Archivist's note: this was written for the "Life" challenge.
Ootori wasn't really sure how it had happened-he'd always been responsible, but… how had it happened? He was fairly sure that he wasn't in that many school clubs-just yearbook, orchestra, and tennis, that was all. He'd planned his class schedule early in the year so that he'd have time for a leisurely lunch every day, and if he woke up early enough, he normally had time for breakfast, too. His family lived too far outside Tokyo for him to commute to school, every day, but at least the Hyotei high school subsidised clean-well, bare-apartments for students like him. And his mother always prepared food for him to bring back with him when he went home for the weekend.
Which was a very good thing, considering that he hadn't had the time to breathe-much less cook anything-for the better part of a week.
#1) Call yearbook publishers. AGAIN.
Yes, he understood that some things were impossible, and maybe getting the books printed on schedule when they were already two weeks behind… perhaps it would take a miracle, as the publishing head said.
He'd never tell them so, of course-there were better ways to put it-but it really was their fault that they'd gotten the proofs wrong.
The fact that they were unwilling to even try to catch up, though… he'd realised sometime late in middle school (sometime? He could give the date for it, the time, the colour-like old blood, or a newly healed scar, or chestnut hair falling snipsnipsnip to the ground) that nothing annoyed him more than someone who wasn't willing to try.
#2) Finish paper for 20th Cent. History; due tomorrow.
Luckily, he'd been good about starting that last week. He'd gotten his sources lined up, and his bibliography-well, all right, so his bibliography needed checking, because some of those Internet sources looked decidedly untrustworthy. That… it wasn't going to take too long, was it? He'd have called up Shishido-san for some help-Shishido-san'd given it whether or not he'd asked for it, back before he'd graduated, whenever he'd caught Ootori researching in the library-but, well… Shishido-san was so busy with university, nowadays.
Ootori blinked, just a little ruefully, at his whiteboard; he did understand being busy.
Ootori thought that Mukahi-san might have even said something about a girl, but then he'd said that he was just kidding so quickly… perhaps there'd been something about the expression on his face.
Certainly, there'd been something a little odd about the sudden emptiness that had crawled up into his throat from somewhere low in his chest.
#3) Law school panel, Matsumoto rm. 114, 8:30 AM.
Oh, gods, he hoped that it wasn't going to set the tone for the rest of the day. He knew they were required for interested students, with the newly instituted application system rather than just entrance exams, and all, yes, but…
Even the Hyotei tennis club at its worst had never been as painful as sitting in a room with fifty unsmiling students, all of whom were listening raptly to some horrible, horrible drivel about how they had to take the easiest electives possible. After all, they had to live up to the standards that law schools around the country had set, in this day of few children and fewer opportunities. Wasn't 'the easy way out' the only way to be the best of an entire pool of students who were doing the exact same thing?
The first time he'd heard it, he'd laughed a little-not having anyone laugh at even a bad joke made the poor teller feel unwanted-but only until he'd realised that the man was examining him like a silver-headed insect.
Strange, how tennis had always made him believe that 'the best' was sweat, and tears, and the salty, unpleasant taste of blood in his mouth if he bit the inside of his cheek too hard. It had always been awful, long nights, muscle aches and the harsh rasp of breath in his throat carved into him with a jewel-tipped knife-the memory of them shone softly in the slightest bit of light, like silver embroidery.
Ootori had never agreed with the policies that kept Hyotei consistently on top, but it wasn't his place to disagree-and frankly, at least the tennis club was honest in its accomplishment. No-not honest, that wasn't the word… they had the right to be proud of their successes. He certainly was. They'd all paid for them.
It still made him smile, though, to remember Mukahi-san, crumpling a literature exam in one sweaty hand, muttering 'Damn, wouldn't it be great if life were just like tennis?'
Especially when Oshitari-san, massaging a bruised wrist, had immediately retorted with, 'I'll remind you of that the next time you have to fight off Atobe's Hametsu he no Rondo!"
