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One Day Trade

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"I just hope Chinatsu-senpai is here early today."

Taiki Inomata, a rising badminton player at Eimei Senior High, entered the school's gymnasium just as the sun crept past the horizon. He knew that he was not the top player at the school, which drove him to maximize his practice time in an effort to catch up to his peers. Only the best of the best could go to nationals, after all.

But that was not the only reason why he woke up early every day to go practice.

As he entered the gym, his smile returned. The only thing he focused on was the one other person in the room.

"Good morning, Chinatsu-senpai!"

A basketball was released from a girl's hands, floating into the air in a perfect arc as it splashed into the hoop. It was yet another successful three point shot for her, with her streak of consecutive shots only being interrupted by Taiki.

"Hello, Taiki! And good morning to you as well," she responded with a smile.

Taiki's heart skipped a beat as he saw Chinatsu's smile yet again. Some things just never got old for him, even if it was her trademark greeting by this point.

Although he wanted to continue the conversation, he knew there was no time to waste. He did not bother to get up at an ungodly hour for chit-chat alone. He was here to further his skills so he could progress towards becoming a champion. Chit-chat would not get him anywhere on the court.

After grabbing a racket and birdie from the nearby closet, he walked over to the court that had a net prepared. It was across the gym from where Chinatsu practiced, meaning neither of them were at risk of interfering the other.

Chinatsu, meanwhile, moved to the free throw line to practice her ultra important free throw shots. Throughout her playing career, she could picture all the times her team had won or lost a game due to making or missing a free throw. If it was not muscle memory at the high school level, then they could forget winning any close game. After ten shots, she glanced back at Taiki. He was practicing his serves, seemingly towards the same back corner of the court. She cracked a small grin and went back to worrying about her own task at hand.

But Taiki could not manage even the smallest of smiles.

"Are you kidding me…" He murmured.

Serve after serve went by, and each time, the birdie continued to wander all over the court. On one shot, it landed just on the court line. The next shot, and it slammed into the net at the last second. And on the next shot, he somehow struck the birdie with the top of his racket, and it shot up into the air, before plopping on his head, and then onto the ground.

"What in the world… I've never been this off before. I need better precision on serves if I ever want to go to nationals!" Taiki said.

Just as he finished speaking, he looked up, and his eyes caught Chinatsu. She was now in the corner of the court, shooting three-point shot after three-point shot. It was from the same corner spot for each shot.

"Hey, wait a minute, that's it… she's practicing precision too."

An idea then came to his mind.

"But what if she declines? What if I distract her? Will she be mad at me? What if this doesn't even help me with badminton?" Taiki mumbled.

But he then remembered something Haryu said to him a few weeks ago.

"That's right… Haryu-senpai said that if I have the jitters, it's better to stop and take a break. That way, my muscle memory won't be affected from it! So if I take a break and just go practice precision with the basketball… I hope Chinatsu-senpai doesn't mind. Nationals is months away, anyways," Taiki said.

"Is something the matter, Taiki?"

"Ah!"

Taiki snapped back into reality and jumped back, only to see Chinatsu right in front of him. She held the basketball in her left hand as she gave him a rather confusing look - not one of anger or annoyance, but instead what he interpreted to be genuine worry.

"We-well, it's just, um, how do I - "

"Taiki, you can just say what you want to say. You aren't bothering me," Chinatsu said.

"Oh, okay. Well, I didn't want to distract you, but… I was wondering if you could teach me how to shoot a basketball," Taiki said.

Chinatsu tilted her head to the right, wiping her confused look off her head.

"Oh-oh, if y-you don't have the ti-time to help me, I to-totally - "

"It's not that, Taiki. It's just that I never thought you would ask to play basketball. Of course I'll teach you!" Chinatsu said with a smile.

Taiki's face warmed up as he too reciprocated the smile. He gently placed the racket and birdie down on the ground, reserving his spot in case anyone else entered the gym - although that was unlikely this early in the morning.

