Best Day of the Year
"Man, I hate this day."
Practice is over, too cold for matches but we still train in the gym in the off-season, and now we're all trapped in the club room. The best of the Hyotei tennis team, hiding from a bunch of girls. Well, you would too, if you were the one they were after. But not Atobe. I'm pretty sure he doesn't care too much about girls, but he does love being adored. The rest of us would rather get home in one piece. It's bad enough that they had to squeal all during practice, but having to listen to them talk about you while you're getting changed is just too weird.
"You're just upset because you didn't get any chocolates," Mukahi says.
"Shut up." Runt. "Like anyone would give you any."
"Ha! I did get some, so there!" And he starts making lovey-dovey eyes at Oshitari, who, God help me, starts making lovey-dovey eyes back, and I think I'm going to be sick.
I really hate this day. And for the record, I did get chocolates. I tried to spend as much time as possible in the club house or the boys' bathroom, but I still got caught twice before classes started and once during lunch. It's not that I have anything against chocolate, or even girls really, but it puts me in an awkward position, you know? If I don't give a gift back on White Day, then I'll feel like an ass, but I don't want to lead the girl on, and anyway, it's not like I'm made of money.
Really, there's only one person I want to exchange anything with, and he's sitting right next to me.
He's my doubles partner -- well not so much anymore, since the season's over and I'm graduating next month, but I still think of us as partners. And I guess you could say he's my best friend, even though he's a second-year. Funny, there was a time I wouldn't have acknowledged even knowing someone who was below me in school, but then again, Choutarou makes me do lots of things I never thought I'd do. He's really sweet and shy, and sensitive, like he actually cares about people, and a bunch of other stuff that I always used to think was stupid. I still don't know how it happened, why he's the one I fell for when he's so different from everything I thought I wanted, but... I've never felt like this about anyone before.
Of course, I can't tell him. Sometimes it seems like we can talk about anything, or at least I talk and he listens, and I mean really listens, but this just isn't the sort of thing you can say to Choutarou. If he was the kind of guy who could just shrug it off and say, "Thanks, but I don't feel the same," and pretend it never happened, it would be okay. But Choutarou's not like that. He'd make himself sick with guilt and it would ruin everything, and I can't do that to him. Or to me. Maybe it's stupid, but I'd rather go on pretending that something could have happened than know for sure that it can't. At least that way I can still keep what I have.
Now Mukahi's looking at Oshitari with eyes like an underfed puppy, and I don't know what the hell they think they're doing, but I wish they'd go do it somewhere else. I swear, they're worse than girls. Akutagawa doesn't know how lucky he is. Next to me, Choutarou sighs a little. He's been down all day today. I mean, he's normally pretty quiet, and he does worry a lot, but he also tries to smile and be positive about things, and today he just seems different.
Probably this damn holiday.
I know he doesn't have a girlfriend, even though he sometimes lets girls rope him into taking them out because he just can't say no. I also know he's never kissed anyone. He told me so; I don't remember why we were talking about it. I have, though. Kissed someone, I mean. The summer I was twelve, my family went to visit my aunt and uncle up north, and my cousin wanted to learn how to kiss 'cause there was this guy she liked. Well, what was I supposed to do? She was already a 1-dan in judo. Not a bad kisser, though. The weird part was, I kept pretending she was Atobe. It was another year or two before I figured out what that meant.
Anyway, Choutarou doesn't have a girlfriend, but he does have someone that he likes. He told me that, too. Which is why I know I can't ever tell him how I feel. It was like getting hit in the stomach with one of his serves, only about a hundred times worse. Well, I'm the one who asked, so I guess I deserve it. Maybe I'm into pain or something. But at least we're in the same boat, which means we can cheer each other up by talking about how much we hate Valentine's Day. After all, that's what single people are supposed to do, right?
"This has got to be the stupidest day of the year, huh?" It's just the two of us now; Oshitari and Mukahi have gone off by themselves, thank God, Akutagawa's still asleep, Kabaji went out to carry Atobe's chocolate, and Hiyoshi's in the computer lab, learning to build bombs or something, hell if I know. "I mean, who came up with this holiday, anyway?"
