A Ritsu Route (Updated 12/26)

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SemisoftCheese
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Post by SemisoftCheese » Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:42 pm

"You know, Hisao, I'd never thought I'd spend the festival like this."

The lean figure next to me gives me a casual look, a deep smile on her face.

I give her a smile and give the stuffed monkey on her neck a tug.

"The monkey, or the festival?"

She just gives me a smile and looks up at the night sky.

The stars are out tonight. A full blown constellation of them, glittering in the dark sky.

I promised Ritsu I'd meet her by the class 3-3 booth.

The booth I was supposed to help out with… well I'm the new kid anyway. Shizune and Misha can cut me a little slack.

I think we visited every single booth the festival had to offer. On the ring-toss one, I have must have spent at least 5000 yen trying to win a giant dog.

I didn't get the dog, but I ended up with around five million little stuffed penguins, which I traded in for a reasonably sized giraffe.

Fucking carnival games.

Ritsu also enjoyed a mixed degree of success. She wanted to try the ballon-dart game, and after losing several rounds, she started throwing darts at the proprietor, and I had to drag her away.

But all in all, I think we made out pretty well in terms of loot.

Strangely enough, I don't seem to have any of my prizes. They've all migrated to Ritsu's arms, neck, and backpack, where they seem to be happy to stay.

Well, they're probably better off there. A loving home and whatnot.

Ritsu reaches into her bag and pulls out two power bars, one of which she offers to me.

I'm positively stuffed, but it seems rude to refuse.

"Thanks."

"No problem, Hisao."

Ritsu peers into her bag before scratching the bag of her head with her wrist-braces.

She reaches her hand in and pulls out a small, plushie batman.

"I don't remember winning a batman?"

I reach into my back pocket and pull out a blue-and-red caped plush. Superman.

"You won a superman. Then you insisted that we trade because 'Batman is way cooler.'"

She pulls a wry face before juggling the plush in her hands.

"Yeah, I guess so."

She brings her powerbar up to her face, tearing it open with her teeth. I do the same with my hands, and there's a pleasant silence, only interrupted by the crinkling of wrappers and the rustle of grass in the breeze.

Ritsu looks kind of pretty tonight. She's dressed in a loose fitting long-sleeved t-shirt, branded "Wildcat Tennis" and tight, dark, skinny jeans. On the back is "Tainaka" in bold type. A nice touch.

Most girls in our skill prefer skirts and dresses, but I think the look kind of suits her. Girly, but to the point.

As always, the yellow headband is keeping her hair in check, as she munches away contentedly.

Ritsu takes a look down at the Batman in her lap, and gives it a lazy flick with her finger.

"I wonder."

"Wonder what?"

She turns to me, juggling the caped crusader in her hands.

"What's it like being Batman?"

"I guess it involves kicking a lot of villain ass, I guess."

"And being superrich." She shoots me a sideways look.

"That too, I guess."

She gives Batman a toss before throwing him over her shoulders and hugging her knees up to her chest, crossing her arm-braces over them in a sort of self-hug.

She pauses for a second while she looks at me, then adopts a look of interest.

"So tell me, Hisao, your dreams, wildest fantasies, inspirations."

Wait, what?

"Wait, what?"

She shoots me another sideways look.

"Well, we've been up here on this hill for a while, and the moon's out, and it seems like a pensive time of day. So shoot."

I give her a puzzled look, but she seems insistent.

"I don't know, really, I haven't given it any thought."

She rolls her eyes and stretches out on the grass, all interest lost.

"Hisao Nakai. The philosopher."

Her eyes are turned to the sky, but I shoot her a look anyway.

"Hey. That question came out of the blue, you know. It's kinda of big one too."

She sits up, bringing her eyes together in a cross-eyed caricature of thought.

"Yeah, now that I think about it, it wasn't exactly fair."

She punches me on the shoulder.

"But you're still a loser for not having a witty answer on hand."

I attempt to give her a shove back, but she rolls out of the way.

She turns her head towards the festival, her short hair glimmering in the fading light.

I give a shot at continuing the conversation.

"Well, if you're so interested in my life, what are yours?"

She turns, half out of interest and half caught by my question.

"My what?"

"Your dreams. Aspirations. Inspirations. Everything."

She scratches her chin in though, before hugging her knees to her chest again.

"Huh."

She rocks a little bit before looking at the festival.

"I would have to go back. Way back."

She pulls at the band in her hair.

"Actually, maybe just a year ago will do the trick."

She looks at me carefully before she continues.

"I'm Japanese, but I'm not really Japanese in any sense Hisao. I was born in Hong Kong, and I've lived in Russia, the US, Romania, and of course Japan to name a few."

Ah. That explains a lot.

Not really.

"My parents have jobs that require them to move a lot, and on top of that, travel frequently. I don't think I've lived anywhere more than two years, and for the most part, I spent my summers and breaks on the road, to wherever city is calling my name."

She gives a little smile and tugs at her purse, pulling out her wallet and a red, worn, Japanese passport.

She tosses it over to me, and I catch it with a flick of my wrist.

Smooth, Hisao. Play it cool.

"Nice catch, Hisao."

I feel my cheeks burn a bit as she gives me a smarmy, knowing, grin.

She nods her head at the passport.

"Check it out."

I flick though it to my page.

Entry. Tokyo.

Exit. Los Angeles.

Entry. New York.

Entry. Moscow.

Exit. Seoul.

Entry. London.

Exit. O'Hare.

Barcelona. Madrid. Venice. Caracas. La Paz. Capetown. Quito.

The pages are practically littered with stamps, with an extra set of pages sewn in.

"You've really been around, huh."

She gives me a cheesy grin, pulling out a silver credit card from her wallet.

"Yeah, I've been around the world enough times that I can do one of those Amex commercials."

