The rooftop of Rakuzan High School’s North building.
That’s my reserved seat during lunch.
Of course, the other towers have rooftops too, but I wouldn’t think of heading anywhere but here.
It’s been a little over two years since I first stepped into Rakuzan. It’s gonna be a little over a few months before I never have to set foot into it again. Do I hold sentiment for it? Maybe. It’s like a father to me, to make up for one I never had. I might even be sort of glad to leave this place, like the typical teenager erupting from its nest, anticipating the world. But in the end I will leave my heart here.
It’ll be little over a few months before I never have to step foot into Rakuzan ever again, but I assure you I will.
Results of a dispassionate six week investigation (two weeks on each rooftop) have indicated that the northmost has the least amount of wind and happens to be the quietest, which makes for the ideal escape for a nobody like me, wouldn’t you think?
I’ve been asked, Mayuzumi-kun, why are you so ardent about spending lunch on the roof (followed by how about you come sit with us instead which would be promptly forgotten come lunchtime as I’d make my way to the predetermined table only to go unnoticed)?
If it’s merely for reading, the courtyard or the library would be fine, right, Mayuzumi-kun? people have questioned in my overactive imagination. The answer to this is childish and nostalgic, though I would gladly tell anyone who cared to ask: it is because the reason why my legs take me to the roof is a book.
I’m holding it right now. It’s a light novel. I like to read it over and over again. According to the people at the orphanage, it belonged to my father. I can imagine him, as an adult, on the easy chair flipping through the pages, quickly because he is familiar with the words, but slow enough to redigest.
In this particular novel, the rooftop has a certain level of significance. The characters would meet a mysterious transfer student, reveal secrets to each other, find out important things, all on the roof.
It may be a jejune (I learnt this word from Akashi. Does it impress you, reader, my wide vocabulary?) concept, but if it was good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me.
Exclusivity is what I crave in my monochromatic life, friend. Are we on friendly terms yet? I suppose so.
The rooftop provides me with a sense of exclusivity. Up here I feel special, y’know? Like rice crackers with tuna on top instead of just plain rice crackers. It’s pretty cool, you gotta admit, having a secret (not really) hangout.
Saying that, it’s not like I don’t harbor hope of discovering new elements or meeting elusive transfer students whenever I make my way to the roof, trekking up the crumbling concrete steps.
Oh, what the hell. At the end of the day, it’s all fiction.
For me it’s enough if I can enjoy a good book in a quiet place. Life has taught me not to expect much from it.
Following the light echoey voice, I only need to glance up from where I’m sitting reading the same light novel I’m always reading to see Hayama walking over.
Lithe muscles like a spring, he moves as if he’s hopping, demanding attention from everyone around him, demanding all their energy to add to his already extensive throng of vigour. He’s the exact opposite of me, and as specified by the rules of life, we should get along.
“Is there anything you need from me, Hayama-kun?”
“No not really, don’t need you for anything.”
He speaks each word as though he’s shouting, drawing from his excess of vitality. The guy has stamina, you gotta admit. It would be commendable that he calls me “Mayuzumi-san” if his voice actually held the respect the title “senpai” should exact.
I am a toy to him. I am a toy to most people who notice me, curious, captivating their interest just long enough for it to sting when I begin to tire them and they throw me away. It doesn’t surprise me anymore.
That being said, I’m not above lashing out at him, albeit in my signature passive-aggressive manner.
He looks around restlessly. “Know where Ei-chan is?”
I clearly remember him mentioning that I was unneeded. Well. “No. Do you need him for something?”
“Yeah. Akashi asked me to pass on a message- thought he’d be here but I guess not.”
He makes a tch sound with his tongue, linking his arms behind his head, glancing down at my book. Mayuzumi-san is reading? What? I tell him even if I did inform him he wouldn’t be genuinely interested, making my voice neutral. I told you I would lash back. Just in my own way.
“You cut me, Mayuzumi-san,” he whines, but I’m smart enough to know he doesn’t take offence- doesn’t care enough to.
