They ran into each other, quite literally, and although they'd seen each other before, they hadn't been formally introduced. "Sorry," he said, with a grimace, hauling himself to his feet and offering her a hand up. "Wasn't watching where I was going."
She ignored the offered hand, rolling to her feet with easy grace. "Obviously not," she said, inspecting her palms for scrapes. Finding none, she gave him a quick, amused smile. "Where were you hurrying to so fast, that you couldn't watch out for cute girls, Yuuta-kun?"
He blinked at this forwardness. "Um," he said, which sounded so intelligent. "Nowhere important."
Her laugh was quicksilver. "I'd hate to see you rushing somewhere that matters."
"Yeah." Yuuta hesitated. "You're Tachibana's sister, right?"
Something sparked in her eyes; he'd seen that look before, in the mirror. "My name is Ann," she said, voice tart.
"Right. Er. Sorry about running you over, Tachibana-chan."
"Just Ann-chan is fine," she said, airily, and shouldered her tennis bag. "And don't worry about it, Yuuta-kun. You can just buy me an ice cream to make up for it."
He stared. "Uh--"
She laughed again. "But not today; my family will be expecting me for dinner." She produced a cell phone and flipped it open. "What's your number, Yuuta-kun?" Too dazed to do otherwise, he recited his number. She programmed it into her phone, which had a tennis racquet charm dangling from it. Ann grinned at him and flipped the phone closed. "I'll call you and we can set up a time." Her eyes were twinkling. "If that's all right with you?"
Now, wait just a second, his brain said, finally managing to kick in. It wasn't fair for her to be this much in charge of the situation. Yuuta shrugged. "That's fine, I guess, but why don't we settle it now? You free Sunday? We can go then."
"Perfect," she said. "Meet you here, around two?"
"Yeah, that's good." He nodded, pleased by the notion. After ice cream, he would be able to come back and scare up a game of street tennis. This promised to work out nicely.
Then Ann unsettled him again by trilling, "It's a date!" and heading off with a little wave thrown over her shoulder.
Yuuta stared after her, utterly confused.
He talked himself in and out of canceling the "date" a half-dozen times before Sunday came, and only ended up going because there was a good chance of there being tennis after. Pursuant to that, he told himself that he would not dress up, not even a little bit, and showed up just before two in his ordinary street clothes. Ann was waiting, and he couldn't tell whether she was dressed up or not--hell if he knew what went through a girl's head, or the subtleties of a girl's wardrobe. She looked nice, but she had her tennis bag, so--probably not a date. That was a relief.
"Yuuta-kun!" She waved. "You're thinking the same way I am, ice cream and then tennis."
"Uh, yeah, I guess." He shrugged. "You got a particular place in mind, or--"
"Ann-chan?" Fudoumine's Kamio interrupted them, glaring daggers at Yuuta. "This guy bothering you?"
Whoa, overprotective much? Yuuta blinked at him, as Ann rolled her eyes. "Kamio-kun," she sighed, patting his shoulder. "I'm fine."
"Hmph." Kamio didn't seem reassured in the least. "Hey, it's past two. Your date didn't show, huh?"
Yuuta gulped. Oh, crap.
Ann grinned. "No, he was right on time. Coming, Yuuta-kun?" She linked her arm in his and pulled him off while Kamio gaped. Once they were out of earshot, she giggled. "Poor Kamio-kun. I'm too mean to him."
Yuuta scowled. So, still not a date, just winding Kamio up. Good, although... "Hey, you know, you can leave me the hell out of Fudoumine's head games." He shook her hand off his arm.
Ann gave him a sidelong look. "No problem." Her tone was comfortable and completely unrepentant. "I saw an opportunity and took it. Next time I'll ask."
"Good." Yuuta shoved his hands in his pocket, got back to the question he'd been ready to ask before Kamio interrupted. "So, you got a place in mind for this ice cream thing, or not?"
"Mm. Yeah. It's nothing fancy, just that place a couple blocks over. You know it?"
"Nope." He shrugged. "Any good?" And how expensive? His allowance wasn't due for another week, and he had to think about the state of his wallet.