She pulls an extra-wide smile and holds the card next to her face, an imaginary mike in her hands.

"Hi, my name is Ritsu Tainaka, world traveler… and when I get in trouble… I just pull out one of these."

I chuckle, and she gives me a smile, the real thing this time.

"So what's it like be a seasoned traveler?"

She tucks her card and her passport back into her bag, and gives a shrug.

"To be honest, most of the time it's nothing but boring. When you fly, you live in a kind of artificial world, filled with fake sushi, recycled air, and concentrated orange juice."

Ritsu pulls a face.

"I guess it seems glamorous to a a lot of people. Roaming the world without a destination. No chains holding you down or anything."

She looks over at me, a solemn look on her face.

"But when you're home for the summer for two months, and you only see your parents for one week of that summer, maybe it's time for a change."

She pauses.

"I've been everywhere, Hisao, but I can't think of a single place I've called home. It's a foreign word, to me, home. As if it were a completely different language, an alien concept. Home. Family. What an idea."

Ritsu looks out at the festival and pauses. Just enough time for her words to make their way through her own brain, let alone mine.

"You know those around-the-world tickets they always talk about in movies, how you can just buy one and sail on sail?"

"Yeah, more or less."

She pulls a face.

"Well, one day, I was so bored, and my parents weren't home for another three weeks, so I just went. I packed my bags and went to the airport and just got on a flight. To Egypt. To see the camels."

She gives a shrug.

"I saw the camels, then I saw Greece, then the Blue Mosque, the Vatican, all of it. A eurotour if you will."

"All alone?"

She looks away again, a wry look on her face.

"Yup. Isn't that the kind of twisted part of it? Here are all these amazing trips people would die to take, and the kind of thing you travel with your family for, and I just took them alone on a whim."

I don't really know what to say. I think it's already been established that Ritsu is crazy rich. But there's something eerie about traveling the world alone. As if you had nothing better to do than just accomplish someone else's bucket list.

"Still, that's the kind of trip people would kill for."

She looks at me clearly, no anger, just clear acceptance of the fact.

"I know, Hisao. I know. What a problem, right?"

She crosses her braces again and exhales deeply, slowly.

"To answer your original question, I only have to go back a year."

"I was standing in Narita, you know, Toyko Inter, and my bags were at my sides per usual. I was staring at the departures and arrivals board again. Picking a place to go. Anywhere to go."

"And it struck me, Hisao, that I couldn't find out why I was going. Not where, or who, but why. Nothing more than to fill time. That it gave me some sort of twisted sense of purpose. As if giving myself a physical destination, with the humdrum bother of air travel, made it somehow worthwhile."

She gives me a smile and exhales slowly.

"I couldn't handle it anymore. I just grabbed my bags and started running. Out. Out of the terminal. I had to get out of there."

She gives a tiny laugh, rubbing her shoulders as I guess she imagines the weight of her luggage.

"I eventually ended up in some dumpy noodle shop meant for airport workers needing a quick meal. I had a bunch of noodles and pondered my destiny. And I decided I wanted to at least try normalcy for once."

Huh. What a disaster. Rich girl can't figure out where to go.

Cry me a river.

"So I applied to a bunch of boarding schools, and I eventually ended up here. It's not a bad place to be."

She sweeps her arms out over the hill, gesturing to some unknown collective.

I still don't get it. I sweep a hand over the less-than-majestic grounds of Yamaku.

"So this is your dream? To attend boarding school? Listen to Mutou drone about Heisenberg?"

She gives me a laugh and I laugh along too.

"Well, Hisao, when you live such a transient life, this is what you dream of. Conversations. School desks and homework and apples and pencils. The kind of stuff you see in the movies."

"But you didn't get that at your other schools?"

She shakes her head.

"That's for another time, Hisao. Let's just say my schools were for the gifted and leave it at that… I don't think I've ever sat down in a classroom before this."

Huh.

I want to hear more but I don't want to press her on it.

She heaves a sigh.

"It's kind of weird when you think about living the kind of life I live."

I think I should push the conversation along.

"How so?"

"I've got a time stamp when I enter a country. The longest my parents have ever stayed in one place is two years. Whenever I meet someone, I know I won't know them for more than two years. That's it."

"Well, two years is a long time."

She gives a shrug.

"It's not what you think. When you think of your friends, don't you think you'll keep them for a long time? Not that you'll see them every weekend, but when you turn forty, you'll get together and have a few beers and reminisce about the old times?"

"Yeah, sure."

She pulls a face and looks at me.

"I did a scientific study."

She gives a self-deprecating laugh, harsh and short.

"A personal one, done by me. And I've found out that two years is just enough time for you to get that close to someone, anyone, a group, a person, a whatever, so that you can picture a lifetime with them. Nights on the city, family vacations, the lot. They're a constant for once, and you can rely on them like you couldn't anyone else. It take about one year to get that close, and another year to make you take it for granted."

Ritsu heaves a sigh.

"But you have to move and you have to go, because there are planes to take and bags to check and taxis to hail and hotels to check in to, and luggage to unpack, and valets to tip, and there's the world and if you stop you're dead, and emotional luggage is the last thing a traveler needs, so you jettison it and you say goodbye, because it's time to go."

"So you don't keep in touch with your friends."

She pulls another face.

"I do. I send them greeting cards and we text a lot, but it's not the same. You never realize how important face to face interactions are until you don't see someone for a year. And when you come to visit, by the time you've already warmed up, the flight leaves in twenty minutes and you've got to go and say goodbye and hug and send a postcard later."

Ritsu looks lonely now. I can only picture.

A lifetime of goodbyes. The kind of life where your friends have a ticking clock on them, and you're reluctant to get close because you know goodbye will come all too soon.

