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The Basketball Which Momoi Plays

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Satsuki knows that she should be watching Kagamin’s moves more closely, but part of her realizes that there is no telling how he’s going to develop, so why bother? At any rate, the only person who will be able to compete against him is Dai-chan, and he’s as unlikely to accept her input as he is to put effort into school.

She sighs, and leans against the fence. Dai-chan and Kagamin flash past her in one of their many dribbling duels, on these weekly one-on-ones they’ve started having. Midseason like this, in-between semesters, Dai-chan is really the worst to deal with. Ever since they graduated first year, he kept just nagging and nagging about not being able to play, until he finally did the logical thing and listened to Satsuki’s idea, and got a hold of Kagamin.

But therein was a problem for Satsuki. She really loved and respected her grandma, but when that old lady had said to her: “Satsuki, find your own happiness, don’t let it all rely on Daiki-kun’s”, she had become quite sour with her. Now, when Dai-chan really is happy again, she finally understands what grandma was talking about.

Watching Dai-chan smile and fool around on the court with Kagamin all day is far from satisfying for her. Especially since Dai-chan has promised they’re going to catch a movie tonight, and he’s shown no signs of considering stopping for a shower first.

Huffing, she sulks while the boys score and taunt and tease. Is it selfish to want some attention? To want Dai-chan to sacrifice something for her sake? For how much longer can this go on without them giving up?

Kagamin’s at fault too. Whenever Dai-chan looks her way, and seems to consider quitting, he’s shouting at Dai-chan “One more game”, and that one more game is never ever singular.

Satsuki looks up at the sky, watching the gradual change in colour, and feels how she spaces out, beckoning time to pass quicker. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t notice, at first, that she’s joined on the sideline.

“They’re at it again, huh?” Riko-san – Seirin’s coach – comments. She carries a bag with groceries, and Satsuki recalls that Aida Sports Centre is located not far from where they are.

“Yes,” she replies, because there isn’t more which needs to be added. She pouts slightly.

“Kagami-kun said he was playing last week too. I told him not to reveal any tricks to the enemy, but he didn’t listen now, did he…” Riko-san casts both a suspicious look at Satsuki, and a dark stare at Kagamin, who – for a moment – loses focus in the game.

Dai-chan scores, and Satsuki smiles solemnly.

“Don’t worry, even I can’t predict Kagamin’s growth, and Dai-chan wouldn’t hear my suggestions either way.”

She averts her gaze the moment Riko-san turns to face her again, but from corner of her eye, she can see herself being analyzed.

 “I guess it’s the same for you,” Riko-san comments vaguely. Satsuki wants to protest, because they are certainly not under the same circumstances, but Riko-san clarifies all on her own. “I’ve been watching men train and play all my life, you know. But when you watch them have so much fun, sometimes it feels like… wouldn’t it be nice if you could play too?”

It’s not what Satsuki was thinking. She wants to do other things together with Dai-chan, but playing basketball has always been his thing. Of course, when they were kids, he’d drag her out to play, but he always won and teased her until she bawled and he had to pat her head and apologize. They’re not amongst her fondest memories, because he didn’t want to play with her after, so she never really gave it another shot. It’s not like she’d stand a chance even if Dai-chan were just normally talented.

Yet something stirs in her by Riko-san’s words. Standing on the sidelines hasn’t been much fun lately.

“Even so… the fact that we’re women aside, it’s too late for us. I’d never be able to play with Dai-chan…”

“Who’s talking about Aomine-kun?” Riko-san asks. The playing boys have faded into the background; Satsuki’s only looking at Riko-san, with her suspicious groceries and cunning look. “Just playing with someone for fun, someone on your own level…”

Satsuki fills in the blanks. “Someone like you, Riko-san?”

Riko-san nods. “Right.” She holds up her bag. “Though I should get going now, before these spoil. But think about it. Seems awfully lonely to watch these morons all day.”

Satsuki waves Riko-san good bye, and goes back to watching Dai-chan and Kagamin – now caught up arguing about something she must have missed – and allows herself a small smile. It is a little less lonely than before.

 

 

The first time they meet to play, Satsuki foolishly expects that they will just be having fun. She wears her hair in a ponytail and has on sweat pants so she can move freely, and sees Riko-san, standing on the middle of the court with two basketballs, dressed accordingly.

The second basketball is the first clue. The rolled up paper draft in Riko-san’s sports bag is the second.

As expected from a professional coach, Satsuki wishes she could say, but she really had thought, for a moment, that when Riko-san said they’d play for fun, that would be all.

Riko-san rolls up the paper, filled with instructions coach Harasawa would show a begrudging respect for.

“Don’t get any ideas,” Riko-san warns her, eyes slightly narrowed. “I drew this up to fit you and I, not the team.”