Hayama turns around, suddenly and sharply. “Well, bye.”
On the now isolated rooftop, I turn the page of my novel, smiling to myself because I (or should I say we, reader?) know things that he doesn’t, and have chosen to withhold my information.
“Oh my, you really are here reading.”
I sigh inwardly. There’s a flood of visitors today. I didn’t ask for this.
My eyes scanning the page boredly, I am forced to reply. “What do you want, Mibuchi-kun?”
He shrugs. “I heard from Sei-chan that you’re always here. So I came to check out the place for myself.”
He came all the way here for that? The year twos school at the South building. It’s quite a walk from there, to put that into perspective for you, friend. I roll my eyes up to look at him without moving my head. He’s looking around, a frown marring his pretty face. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t yearn (occasionally) for a face like that. Some people might say it looks too feminine, but it makes him stand out and he looks good while doing it. What’s not to want?
Complaining that the scenery isn’t great and the sunlight’s too strong, Mibuchi shields his eyes with one hand. The other holds a book, I notice perfunctorily. I wonder aloud if he came here to read. “Yes. I heard you come here everyday to read which I’m sure I’ve said a few times before, but it disappoints me.”
“Good. If you started coming here it’d ruin the serenity. What kind of book do you read, anyway?”
Mibuchi laughs. “Poetry. Right now I’m reading Heine. He’s a love poet,” he quips, opening his book to the page he’s marked and kissing the words. Is he for real? This is the kind of thing I have to put up with nearly every day. Sympathise with me, reader.
The love poetry is typical of him, however. A ladylike persona to match that ladylike face.
“It’s on my bucket list to recite poetry to my one true love, who I’ve yet to meet.” He’s like a teenage girl, but realistically, in my life barely a year longer than his, I’ve never met or heard of a girl who takes delight in romantic poetry recitals. They probably do, though, girls, only they’re too modern to admit it.
He turns back. Hand on the door leading to the staircase down, he looks over his shoulder, staring at me with cold, piercing, pretty, eyes. It’s fine to read, he preaches, but it’s better to work on your strength. Your stamina, at that level, might drag us down during a match. His voice is doused with arrogance and superiority. Who does he think he is? Doesn’t behaviour like that irritate you? I don’t think I’m the unreasonable one here.
Leave me alone. I’m still coping fine with Akashi’s training menu. “After school today, practice with me. I want to get more used to your Misdirection. I’m counting on you.” He commands, like he’s the captain of the team, but he’s nowhere near Akashi.
“We are equals,” I remind him, watching his hand twitch, opening the door, and smirking as he slams the door behind him. Tilting my head up to the top of the roof entrance, I speak once more.
“Don’t you think it unusual he’d ask me to practice with him?”
When there is no response: “You’d better go and find Akashi now. He might get angry, waiting.”
Laughter pools in the limited space. “So you knew I was here all along.”
“Of course. It was merely to get back at Hayama-kun that I did not inform him of your presence. His way of saying Mayuzumi-san is degrading, and it irritates me. He clearly does not think I am of importance.”
A figure jumps down from where my eyes meet his. “Thanks, anyway. I got time to digest,” Nebuya acknowledges, grinning. I tell him this does not make us friends. He cracks his neck, cheerfully. “You’re cold, Mayuzumi.”
He burps, ruining what would possibly have been a sweet moment. Why does he always eat so much? Ah, well. At least he works it off. “Didn’t really expect Koutarou to look for me here, though. Heard from Akashi that you were the only one who comes here. Which, actually, would make it an obvious hiding spot.
Oh, I’m not one for brain work.”
My mind picks up only what I deem is important. “Akashi?” I say. If Nebuya knew better he would be able to tell how pissed I am. Very pissed.
“Yep. Said this morning that during lunch, you’re the only one here so it’s quiet.”
Explains the influx of newcomers. But I can’t stay mad at my captain.
“Shouldn’t you be going to listen to Akashi’s message?”
