Kaidoh stared at his phone. Maybe he should put it back in his pocket. Or in his bag. Or on the table. Or under his pillow so he wouldn't keep staring at it.
But he was just checking the time, right? 2:10pm. 2:11 now. It was scheduled for 1:45, so the phone should be ringing any moment now, right?
This was so stupid. Kaidoh closed the phone, still a clamshell even though everyone else had an iPhone. He put it in his pocket. Then in his bag. Then on the table. Then under his pillow.
His pillow beeped.
Kaidoh dived for it. The pillow split open, scattering buckwheat hull everywhere. "Fuck!" he said and grabbed the phone. It was just the 2:15 alarm, reminding him of his next caloric intake. He checked the list up on the wall. 2:15pm -- banana and 25 almonds
The almonds were in his bag but the banana was down in the kitchen. Kaidoh did his stair-step drill on the way, tangling up his feet on the second step from the bottom and taking a header into the umbrella stand.
His mother was in the kitchen and she made him stand still while she painted disinfectant onto his forehead, even though it was just a tiny scratch. Then she ruffled his hair and gave him a rice ball along with the banana.
Back in his room, Kaidoh stared at the banana and the almonds and the rice. His stomach tightened up, like it was vacuum sealed for freshness, and there was no way he was going to even get a single almond in there, let alone a whole banana.
Kaidoh sneezed. Then he got a broom and swept up the buckwheat hulls. Underneath them was his phone. And his phone was blinking.
Voice mail from Inui-senpai. Kaidoh's stomach tightened even more, like it was vacuum sealed for space flight, and he stabbed in his code.
Call me, Inui said.
Kaidoh set his jaw and clenched his fist (the one not holding the phone). Then he hit speed dial.
"Do you want to play tennis?" Inui said. "I have to get out of here. My parents are having a huge argument because these flowers were delivered without a note and they're both accusing the other of having an affair. I'll meet you at the courts in fifteen minutes." He hung up.
Kaidoh dropped the phone back into the buckwheat. He dumped his bag out onto the floor.
There was the note.
Nobody knew it, but Kaidoh Kaoru had a notebook too. Just one, plain ruled with a brown cover. He kept it in his sock drawer.
Inui-senpai was transferring all his notes to his computer, something about cloud-storage and data-mining. But Kaidoh didn't trust computers. People hacked into computers. And if anyone ever hacked into what Kaidoh wrote in his notebook, he might as well be vacuum-sealed from head to toe.
The notebook was full of plans. Not plans for workouts, not plans for running the tennis club or managing Momoshiro or becoming a professional player. Plans for love.
Not that Kaidoh ever said "plans for love", or even really thought it loudly, because that was just too embarassing. Which was really why he needed the plans in the first place.
Because of how he felt. About Inui-senpai. That way. Due to Inui being nice and handsome and a good tennis player and having this glowy light around him sometimes when Kaidoh looked at him. Of course Kaidoh couldn't tell Inui about it. That's not what a man did. And of course he couldn't do anything about it, either, not during the tennis season. Because that could cause problems and the problems could affect their tennis. Besides, they weren't allowed to date people in the same club.
But now that Nationals was over and the third-years had retired from the tennis club and Kaidoh was the tennis club captain (which wasn't completely relevant to the situation, but Kaidoh liked to think about it), it was time to act.
That's what he was: Kaidoh Kaoru, Man of Action.
The plans were all culled from romantic movies and novels and comics, which he had been reading for research. The pattern was so clear that even he could see it: he just had to put Inui and himself into a romantic situation and they would fall in love.
Only romantic situations didn't seem to come up naturally.
Kaidoh pulled the cap down over his eyes, which made it even harder to see, what with the sunglasses and all. He hiked his father's jacket back up his shoulders. It was a good disguise. He'd even worn socks. Which were pretty uncomfortable, actually. It was like his feet were being smothered.
The Romantic Gift Of Flowers Plan hadn't made Inui-senpai fall in love with Kaidoh, due to Kaidoh bungling the note. And probably now Inui's parents would get a divorce which would sour Inui on romance altogether. And then Kaidoh had played really badly and lost the tennis match 6-1, 6-2, which was bad in general.
So here he was for the Save Inui's Parents from Divorce Plan which wouldn't win Inui's heart, but would at least put things back at zero instead of a negative. Probably.