Satsuki feels affronted, placing a hand on her chest and gasping at the accusation.

“How rude! I thought we were here to be friends, not steal trade secrets.” Riko-san seems to think she’s seriously offended, so she smirks. “I have other ways of obtaining your training schedule.”

“That’s it! Two laps.”

“Eh? But weren’t we-“

“No excuses!”

To be fair, Riko-san runs the laps alongside her, and the lonely street court is awfully small.

Satsuki miscalculated. She didn’t think Riko-san would be so thorough when it came to just having fun. But then, she doesn’t really know Riko-san all that well.

This will change.

 

 

“Sorry, Dai-chan, I can’t make it today.”

Whaaaat? You’ve been nagging on me for weeks to go see this stupid movie, and now you’re blowing me off?”

“Even more so with your stupid, self-entitled speech just now! Good-bye.”

Satsuki hangs up the phone and leaves it at home, after giving her reflection a smile, dressed in her newly bought sports gear. Then she heads out to meet up with Riko-san again.

 

 

For two weeks straight they meet up at the same place every other day, always alone. The court is never taken, because Satsuki keeps track of Dai-chan’s schedule and makes plans when he’s somewhere else.

It takes a while before they actually start playing. For the first few times, they simply practice passing, dribbling and scoring; all about the basics. Riko-san also insists on running laps to increase their stamina and wrote up a workout program to build up strength. Of course, they always make time for a while of one-on-one, but it takes some time before Riko-san feels like they have increased their overall skills to make it the dominant part of their meet ups.

Whenever they’re done, Riko-san goes with Satsuki to the train station. It’s not necessary, but Satsuki is a social being to a fault, and appreciates the company. Even though the first three times are stale, without much conversation not related to past games between their schools, or how rude Dai-chan is and how it drives her crazy, Satsuki realizes that they have started to talk about themselves instead.

There is a lot to find out about Riko-san. She’s insanely good in school, which doesn’t surprise Satsuki at all, but it fills her with awe to know. And RIko-san does most of the cooking at home, because her father is apparently incapable of using a kitchen, so Satsuki assumes that she must be really good at it too. When she’s not studying or focusing on training exercises and schedules, she likes puzzle games and other brain stimulations – which Satsuki realizes is only more thinking. It doesn’t sound very relaxing at all.

And she doesn’t have many friends. This is not something Riko-san says, but Satsuki notices a pattern when she’s speaking. She mentions her team when she talks about other people, and she seems to hang out with Kiyoshi-san and Hyuuga-san from time to time, but she never mentions anyone else. Sometimes she says “My classmates”, but it’s never Mai-chan or Saya-chan or anyone else.

Satsuki thinks that maybe Riko-san doesn’t have any female friends other than her. So she decides to be nice.

 

 

“Riko-chan!” she calls with a smile and a wave, once she reaches the court as usual. She has begun her second year of high school, and Riko-chan is now a third year, but they have made it a point to meet at weekends when their teams don’t have any games. They are good enough students to manage, somewhat, and as two months have passed since they begun, meeting up for basketball has become a standard pattern do their lives.

Satsuki doesn’t think she’ll ever have the same sort of passion that Dai-chan has, but she might reach Riko-chan’s level. When they play, Riko-chan makes up for in willpower what she loses in height, and though she admits that she has an advantage in experience –when she was even tinier and her dad wanted to teach her – they are somewhat well balanced. It’s not all about the skill level, either. When they play, more and more, Riko-chan has started to let loose a bit.

Chan?” Riko-chan asks. “What happened to san, hm…?” She sounds like she’s trying to be authoritative, but Satsuki doesn’t see any traces of that on her face.

“Well, I call most of my friends chan,” Satsuki elaborates happily. “I was thinking Rikon, but that doesn’t sound as cute.”

She wonders what part it was which makes Riko-chan blush, but she’s pleased with the result either way.

“Fine, Satsuki,” Riko-chan says. She makes it sound like it was her idea to get closer this way, by saying her name so easily. “Now let’s play!”

 

 

“I’m sorry, Riko-chan, I can’t make it today.”

Hm? Oh, that’s too bad.

“Yeah, sorry. I have this really important math exam on Tuesday and I am completely lost in my own notes, I’ll need to take the entire weekend off to study.”

I could help if you want.

“Oh… uhm, sure. I’ll text you my address.”

See you soon.”

Satsuki’s heart flutters when she hangs up. It takes a while to collect her thoughts before she types in her address and presses send, so Riko-chan will know where to find her. She wonders why she’s feeling so excited about studying mathematics all of a sudden.