"Not bad," Ann said, grinning, and steered them in the direction of the ice cream parlor. "I like it, anyway."
"Sounds good." He fell silent, because it had just occurred to him that he barely knew Ann, and here they were, going for ice cream and making Kamio crazy. And that was a thought worth pursuing. "So, mind telling me why you're playing head games with Kamio, anyway?" If there was one thing Yuuta really didn't like, it was fucking around with other people's heads. Simple and straightforward, that was the way to be.
"I'm trying to calm him down," Ann said, airy. "He's too wound up."
Yuuta couldn't quite follow that logic, and promptly decided to file this under the Girls Are Weird column. "So, um, making him think you and I are dating is going to calm him down?" he asked, cautious.
"In the long run." Ann's smile was secretive. "I'm getting him used to the idea."
That he and Ann were dating, or that Ann was dating boys that weren't Kamio? Yuuta thought about that for a second, and shoved that into the I Don't Want To Know column. "Shouldn't he just ask you out himself?" he asked, instead.
Ann giggled as they waited for a traffic light. "Been there, done that. It was a disaster."
"Huh." The light changed and they crossed the street. "He's not going to come after me, is he?"
"Only on the tennis court." Ann gave him a little shrug. "Which will be interesting, if St. Rudolph and Fudoumine come up against each other in the tournament."
"Oh, yeah, I guess it will be." Yuuta thought it over. Maybe it was hubris, but he was pretty sure St. Rudolph was going to advance much further in the playoffs, this year. "He captain this year?"
"Of course." Ann's smile was fierce. "Doing a fine job of it, too."
"Cool." They fetched up at a small shop, with candy-striped awnings and tables with umbrellas out front. Yuuta remembered his manners just in time, and held the door for Ann. "After you."
"Thanks." Ann sailed in and he followed, eyeing the prices on the board. Well, they weren't too bad, at least... strawberry! Excellent, he knew what he was getting. "What are you having?"
"Chocolate almond and cherry," she said, barely bothering to look. "In a cup, please."
"Um, sure." He went to the counter and ordered; by the time he'd paid and accepted his cone and her cup of ice cream, she'd headed back outside and claimed one of the tables. Yuuta sighed, resigned, and went to join her. Even if it was spring, it was still early spring, and too chilly for ice cream and just sitting around. Ah, well. He surrendered her ice cream, and plunked himself down.
Ann immediately began mixing her two scoops of ice cream together. She grinned at his stare. "It's good, okay?"
"If you say so," he muttered. "So, we even for that whole knocking you over thing?" He licked at his ice cream.
"Yeah." She chuckled. "I didn't really think you'd go for buying me ice cream, to be honest."
"I can pay my debts." He averted his eyes as she took a huge bite of melty brown-pink ice cream. Ugh.
"Wasn't any debt. Was mostly extortion." She grinned at his discomfiture. "Wanna taste?"
"No thanks. I'll stick with what I've got." He nodded at her tennis bag instead, and changed the subject. "I didn't think that many girls hung out at the street courts."
"They don't," she said, crisply.
"Yeah? Who do you play with, then?" Yuuta asked, curious. He didn't pay much attention to the other games, usually. Maybe he should have.
Ann set her cup of ice cream down, and her voice had gone flat and chilly. "You think I'm not good enough to play the boys?"
Whoa, nice move, Yuuta. "No! I mean, uh--Shit. Sorry." He waved his free hand. "Didn't mean it like that."
"How did you mean it?" Her voice was still dangerous.
He was so not in control of this situation. "Um." He ducked his head. "Okay. I'm not used to girls playing guys. Sorry."
"Obviously you aren't. But I bet I can kick your skinny ass," she said, still sounding very annoyed.
"No way," he said, flatly. It didn't matter how good she was--there was no way Fuji Yuuta was ever going to lose to a girl.
"Yeah?" Her smile was thin. "Wanna bet?"
He decided, later, that he shouldn't have forgotten that her family name was Tachibana, and consulted the address again as he looked at the number on the house. No, he had the right place. Yuuta sighed, and knocked.