"I don't think I've ever had a home. I see them in the movies all the time. A mother. A father. A dog. A porch. The kind of things I can only dream about. The kind of things that everyone else takes for granted."

"I see."

I try and lighten the mood a tiny bit.

"Well, I hope when you come to visit me, I get more than just a hug."

She swats me on the head.

"You dog, Hisao. Calm your teenage hormones."

I give her a smile and she smiles back. Look like it worked.

"You're a good kid, Hisao."

"Thanks."

She takes a look at the full moon, bright and white in the sky. A new moon. On the field beneath us, the crew are preparing to fire the first series of fireworks.

She opens her mouth to speak again.

"So that's how I lived my life. Day by day. Hour by hour. The hello's and goodbyes don't seem to hurt as much when you have to run to catch the next flight, or you need to learn an entirely new language just to purchase a sandwich."

She pauses once more.

"But there were some perks. You learn all kinds of stuff on the road. Like how to fix a flat with a match and a can of WD-40. Or how to pet a seal. Or how to tie a headscarf. The kinds of stuff that lasts for a lifetime."

A strange glint comes into her eyes.

"You know, Hisao, one of my friends taught me a trick you can do with a coin."

"Really?"

This sounds less exciting than the flat tire trick, but I'm game.

"Yeah, ready?" She looks at me as a visual check, sizing me up.

I'm kinda curious. However, knowing Ritsu, I hope this trick doesn't involve being electrocuted or being pushed down the hill.

Ritsu rummages in her bag for a coin and places it in my hand. A 2 Euro coin. Gold. Kinda cool.

"Okay, Hisao, now close your hand on the coin and close your eyes."

"Wait, why?"

I open one of my eyes to check she's not dragging a cattle prod out of her bag.

"Just trust me. I bet that in thirty seconds, I can make that coin disappear."

My hand is pretty securely closed on this coin.

I want to see how this works.

Ritsu's the kind of girl who knows a few magic tricks, so I'm sure this is actually going to be kind of cool.

I close my eyes and wait.

Ritsu's lips, effortlessly warm and soft, press against mine.

The surprise of it is more of a shock than anything.

I open my eyes and see Ritsu's golden ones staring calmly at me, as the night stars twinkle in the sky.

She looks down and picks up something from the dirt. A now-slightly dusty two euro coin.

She looks at me, a happy, mischievous gleam in her eyes.

"Looks like you lost something, Hisao."

My response is to pull her into a slower, longer kiss, one we can both enjoy completely this time.

Her braces wrap around my neck as the first of the fireworks go off, her breathing slowed as we share a conversation with no words, and seemingly no end.

Her hair, soft and smooth as silk, brushes against my face as the lights flash in the sky.

I pull away for a slight moment as she look at me in surprise, curious at the stop.

"Yes, Hisao?" she whispers, her voice breathy in the heart of the night.

I choose my next words carefully.

"Welcome Home, Ritsu."

She gives me a smart, brilliant, impossibly bright smile and pulls me closer, her head on my shoulder as we watch the fireworks flash and explode in the sky.


======

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"Closing Time" is a song by Semisonic

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DanjaDoom
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 6/14)

Post by DanjaDoom » Fri Jun 14, 2013 7:38 pm

You're moving Hisao and Ritsu along quite fast, aren't you?

That's not a bad thing, though. Just different.

I definitely enjoyed it!
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 6/14)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Jun 14, 2013 8:11 pm

Well, the personality you've given her is definitely something different.

I like the story so far, but... Have you thought about trying to put more than one sentence in a paragraph? The story reads like a shopping list.

Some things I noticed:
Ritsu peers into her bag before scratching the bag of her head with her wrist-braces.
Too many bags.
Most girls in our skill prefer skirts and dresses, but I think the look kind of suits her.
This is probably the most fanciful spelling of "school" I've ever seen.
...I spent my summers and breaks on the road, to wherever city is calling my name."
What?

There are a few other passages that sound a bit awkward, but nothing too bad. If you want me to go into more detail, drop me a PM.

Oh, and you still didn't mention what became of the dog...
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 6/14)

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Fri Jun 14, 2013 10:31 pm

I'm becoming increasingly confused with regards to this story. It does not feel like a "Ritsu Route" insomuch as it feels like a "collection of unrelated but sequential vignettes about Hisao and Ritsu". If I may use a mathematical analogy, a route feels like a continuous function expressed as a graph whereas this feels like a discrete set of points. I mean, what is here isn't bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but the disjointedness doesn't lend itself well to the construction of a route. Each chapter of a route should be like a piece of a puzzle; on its own it shows a little bit of information, but has the ability to connect to other pieces to reveal a bigger picture, as opposed to each piece being a unique picture in and of itself.

Also I agree with Mirage regarding the paragraph spacings. Use less of the Enter key, dude. Oh, there were also a few spelling/grammar errors I picked up. I could PM them to you, if you like.
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 6/14)

Post by SemisoftCheese » Sun Jun 16, 2013 11:52 pm

DanjaDoom wrote:You're moving Hisao and Ritsu along quite fast, aren't you?

That's not a bad thing, though. Just different.

I definitely enjoyed it!
thanks! i think you're right, i'll try and keep an eye on the pacing
Mirage_GSM wrote:Well, the personality you've given her is definitely something different.

I like the story so far, but... Have you thought about trying to put more than one sentence in a paragraph? The story reads like a shopping list.

Some things I noticed:
Ritsu peers into her bag before scratching the bag of her head with her wrist-braces.
Too many bags.
Most girls in our skill prefer skirts and dresses, but I think the look kind of suits her.
This is probably the most fanciful spelling of "school" I've ever seen.
...I spent my summers and breaks on the road, to wherever city is calling my name."
What?

There are a few other passages that sound a bit awkward, but nothing too bad. If you want me to go into more detail, drop me a PM.