"Valentinus was a priest who performed marriages in defiance of Roman law. They arrested him and sentenced him to death."
"Really?" Ew. Yeah, that makes me want to run out and buy chocolates. Not too good for cheering up, either. He looks more depressed than ever. "Hey, Choutarou, once we can get out of here, do you wanna go to the indoor courts and play a few sets?"
He stands up and takes his bag, and he is not supposed to be frowning like that, even if it does make him look really cute. "Thanks, Shishido-san, but I really need to be getting home." He puts on his coat and scarf.
I watch out the window as he leaves, and one of the girls breaks from the flock around Atobe and goes over to him. She's about half as tall as he is, and it's hard to tell who's blushing more. She thrusts a red box into his hands, and then, blushing even harder, adds a small, brightly wrapped package with lots of curly ribbon. That's weird. It doesn't look like Valentine's candy. It looks more like a--
Why am I so goddamn fucking STUPID?!
"Choutarou!" I'm out the door and wading through Atobe's fans, and Choutarou keeps getting further and further away, and every time I think I'm free, another girl shoves a damn box of chocolates at me. God, I really hate this holiday.
I know I've spent too much time studying for exams and not enough time at tennis practice because he's already halfway home before I catch up to him. "Choutarou! Wait up!"
"Shishido-san?" He turns, and I realize I have absolutely no idea what to say. You can't exactly just go up to a guy and wish him a happy birthday when you've been as big an ass as I have.
"Choutarou, I'm so sorry. I completely forgot."
"It's all right. It was a long time ago that I mentioned it...."
I shake my head. "I should have remembered. I'm really sorry." We both look at the sidewalk. Talk about your awkward moment. "Look, I'll make it up to you. Let me...." My brain searches for the first thing it can find. "Buy you dinner or something." Did I just ask him out? And where would we go? I don't think I've got even a thousand yen in my wallet.
"I'm having dinner with my family tonight," he says softly.
Of course. Because that's what people do on their birthdays.
"Then let me get you a present. Just tell me what you want, and I'll get it for you. Anything." Anything, just please don't look at me like that.
He sighs again, the way he does when he wants to say something, but thinks he shouldn't.
"I know it's not nothing, so tell me."
"It's just...." He looks down at his feet again. "I'd rather... have something that you wanted to give me, than something that you got just because I told you I wanted it."
First I'm thinking that he's way too adorable to be allowed, and then I'm thinking why is he so damn tall, like a freak of nature or something, making me stand on my toes like a girl, and wow, his lips are really soft, and what the HELL am I doing?!
I back off in a hurry, looking anywhere but at his face. "Choutarou, I--" Words don't seem to want to come out of my mouth. Of course, it would help if I knew what to say. His scarf is hanging loose around his neck, and I put one end back over his shoulder, trying to memorize the feeling of the wool under my fingers, figuring this is the last time he'll let me stand this close to him. "Damn," I mutter. "Sorry."
I turn around and head for home. Great. Wonderful. What other acts of supreme stupidity can I commit today?
I turn, and he comes jogging towards me, his breath making little puffs in the air. His cheeks look flushed, and I don't think it's from running half a block, even if it is cold out.
"Thank you," he says.
"For the present. It's just what I wanted."
"Huh?" How I passed the high school entrance exam, I'll never know.
And then he bites just slightly on his lower lip, and he leans down, and he kisses me. His lips are warm and his nose is cold and his eyelashes brush against my cheek, and it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Ever.
He pulls away, grinning at his own daring, and my brain is still trying to comprehend the situation.
"I thought you had someone you liked."
He smiles. "I do."
God, I am so amazingly stupid.
One way or another, I will beat it into my head that the fourteenth of February is to be filed under Best Day of the Year. Choutarou's birthday.
But somehow, as I pull him back down for another kiss, I feel like I'm the one who ended up with the best gift.
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