Chinatsu led Taiki to the other side of the gymnasium, where there were no badminton nets to block them. She grabbed a second basketball from the cart nearby, handing it off to Taiki. As she did so, her hand brushed his, causing Taiki's face to warm up even more - although Chinatsu did not notice.

The two stood in silence for a few moments. Chinatsu figured that Taiki would just take a shot unprompted, but he simply stood like a statue, holding the ball with both hands.

"Shoot the ball, Taiki."

Taiki dribbled the ball with both hands, causing Chinatsu to cringe. He then shot the ball with both hands. The ball flew upwards, barely moving towards the hoop, and then dropped downwards, once again slamming Taiki in the head.

"Ow!" Taiki chirped as he fell to the ground.

"Taiki! Are you okay?" Chinatsu said.

"Ugh… yeah, I'm fine," Taiki said, rubbing his head as he stood back up.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Chinatsu asked, holding up a peace sign.

"Two. I'm not concussed, don't worry. I've experienced that before unfortunately, but this is definitely n-not the case!" Taiki responded.

"Oh okay, good. Have a Kot Kat if you want," Chinatsu replied as she handed him a small chocolate bar, "I'm sorry. I thought you had shot a basketball before. I didn't know that you literally wanted me to teach you how to simply take a shot."

Taiki ate the chocolate hastily, thanking his lucky stars that he felt fine and that he had an excuse to buy him a few minutes to recuperate. Once he was finished, he bowed towards her.

"I've… never really played basketball that much. But I thought that if you taught me how to shoot, it could be another way for me to practice precision. You know, with serves in badminton and all… I need to get better at them," Taiki said.

"Sure, that makes sense to me! Here, let me show you how to hold the ball for a shot. The posture of your hands is critical for accuracy."

Chinatsu grabbed both of Taiki's hands and repositioned them into the proper shooting posture - his right hand holding the right side and bottom of the ball, while his left hand rested on the left side of the ball.

Again to the ignorance of Chinatsu, Taiki blushed even harder than before. To him, they were literally holding hands, and Chinatsu's cold fingers could not even prevent him from boiling. Once she let go, satisfied with how Taiki held the basketball, Taiki nearly sighed.

"Perfect. Now, drop the ball, and try to pick it up in the same way," Chinatsu said.

Taiki did as instructed. He picked the ball up from the ground, trying to mirror exactly how Chinatsu had guided him. Once he held the ball in the air, Chinatsu walked over and slid his left hand back slightly, and then stepped back.

"That's great! See, you're a natural once you know the proper way to hold a basketball," Chinatsu said.

"You're just, u-um, a fantastic teacher, Chinatsu-senpai…" Taiki trailed off.

"That was just step one. Step two? The aim. A shot can only go through the hoop if you have the correct aim!" Chinatsu said.

"A-aim? Where?! You shoot the ball with a perfect arc, I could never do that!" He exclaimed.

Chinatsu stepped to the left of Taiki. She raised her right arm up into the air and swung it back and forth towards the ground a few times, causing Taiki to tilt his head.

"What's that for?" Taiki asked.

"I-It's like the motion you use for a racket, right? Maybe it wasn't, um, p-perfect, but think of how you aim for a shot in badminton," Chinatsu said, "in basketball, you have to use the same mental process. Make the top of your shot arc be the halfway point between yourself and the basket."

"Hey, that makes perfect sense, Chinatsu-senpai! So the shot should be like this, then," Taiki said, as he motioned the basketball upwards while tracking the arc in his mind.

"That's exactly what you are supposed to do, Taiki. In an actual game, I have to go through the same process before taking a shot. You really are a natural," Chinatsu said with a grin.

Taiki blushed as he tried his hardest to avoid any eye contact with Chinatsu. He looked at the ball, then at the hoop, and then back at the ball.

"Are you ready for Step 3?" Chinatsu said to break the silence.

"S-Sure."

"Well, now that you know how to hold and aim the basketball, you have to take a shot now! Just maintain everything you're already doing, and push the ball off your right hand to create the arc. Make sure you don't push your left hand, though. The left hand is just for stability rather than force!" Chinatsu instructed.