 

 

Satsuki steals the ball when Riko tries to pass her. She hurries up to catch it, but eventually gains control, and as soon as she does, she’s on the attack. Dribbling is her weakest point but she’s not too far from the goal, so when Riko comes after her she simply makes a cut to the left and shoots.

It’s one of the first three-pointers – if they were using real rules – she’s made. She stares in awe at the ball passing through the hoop, and Riko-chan stares too. The entire movement felt like magic, and must have looked like it too.

Satsuki jumps with excitement, brimming with pride, and even through they’re supposed to be opponents in this, Riko-chan slings an arm around her shoulder when she’s back on the ground and grins. The coach in her is happy with Satsuki’s progress, or maybe she’s simply happy for a friend. Three months have passed since this became their thing.

“Nice shot,” Riko-chan says, before removing herself. She hurries after the ball, which has rolled to the side, and bounces it. “And nice steal.” She passes the ball to Satsuki and moves to stand in front of the goal. “Now let’s see if your dribbling has improved as well!”

 

 

Study dates become more and more common. They love playing basketball together, but when they also take the time to study together, the total amount of time they can hang out increases significantly.

Satsuki wishes sometimes that she could help out Riko-chan the way Riko-chan helps her, but there doesn’t seem to be a need for it. Riko-chan studies so much quicker, and seems to have all the answers in her head already. On the other hand, this means she’s always free for Satsuki to seek help from, and she does like it when Riko-chan leans closer to read the problem she’s dealing with.

One day in early July, a week before summer break, she sees that Riko-chan doesn’t even bring any homework to her place. She has a bag with papers and pamphlets and binders filled with notes, but none are for school.

Satsuki sees her working hard, her things sprawled out on her side of the table in Satsuki’s room, flipping through all of the pages.

“Is it for your team?” Satsuki asks.

Riko-chan pushes up her glasses and looks at her. “That’s right.” Riko-chan looks very cute in glasses, Satsuki thinks. “I’m deciding on where to have their training camp… There are many more options than last year. The school’s really supportive of our team now, ever since the Winter Cup success, so we have more money. But I don’t know what the best way to spend it is.”

Satsuki moves over to Riko-chan’s side and looks at the pamphlets. There are many indeed, and she recalls going through a bunch with coach Harasawa a week earlier, at practice.

“Touou is going to this one,” she says, pointing at the one Riko-chan is holding. “There’s room for more…”

They sit close, with her leaning over Riko-chan like this. When Riko-chan turns to face her, Satsuki expects the usual; “So you can observe our training programs?” jab, but nothing comes out of it.

“Okay, if it’s good enough for Touou,” Riko-chan says. “It’s a bit under budget, and there’s a beach there, right? And we had training matches against Shuutoku last year… I’ll call your coach and see if he’ll agree to show us the same courtesy.”

When she smiles, Satsuki blushes faintly, and has a sudden desire to embrace her. She hugs Riko-chan, and hopes that part of the reason that Riko-chan wants to pick this facility is so that they can have a summer together, too.

That would be wonderful.

 

 

Kagamin woke up to go to the bathroom. That’s Dai-chan’s excuse too, when she asks later. Somehow they do this at the same time, when they just so happen to be at the same summer camp, and they just so happen to go to the bathroom through the same sports hall. Where they just so happen to discover Satsuki and Riko-chan’s secret hobby.

They don’t notice the intruders, at first. It’s 2 in the morning and all of the players should be asleep and get some rest, while they took the chance to play.

It’s the first time in an indoor facility, but it doesn’t feel that different from streetball. Satsuki has improved her dribbling, so she passes Riko-chan on her way to score, but the layup fails. Riko-chan catches the rebound and does a fake to the left, before rushing across the half-court they’re playing at, and scoring.

It just barely goes in, but it counts. She snickers, wild and happy, while Satsuki hurries to retrieve the ball. They’ve been at it for half an hour with a few breaks to drink, and she’s sweating, exhausted, yet so alive.

Then Dai-chan, who stands next to Kagamin, calls out: “What the hell’s this?”

She wants to yell at him, but she feels like she’s been discovered doing something bad, and she freezes entirely. The ball drops and she stares at Dai-chan, who doesn’t look nearly as mad as he sounds.

Riko-chan’s comforting hand on her shoulder breaks her out of her shock.

“Kagami-kun,” Riko-chan sing-songs. ”I explicitly told you to save your strength and rest. Two times.”

It’s amazing to see Kagamin falter at Riko-chan’s words.

“Ah… yeah… I was just… trying to find the bathroom. Then I’ll go back to bed.”

Kagamin is wearing his training outfit. Same as Dai-chan.

When Kagamin turns to leave, Dai-chan mutters something under his breath, and Riko-chan adds: “That goes for you too, Aomine-kun. Go to bed.”

