In another world, on another day, Tachibana Aya stands at the gates of Sohoku High School.
She’s nervous, as most of the other first years walking around her seem to be, and that’s strangely calming. New beginnings are never easy and Aya almost wishes she was going to a different school closer to people she actually knew than those she didn’t. But she grips the good luck charm from her cousin a little tighter in her hand and finally enters what’ll be her home for the next three years.
The opening ceremony is boring and lackluster, but they survive it and make their way to their new classrooms. There’s an itch to peek at the club listings given to all the first years, but Aya waits all the way until lunch to look. The girl’s tennis team is there, of course, but staring at the words printed in ink relaxes Aya more than she would ever admit.
Tennis is sort of...a thing in her family, if you forget the one distant cousin who became a swimmer. It’s something that Aya knows will always be a constant in her life, no matter what, and something that she would never give up, no matter what.
She snaps a quick picture for her cousin, typing a short “ You were right, An-chan ” and sending before she’s caught by her new homeroom teacher. After slipping her phone back into her bag, Aya looks up only to be face to face with one of her new classmates.
To her credit, she barely flinches.
“Hi! I’m Kanzaki Miki!” Miki smiles, bright and wide, and Aya feels a little blinded.
“Tachibana Aya. It’s nice to meet you.” Aya attempts a smile back but knows it’s more subdued and nowhere near as bright. Good thing Miki doesn’t even seem to notice.
“Same here! Actually, we sat next to each other during the opening ceremony,” Miki continues, pulling up a chair to sit next to Aya’s desk. “But you seemed really focused on what everyone had to say so I didn’t want to disturb you. I’m glad to see that we’re in the same class though! You seem like a nice person, Tachibana-san.”
“Aya...Aya is fine.” Memories of her older cousin emerge unwanted at the sound of Tachibana-san and while she’s not quite sure what sparked Miki’s interest in her, she won’t say no to a possible new friend on the first day.
“Aya…” Miki smiles again. “Then you can call me Miki! Let’s be friends, Aya-chan!"
Kanzaki Miki, it turns out, is a ball of energy compressed and concealed until you know how to release it. The main way to release that energy is by mentioning any one of hers interests like, say, cycling. Or how to take care of a bike. Or what kind of tires were good in what weather. Or how to get your bike so clean it would sparkle in the sun.
Aya quickly learns not to talk about bikes as much as possible, but it’s hard when the Sohoku Cycling Club is somehow always riding around.
It’s not that Miki’s enthusiasm and adoration of bikes was bad but...they have ended up late to class in the first couple days thanks to Miki waxing poetry about a new bike that came out from a favorite maker of hers. Jek, or something, Aya couldn’t never remember the name.
“So what are your interests, Aya-chan?” Miki asks one day as they walk home from school together. “You haven’t joined a club yet either.”
“Oh. Well.” There’s so many ways that Aya could explain tennis and how it is connected to her life, but that’s also the reason why she’s held back on it.
Would you believe that my cousin has been to nationals multiple times and used to be part of this super strong doubles pair, Aya thinks, staring at the sky, or that his sister used to be my doubles partner and that we didn’t make it to nationals, but we could still take games from them when we played? Would you believe that there is a lot more to tennis than meets the eye?
“Tennis.” She settles on, looking right at Miki. “I’ve played tennis all my life with my family and I’m looking to join the team at Sohoku. I just need to turn in my application.”
“I see.” Miki tilts her head, looking Aya up and down. “I knew you were an athlete of some sort, but I couldn’t pin down what sport. You’ve got great muscles, so I was waiting for you to say that you were a swimmer. But tennis is great too!”
Aya isn’t sure whether to laugh at the swimming comment or the fact that Miki had so openly checked her out, but when she does laugh, it makes the cutest surprised look on Miki’s face.
“I’m glad you think so.” And Aya really is because Miki’s words do seem sincere. It’s the one thing she really appreciates about her new friend. “You’ll be joining the cycling club, right? You know so much about bikes that I bet you’re actually one of the top riders out there and you’re just hiding it.”
“Ah...about that.” Miki’s face clearly falls, a much different reaction than any other time Aya had mentioned cycling or bikes around her before, but they’re at the point where they split for their own homes and she tries to smile again. “I’ll tell you another time! But promise to tell me more about you and tennis tomorrow, Aya-chan!!”
Miki waves goodbye and walks away faster than ever and leaves Aya confused and feeling guilty for reasons she doesn’t even know about.
Aya turns in her application for the tennis club the next day and when the captain asks if she’s related to Tachibana Keppei, she’s incredibly tempted to lie. She doesn’t. The captain sends her back to class with the biggest expectations and she wishes that she did.
Starting practice is interesting though, not that Aya hadn’t been practicing on her own in the off season. She might not live super close to An anymore, but they still meet once a month to play and there are a few street courts by Aya’s new house. Her racket is in her hand at least once a day, but until she starts bringing in her racket bag, she doubts her classmates realize how serious she is.
Miki, on the other hand, gets it immediately and asks all sorts of questions about her training and techniques and it’s not like Aya doesn’t mind sharing. They haven’t mentioned cycling since that awkward moment last week and even if Aya’s curious, she’s aware enough not to press.