"On three," Kaidoh muttered. "One...two...three!" He dodged around the corner, slid the paper under the door, and dodged back. Success! He punched the elevator button.
The doors opened. Inside was Inui-senpai. With that glowy light around him.
"Kaidoh!" Inui said. "What brings you by?" He stepped out and put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. The jacket slipped back and the front collar pulled against Kaidoh's throat.
"Uh..." Kaidoh's insides went all shrinkwrapped again. This was the problem with making plans. You had to have a main plan, but then all these other little plans in case the main plan didn't work. And Kaidoh was more of a One-Plan Man. Or, right now, a No Plan Man in cheap sunglasses. He pulled them off.
"Come on in." Inui steered Kaidoh to the door, then dropped his hand while he unlocked it. "What's this?" He picked up the paper. Kaidoh looked away. He clenched his fist for luck. Inui laughed. "Remember those flowers I told you about, that my parents were fighting over? It looks like they were delievered here by mistake."
Kaidoh unclenched his fist. He followed Inui back to his bedroom, sat on the floor, half-watched the movie Inui put on. And tried to remember the other plans in his notebook. Maybe Inui was right about this cloud storage thing.
"Kaidoh," Inui said. He leaned over so their shoulders were touching. "Do you like the snacks?"
Fuck, Kaidoh wasn't paying attention and now he was being rude. He crammed chips into his mouth. Think, he told himself. Think of a plan. He punched his thigh. And it actually worked, he remembered one. "Inui-senpai," he said and choked on the chips.
Inui banged him on the back. "Are you okay? Can you breathe? Do you need a Heimlich?"
Kaidoh swallowed, coughed, blinked. "Inui-senpai," he said again. "Do you want to come to my party?"
"Thanks for coming," Kaidoh said. They'd had three post-Nationals parties already, but everyone had shown up anyhow. Even Tezuka was there, sitting silent on the couch while Hazue gazed drop-jawed at him.
"Great snacks!" Momoshiro grabbed another handful of crackers.
Greedy pig, Kaidoh wanted to say, but he was the host so even if Momoshiro was super-annoying, which he was, Kaidoh had to be polite about it. "Have some punch," he said instead, even though "have a punch" would be more like it.
"How's the tennis club going?" Oishi-senpai asked, just as if he hadn't asked Kaidoh the same thing yesterday and last week and the week before.
"Fine." Kaidoh looked over at the couch where Inui was leaning over Tezuka. He looked so good, Kaidoh didn't want to look away. The light was around him again, that soft glow. Kaidoh clenched his fist. This plan had got to work. Had got to.
But it wouldn't work if he didn't get it all set up. That was really the worst thing about planning -- there were all these steps and checklists and things to remember that he couldn't actually write down in case someone found the checklist. And it didn't feel natural. Not for Kaidoh.
"Excuse me," he said to Oishi and grabbed a plate of mixed snacks that had only been partly gobbled by Momoshiro. Snacks: check. Two cans of pop, which he had to stick under his arm and clamp to his body, since one of his hands was already full of snacks and he needed the other one for opening doors and such. Pop: check.
Kaidoh fumbled with the back door and managed to slide it open.
"Can I give you a hand with anything?" Inui said.
One of the cans slipped from under Kaidoh's elbow and crashed onto the deck. How was someone so big also so sneaky? "No," Kaidoh said. Get Inui out onto the deck was step five. Or maybe four. Or six? Not step whatever he was on now anyhow.
Kaidoh bent his knees and eased down to grab the can. Inui leaned down at the same time and their heads bumped together. "I've got it," Kaidoh said and fell over on his ass.
The snacks slid off the plate. The plate clattered onto the deck. The other can dropped and rolled off the edge. "Fuck," Kaidoh said.
Inui smiled, which probably meant he was thinking about how lame Kaidoh was just then and also always. Not part of the plan, not part of any plan!
"Please enjoy the party," Kaidoh said and turned his back to Inui.
There was a few moments silence. "Okay," Inui said. The door closed. Kaidoh punched himself in the thigh. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He picked up the cans since that was the step he was on and he had to stick to the plan. He took them around the side of the house where there were two cushions on the deck. And his iPod and speakers. All he had to do was get more snacks, distract everyone else at the party, get Inui out here, turn on the romantic music, and watch the moon rise.