Oh, and you still didn't mention what became of the dog...
dog is yet to come, i promise. i guess i need to work on the spacing, it's how i think, in bullet points, so i'll try and put more paragraphs in next time. i'll go over the grammar and spelling errors, and if i still can't catch them, i'll send you a pm.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:I'm becoming increasingly confused with regards to this story. It does not feel like a "Ritsu Route" insomuch as it feels like a "collection of unrelated but sequential vignettes about Hisao and Ritsu". If I may use a mathematical analogy, a route feels like a continuous function expressed as a graph whereas this feels like a discrete set of points. I mean, what is here isn't bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but the disjointedness doesn't lend itself well to the construction of a route. Each chapter of a route should be like a piece of a puzzle; on its own it shows a little bit of information, but has the ability to connect to other pieces to reveal a bigger picture, as opposed to each piece being a unique picture in and of itself.

Also I agree with Mirage regarding the paragraph spacings. Use less of the Enter key, dude. Oh, there were also a few spelling/grammar errors I picked up. I could PM them to you, if you like.
waltz! uh oh. i'll try and connect it a little more, i'm finally free to write nowadays. like with mirage, i'll go over the grammar and spelling errors, and if i still can't catch them, i'll send you a pm.

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Costume Party

Post by SemisoftCheese » Mon Jul 01, 2013 6:15 pm

It's Thursday morning at Yamaku Academy for the disabled.

I have in my hands, courtesy of the kind Kenji Setou, two cups of warm, black, coffee. Among his many survival supplies for the apocalypse rests a coffeemaker, and after stumbling into me in the hallway, he offered to make me a cup or two.

Well, that's the story I'm going to tell Ritsu when I give her the coffee.

Not that Kenji set up the coffeemaker in the common room, made a full pot, tasted it, declared that he was being poisoned, and fled to his room to "administer the antidote."

I step into the classroom and take a look around. As always, there's a bunch of groups milling around. By the window, Miki, Suzu, and the rest of her group are lounging lazily, as if it's already the weekend.

The Student Council seems to be having an emergency meeting, or a thumb war, or something involving a lot of angry gestures.

Natsume and Naomi are hunched in a corner over the latest issue of the newspaper, their desks scattered with rolls of film and ink smears.

Everyone seems to be going around their own business.

I set my bag down on my desk and walk towards Ritsu, who's leaning against her desk, fiddling with her computer.

"Hey, Ritsu."

She looks up, breaking her focus.

"Morning, Hisao."

"I brought you some coffee."

"Ah, thanks."

I hand her the coffee and she puts down her laptop, giving me a contented smile.

We both lean back and sip in silence. The hustle and rush of the room around us continues at it's normal pace, but it seems as if we've created our own space in the room. Just me and Ritsu. Having morning coffee together.

It feels kind of nice. The kind where nothing needs to be said.

I take another sip. For a raving lunatic, Kenji makes a pretty good cup of coffee. A litter bitter, but not that bad.

I take a look at the clock. Mutou's five minutes late. Even though he's always disheveled, he's a pretty punctual guy. This is a little odd.

I guess everyone has their days. I take a glance at Ritsu.

She's humming a little tune as she adjusts the straps on her braces, shaking and sliding them into place until she's satisfied.

A thought strikes me above the hum of the room.

"Hey, Ritsu."

She looks up, focusing her golden eyes on me.

"Yeah?"

I pause a bit before asking my next question.

"Whatever happened to that dog? You know, the one that…" I let my voice trail away.

Wait, no.

I feel really shitty now. I didn't think that question through at all.

What kind of guy brings a dog to a hospital and doesn't even know whether it lived or not a few weeks later?

Her eyes raise in surprise.

I move to interject before she can reply.

"I mean… yeah." My voice trails away again.

Her eyes settle into a calm gaze as she understands what I didn't say.

"Oh, yeah. I took care of it."

She places her hand and ruffles it through my hair, the sensation made weirder and oddly more pleasant by the rough nylon of her braces.

"Don't worry about it, Hisao. All taken care of."

I still…

This feels more than wrong. Something I should have taken care of myself, I completely forgot about, and let Ritsu take care of it when she shouldn't have to do anything. It was my responsibility.

"But did he…"

She waves her hand in the air, allaying my fears.

"Yeah, he's at my grandmother's house in Kyoto. She's named him Kabu because he ate all her turnips in the first week. He's doing just fine."

She gives a light chuckle.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

"I guess I just…"

Ritsu gives me a light bop on the head with her forearm.

"Hisao, don't worry! It's all taken care of, I promise."

I shoot her a look and she gives me a mock pout back.

"Okay, okay, I trust you. Promise he hasn't been turned into hot dogs in China?"

She gives a satisfied smirk and settles back, taking another sip of her coffee.

"I'm sure. My grandmother had to tie him to a post, one because he managed to smash off his neck-cone, the other because he was eyeing her tomatoes. I owe her a present."

She pulls a face.

"And a new garden. She's been cultivating those turnips for years."

I give a chuckle and she smiles back. Ritsu's never mentioned her grandmother before, but I guess they're close.

Another glance at the clock tells me Mutou's twenty minutes late by now. I wonder where he's at?

The door opens, causing everyone in the classroom to turn.

A grey-tufted face pokes through, complimented by square, pink-tinted glasses, a salmon colored-jacket, and a vivid, polka-dotted tie.

The room goes quiet as he scans the room pensively.

I whisper to Ritsu

"Who's that?"

She keeps her attention focused on him, replying back through the side of her mouth.

"Nomiya. Art Teacher. A few fries short of a happy meal."

I give a snort of laughter and cover it up with a bout of coughing.

The pink-tinted glasses turn to me with a mixture of annoyance and concern.

