He had always been observant of other people's hands.
Eerily, his deep fascination often consumed him, making his eyes continuously shift down to where the person in front of him had placed his or her hand. He watched the nimble fingers of his teachers as they gracefully - or ungracefully do the tango with the small lump of chalk while writing on the board during class hours. He watched with profound interest, the palms of chubby hands belonging to small robust children in the park near his school.
And he stared at the talented hands of his equally talented teammates, the protégés of modern, junior high brand tennis.
The first pairs he had always observed were those of the first years. Echizen had skilled hands, much like that of Tezuka Kunimitsu. Both of their hands seemed to be a bit calloused on the right places, proof of their daily carousing with their tennis rackets. However, the younger boy's hands looked a bit smoother, much more an amateur compared to that of their captain. And just like Tezuka-bouchou's they were kept clean most of the time.
Both of them were unique (hands or not)... both of them were perfect.
As for the other freshmen, among the tightly knit group of three, the one who had the most remarkable hands was Katsuo. It seemed to him that the boy hadn't had much experience with tennis yet... his hands never knew hard work. The fingers seemed so soft (he had not the opportunity to touch them yet, so he wouldn't exactly know... but from afar, that's what they seemed like...), shaped like miniature slender candles lit by Christians during the birth of their messiah. Katsuo's hands reminded him of Fuji's... classical... refined... and much like the "perfect" Atobe Keigo's hands too.
Come to think of it, Atobe and Fuji share the same hand quality. They were so graceful that one would think they had lives of their own when they moved. For the life of him, he couldn't quite grasp the reason behind their beautiful hands. He knew that both practice tennis every single day, street tennis court or no street tennis court - or at least, they seemed to. Maybe they had been taking too much vitamin E capsules since birth. Or maybe they just consult some random dermatologist... or whatever it was skin doctors were called - they were rich after all.
Then, there was the matter of the other regulars. Oishi and Momoshiro had the same hand contours, but that was where the resemblance ended. Their fukubouchou's hands were strong alright, but less rough. They seemed to be much like that of their lovable Eiji... professional, firm and gentle all at the same time. Momoshiro, on the other hand, had "Troublemaker's Hands". He had slightly rough palms, but thicker finger diameter, just a size bigger than that of Kaidoh, which, as he had silently noted before, fell into the same category. That goes for Arai too. Kaidoh and Arai, frighteningly, had identical-looking hands. Just like Momoshiro's they possessed much untamed skill and much untapped power... only, they had a high capability to be very gentle when they wanted to.
Then, there was Inui. Inui's hands were scholarly, sharing distinct qualities like that of Fudomine's Tachibana Kippei and Saint Rudolph's Mizuki Hajime. They were meant to ace exams... meant to invent things... meant to make the impossible possible.
The others? They had pretty regular hands... boyish... fit for their varying ages... and yet, still very special since they all strove to attain their respective goals.
Who had the most beautiful hands? He would probably say, Ibu Shinji. His had almost the same contours as Fuji's but more feminine in quality... almost as if... as if they would break when in contact with a fastball. It made him wince when he saw those same hands grip the tennis racket upon whacking back Echizen's twist serve.
He sighed, slumping down his seat. The sun was about to set and it was getting a mite dark in the secluded part of the park he rested in after tennis practice. Sullenly, he held up his own hands and stared hard at them, watching, as they seemed to appear like dark silhouettes superimposed on a canvas painted red and gold.
How about his hands?
He knew the answer to that.
Unfortunately his own hands resembled a freak of nature.
They weren't deformed, but they had sharper edges to them, products of hard labour. They lost their childish suppleness and turned almost sandpaper-rough, the once smooth skin at the backs of his hands were now dry from handling too much detergent... and too much vinegar.
If only he wasn't...
"Oi, don't do that! You're blocking my sun!"
"WAH!" He cried out, throwing his hands up in the air and promptly falling from his seat in a span of two seconds. He wasn't alone anymore. Great... someone caught me in one of my moods again. I hope I didn't look like some lovesick nut. Shaking, he looked up, peering under the brim of his baseball cap, at the one who jarred him to reality.