They would fall in love and then kiss. Probably. Even though Kaidoh had watched that particular movie scene about ten times while making the plan, he still wasn't sure if the kissing was a step in the plan or the result of the plan working. Hopefully the result, since thinking about it was causing some major twistiness in his stomach, like just before he had to play an important tennis match but about one million times worse.
He scraped the snacks back onto the plate and went back inside to throw them out. "Are you eating those?" Momoshiro said and popped a cracker in his mouth.
"I'm not," Kaidoh said and let him take the whole plate.
The snack table was looking a little bare, except for the cake that Fuji had brought and warned everyone they were waiting to cut until later. Kaidoh snagged a couple of hard-boiled eggs, since they could go in his pocket.
He looked around the room. Tezuka was still sitting on the couch, which maybe meant he was having a good time. If Tezuka ever had a good time -- Kaidoh didn't know how to tell. Fuji and Kawamura were sitting on either side of him, having a conversation across him. Echizen and Kikumaru were playing a video game at the TV. Oishi and Inui were watching Momoshiro demonstrate what was probably a tennis move but looked like golf or something.
Kaidoh's phone beeped. The moonrise alarm! He stuck his head into the kitchen. "Come on!"
"I'm not ready yet." Hazue tied his cape around his shoulders. "You didn't give me enough time."
"It's time now," Kaidoh said. He pushed the top hat towards Hazue.
"Here." Hazue handed Kaidoh an index card. "Read that before I come out."
Kaidoh went back into the living room. "Um," he said. Nobody looked at him except Inui. Momoshiro did another weird move.
Kikumaru yelled at Echizen for cheating. Tezuka kept sitting on the couch.
"Um," Kaidoh said again, but a lot louder. "My brother is going to--"
"Read the introduction!" Hazue yelled from the kitchen.
Kaidoh sighed and held up the index card. He'd already bribed Hazue with half his allowence for the week. He had no right to make demands. But he couldn't afford any more snags in the plan. "'The Magnificent Hazue will now dazzle and amaze you with his unbelievable feats of magic and mystery.'"
Hazue dashed into the room, swept off his top hat, and bowed. He took out a pack of cards. "Take a card, any card," he said to Oishi.
Kaidoh edged up to Inui. "Would you come outside with me, senpai?"
"Just a minute, I want to see if this the same trick I know." Inui moved his hands along with Hazue's, like he was palming the card too. Which was against the plan and also kind of troublesome for Hazue's magic act.
"I need some help," Kaidoh said. Hazue produced Oishi's card. Everyone clapped.
"Next, I need an assistant!"
Inui's hand went up, like he was trying to volunteer. Kaidoh shoved Momoshiro into the middle of the room before he could. Then he took hold of Inui's sleeve and pulled.
Mercifully, Inui followed him out the back door and around the corner. Step something: check. "Please sit down," Kaidoh said.
"What did you need help with?" Inui sat on a cushion.
This stupid plan, Kaidoh thought but he was really in a jam. They weren't supposed to talk, just look at the moon and listen to music and sip champagne and eat strawberries, only instead of champagne and strawberries they had orange pop and hard-boiled eggs. And instead of the moon, there was nothing in the sky. He checked his phone -- that had been the "eat now" alarm, not the "moonrise" alarm and there was still nearly forty minutes until the moon came up.
Kaidoh sat down anyway. Maybe looking at the sky would be almost as good and anyhow the magic show had already started. He switched on the iPod. Inui's voice boomed out of the speakers, a directed work-out mp3 that Kaidoh used every day. But had not, absolutely, positively, probably not put onto his Romantic Moonrise and Champagne Plan playlist.
"Fuck!" He stabbed it off again. Static fuzzed through the speakers.
"You need tech support?" Inui reached for the iPod and Kaidoh felt his insides surge up like they were going to break right through the industrial strength vacuum seal because if Inui actually looked at the iPod and saw the name of the playlist the whole Kaidoh Kaoru Has A Normal Life And Does Not Need To Fake His Own Death Plan was completely ruined.
"No, it's fine." Kaidoh pitched the iPod onto the lawn. He punched his thigh. He handed Inui a can of pop and tried to make the moon to rise early by sheer force of will.