"Young man, are you alright?"

"Yes sir. Sorry sir."

The pink squares turn to face the classroom.

"Everybody, Mr. Mutou is sick, so I'll be a subbing in for him today."

A collective hush rises and falls in the room.

Pink squares continues.

"But I have something to do today, so I'll be relying on one of you to make a report to me at the end of class today. Who here is responsible?"

I guess he's turning it into a study hall.

Everyone squirms in their seats, but a lone hand shoots its way into the air.

The hand belongs to Shizune.

Surprise surprise.

The tufted head turns in her direction.

"Young lady, are you responsible?"

Shizune turns to Misha, who immediately sticks her hand in the air.

"Yes! I will give the report, Shicchan is responsible!

Misha pauses, her brown eyes looking down in confusion.

"I mean… I'm responsible…" her voice trailing away.

I stifle another chuckle, covering it with another bout of coughing. This earns me a stiff elbow from Ritsu.

Pink squares shoots me a look, debates pressing the point, but decides that he's got better things to do anyway. Far better things.

"Okay, you'll find me in the art room if there are any problems. Behave, all of you."

A general exclamation of assent is heard as he closes the door.

Five seconds passes, then a clatter of noise explodes as the room relaxes into it's pre-class state.

An irritated look crosses Shizune's face as she sees everyone leave their desks and form into their morning groups, eliminating the possibly of completing any work whatsoever.

She raises a hand to stop the mess, but seems to think better about it, making fast, rapid signs to Misha.

I guess there's more Student Council work to be done. I wonder what they do, if it's anything significant at all.

Ritsu gets up from her chair, tucking her silver laptop into the main compartment. She lifts it without any apparent effort--I guess the key for managing whatever her wrist problems are is just angles and grips. I wonder what she's got planned for today.

She turns to face me.

"Come on, Hisao, let's go."

Huh?

"Go where?"

She flips her hair at the door.

"You know. Out."

I'm not entirely sure where this is going. I mean, the entire morning was going to be Mutou's class, so we do have a significant chunk of time, but I'm not entirely sure leaving the classroom is the best idea. What if pink squares comes back?

"Out where?"

She moves to adjust the hairband in her head, not understanding my lack of comprehension.

"Out, as in away, as in fun with Hisao, as in late breakfast in town. Come on!" Her voice is tinged with a happy kind of inflection, as if this is what Thursdays were made for.

I'm not entirely keen on the idea of missing class, but I'm sure I won't be missed for a day or two. Especially since we're not learning anything today anyway.

"Ok, let's go?"

Ritsu flashes me a brilliant smile, then shrugs her bag higher on her back and makes for the door.

I shoulder my bag and follow. I mean, it's not every day you get to have breakfast with a pretty girl who enjoys your company, right?

As we near the door, a high-piercing voices cuts through the din.

Before you get the treasure, you have to defeat the dragon guarding it.

"Miss Tainaka! Where do you think you're going?"

Ritsu turns to face the voice, which I know all too well, and I see her eyes flash in surprise.

"I'm going to have breakfast. What's the problem?" Her voice has a genuine note of surprise in to it.

I turn to face the pair and watch the unfolding drama. The room has gone quiet at the appearance of confrontation.

Shizune signs angrily to Misha, who puts her hands on her hips and leans forward.

"This is completely unacceptable! You are in a classroom setting and are expected to contribute to the well-being and accomplishment of the class! Not just leave because you feel like it!"

The room has gone deathly quiet. Ritsu leans against the wall and crosses her braces against her chest, her blue cardigan slightly wrinkled by her backpack.

"Well, it's not like there's much going on here. What's the difference?"

I sense a slight edge to her voice but it looks like she's keeping it in check.

Shizune makes more angry, clinical signs to Misha. These have a more threatening look to them.

"You can't just leave a classroom because you want to! This is truly unacceptable!"

In the corner of the room, I see Miki looking intently at Ritsu. Whether it's a warning or a sense of encouragement, I can tell this argument is more than just a one time deal. She catches my eye, shoots me a wink, and flicks her head towards Ritsu.

Ritsu's voice takes on a sharper edge, but it's carefully kept on a narrow line. A seasoned politician would approve.

"I'm going to get breakfast, because I'm hungry, and we aren't doing anything in class."

Shizune makes a rapid, cutting gesture, and her movements explode into a flurry, culminating in a downwards slash. Her arms are crossed in anger.

"Miss Tainaka, this is completely unbefitting a third year student! I will have to include this in my report!"

Uh oh. That's a line and a half crossed.

I remember when I read a book about prisons in hospital, and what particularly interested me was the idea of a prisoner's code.

You don't snitch on anyone, whether it be your lifelong friend or your worst enemy. Not even for a sense of practicality (so you can commit crimes and they can commit them), but for a higher sense of honor and unity. There is the administration, and there is the prisoners. There is us, and there is them.

I wouldn't go as far to say that people would cover for each other's crimes at Yamaku, but there's definitely a sense of unity among the class, even at the most basic level. I guess it's the general trend of youth vs age or whatever.

Anyway, I think Shizune's cross a line here. Despite her playing an ace, the stares towards her in the room are slightly harder. It's not refreshing to know a classmate, much less the president of the Student Council, would report you to a teacher for leaving a class that doesn't mean anything anyway.

Ritsu's voice takes a cool, poised tone. She looks Shizune straight in the eyes.

"I don't really think that's necessary, Shizune. I'm just getting breakfast. No big deal."

Shizune's arms cross impossibly tighter. I think she's going to take it to the next level.

"For a student who can't even bother to fit in, join a club, or even attend class, this is just another mark on your tarnished record! You should try to improve yourself, not ruin it even further."

Uh oh. Next level attained.