Tachibana Kippei himself answered, and looked puzzled to see him. "Can I help you?"
"Um." Yuuta swallowed, and wondered if Tachibana-san knew how intimidating he looked. Probably he did. "I'm here to, uh, see your sister?" Crap, he had a feeling that that was not going to go over so well.
Tachibana-san's eyes narrowed under his mane of bleached hair. "You are?"
"Niisan!" Ann came bounding down the stairs behind Tachibana-san. "You're not harassing Yuuta-kun, are you?"
"Not yet," he said.
"Make sure you keep it that way," she told him, slipping into her shoes. "Glad to see that you didn't wimp out, Yuuta-kun."
Yuuta sighed. "I lost that bet, fair and square." And publicly.
"Ah, so honorable. See, Niisan? Nothing to worry about." Ann brushed past her brother.
"Hmph." Tachibana-san's eyes said otherwise, and Yuuta gulped.
"Let's go," Ann chirped, and dragged Yuuta off for his day of indentured servitude.
His phone jingled--Ann again. She'd taken to calling him, a couple of weeks ago, and it was a little weird, but the conversations they had were interesting. Her suggestions were usually pretty good, too. His team was still licking their wounds after the match he'd set up with Ann's own team--well, they'd been getting cocky. It had been good for them. "Hey, Ann-chan," he said, and Aniki looked at him with an odd expression. "Yeah, actually, I am kind of busy, sorry." Aniki's expression turned even weirder. "Yeah, sure, sounds good. No, the four o'clock show is fine. See you then." He disconnected and dropped his phone back in his bag.
"I didn't know you had a girlfriend," Aniki said, inflection turning delicate on the word 'girlfriend'.
"I don't," Yuuta snorted. "That was just Ann-chan."
"Oh, I see. Just Ann-chan." There were unspoken volumes--no, entire unspoken libraries--in Aniki's voice.
"Um, yeah. Hey, you going to eat that?" Yuuta asked, pointing at the slice of cake that Aniki hadn't touched.
Aniki pushed the plate across the table, without saying anything else, and Yuuta tore into it, steadfastly ignoring the expression his face. What the hell did Aniki know, anyway? It was Ann, for crying out loud!
"Hey." Ann dropped onto the bench next to him.
"Hey," he said back, not looking up.
"You guys did good." Her hand settled on his shoulder, gentle.
"Not good enough." The concrete between his sneakers is fascinating. "Fudoumine was better."
"They were," she agreed, and Yuuta spared a thought to be glad that she, at least, was not trying to console him. "But you guys were good."
Yuuta exhaled. "Huh."
"Yeah." She patted his shoulder. "And, for what it's worth, you made them sweat for it."
"Not enough," he snorted, finally risking a glance sideways at her.
Ann chuckled. "They're going all the way this year," she murmured. "Just you wait and see."
"They'd better," he muttered. "Or I'll go down there and kick their asses myself."
She laughed, and squeezed his shoulder, hand warm. "I'll pass that along to Kamio-kun."
He snorted again. "What, he doesn't hate me enough already?"
"Naw, not really." Her smile was wicked. "Besides, it won't do for him to get complacent."
"Yeah, I guess not. Nationals are still a ways off." Yuuta sighed, and looked up at the sky. "Guess I'm done with tennis club, for now."
"Stupid tradition," Ann muttered. "They'll have to pry my club out of my cold, dead hands."
Yuuta laughed, finally. "If I took that kind of attitude, I think Morita would arrange it. He's ready to take over."
"Hmm." Ann looked at him, with a sly smile. "Let him have it. I like you better breathing."
"I'm kind of attached to this whole living thing myself," he agreed. He paused, and studied the concrete again. "Hey. Thanks."
She gave his shoulder a final pat. "No problem."
In the end, when her team washed out in the second round of Nationals, they didn't quite have to pry the club out of her hands, but it was a close thing.