#4) Call Jirou-san; 10:02 AM
It had been Jirou-san who'd given him the enourmous whiteboard-wider than Jirou-san's arms could span-on his first day of high school. Well, he didn't understand Jirou-san's sense of humour, sometimes. Most the time. He didn't feel too badly about it, because he suspected-from the look on Atobe-buchou's face when the Singles Two player had tiptoed to kiss his cheek on graduation day-that no-one really did.
Still, he'd understood it even less when Jirou-san had winked at him and said "tabula raza, but don't fill it up!" with the massive plastic-and-metal tablet wobbling about as he attempted to keep it from dropping on his foot.
Jirou-san had ultimately failed, and gone hopping around the room in an agony of hyper cute, but Ootori had brought the whiteboard when he'd moved into the apartment, anyway.
He was fairly sure that his dimunitive senpai had never anticipated the whiteboard being filled, almost from corner to corner, with Ootori's own neat print. By now, some of the marker had been scuffed to stripes from his sleeve brushing the neat blue lines.
Or perhaps he'd known-Jirou-san sometimes noticed things through the thin golden blur of his eyelashes-and that was why he'd said what he had.
It would have been nice to be like Jirou-san-he'd wondered, once, aloud to Atobe-buchou, what kind of dreams he had, and Atobe-buchou had only snorted through his nose and said, "Good ones," as if it were obvious. It would have been nice to be… just a little irresponsible, so he could find just a little pleasure in something. It wasn't fair of him-really, he had everything he needed in life-but he wasn't sure when even tennis had become something he wrote on his whiteboard, rather than something he looked forward to with his hands a little sweaty.
But then again, if he had been Jirou-san, he'd have to have his old kouhai wake him at just past ten o'clock, just so he could make it to his eleven o'clock class. Well, if 'making it' meant arriving before the bell rang, so that he could collapse into a pew of the university lecture hall.
Ootori didn't actually mind. It was actually pleasant to have Jirou-san mumbling sleepy, happy half-nonsense in his ear, a spot of golden chaos in a white, white ordered room, but he still hoped-perhaps, one day, Atobe-buchou would agree to waking Jirou-san up again.
#8) New arrangement for Sleigh Ride?
It was getting far too cold outside to have his meal on the school grounds. Even the cherry trees were starting to scratch the dim, gray sky with thin black fingers.
It still made him smile, a little, to remember the last time he'd made that comment to Hiyoshi-they'd been having lunch with leaves around them, in yellow and gold, early in October. His friend had murmured "Gekokujou," not even looking up from his neat, homemade bentou box-and looked so offended when Ootori had laughed. Or, well, he'd tried to look offended, anyway-it was funny, how Hiyoshi-buchou was so good at scowling, but Wakashi was so awful at pretending to be annoyed.
He'd have to find Hiyoshi a present that would get him really, really annoyed, this year.
Ootori liked the upcoming Christmas season, really, he did. The Hyotei orchestra concert at this time was one of the nicest-the spring concerts certainly had the cherry blossom atmosphere, but something about string instrument music, he thought, made the cold sing like it'd been plucked.
But while it had, in fact, been his idea to coordinate a combined concert between the wind and string orchestras… he should have known that the head of the wind orchestra-Senga Emiko, a clarinet player-would insist on having something new, and novel; how dare Hyotei do something unoriginal?
Wouldn't the famous Ootori Choutarou, who'd gone to the National Exhibition this year, do them the honour of doing it?
He'd hated the way her eyes had glittered when she'd said it, but Ootori had his lunch in a hard, white plastic chair in the school cafeteria-food squeezed between scribbled notes and bars, spaghetti twirled around his fork like a g-cleft.
#9) Tennis practice.
Ootori didn't cry often-and it made him smile, a little, when people thought that he did-but sometimes, the emptiness when he looked at the figure standing before him on the courts made him want to. It wasn't that he didn't like Kimura-he had drive, yes, and he was good. He might not have been as fast as Shishido-san, but he drove himself at their opponents with a single-minded intensity that still surprised Ootori, at times. And he was serious, but nice. They'd always gotten along, drifting into doubles partnership without Hiyoshi even needed to assign them together.