Personally, I don't think Shizune would go that far, but I guess she was egged on by the fact that she couldn't control the class, and she's picking on Ritsu for it.

Eeegh. To think I could have slept in this morning.

Ritsu's eyes flash in a gold fury, but something shatters inside. The gold gives way to a slight glistening.

Her voice shakes, and I'm surprised at the tremor in it.

"I'm going to go get breakfast. If you want to report me, and you think that's fine, you can."

She turns around and takes a step towards the door. Something makes her stop, but she continues, quickly, as if nothing else happened. Her eyes face front, and she doesn't stop to look back.

I see Miki resting her chin on her hand. I think she, of all people, knew there was more than meets the eye, but she didn't want to intervene in it.

I guess I don't really have a choice but to follow her. Miki turns catches my eye and gives me a wink, followed by a kissy-kissy face and a hand on her heart as she tilts her head back in a mock faint.

Well.

I guess for Miki, there's the big stuff, and then there's the stuff that's more fun. A lot more fun.

I follow Ritsu through the door wordlessly, and catch her form striding angrily along the hallway.

I run up to her, grabbing the top strap of her backpack to slow her down.

"Hey, what was that back there?"

She looks at me with a hurt shimmer in her eyes.

"I don't know, Hisao."

We step outside. It rained recently, so the sunlight shimmers in the air

The walk to town passes in silence, mostly with Ritsu looking down and taking smaller steps than usual, looking dejected.

We stop in front of the Shanghai.

Ritsu steps in, and instead of waiting for Yuuko, steps into a booth and sits down. She turns her gaze to the empty street outside, her chin resting on her wrists.

Yuuko steps out of the kitchen slowly, and I give her a nod and a finger to the lips. She takes a look at Ritsu, gives me a concerned look, and ducks back into the kitchen.

I take a seat opposite Ritsu, who doesn't even seem to notice my presence. I think she needs a little space. Which is okay by me. I'm just here to help.

I take a look at her. She seems even more depressed than usual. I take a look at where her eyes are focused.

Normally when people are angry they zone out, and their eyes take a glossy tone, but hers are sharp, focused.

They're focused on the wall across from us. It's a temporary wall-the kind you see in the city made of blue painted plywood and held together with nails. There's nothing of interest there.

Yuuko walks up stealthily to the table and gently places down a platter of sandwiches and coffee. Ritsu keeps staring out the window.

"Thanks, Yuuko."

She gives me a earnest, worried smile, and hurries back to the kitchen.

Ritsu turns to the food in front of her, her eyes down towards the table. She takes a sip of her coffee before looking out the window again.

She gives a sigh and takes a look at me, and looks out the window again. She opens her mouth to speak.

"I suppose you're wondering why I couldn't hold it together back there."

Well, yes, but I don't think the right answer is to push her on it.

I weigh my answer carefully before looking her in the eyes.

"I'm here if you need me, Ritsu. Anytime. But I don't want to pry into business that isn't mine."

She gives a soft sigh of relief and picks up a sandwich. All of a sudden she leans over the table and gives me a kiss on the forehead, her lips leaving a slight burning sensation on my skin.

I smile at her, and she returns a warm, glowing one back. But as quickly as it appears, it disappears, replaced with one of wistfulness.

"I knew I chose well when I met you, Hisao. You're a good kid."

She gives another sigh before demolishing her sandwich in two bites, the movements almost in anger.

"There's more to my life than what I told you on the hill a week ago. It's true, all of it, but there's more."

Okay?

She takes a long draw of coffee before continuing.

"It's true that I don't have a relationship with my parents, that I've traveled the world, and that I lived my life out of a bag. But there's something else I didn't tell you."

She looks at me carefully, with a trace of fear in her eyes, afraid I'm going to bolt away and run. Whatever this is, it's costing her a lot to say it.

She gives another sigh of relief before looking at me in the eyes again, a long, golden, gaze, I guess she's wondering how to break the news to me.

As much as I hate to admit it, I'm painfully curious to know what it is. And to tell the truth, a little worried. But I agreed to stick by her no matter what. And if this is what it takes, then this is what it takes.

Ritsu lets out another long breath before pulling her phone out of the pocket of her blue cardigan. It's an iPhone, rare in Japan, but I'm guessing that's not what she's trying to tell me.

She slides it over the table to me, and I watch as it comes to a stop in front of me.

I don't get it, but I don't want to interrupt.

She looks at the phone, then at me, and opens her mouth to speak.

"Hisao, google my name. Ritsu Tainaka."

I don't see where this is going, but I guess it's a step in one direction.

I unlock the phone and enter the search. A few moments later, the results pop up.

Ritsu Tainaka. Winner, Eddie Herr U-18's. Ritsu Tainaka. Winner, Orange Bowl 2010. R. Tainaka, Finalist, French Junior Open. R. Tainaka advances to finals of Wimbledon junior championships. Tainaka, R, Winner, Kalamazoo U-18.

I have no idea what these things are. I guess Ritsu is a winner, in something. But in what?

"Ritsu, what are these?"

She leans over the table to point at the screen as she explains.

"They're international tennis tournaments. Before I came to Yamaku, I was a top-ranked tennis player."

Evidently a good one judging by these results, but I still don't see her point.

"That's great, Ritsu, but what's up?"

I move to allay her fears.

"I think it's great that you're a winner and all, but what's it got to do with Shizune?"

She looks down at the table, her eyes downcast.

"Shizune was talking about being normal."

She gives a bitter chuckle.

"As if normal was a word you could use at Yamaku. I can tell you about normal"

Her braces dangle from the table, low and at her sides.

"Normal. It's a small word. You know what normal is. I don't know what normal is. I don't know what a date is. I don't know what a school is. I don't know what a desk is."

Her voice takes on a tone of urgency.

