Shuusuke knows the moment that it happens, standing at the edge of the court, looking through the wire fence. Kaidoh throws the ball into the air, leaping to reach it, and the sharp tok when his racquet hits the ball cracks something inside of Shuusuke.
“Your form is good,” he says to Kaidoh after the match and the broken pieces move and hurt him.
“It’s good advice,” Inui says. “I stayed up late preparing it.” The envelope in his hands is crumpled from his overloaded school bag.
“Shouldn’t we let Kaidoh run the club in his own way?” Shuusuke says. “I’m sure he takes it very seriously.”
“It’s for Seigaku.” Inui pushes his glasses up his nose. “I’ve been taking data for three days.”
Shuusuke plucks the envelope away, too smart and quick for Inui. “People are starting to talk,” he says. “I’ll take it to him for you.”
Shuusuke curls his fingers through the fence and watches Kaidoh watching practice. The February wind is cold and Kaidoh’s strong legs and arms are tucked safe away inside his Regular’s uniform.
Kaidoh-buchou, a first year calls and the way Kaidoh pulls up his already straight back and tips his chin a little higher cuts Shuusuke inside so he has to press his hand against his chest.
Kaidoh looks over and Shuusuke smiles at him through the pain.
After practice, Shuusuke waits for Kaidoh to lock the clubroom door.
“Fuji-senpai,” Kaidoh says in that sweet gruff voice of his, holding the keys tight in his sweet long fingers.
“You’re working very hard.” Inside Shuusuke’s school bag is Inui’s envelope, tucked between two textbooks. “I like to watch you.”
Kaidoh looks down, towards the ground, but Shuusuke is down too, compared to Kaidoh, and he intercepts Kaidoh’s eyes for just a moment.
A film of perspiration springs up on Shuusuke’s palms. He looks at one hand, it’s so unusual. Then he reaches out and takes Kaidoh’s sleeve between two fingers, just the fabric. “I’ll come again and watch you.”
Kaidoh nods, eyes slipping away. He waits until Shuusuke drops his hand before he pulls his tennis bag higher on his shoulder and walks away.
When Shuusuke gets home, he puts the envelope inside his box of middle school mementoes.
“Come out with me after school,” Eiji says, looping his arm around Shuusuke’s neck. “Stupid Oishi’s studying.”
Shuusuke can’t help smiling at Eiji’s screwed-up frown. “I think Inui’s free.”
“Why are you ignoring me too?” Eiji gives Shuusuke a push away. “It’s boring without tennis any more.” His face lights up. “We could go down and tease Momo!”
“Take Inui to the movies and do janken for the tickets.” Shuusuke gets out his notebook for the next class. With his finger, so only he can see it, he traces an umbrella on the cover. He’ll fill in his and Kaidoh’s names later. “You know Inui always loses.”
Shuusuke waits in the park, sitting on a bench. His cheeks are cold in the damp winter air but his heart is pushing warm blood through his body, thump thump thump.
He recognizes Kaidoh as soon as he comes into view, that smooth loping gait, the spot of green. He thinks he can see the moment when Kaidoh sees him too, a hitch in his step and a shake of his head.
Kaidoh slows when they’re close enough to speak, hands tugging his towel closer around his neck and eyes flicking over and away.
Shuusuke goes to meet him and puts two fingers on the side of Kaidoh’s neck, taking his pulse, but Shuusuke doesn’t count, just feels the thump thump thump against his fingertips, shaking down through his whole body.
There’s a sheen of sweat on Kaidoh’s face and his warm-up jacket is dark around the armpits. Shuusuke wonders what Kaidoh smells like, under his jacket, under his shirt.
“You’ll get a chill,” Shuusuke says.
“I’m fine,” Kaidoh says, a hitch in his voice like the hitch in his step.
They’re only half behind a tree right now but Shuusuke leans in, tipping his face up to Kaidoh’s, breathing the plume of breath from Kaidoh’s mouth. thump thump thump so loud in his ears, shaking the ground like a tremor.
Kaidoh is a frozen statue of ice, thump thump thump, and then he runs, spinning Shuusuke to the side, flat out and away.
Shuusuke watches him go.
Shuusuke’s bedroom ceiling has a crack in it, fine and jagged like the crack inside his chest. He wants to float up and trace it with his finger.
When he turns out the light, he thinks about tracing the line on Kaidoh’s cheek instead, slow and careful while Kaidoh waits. Then Kaidoh’s bottom lip, pushing just inside to touch the damp of his mouth, until Kaidoh thaws and Shuusuke can taste the salt on his tongue and feel the muscles moving on his back.
Shuusuke rolls over on his side, one hand against his heart, and doesn’t sleep for hours.
At practice, Kaidoh’s back is to Shuusuke, no matter which way he turns. The collar of Kaidoh’s jacket meets the brush of his hair, no pale margin of skin for Shuusuke to imagine softly touching.
Shuusuke fingers the buttons on his own uniform jacket. He loops his scarf twice around his neck, wraps his arms around his chest, holding himself together.
He leaves before practice is over. He thinks Kaidoh is watching him go but he doesn’t turn to find out.
Shuusuke shakes his head, hands at his sides. “I’m sorry,” he says and when the girl’s face goes red, he is sorry. Last year he accepted chocolate from anyone who offered and gave them a smile and a thank you.
This year, he can’t stretch out his hand to take it.
In class, he nudges Eiji when it’s his turn to read. While Eiji is struggling through the poem, Shuusuke looks at the front of his notebook. The invisible umbrella, the invisible characters of their names. Kaidoh’s is a silvery green, coiling and smoothly flowing.
Shuusuke catches it in his hand, holding tight.
He sees them at noon, standing in the courtyard. A girl holding out a box to Kaidoh, both their faces blooming like springtime.
Shuusuke turns and walks away. He doesn’t stop until he gets to the tennis club room. He stands beside the door and waits, holding himself together so he doesn’t break apart.
He imagines himself standing there as the light changes from day to night to day again, as the trees grow buds and open and the petals fall.
But he hardly has time to picture it before Kaidoh appears, eyes away but walking towards Shuusuke. His hands are empty.
“Did you take chocolate from anyone?” Shuusuke asks. He’s braced for the answer, ready to receive.
“No.” Kaidoh scuffs his foot against the ground. Then he looks right at Shuusuke. “Did you?”
The sun grows bright and the trees burst into a shower of blossoms, swirling around them, the only two people who exist. Shuusuke laughs, warm all through. “Do you have the key?”
Kaidoh doesn’t turn on the light but the sun through the windows makes pale boxes on the dark floor. Kaidoh stands outside them but Shuusuke steps into one and leans up, hands on Kaidoh’s shoulders. He waits, thump thump thump, eyes on Kaidoh’s pink petal cheek, red petal mouth.
Kaidoh’s hands clutch at Shuusuke’s arms and his mouth clutches at Shuusuke’s mouth, damp and shocking. He tastes like nothing, like salt and springtime, no smudge of sweetness at the corner of his lip.
A warm breeze sighs all through Shuusuke and inside his chest the broken pieces fit back together, click click click, not quite the same as before, seams where the cracks used to be. He laughs against Kaidoh’s daring mouth, against Kaidoh’s strong body.
“You like me,” Shuusuke says and pulls Kaidoh into the light.