He was prepared to see an old man pestered enough to bat him with a walking stick... but he was not prepared for this.
"Oi... uh... are you okay?"
Long almost womanly legs... White shorts - ultra short shorts... effeminate hands... smooth-looking pale skin... pouty pink lips... aristocratic nose... hooded golden brown eyes... a mop of dishevelled blond hair... Oh... those hands... they are beautiful... What am I doing? I'm drooling over a hand for god's sake! He shuddered inwardly. I sound like Momoshiro too!
Hyoutei Gakuen... He could not be mistaken. His personality was practically screaming Hyoutei Gakuen.
He gulped, focusing on the spot between blond brows to keep himself from meeting the concerned gaze. "I - I'm fine..." He muttered, scrambling to get up from the grassy plot of land he... landed on.
There was complete silence.
I know you -" They said at the same time. Blushing, he looked down and started patting the backs of his jeans.
"I'm sorry..." The other murmured in such small a voice that his head snapped up in surprise. "I shouldn't have surprised you at all... I was just concerned that I wouldn't get to photograph the setting sun for my assignment due tomorrow..."
"You have photography as a school course?" He asked incredulously. "Wait... aren't you supposed to be in junior high school still?"
The other boy gave him a small smile and nodded. "Yeah... but my school is different... it offers self-enrichment courses aside from the clubs." So... the rumour about Hyoutei is true... wow... now I know why it costs a lot to study there...
"Um... could I possibly know your name?" He asked bashfully, rubbing a tense hand on the back of his neck. "I'm really bad at remembering people... I know I have seen you before and you're quite popular among other people but..."
A layer of sadness seemed to emerge from the depths of the boy's eyes. "Oh... umm... right..." The boy extended a delicate-looking hand, his smile faltering. "I'm from Hyoutei... I, umm... I was placed against the first year regular you have in your team..."
He knows what school I go to? He... he remembers me? Why can't I... wait... oh my god! I'm such an imbecile! It's -
"I'm Hiyoshi... pleased to be of your acquaintance..."
"Ah... yes... I'm... I'm sorry I couldn't seem to remember your name before... heh-heh... I'm -"
"Ah, I know... you don't have to tell me."
Stupefied, he stood still, resembling a stone wall. "You do?"
"Uh-huh." Hiyoshi grinned. "The one who outlasted our dear Kabaji... you're Kawamura-san."
Kawamura relaxed. At least his description wasn't so bad... it was the first time someone outside his team gave something resembling some sort of subtle complement - and he could not deny that he was somehow pleased... doubly pleased that it came from Hiyoshi of Hyoutei... a person with perfect hands.
He let his eyes settle on the graceful motion of those said hands as they pushed back blonde hair from twinkling eyes. It was then that he realized...
"You seem to be staring at my hands, Kawamura-san, is something wrong with them?"
"Uh... no." He stammered, looking immediately away. "It's uh... a habit of mine."
"A habit?" The sceptical tone prodded for a more satisfying answer. Kawamura had a vague feeling that inside, the other boy was as curious as Inui. The thought of the blonde giving him the evil eye through horn-rimmed glasses and scribbling down a navy notebook gave him the creeps.
Maybe I shouldn't think about it...
Shoving the disturbing vision, he gave a sheepish smile, gazing back at Hiyoshi in embarrassment. "Aa. I always look at people's hands... I get to know a lot about them that way."
"Oh, I see... like you're giving the one before you a once-over... only, you're looking at the hands rather than doing an aura-reading?"
He laughed. "Something like that."
"Wow..." There was pure amazement in those words. "I never knew one could actually do that accurately. I have theories about that kind of habit, but... in the past, I seemed to have failed."
Now, it was Kawamura's turn to gape. "You... stare at hands too?"