"I don't know what friends are, because any friends I made in my past life I had to compete against the next day, and when I beat them, they didn't want to talk to me anymore. I don't know what a school is, because I never went to school. I learned from a computer. I don't know what a home is, or a mother, or a father, or even someone to rely on. I don't know fucking anything Hisao, not a goddamn bit! All I know is how to hit a fuzzy fucking ball across a fucking bunch of knotted cords!"

Her voice is shouting, one of anguish, and her eyes are glistening with tears. It's fortunate the Shanghai is empty.

Her voice gets quiet.

"I don't even know you, Hisao. I have this fear that I"m going to wake up one morning and you're going to be across the net from me, not on the same side, and after I play you, you're not going to talk to me anymore, or eat lunch with me, or even look me in the eye."

I don't know what to do. Ritsu is nearly a wreck--sniffling, shouting, everything at once. I never knew this was so important for her.

I step out of my side of the booth and she looks up at me with glistening eyes. There's a fear there, a primal, open, fear, one that I've never seen before and never want to see again.

I pro-offer my hand and lift her out of her side, bringing her to stand in front of me.

I look her straight in the eye as she looks up at me.

"What I said before was true, Ritsu. I'm here for you, no matter what. I won't leave you, no matter what happens."

She looks at me slowly, in slight disbelief, and moves to rest her face in my shoulder, and I wrap her in a hug. I feel her body heave as she calms down slowly, steadily, until she wipes her eyes and pulls away.

She looks up at me, her eyes slightly red, and speaks in a hoarse voice.

"I'm okay now. Thanks, Hisao."

She moves to sit down and I sit down across from her. She picks up a sandwich gingerly and eats it slowly, pausing to sip coffee as she returns to a semi-normal state.

After a while, she speaks again.

"So that's why I couldn't handle Shizune today. She reminded me of everything I escaped. And I was afraid I was going to lose it again. Everything. The friends I thought I had. You. Because I was breaking a rule I didn't know existed."

I give her a light bop on the head.

"Skipping class isn't too bad, but let's not do it too much in the future, okay?"

She gives a chuckle, and a thought strikes my mind.

"Was it really that bad being a professional tennis player?"

She shakes her head as she takes a sip of coffee.

"Hisao, you have no idea. Let me take you through a day."

"Okay."

"At 6AM, you wake up, and you drink a liter of water and wolf down a handful of cereal, before it's time for a beach run--a tradition. You get dropped off in the cold, morning sand, before the sun is out, and you've got a five mile sand run to be made in 40-45 minutes, depending who's driving that day. If you don't make it, you get to walk back. After you get back, you have enough time to shower and eat another handful of cereal before you hurry to the courts, because practice starts at 7:30."

She waves a hand in the air.

"That's annoying, but it's not the tough part. You practice from 7"30-10:30, which mainly consists of drills, and fine-tuning certain aspects of your game. You get 3.5 hours for lunch, mainly so you can eat a meal large enough to replace the calories you burned. From 2-4 it's matchplay, where they pit you against each other, and from 4-5 is conditioning, and 5-6 physiotherapy and lifting."

This sounds strenuous. I don't think my heart and I could make it through five minutes, let alone an entire day.

She pauses and rolls her eyes to the ceiling, lost in thought.

"I guess I didn't really convey why it's such a terrible day. The physical stuff sounds awful, but it's pretty rote once you get used to it and everything."

She folds her brace on the table.

"Hisao, you ever play tennis?"

"Actually, no."

She gives a sigh and looks down again.

"Okay, I'll try and explain. What sports do you play, if any?"

I give a mock huff and place my hands on my hips.

"I played soccer, thanks every much. Not everyone can be a world class athlete like you, Ms. Tainaka, but we can try."

She gives a warm laugh and punches me on the shoulder.

"Okay, I'll try and explain it to you. On soccer, you're on a team, right?"

"Yeah."

She pauses before arranging her next answer.

"Tennis is unique in that it's one of the sports that requires other people to train, but ultimately, you end up alone on the court. It's you, your racket, and your opponent. It's a lonely game, and it's not an easy one."

She brushes an imaginary ball through the air.

"Every ball is a decision--it's make or break. So when you compete, and you play, you're alone. And this is constant, consistent. But when you train, you're competing, not only against yourself, but your training partners, because at the end of the day, the best tennis player is the one who beats everyone else."

She tightens a strap on her wrist brace.

"So you hold back a bit. Every day is a poker day. You hold your cards close to your chest. Sometimes, you don't want to practice with someone who asks you to, because they'll analyze your game and beat you next weekend. And it's hard to have lunch with someone you just humiliated, because it's easy--you're a winner and they're not."

She gives a sigh.

"I'm not doing a good job of explaining this at all. Basically, every hour--every minute--every second--is you trying to beat down everyone who's around you. And they're trying to do the same. So you get vicious. And tough. And you get guts, because you have to make those shots. BUt you also get pretty lonely."

She takes a long sip of coffee.

"That's it, I think. Or should I go again?"

"No, I've got it, I think."

The next question crosses my mind. It's a painful one, and I'm not sure she's ready to answer it.

"So what happened then?" I ask. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to," I add quickly.

She gives another wave of her hand in the air.

"When you wake up in your hotel room and you don't know whether you're in Beijing or Tokyo or New York or Rome it's time to go."

She takes a look at her braces.

"And when you can't grip a pencil because your wrist and shoulder have been torn to shreds from throwing a 320 gram racket through the air hundreds of times a day, when it should really be 290, it's time to go."

I do the painful math in my head. 320 grams… that isn't that much.

She answers the question after seeing my forehead screw in concentration.

"It doesn't seem that much, but just look at my wrists. Most female tennis players can't handle anything above 300, but I took it for the power and I figured I'd deal with the pain later. Another thing I don't know about normal. I talk about rackets like people talk about bands"

She looks at the braces on her arms as if she could tear them off with her teeth.

