THE FAST WAY
by Tari Gwaemir
First-year interlude for Shinji and Kamio.
"Well, don't just stand there. Clean up the courts."
They were holding the racquets like clubs, arms swinging in dangerous sweeps as they swaggered past him. He watched them leave out of the corner of his eye as he silently started to pick up tennis balls.
"Hurry up. The court better be clean by the time we're out of the showers or the coach's going to kick you out of the club," warned one of the second-years. Someone who hadn't quite gotten into the rhythm of the traditional bullying yet--there were still a few of those left, although they hissed their warnings as threats.
"Man, I thought we were going to join the tennis club to play tennis," muttered Kamio, quickly jogging across the court, his arms already full of equipment.
"They could let us warm up at least, instead of standing and watching them play so badly. It was so hot today, and I didn't even have my water bottle with me because one of the senpai took it. Why did he take it when he has his own water bottle? It's--"
"--not fair, yeah," Kamio interrupted Shinji's half-murmured soliloquy.
They continued picking up tennis balls.
"How long does it usually take them to shower?"
"I don't know. How am I supposed to know that? I lost my watch last week; I never know what time it is anymore. I should go check the lost and found again. Maybe someone found it."
"Never mind," Kamio said impatiently, "they're not going to be out for a while, right? Why don't we do this the fast way?"
"What's the fast way?"
The other boy grinned and tossed him a racquet. "Service goes to Kamio Akira," he announced as he hit a perfect backhand serve. The ball landed in the basket with a dull smack.
Shinji looked at the racquet in his hand and smiled slightly. Soon, balls were flying through the air--Kamio dancing back and forth across the courts at top speed, humming that annoying song of his, Shinji silently matching him, serve for serve, in flawless form. They never missed, of course.
The basket was nearly full. Shinji picked up the last ball on the court, tossed it up in the air, and leapt up to meet it, his body arching back to swing the racquet with maximum force. Kamio stopped humming. The ball cut through the air, flying on its parabolic trajectory, to its inevitable destination--
"Ouch! What the hell?! You little punks!"
Shinji looked nervously at Kamio, who shrugged, grabbed their unopened tennis bags, and sang out, "Now's the time to get in the rhythm!"
They ran for it.