Yuuta found himself calling Ann a lot, because she'd done the same thing after Prefecturals, even while she'd been running around, training like a woman possessed and haranguing her team to do the same, and he'd appreciated the distraction. It was only fair to return the favor.
They ended up going to see a lot of movies, and when the time was right, they went back to the street courts to play tennis, and started discussing which high schools to apply for (based not so much on academic merit as the strength of their tennis teams, of course).
She didn't actually say thanks for any of it, but when she smiled at him over an animated discussion of Yamabuki's teams, Yuuta decided that she didn't have to--he already knew.
"So," Takagi said, "you gonna ask whatsername, Ann, to the dance?"
"Say what?" Yuuta sputtered.
"Ann. You know, that girl from Fudoumine. The one you're dating. You gonna ask her, or what?" Takagi's face beamed with simple curiosity.
"We're not dating!"
"Really?" Takagi stared at him. "Uh, are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure!" Yuuta continued to sputter. "Geez, you'd think I'd know!"
Takagi looked at him, and grinned. "Right, then. So who are you going to ask?"
"Hey," Yuuta said, when Ann answered her phone. "It's me."
She laughed. "Me who?"
"Ohhhh, me Yuuta." He could practically hear her grin through the phone. "You calling about that movie thing?"
"Um." It wasn't too late to back out. If he wanted to be a coward. "Ummmm, not exactly. St. Rudolph is having a dance and I was wondering, um, ifyouwantedtogowithme."
The silence on her end lasted way too long, before she finally answered. "A dance, huh?"
"Yeah." Yuuta stared at his ceiling, flushing, even though she couldn't possibly see him. "You can say no, if you'd rather not."
"I'm not much of a dancer, Yuuta."
Shit. This was embarrassing. "Yeah, me either. Stupid thing, really, sorry I--"
"Yuuta," she interrupted, voice calm and amused. "I'm not saying no."
"...you're not?" Yuuta blinked.
"No. I'm just warning you." She laughed. "I really can't dance."
"Huh. You don't mind?" Yuuta fought against his grin, and lost.
"No, I don't mind." And it sounded like she was grinning again, too.
"Cool. Hey. Um, thanks."
"No, thank you."
Holy crap. So, yeah, he was used to Ann being vocal about how cute a girl she was, and stuff, but he hadn't really paid attention to the fact that it was true. Um, yeah. Should have been, he decided, staring up at Ann as she came downstairs. "Um, hi."
Ann grinned at him, tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear. "Hi," she said.
Tachibana-san, who was watching this exchange from the top of the stairs, snorted, and his eyes promised doom if Yuuta so much as thought the wrong thing about his sister.
It was, Yuuta decided, probably too late for that. "Ready?" he asked.
"Yeah," Ann said. "And, um, we might want to hurry. I think Kaasan wants pictures."
"Crap," he said, just as Ann's mother swept in, brandishing a camera.
They managed to escape, eventually, and made it to dinner, and then to the dance, without further incident.
At the dance, Ann stepped on his feet, a lot, but he returned the favor, until they were both limping around the dance floor.
"Can we stop now?" Ann asked, wincing, between songs.
"Thank God," Yuuta groaned, and they hobbled outside, where the air was cooler, and no one could laugh at their utter lack of coordination. "I think maybe we should stick to tennis."
"'Maybe'?" she echoed, with a pained grin. "Try 'definitely', Yuuta."
"Hah. Yeah, you're right." He ducked his head. "Thanks for coming, anyway."
"I was glad you asked me." And she sounded serious, even though her eyes were twinkling when he glanced at her.
"So'm I." He hesitated. "Um. You look really nice tonight."
"So do you." Ann paused, and looked like she was waiting. Finally, she sighed. "Hey, Yuuta?"
Her tone was businesslike, but her smile was shy. "If you're wondering, now would be a good time to kiss me."
Yuuta blinked. "Uh..." Whoa. Wow. When had her face gotten so close? "Okay...?"
Ann laughed, quietly. "I'm glad that one of us has a clue," she murmured, and then her mouth was against his, sweet and soft.
Yuuta had to admit it--he was glad, too.