It wasn't that he didn't like Kimura.
#14) Mass, 5:00 PM
There was peace in the chapel-an orderly, quiet serenity, the words tasting thick and sweet in his mouth as eggnog, but it never lasted long enough.
#15) Cram school, 6:15 PM
Cram school always left a bitter taste in his mouth that tasted a little like injustice. Like he'd washed down the eggnog with hemlock.
He was never going to get all these things finished. It was eight o'clock. Eight-thirty. Number sixteen. Number seventeen. Dinner he compressed into a fifteen-minute bowl of instant yakisoba-he liked it marginally better than instant ramen, but it still sat in his stomach as if he'd swallowed a stone and leapt into cold water.
Number eighteen was squeezed into the one empty corner, the crabbed characters running together-skittering horizontally until they reached a corner and crawled painfully up the side.
#18) Go out. Have fun. Fuck it all and live a little.
I'll see you at our courts at ten.
It wasn't his handwriting.
Ootori felt his pulse stutter, once, loudly-louder than the alarm that hadn't woken him up this morning, he'd been so exhausted from the night before. Ootori's clock claimed, with the blinking digital stubbornness of clocks, that it was five minutes to ten. There was no way he'd make it. There was no way he'd… it took fifteen minutes to get to the courts. There wasn't-
Since when had he been in the habit of giving up without trying?
Ootori was sure he'd be sporting a rather spectacular bruise, because he was pretty certain that his hip hadn't been made to have a tennis bag bounced on it like that-but at precisely ten o'clock, with the cold wind stripping his cheeks to warmer, and his breath hissing in his throat like the feeling of trying, he arrived at the tennis courts.
His Shishido-san glanced up from the creaking strings of his tennis racquet, and grinned. "Hey. Choutarou. You made it."
Shishido-san always wore his Hyotei high school jacket whenever they met to play tennis at night, flooded by spotlights. It was the only time that Ootori's schedule allowed, most of the time. Still, though, even in the dark he could catch the sparkle of the embroidery along his former partner's left pocket-Ootori Choutarou, in silver-barely visible except when the light hit the iridescent threads just so.
Well. Ootori reached down-almost reflex-to touch his own left pocket; the frayed black threads tickled his fingertips, even through his calluses. Having Shishido's name on his jacket, still, probably annoyed Kimura, his present doubles partner, but… well, Hiyoshi hadn't asked him if he wanted a new Regular jacket made, and so Ootori hadn't had to refuse. "Of course I made it." He blinked, a little reproachfully. "You might have called my phone, you know, Shishido-san."
Shishido grinned; when he stood up from the courtside bench, Ootori realised with a laugh that his Shishido-san was wearing mittens against the cold. "Yeah, well. Then you'd have felt obligated to come, and frankly, your obligations suck."
But his eyes shone blue as summer in the harsh yellow spotlights when he cocked his head, strolling over with a leisure that Ootori was fairly sure was feigned-the wind that bit his lips tasted of snow, and Shishido-san had always hated the cold. "You sure you're not worn out?" The contact of blue woolen mitten against blue synthetic fabric whispered almost inaudibly, like a whiteboard being wiped clean with a damp hand, when Shishido's hand brushed against Ootori's sleeve. "That board of yours… today looked pretty bad for you."
Ootori smiled down at his Shishido-san, and reached out the gently adjust the lopsided tilt of a certain very battered blue cap-well, it was the same cap, still turned backwards, but the ponytail that slipped from underneath the frayed bill was new with the coming new year, and soft, surprisingly warm.
"Really?" he cocked his head, and stepped back to reach for his racquet-despite the cold, he noticed with a smile that his hands were sweaty against the familiar, coarse leather grip. "I thought today was wonderful."
Except, I think, in this case-the bird goes free. ^_^
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