Instead, she shares all the info she knows about tennis from her family and own experiences, talking about singles and doubles and which is better depending on the person, about grip tape preferences and string tension, and how girl’s tennis uniforms are the cutest but simply just the cherry on top of tennis.
“I’d never expected you to be someone worried about fashion, Aya-chan.” Miki says one day as she walks with Aya to practice.
“Yeah, well, we look cute and everyone should know it. Tennis girls are cute, okay?” It’s embarrassing to say, since the statement includes herself, but Aya would stand by it forever. Unfortunately, Miki has been learning to catch on to the things Aya doesn’t say lately.
“So that means that Aya-chan is cute in her tennis uniform too, right? Not that you aren’t already cute. ” She giggles at the end and it only makes Aya more embarrassed. “I can’t wait to see you in the Sohoku uniform! I’m sure you’ll be a regular sooner than later.”
Not quite sure what to say after being called cute, Aya just nods and escapes to the heavenly clay courts. If she hits some serves a little harder than usual that day, well, Keppei would be proud of her.
She’s not quite sure when it happens, but Miki starts carrying a notebook around with her whenever she asks Aya about tennis. Her questions get more complex and she asks recommendations for pro matches that she can look up and watch to learn more.
Again, it’s easy for Aya to give the information, but after catching Miki laughing and smiling with someone from the cycling club, their bright yellow spandex extremely hard to miss, she can’t help but wonder. Miki hasn’t mentioned cycling around her in couple weeks, not even when people on road bikes ride past them on their walk to school. Everything’s about tennis now and considering how in love with cycling Miki is...was...well, it’s a little confusing.
“Why are you suddenly so interested in tennis? What happened to cycling?” It slips out, right as they’re walking to Aya’s practice, and the guilt is immediate.
They’ve known each other a little over a month now and Aya really likes Miki. She’s a great friend who cares and listens and genuinely cares and Aya doesn’t want to ruin a friendship like that so early.
Thankfully, Miki grins like she knows something that Aya doesn’t and says nothing. While it should calm her down, it makes Aya even more nervous.
“You’ll see!” They reach the tennis courts and she gives a wave. “Have a good practice!”
Somehow, when Miki’s announced as the girl's tennis club’s new manager, Aya’s not surprised. Except when she drops her racket to the court and cracks the frame.
“You should have told me!”
“I wanted it to be a surprise!”
They’re walking home after practice and Aya still can’t believe it.
“No wonder you wanted so much information, you’re going to need it for high school level tennis.”
“Mm, at least you’re on the girl’s circuit, word is that Tezuka Kunimitsu is back in Japan for his final year of high school and it’s drawing out all his old opponents. High school nationals should be fun for your cousin and everyone this year for them!”
Fun, Aya thinks, is a subjective term. Also- “Wait, my cousin? How did you know?”
“Tachibana Keppei, your cousin? He’s sort of all over the tennis blogs.” Miki spreads her hands in the air, framing the sunset. “Former wing of Kyushuu and all that. It’s a shame his team missed nationals last year.”
“You know, you’re kind of terrifying.”
They laugh and when they reach the crossroads for their own homes, Miki reaches out for Aya’s hand and squeezes it tight. The air turns serious.
“I don’t want you to think that I don’t love cycling or that I quit. I know you’re curious and that I said I would tell you later. There’s just a lot of…baggage.” Miki pauses, furrowing her eyebrows and it’s a look that Aya’s never seen on her before. “I love the sport. I love riding on my bike and fixing bikes at my parents’ shop with my older brother and watching races with friends, but I need something new.”
She looks Aya right in the eye, determination clear. “I need something for me. I think tennis could be that. I want it to be.”
“I do too.” Aya squeezes their hands. “And I mean, you’re already talking like a tennis fiend, so, you’re on the right track to being a great manager.”
It’s then that Aya gets the brightest idea and quickly invites Miki over. Being a Friday, she doesn’t have to persuade her friend much.
When they get to Aya’s room, they’re not there for long. Aya knows exactly where it is, stored neatly next to her other spare rackets and still wrapped in her favorite grip tape. When she hands the racket to Miki, it’s accepted with gentle hands and Aya knows she made the right choice.
“It’s one of my favorite rackets. Expertly broken in, if I do say so myself.”
“Then...why are you giving it to me?”
“There’s no rule that says a manager can’t play and be a manager.” Aya throws some loose tennis balls into her bag and zips it up. “There’s a street court a few minutes away, interested?”
There's a moment of silence as Aya's question is processed and Miki’s answer is the tightest hug of her life.
It takes them a year of training, but Aya’s patient.
By spring of their 2nd year, they’re a starting doubles pair. Miki, adorable in her uniform even soaked in sweat, kisses Aya after their first win together and Aya thinks she finally understands where synchro comes from. But she kisses Miki again just to confirm.
The spring of their third year, Miki’s no longer manager. She’s captain and Aya is so proud to be her vice captain.
And in a way, Aya knows that this is how things should be. That no matter the situation or the world they live in, the both of them end up together and happy.
For now, they have An-chan to beat and nationals to win. Together.