Shoujoai ni Bouken: Adventures of Yuriko
The Story So Far: Unexpectedly, one of Yuriko's old lovers has
arrived at her school - as her substitute homeroom teacher. To add fuel to the rumors,
Evans-sensei is redheaded and unremittingly American. The kids are eating it up.
Volume 2, Issue 11
"Save the Last Dance for Me"
Yuriko showed up for basketball practice a little early. She wasn't
sure why, but she had a premonition about that session - either it was going to be great,
or it was going to suck big time. She thought she'd try to skew it towards the positive
right off the bat.
When she entered the gym, she found herself alone with
Yamamoto-buchou and, for a moment, Yuriko thought about turning and leaving the girl
alone. Yuriko walked out onto the floor and watched as Kaori bounced the ball
reflectively. It was obvious that she was in deep thought. But, as if she felt the older
woman's presence, Kaori turned and caught her eye. Giving the blonde a nod (a distinct
improvement over past non-greetings) the dark-haired girl turned back towards the basket
Kaori gestured at the blonde without looking at her. "Come on,
then," she said without preamble or context.
Yuriko felt that it would have been ingenuous to pretend she didn't
know what the girl meant, so she advanced with firm strides.
They faced one another, Yuriko looking down only slightly to meet
the girl's dark, intense eyes. They were eyes that gave away nothing at all, except the
fact that the will behind them was strong - and focused. Kaori passed Yuriko the ball, not
hard, but with some juice and Yuriko bounced it right back at her. Kaori moved as the ball
hit her fingertips, but Yuriko was there, blocking her, holding her in place. Every move
of hand, shoulder, hip, was countered. Yuriko set her jaw as Kaori faked a break, but ran
into the blonde's sternum. She stuck to the dark-haired girl like glue. In one slowed-down
moment, Yuriko could see Kaori's dark eyes burning in her face, her intensity strong
enough to destroy her if she let it. Yuriko matched that, forcing her body and mind to
stay focused on the ball and the hands that held it.
Time seemed to have stopped. Kaori moved, then halted mid-motion,
the ball flowing from hand to hand like a cardsharp manipulating a pack. Yuriko adjusted
her stance, but knew she'd already lost. Kaori sidestepped, and almost insolently, lifted
herself off the ground, sinking the basket without a sound.
The gym went wild with noise. Yuriko looked around her, seeing for
the first time the entire team gathered around the court edge, each member intent on the
action. She turned back to her opponent, who met her eyes without compromise, as she
always did. Yuriko watched as a remarkable thing occurred. Ever so slightly, the hint of a
smile framed the corners of the girl's mouth, as she turned away without a word. Yuriko
watched as the team captain was greeted by her teammates, and handed water and towels - as
befitted a conquering hero.
A bemused smile on her own face, Yuriko walked off the court to face
the fruits of a lesser victory. She was intercepted by Mikan, the vice-captain of the
team, who handed her a bottle of water and clapped her warmly on her shoulder.
"That was amazing!" she exclaimed. "I don't think
I've ever seen anyone challenge Kaori-buchou like that." Mikan dropped her voice and
turned away slightly from the crowd around the captain. "And I know for a fact she's
never challenged anyone else on the team like that. Either she really hates you - or she
really likes you." She turned back to the court in general. "It's a damn shame
you can't play in the games, though."
Yuriko consoled the vice-captain, but watched Kaori out of the
corner of her eye. She thought she understood the girl a little after last week, but now
she wasn't sure. *Either she really hates you or...*
From that point on, practice fell into its usual pattern - Yuriko
playing opposite the team's starting center. She liked to think of herself as a training
technique, more than as an opponent, although what the center herself thought was unknown
to her. The starting center, senior Tamuro Sakura, was a devout follower of
Yamamoto-buchou, and as such had never favored Yuriko with more than a nod in greeting or
acknowledgement. Yuriko wasn't sure whether she found the situation irritating or amusing.
The circumstances were difficult. Her skills had certainly improved
in the few weeks that she had been playing on the team, but despite her height and
ability, she could not, for any reason, take a leadership position - and she knew it. That
left her in an awkward position. Mikan, as a starting player, was an able and excellent
leader, but she frequently played with, not against, the team led by Kaori. When she had
joined the team, a few times Yuriko had found the girls on her squad deferring to her
assumed experience and age. She had to make a great show of being no help at all. Which
meant that she had to balance her obvious skill with her inability/lack of desire to lead.
It made basketball practice far more exhausting than mere physical exercise.
Tonight the tension was thicker than usual. The team, on a winning
streak, was facing its toughest opponent Friday night. Yuriko was pushed harder than usual
as the rest of the team intensified their workout in preparation for the important game.
It was with great relief that Yuriko found herself called off the court by the coach.
Without even glancing at the girl who offered it, she took the first towel she was handed
and wiped her dripping face and neck.
Ruriko-sensei gestured for Yuriko to come over and the blonde did so
with dispatch. "If it's okay with you, I'm pulling you for the rest of the
practice." The coach smiled a little ruefully. "The girls need the practice for
"Hey, no problem." Yuriko was just as glad. She could keep
up with the team, but it usually took her a while to get going the next morning. She
grinned. "I'm not as young as I used to be," she laughed.
Ruriko yelled out a command to the girls on the court and smiled.
"I know what you mean. I remember when I could pull all-nighters no problem, then
show up for a game the next day with energy to spare."
Yuriko laughed. "I don't think I ever had that much
energy." She absently thanked the girl who had handed her a water bottle. She took a
long pull from the bottle and looked over to thank the girl again, when she jumped out of
Shannon stood there, looking like the proverbial cat in a missing
cream scenario. Oozing insincere sincerity, the redhead gazed up at Yuriko with a mixture
of amusement and admiration.
"Good evening," Shannon smiled at the blonde.
"Mastumori-sensei and I have been having a pleasant conversation while you've been
out there. She tells me that I can act as team assistant while I'm here at the
Yuriko turned towards the coach, who pointedly ignored her glare,
then back to the bubbly American. Nodding, she said dryly, "Well, just remember -
everything you do is being filmed for posterity." She gestured with the bottle at
Namba, who sat in the stands with his camera pointed in their direction. "I don't
care so much - but don't do anything that might ruin your wholesome reputation."
Shannon snorted. "Which wholesome reputation is that?"
Yuriko sat down on the bleacher. "The one on your
Shannon's eyes widened artfully. "Oh - *that* reputation."
The coach blew the whistle and Shannon patted Yuriko on the arm. "Gotta go do my duty
as water girl and mascot!" She ran off to offer towels and bottles and general
enthusiasm wherever she passed.
Yuriko watched her move through the team, and watched in wonder as
both Kaori and her cult of personality favored the redhead with smiles and thanks.
"Huh," she muttered, "so it's not transferable. I'm just lucky, I