"I don't know what a home is. I don't know what homework is. I don't know what a teacher is, I don't know what hanging out is, I don't know what a boyfriend is. I don't know anything. I don't know how to cook eggs in the morning or even share a room with someone. I don't know ride a bike or swim in a pool. I only know how to play, and for a while, I thought I knew how to win."

She sighs.

"It doesn't seem like anything, Hisao, but it's scary. It's not what they promised me in the movies. There isn't a school gym and bullies and lockers and everything they told me. Everything I see is new, and it's scary, because all I've ever done is play a silly game my entire life. I don't know how to stand in line at a fast food restaurant, slow-dance with a boy, or even do my math homework. I feel like one of those prisoners they release after 40 years and he doesn't even remember how to tie his shoes, because he's been wearing sandals for all of his life."

She looks down.

"So there it is, Hisao. That's me. Look what you've gotten into."

She pulls her yellow hairband out of her hair and lets her bangs hang loose, waiting for my reply.

I pause. Her life doesn't seem that abnormal.

But the way she explained it, it kind of does. And it would explain the almost forced way she's been acting sometimes.

I mean, it seems cruel almost. As if she's been forced to be an adult from day one.

It seems cruel in a perverse way, that you spend your entire life working towards one goal, and it gets taken away from you, and you've got nothing left.

"Ritsu, that doesn't seem that abnormal. I mean, I guess it's been different, but you're still a teenager. You can still converse with me and go out to breakfast and stuff like that. You're a lot more normal than you think you are."

She looks up.

I take time to consider my next words.

They're important, so I'd better not fuck them up.

"And even if you aren't, you're fine just the way you are."

She bites her lip. Her eyes are full of shock and surprise. She opens her mouth to reply.

"I don't think anyone's ever told me that before. Not in a tournament, not on the court, not even when I won."

A childish smile makes it's way to her face.

"Say it again."

I say it slowly and throughly.

"Ritsu, you're fine just the way you are. I'll take you, braces, injuries, and all."

I pause.

"Even if you do burn the eggs in the morning."

Her childish smile is replaced with a warm, genuine, almost crazy grin, and she reaches over the table and grabs me in a tight, hug, pressing her face to my shoulder.

"You're the best, Hisao. I mean it."

She pulls back and flops on the couch, looking as if a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders.

She gives an exhausted, pleased sigh, and gives me another golden smile.

"So that's all it takes to get a boyfriend?"

I return the smile.

"Not too bad, huh?"

For a while we stay just like that, smiling stupidly at each other as if there was nothing else in the world.

No past, no future, no present.

Nothing at all.

Just Ritsu and me.


========


"Costume Party" is a song by Two Door Cinema Club

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Retrograde01
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Re: Costume Party

Post by Retrograde01 » Mon Jul 01, 2013 6:25 pm

SemisoftCheese wrote:(A great chapter)
I'm loving this, although I do feel like you're moving along rather quickly here. This chapter gave me some feels, but they could've been much more powerful feels if there had been some... buildup(?) beforehand. Implying I have room to talk.

Keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to more.

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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by Joonwoo » Tue Jul 02, 2013 12:46 am

I like where this is going immensely. Please continue the hard work! :)
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by DanjaDoom » Tue Jul 02, 2013 1:30 am

Good chapter, but there were a lot of lines that could have been grouped together instead of being standalone.

In other words, your dialogue is ronery.
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:30 am

A littleer bitter, but not that bad.
Ritsu Tainaka. Winner, Orange Bowl 2010.
Oooh. An iPhone that can google the future!
(Remember the story is set in 2007...)
I played soccer, thanks every much.
Nice chapter, and imho some other stories go way overboard with the buildup, so just continue as you have - it's fine.
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Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by Guestimate » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:18 pm

Ritsu Tainaka. Winner, Orange Bowl 2010.
... I thought the Orange Bowl was College Football (American)...

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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by ProfAllister » Tue Jul 02, 2013 6:29 pm

I, I, I, I...

She, she, she, she, she...

Her voice, her voice, her voice...

I give a sigh, she gives a sigh, he gives a sigh, we give a sigh, they give sighs...

The repetition of words and phrases is a bit heavy. It happens to everyone (You should see some of my prerelease drafts ><). Something you might want to keep an eye on.

While I disagree on your pacing, that's certainly an area where there can be disagreement. I'm more concerned about how everything's always a huge moment. Especially when you seem to be going for a theme of playing up the normal and the ordinary. You have a lot of interesting bits here - I'm just afraid that you might be neglecting the skeleton. And no matter how pretty a person might be, she's just a creepy-looking pile of meat if she's missing her skeleton.
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by griffon8 » Tue Jul 02, 2013 8:36 pm

The fast pace of their relationship is much more understandable now. Ritsu doesn't know how to do anything but live tennis, so she feels she has to figure out everything on her own. I hope Hisao can help her learn to be happy being Ritsu.
ProfAllister wrote:And no matter how pretty a person might be, she's just a creepy-looking pile of meat if she's missing her skeleton.
Well thank you for that image, Professor. :shock:
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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by Guestimate » Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:35 pm

Something I thought of, that may be contributing to the fast development of their relationship. With Hisao doing the "I'll always be here" and whatnot. While this is incredibly sweet, she's feeding right in to his White Knight complex.

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Re: A Ritsu Route (Updated 7/1)

Post by Hoitash » Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:24 pm

Guestimate wrote:Something I thought of, that may be contributing to the fast development of their relationship. With Hisao doing the "I'll always be here" and whatnot. While this is incredibly sweet, she's feeding right in to his White Knight complex.
It seems like Ritsu is holding out for a hero, though. Whether or not she needs one...
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