"Thanks." Inui smiled and took the can and glowed a little in the dark and Kaidoh thought that maybe the plan wouldn't fail after all.
Then Inui's pop can exploded.
"Fuck!" Kaidoh yelled and everyone came running and Inui just sat there with orange pop dripping off his glasses. And Hazue's rabbit escaped and everyone chased it around the lawn and Momoshiro stepped on Kaidoh's iPod and broke it.
Then Inui-sepai changed into one of Kaidoh's dad's shirts, even though he probably wanted to punch Kaidoh and then go home, and everyone sat in the living room and ate Fuji's cake except that Kaidoh couldn't take more than two bites because this was so far off the plan that he might as well have been following a Wreck Everything And Everyone Because You Suck, Kaidoh Kaoru Plan.
"I enjoyed the party, Kaidoh," Inui said and squeezed Kaidoh's shoulder. But he was obviously lying because his arguing parents had probably told him to be polite.
After everyone was gone, Kaidoh went out onto the deck and sat on a cushion and took the hard-boiled eggs out of his pocket. He didn't even feel like smashing them. Everything was just flat, like the rest of pop in Inui's can, and Kaidoh leaned back against the wall and blinked a lot.
The moon came up.
Don't give up, Kaidoh told himself. He punched his leg. But even if he didn't want to give up, he wasn't sure what he could do. A plan wasn't like a workout where you could just go longer and try harder. And he was running out of ideas.
He flipped the notebook. Romantic Gift -- failed. Watch the Moonrise at a Party -- completely fucked. Dedicate Tennis Match to Inui-Senpai -- risky, because what if he lost? (Not that he actually would lose, but the way things were going these days, he'd probably break his ankle on his way to the court.) Run Out Of Gas On Deserted Road -- they'd have to drive a long way to get to a deserted road and, anyhow, they were both too young to drive. Watch Meteor Shower On Picnic Blanket -- Inui always went to meteor showers with his Junior Astronomers group and were there even any coming up?
Kaidoh tore the notebook in half and threw it on the floor. Usually, if he were stuck on something like algebra or chemistry or how to fix a broken iPod, he would just ask Inui. Inui knew how to do that stuff. Kaidoh was better at physical things, like pushups and basketball and lifting pianos (probably).
One loose page was lying on his foot. He picked it up and crumpled it. Then he uncrumpled it. Maybe there was one more plan to try.
Weight room at 3? Kaidoh texted. He checked his book bag to make sure the signs were there. This was pretty much his last chance. If this plan didn't work, he was probably going to be alone for the rest of his life. Well, maybe he'd get a cat, so not totally alone, but without any romance in his life.
So, the plan had to work. It was a simple one this time: Rescue Inui-Senpai From A Dangerous Situation Plan. That always worked, in all the comics and books and movies.
Dangerous sitations did not happen conveniently in real life, though, so Kaidoh had to manufacture one. There were only four steps: 1. invite Inui to the weight room; 2. put up sign on weight room door to keep everyone else away; 3. balance box labeled "barbells" (but really filled with paper towels, since Kaidoh was not stupid enough to manufacture a real dangerous situation) over the door; and 4. pull Inui out of the way so the box didn't fall on his head. Which would lead to a romantic situation in which they would fall in love and kiss and maybe get a cat anyhow.
At 2:45, Kaidoh picked his way through the gym. They were putting in new bleachers and there were sawhorses and boards and nailguns and belt sanders everywhere along the walls. And the box of paper towels was so big it kept slipping out of his hands.
There were a couple of boys from the baseball team in the weight room, but Kaidoh scowled and said the room was reserved and they ran off fast enough. He put the sign up on the door. He put the other sign on the box and balanced it on top of the door. Everything was in place, no fuck-ups.
His phone buzzed, which was probably Inui texting to say that he was now in love with someone else and Kaidoh should have a nice life with his cat. Or cats. He'd end up one of those people with thirty cats and no friends and when he died the cats would eat him.
I'll be there about 3:10.
Okay, he wouldn't be eaten by cats today at least. But there were still fifteen minutes to kill. Kaidoh eased through the door so the box would stay up and grabbed a basketball from a bin.
He went for a layup. Two points! His jump shot bounced off the rim but he got the rebound and tipped it in for two more. Then some foul shots.
