s all over.” He sobbed again. “I – I lost him.”
Yumiko didn’t answer, but took him into her arms instead. Letting him calm down. Letting him talk.
“I – I told him, you know? … Told him I loved him.”
New tears started flowing down his face.
“Shh. … Shhh. … It’ll be alright.”
“There’s no way.”
“Everything is possible, Syusuke.”
“But he’s going to leave.”
“Who’s going to leave?”
Yumiko frowned. She had hardly realized her brother had been talking about a boy. And this name…
So that was the one making her brother cry. She remembered the captain of her brother’s team, but she never had a chance to get to know him any closer.
But he has to be a special one, this Tezuka-kun. I cannot even remember the last time I’ve seen Syusuke like this…
“Don’t give up.”