Hiyoshi nodded enthusiastically, eyes wide with something akin to wonder. "Yes, Kawamura-san! I used to... just... not anymore." A sad sort of chuckle followed. "I seem to have a knack for making wrong presumptions about people's personalities..."
"I thought Atobe was not the prissy person he is today." That was a good way to clarify it, he knew. All was silent... until Hiyoshi grabbed his hand and started pulling him towards where he left his tripod and camera. It was then that Kawamura realized he was not wrong. The other boy's hands were as soft as they looked. And somehow, he knew from their earlier conversations, that Hiyoshi was not the status climber others thought him to be... being a determined person was what he was... not just a part of an internal scam.
And Kawamura thought that Hiyoshi was not so bad... even a better person than the current Hyoutei captain was (though his bouchou might not welcome that observation wholeheartedly). He doesn't talk about himself much often. He doesn't show who he was... so he was easily misunderstood... and in return, maybe it was that same fact that urged his inner soul to rebel and make him appear a bastardly social climber.
Or maybe Kawamura was becoming just a little too fond of him.
He shook his head and gazed thoughtfully at those intriguing hands. Smiling slightly as the seemingly fragile fingers made loose work of adjusting the camera lenses, he thought of how ironic it was that the two people having the most beautiful hands would be wary of each other so much...
And another irony is the fact that he suddenly had the ability to care for Hiyoshi's social skills.
Kawamura-san... you're staring again."
Oh, sorry..." He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, offering an apologetic smile. "I seem to be fascinated by picturesque hands."
Hiyoshi raised a questioning brow. "Okay... I'll pretend you did just not imply that my hands are attractive, because I know they aren't..." he held up a hand, effectively cutting off Kawamura's protests. "So, please, tell me why you are so fascinated by those kinds of hands?"
The Seigaku powerhouse sighed. "Because mine is not." He held his hands up for the other boy to see. "Look, the fingers are a bit out of proportion. I work too much and often forget to take care of them like most people I know. The skin on my palm is rough... children often ask me why my hands are this way... and I cannot just tell them some sort of story... because I'm a bad liar..."
Another thing is that I'm not that much of a tennis player. I just hit the ball hard enough. I don't have any special skill like Tezuka-bouchou, or Fuji-chan... I cannot say that my power play is special because I have a kouhai in the team who does the same thing I do... maybe even better..."
All I can actually do is to pick up crates the morning before I go to school, and carry them inside our sushi shop... and to use all sorts of knives just to help my father make whatever food it is necessary to keep every customer satisfied..."
Gasping for breath, he stopped mid-tirade, snapping up to stare almost dumbfounded at the shorter boy. "Uh... yes?"
First off, you're babbling."
Second, you're acting all panicky... though I don't understand why at all."
And third... you're absolutely -WRONG."
That caught his attention. "I'm... wrong?"
Hiyoshi sighed making him feel as if he was a world-class dunce. "Yes." Kawamura couldn't help feeling he was saying yes to the fact that he was a world-class dunce.
Do you have any friends?"
Yes, I do."
Do they appreciate you much?"
Kawamura thought of Fuji's insistence to protect him - and avenge his losses. He thought of Echizen's words of subtle encouragement. He remembered the way his captain gazed at him from the sidelines as he played, offering some sort of comfort that what he was doing was right - and somehow appreciated. He remembered the hearty pats on his back after every job well done or even those not really that good. He remembered Akutsu... even in his brash way, he offered him support to be the best he could be.
Yes... yes, they do..." He said almost inaudibly. Then his eyes widened. "What does that got to do with my hands?"
Do your parents seem thankful for your help?"
Yes... I think so... but I still don't understand..."
Do the customers of your restaurant love the taste of the food you prepare that they ask for more servings?"
I don't know if it's me though, but people come back every day to eat in our restaurant..." Kawamura said thoughtfully. Then, he scratched his head. "I don't think I can see where your questions are going..."
Kawamura-san, can you not see?"
Hiyoshi chuckled in amusement.
You have the most beautiful hands of all!"
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