He was thirteen for twenty when a bunch of boys crashed into the gym. The stupid basketball team. "There's no one in here," one of them said and ripped the sign off the weight room door.
"Hey!" Kaidoh yelled. "We have that reserved!"
"There's no reserving the weight room," the boy yelled back and it served the basketball idiot right when a box of paper towels fell on his head a second later.
But Kaidoh had to get them out of there and do steps 2 and 3 all over again. If he had to fight the whole basketball team to accomplish it, he would. "Hey!" he yelled again and ran to the weight room.
He was almost there when he stumbled over a ball, banged into a wall, bounced off a wire basket and stared up into the stack of volleyball poles falling on top of him.
Someone yanked his arm. The poles crashed to the floor. "That was close," Inui said.
"Fuck!" Kaidoh yelled. The plan was fucked. He was fucked. Everything was fucked.
Inui put his arm around Kaidoh's shoulder. "Are you okay? Your adrenalin is probably high from the accident."
"Fuck." Kaidoh couldn't find any other words, any other thoughts. He felt like throwing up, like running away, like that time he and Hazue were playing Wii Bowling and the strap on the controller broke just as Kaidoh was going for a spare and the controller smashed into the brand new flat screen TV and broke it and Kaidoh thought he'd have a heart attack and die before his parents got home.
"Kaidoh." Inui squeezed Kaidoh's shoulders again and Kaidoh couldn't breathe, couldn't anything, just stupid and wrong and fuck.
And he did run away.
Tennis practice did not go well. Kaidoh yelled at the first years and yelled at the second years and yelled at Momoshiro in a way that was probably not usual since Momoshiro actually looked hurt and left Kaidoh to plan the next week's schedule by himself.
And Kaidoh wanted someone to come up and tell him he was being a jerk and to run 100 laps but he was that someone now so he just vowed to be a better person in the morning.
He thought he'd stop in at the pet shop on the way home and see what it would cost to buy thirty cats. He cut through the school grounds, jogging along the track.
And there was Inui. He was sitting on a bench. No notebook, no computer, no binoculars. Just sitting, slumped over, with his forehead leaning on his hands.
Kaidoh's head was planing what to name the thirty cats, but his feet were jogging over to Inui. And he had no plan.
"Inui-senpai," he said.
Inui looked up. "Kaidoh." He looked upset, like he'd found out all his hard drives had been wiped or the Junior Astronomers had kicked him out or something. It made Kaidoh upset too. "I'm sorry, I just--"
"Inui-senpai." Kaidoh clenched his fists. He punched his leg. His guts contracted and his knees went loose.
"I just want to be alone."
"INUI-SENPAI," Kaidoh said, or possibly yelled; it was hard to tell because of the blood pounding in his ears. "I LIKE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE MY BOYFRIEND." His face flamed like he'd been out in the sun for 48 hours straight and he immediately closed his eyes because it really was so completely embarassing, even more embarassing than he'd imagined it could be, which was quite a lot.
"What did you say?" Inui said, which probably meant he'd been looking sad because he'd suddenly gone deaf.
"I can't say it again." Kaidoh squeezed his eyes and fists tighter. "It's not something a man can say." He braced himself to run away again. And possibly fake his own death. Or not fake.
"Kaidoh." Inui put his hand around Kaidoh's wrist. Kaidoh peeked one eye open. Inui wasn't looking so sad any more. And that glow was around him, hazy and bright and Kaidoh opened both eyes to get a better look. "Yes."
"What did you say?" Kaidoh said but more meaning What the fuck do you mean by that?
"Yes," Inui said. "Yes to what you said." He pulled on Kaidoh's wrist and Kaidoh sat down beside Inui on the bench. Inui pried Kaidoh's fist open and laced their fingers together.
There was no champagne or flowers or falling boxes of paper towels. And there was no kissing while violins played. But they were sitting on a bench and holding hands and everything was so warm and happy and terrifying that Kaidoh had to laugh.
"I wish I was as straightforward as you," Inui said. "I was trying all month...all sort of stupid things..."
"Never mind." Inui squeezed Kaidoh's hand. "Do you want to go with me to watch the meteor shower next week?"
"Yes," Kaidoh said and squeezed back.