Taiki gulped. He tried his best to remember all of the advice that Chinatsu had given, but his hands were full of sweat as he tried to maintain his grip. He looked over to Chinatsu.

"You know what, Chinatsu-senpai, I'm probably just wasting both of our time, so I - "

"Taiki."

Taiki's mouth opened as he somehow felt even more on edge from just a single word.

"You aren't wasting my time. You never do. Aren't you the one that told me that you miss 100% of the shots you don't take?"

His anxiety was overridden with relief. Not only did Chinatsu not mind taking a break to help him, but she even remembered the quote that he lived by, the very quote he had shared with her so many months ago. He finally smiled.

"Right!" Taiki said.

He shook all of his nagging thoughts from his head. He readjusted his grip on the basketball, found the spot he believed was the best aim for this particular shot, and without second-guessing, released the ball from his right hand.

He air-balled the shot.

"Ugh..." Taiki said, before laughing it off.

"You were close! Just have the shot go a little farther next time. You'll be fine," Chinatsu said.

"Right! And once I get the accurate shot, I'll just go for it over and over again for precision," Taiki shouted.

Chinatsu giggled as Taiki ran over to get the basketball. He stepped back to his prior spot, and took another shot. This time, it hit the rim.

"Progress. I was a little bit closer," Taiki said.

"Exactly. Here, stay where you're at. I'll practice rebounding and pass the ball back to you," Chinatsu said.

The duo practiced shooting and rebounding for the next fifteen minutes, with Taiki finally making a few shots. He was not too far away from the basket, but it was still a mid-ranged shot, so it was just far enough to practice a good jump-shot arc. Finally, Taiki got into a groove, and made five shots in a row. He missed the sixth, but he jumped up and down with a laugh once he knew his streak was over.

"Finally! Precision! So I can do something multiple times in a row. This really helped me mentally, so thank you, Chinatsu-senpai!" Taiki exclaimed.

"You're welcome, Taiki..."

He left the basketball area of the gym and went back to the badminton nets. Feeling like he was now on top of the world, full of confidence, he picked up his racket and birdie. This was the break he had needed. This was the mental shift that gave him a new spark. He lifted his arm, ready to deliver a serve aimed right at the back corner of the court.

It was time to strike.

"Taiki?"

Hearing his name called out of thin air caused him to drop his birdie. Was it a ghost?

"Chi-Chinatsu-senpai?!" Taiki stuttered.

"Oh, um... can you teach me how to serve in badminton?" Chinatsu asked.

Taiki felt his knees shake. Had he heard her correctly?

"Why would you, um, you know, want to play badminton? You play basketball!" Taiki said, trying his best to not repeat his stutter.

Chinatsu then gave a hearty laugh, prompting even more confusion from Taiki. He figured it was best to remain silent at this point.

"Oh, silly Taiki! You just asked me to teach you how to shoot a basketball, so now I want you to teach me about badminton! We still have plenty of time this morning. And besides, I'm sure it will help me with my precision too, right?" Chinatsu said.

Embarrassed yet again, Taiki gave a nod and tried his best to hide his face from her. He went over to the closet and spent as much time possible trying to find another racket and birdie for her. The minutes felt like hours as he returned to her with the equipment.

"Okay..." Taiki said, trying to figure out a good way to explain badminton serving to her, "So, now that I think about it, you can use your same three step process from earlier in badminton too! Grip, aim, shoot," Taiki said.

"That makes sense. So how do I hold the racket?" Chinatsu asked, trying out different positions to see which one felt most natural to her.

"Um... hold the racket in your right hand. Stretch your arm out forwards, and point the racket downwards," Taiki said.

Chinatsu adjusted her hand and arm, holding the racket like it was about to hit the ground. However, Taiki could tell that something was still off, as Chinatsu fidgeted her arm several times.

"Like this?" Chinatsu asked.

"Um..."

Her arm was way too stiff. It needed to be bent more, not to mention her racket needed to be higher up as well. But Taiki did not say anything.

"So is this the right way to hold the racket?" Chinatsu asked.

