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 she contemplated.

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 Friday."

"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 her skin.

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 school."

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 resume'."

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 guess."