Dai-chan leaves just as promptly, and Satsuki sighs.

“He seemed mad.”

“He’s got no right to be. They’re still growing, they need to rest. Are they really such morons they don’t get that? Can’t they play tomorrow like good boys?”

Satsuki giggles at Riko-chan’s words. “Well, aren’t we growing girls?”

“We haven’t spent all day practicing. Really, those idiots…”

Riko-chan’s hand still hasn’t dropped from her shoulder. Satsuki leans against her, and thinks that even though she hasn’t been running for that long today, she’s still very tired. They decide to take a break, and sleep.

 

 

“Satsuki, since when do you play basketball?” Dai-chan asks her on the bus ride back from training camp. He tries so hard to sound disinterested, and looks out the window.

“March,” Satsuki replies. “You know, when I stopped watching you with Kagamin.”

“Is that so…” Dai-chan comments. “You suck at dribbling.”

“I’ve improved!” Satsuki protests. “Riko-chan manages our training and she’s really good with trying new exercises, I’ve really gotten better. I do not suck.”

“Riko-chan, huh…” Dai-chan says with a sigh. “You’ve been so damn preoccupied lately. Is is because of her?”

Satsuki thinks of their study dates, of Riko-chan cheering her on and playing basketball together. She smiles, and says: “Yes. It’s been wonderful.”

 

 

“Riko-chan,” Satsuki says, when the cool autumn winds have required them to wear another layer as they walk together to the train station. She spins the basketball in her hands and finds it a good distraction.

“Hm? What is it, Satsuki?” Riko-chan asks.

“You don’t… have a boyfriend, do you?” Satsuki wonders why she asks the question. Berates herself for it. If RIko-chan would have had a boyfriend, there is no way she wouldn’t know.

“What’s with that topic?” Riko-chan huffs, with a tint of pink on her cheeks. “Do you think I could have something like that with all the time I’m spending with you?”

Satsuki chews on her lips, and continues walking. She needs to keep pressing forward. “Sorry… I didn’t mean to take up that time.”

Riko-chan sighs. “I mean, I don’t have need for one. Because I have you.”

Satsuki stops in her tracks. Blinking, she stares at Riko-chan’s back, when she stops as well. Slowly, Riko-chan turns, and her face is as red as Satsuki’s must be.

“Riko-chan… you’re better than having a boyfriend, too. What I mean is… I like you too. If that’s what you were… implying…”

Riko-chan takes a deep breath. It’s like when they’re playing basketball together, and she decides to get serious. When she puts extra effort into what she’s doing, when she wants to score so badly nothing else seems to matter. And with that deep breath, she crossed the distance between them and stands on her pinky-toes to press her lips against Satsuki’s.

The basketball is dropped, and rolls down the street.

Satsuki’s heart beats quicker than ever before and she goes stiff. As soon as the kiss is over she puts her arms around Riko-chan and leans down for another, one she can return, and she feels Riko-chan relax against her.

She’ll never be able to stop smiling, and she wishes that she won’t have to stop kissing Riko-chan either.

 

 

Things proceed normally. Satsuki and Riko-chan try to squeeze in a few dates here and there, whenever Satsuki wants to try out a new café, or go shopping for clothes, or watch a new drama at the cinema. Between games and school it’s difficult to make room for more, and their study dates decline in productivity when they became too absorbed in each other, and sneaking glances, kisses and light touches.

Riko-chan’s dad is surprisingly calm when they come out to him, according to Riko-chan, who says there was a 50/50 percent chance he’d threaten her with a gun. Luckily, he’s a hypocrite, and deems Satsuki “safe” at first glance. Satsuki thinks that he’s just a good judge of character.

Satsuki’s mum smiles mysteriously when they tell her, and her dad says: “Things like that, I don’t understand, but if you’re happy I won’t say anything”, which is good enough. Dai-chan looks like he really wants to make a crass joke about lesbians, but Riko-chan is right next to Satsuki when she tells him, so he just shrugs and says: “Whatever”.

The only thing which doesn’t really change is their basketball meetings. They still make sure to meet at least once a week for them, so they can play and practice with each other. Riko-chan congratulates Satsuki on her progress and she does the same in turn, the same as before, but sometimes they celebrate with a peck on the mouth, and when Riko-chan follows her to the train station they hold hands.

Satsuki used to think of basketball as Dai-chan’s thing. It was what he enjoyed the most, it’s what made him so happy, and it was something she would never be able to fully share with him. But with Riko-chan, when they are together, and when they play, she enjoys it far more than she ever did just watching, and she feels like it’s something special just for her, and Riko-chan.

She squeezes Riko-chan’s hand on the way to the train, feeling her warmth, and the calloused hands from their vigorous game. It’s not lonely at all, anymore.