"Well, just - here, let me help."

Taiki put his nerves aside and, in a rushed manner, adjusted Chinatsu's hand and arm to the correct form. He then instructed her to hold the birdie with her left thumb and index finger in front of the racket. Once she was in the correct posture, Taiki backed up and gave her a thumbs up.

"That's great, Chinatsu-senpai!" Taiki said.

"Yeah, this definitely feels more natural. It's quite an adjustment going from just holding a ball to a racket!" Chinatsu said.

"It's funny you say that, because when I was younger, I actually considered playing volleyball for school. But I chose badminton instead," Taiki said while rubbing the back of his head.

"Maybe you can teach me some things about volleyball too, some other time," Chinatsu said while beaming.

"Ma-maybe..." Taiki said, as he wondered if Chinatsu just secretly enjoyed his embarrassment at this point, or if she was truly genuine.

He shared a few more tips to her about the positioning of the racket, as well as some advice about the aim. Chinatsu then eyed up the spot that she wanted to aim the birdie at. She closed one of her eyes, pictured the trajectory of the ball in her mind, and then nodded. She was ready to take a shot.

"I think I know where to aim. Now I just have to get the angle right," Chinatsu said.

Although he could not admit it aloud, Taiki was in awe. Seeing Chinatsu at work, even if it was for something that she would probably never do again after today, was very inspiring to him. The amount of thought, effort, and concentration that she put into each little move and adjustment was yet another example of her meticulous work ethic, just like with basketball.

"Perfect! And now, serve it! And remember, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, so just go for it!" Taiki said.

"Right!" Chinatsu said.

Chinatsu then dropped the birdie and swung the racket. The motion was smooth, looking like a normal, natural movement for a badminton serve. The angle looked accurate, the birdie was going to fall into the correct spot for the hit, and all that mattered now was the swing.

The birdie was smacked high into the air and sailed halfway across the room, well clear of the net.

"What in the world..." Chinatsu said, finishing her sentence before the birdie even reached the gym floor.

"Oh, uh, it's okay, Chinatsu-senpai! Really, you did great. Everything about the serve was great... you just put a tad too much force onto the shot. Just do the same exact thing with a softer swing next time!" Taiki said with a sheepish laugh.

Chinatsu giggled, "A tad? Well, I'm glad you think everything else with the serve was alright, Mr. Inomata."

"Mr. - hey, what's that for?" Taiki said, as Chinatsu joined him in laughter.

Taiki ran across the court to get the birdie with a grin. He swung his racket and smashed the birdie back to Chinatsu, who lined up for another serve. All of the mechanics were the same, but this time, her swing did not have enough force - the birdie flew into the net, just inches from going over.

"See, you're getting close! You're right there," Taiki said, as he handed the birdie back to her.

The third time was the charm for Chinatsu, as she sent the birdie over the net, within the court lines, to officially have a successful serve. Taiki pushed over a cart of birdies, and Chinatsu fired each one successfully from there - precision was in full force.

"That was so good! I would have thought that you played badminton with the way you served so many in a row like that!" Taiki said.

"Thank you, Taiki. I just had to make a few adjustments, but I was able to figure it out, thanks to you," Chinatsu replied.

They both looked at the clock, shocked at how much time had passed. Soon enough, the other students would be arriving, and then classes would start for the day.

"Darn. It's days like these that I wish I could be a year older, in your class..." Taiki said.

"I wish so too, but don't worry about that. We've had a lot of fun together despite that, right? Just because we're in different classes doesn't mean we can't hang out and practice together," Chinatsu said.

"Yeah, you're right..." Taiki said with a sigh, full of doubt that she would understand what he had actually meant.

"Well, I have to practice some more shots for basketball now, and then I have to work on cuts for passes. But I enjoyed working on precision like this! See you later," Chinatsu said, holding out her hand towards him.

"See you, Chinatsu-senpai," Taiki said, high-fiving Chinatsu as they went back to their respective sports.

The one day trade of exchanging basketball and badminton lessons was now complete.