“Yo, I would know that even if you hadn’t said anything. I’m about to leave. Where’d Koutarou go?”
Nebuya stares at me, drawing a blank, so I put down my book to explain.
“He must’ve gotten tired of looking for you, since lunch started a while ago and he didn’t exactly come right after it started. Akashi, knowing his type, would have told him to look for you immediately after lessons ended, so Hayama-kun would’ve been looking for you since the start of lunch. He’s always thirsty, too, so he would’ve taken a break at the cafeteria. It’s not that difficult to figure out. You’ve known him for a while, haven’t you?”
“He could’ve gone to the vending machine,” Nebuya defends, weakly.
“Look, Nebuya-kun, his goal is to find you as soon as possible or face Akashi’s wrath. Going to the cafeteria is killing two birds with one stone.”
Nebuya laughs once more. He tells me if I’m right, he’ll treat me to lunch tomorrow. I try to politely decline the offer.
He walks forward to ruffle my hair. I’d like to say that it annoyed me, treating me like a child when I should tower above him as the senpai that I am, but it doesn’t. It strikes me as the kind of thing a father would do to his son, and I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. I pat his hand away.
Chuckling, he leaves my haven and I find myself alone again.
The rooftop door opens.
“Akashi?” I say as a greeting, apathetic.
“So you knew,” he murmurs, coming closer and crouching down in front of me. I avert my gaze.
“It would be more of a surprise if I hadn’t known,” I reply, putting my book down for the second time today.
Even kneeling, Akashi Seijuurou looks down on me.
“You were trying to test me. I told you I haven’t neglected my watching.”
“I was wondering if you were assimilating to the new playing style.”
“I don’t have any issues at the moment.”
“Good. Our new model will overpower the previous. Have you been studying Seirin’s games? Only when you know the old is there meaning in the new.”
I feel a surge of annoyance.
“Yes, I have. And I’ve been keeping up with my observation. There was no need to send the Uncrowned my way.”
Akashi’s gaze is soft, towards me alone, as he lifts up my chin so I look him in the eye. He leans forward.
“Stop”, I say as my breathing gets shallow. “You don’t have to love me. You don’t have to love me to make sure I do whatever you ask of me. I’m not like your Tetsuya.
You should know that with me, desire, even unrequited, means utter subservience.”
Why am I clenching my book so hard? It’s not like me to get provoked so easily. Please do not judge me based on how I act in front of Akashi. He unhinges me, makes me feel the need to reassert my importance. I am myself. I’m different from the old model. I’m new. I can replace his Tetsuya. “I will be good,” I promise. I do not add ‘better’, but we both hear it and the accompanying sharpness.
Couldn’t you see that I love you, or did it have to take me saying it to your face?
He drops my chin, and I gasp, reeling back, dizzy. From lack of air? He sucks all the oxygen out of the three metre radius around him.
Smiling tenderly, he stands up and retreats. “I’m going back first. I’ll see you after school.”
I don’t want him to leave, and yet I don’t want him anywhere that close to me ever again.
Seijuurou, I call out soundlessly, my thoughts clouded with lust and devotion.
It’s hard to remember that I am merely one of his shogi chips, but I manage. The cynicism makes the corner of my mouth quirk up, and I drag my body upright.
Being a shogi chip is unpleasant. Being Akashi’s shogi chip holds a certain masochistic pleasure. I suppose you find me foolish for thinking as such.
Forcing my face back to its harsh neutrality, I make my way towards the door, deciding that a short nap at home would be the best course of action. I am, I remember, not the type to get provoked easily.
Before I leave, I turn to face the sun Mibuchi was complaining about.
Summer is coming.
With it, the championships, and my official match debut.
I close my eyes. I gave up on basketball a while ago, but here I am, being sucked into it again. I can see bright orange behind my eyelids.
I open my eyes.
I know that even if basketball disappoints me again, I will stick by it. I have been told to. Captain’s orders.
After all, desire, even unrequited, makes a person completely and fully subservient.