Momo-senpai is an idiot.
He drags Ryoma on all of his dates, to the movie theater, to karaoke, to the street courts, wherever. Momo sits between Ryoma and the girl he’s supposed to be with, laughing too loudly at parts of the movie that aren’t even funny and accidentally dropping popcorn all over Ryoma’s lap. He always ignores the girls and they almost never ask him on a second date, but when Ryoma tells him he should just stop dating girls if he hates them so much, Momo splutters and yells and pretends that he does like girls after all.
This makes Momo-senpai an idiot.
Ryoma ignores girls too, but he doesn’t go out on dates with them. He can ignore them just fine without buying movie tickets and popcorn and soda, and ignoring them that way means that he always has more money than Momo does.
He still makes Momo pay for ramen and hamburgers when they go out to lunch, though.
Tezuka-buchou is the least idiotic person Ryoma knows, which means that he’s even higher in Ryoma’s estimation than Nanjiroh, who could still beat Tezuka in tennis. Tezuka doesn’t laugh when he slams an ace past Ryoma, and he doesn’t show Ryoma pictures of naked women after their games and nudge him in the ribs, asking which one is Ryoma’s type. He doesn’t bring Ryoma with him on dates with girls, either, mostly because Tezuka is smart enough not to go out with girls in the first place.
“Momo-senpai is an idiot,” Ryoma tells him as they pass each other, changing sides of the court so that Ryoma can take his turn being half-blinded by the setting sun. “He makes me come on all of his dates with him.”
“He’s your senpai,” says Tezuka, but doesn’t actually contradict him.
Tezuka beats him by one game, and doesn’t make Ryoma feel like he’s a child who will never, ever be able to win; he makes Ryoma feel like he’s flying and just hasn’t gotten high enough yet.
This new girl Momo is going out with is small and pretty. Her fingernails are painted a shade that’s halfway between orange and pink, and her lips are the same color, and so glossy that they look fake. Her clothes are tight and tiny, just like she is, her shorts barely coming down over her thighs and her shirt dipping so low that she’s almost as bare as one of the women in Nanjiroh’s magazines. She laughs nervously at everything Momo says and picks at her nail polish the whole time. Ryoma thinks that she doesn’t want to be here any more than Momo does, and thinks they’re both stupid for dating each other at all.
At the restaurant (which is where Momo takes them because he’s practically broke and food is cheaper than a movie), she eats half a salad and two fries from Momo’s plate. Ryoma eats four burgers, a large order of fries, a vanilla shake, and a Ponta, since Momo’s buying anyway. “That Echizen,” says Momo, laughing, and then shoots Ryoma a wounded look while the girl isn’t watching.
“She’s not eating anything,” Ryoma points out, not caring if Momo wants to keep the fact that he’s broke a secret. “I’m just eating her share.”
The girl giggles nervously at that, and a fleck of her pink-orange nail polish falls off and lands on the table. She smells like tangerines when Ryoma is sitting next to her like this, either because of her lip gloss or perfume or some inexplicable phenomenon that causes girls to smell like fruit or flowers. Ryoma can’t understand why Momo is pretending to be interested in her.
His father is waiting for him just inside the door, and jumps out when Ryoma pushes the door open and walks inside like one of those ghosts in one of those fake haunted houses. “Hey, boy,” says Nanjiroh, grinning lecherously and making Ryoma wish that he could turn around and go to Momo’s house for the night, even if Momo is an idiot. “Had a hot date tonight, eh?”
Ryoma pushes past him and darts up the stairs to his room, slamming and locking the door in Nanjiroh’s face. Nanjiroh stays there for a while, knocking and chortling and making lewd comments until Rink comes upstairs to tell him off. Ryoma ignores Nanjiroh and lies in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking that he likes the scents of sweat and tennis better than the smell of tangerines.
At practice Momo tells Ryoma that he has another date that evening, and that Ryoma should come with him. “Kyoko liked me,” says Momo exultantly.
“Who?” says Ryoma, too busy tying his shoelaces to remember or care.
“The girl, the girl!” says Momo. “The one from last night!”
“Oh,” says Ryoma. “Her.”
Kaidoh-senpai stalks past them, levelling a glare at Momo and hissing before looking down at the floor again and storming out to the courts. “Stupid mamushi,” says Momo under his breath, watching after Kaidoh for a little too long, even though Kaidoh doesn’t wear nail polish or smell like tangerines.
“Why don’t you make me come on your dates with Kaidoh-senpai?” Ryoma asks, making Momo splutter the way he does when Ryoma asks why he dates girls in the first place. “You should just date him instead of those girls,” says Ryoma, because then he wouldn’t have to go along on Momo’s stupid dates anymore.
“Stupid Echizen, you just don’t get it!” says Momo, more upset than angry. He won’t speak to Ryoma for the rest of practice, and Ryoma hopes this means he doesn’t have to go on another date with Momo and that girl after all.
“Buchou,” says Ryoma. “Momo-senpai shouldn’t date girls if he wants a boy on all of his dates anyway.”
Tezuka is watching the match between Kawamura and Eiji, and he doesn’t look away from it to answer Ryoma, though he pauses a moment before saying anything. “It’s Momoshiro’s choice,” he says. Kawamura scores a point and ties the game, 30-all, and crows about it in his loud, bad English. Ryoma sometimes wonders whether Kawamura-senpai even knows what he’s saying.
“Then he’s an idiot,” says Ryoma. “Buchou, do you like tennis or tangerines better?”
Even before Tezuka turns away from the match and tells him, Ryoma knows what he’s going to say.
“You know,” says Fuji at the end of practice. “If you want to see one of Momoshiro and Kaidoh’s dates, all you have to do is go around the back of the building.” Fuji smiles at him in the way that makes Ryoma think Fuji-senpai is an idiot too, only in the cleverest way possible. “I’ll come with you, if you’d like.”
“Che,” says Ryoma, and doesn’t go.
Momo calls him that night after supper, when Ryoma’s supposed to be doing his homework but is playing Mario Tennis instead. “Echizen,” Momo says mournfully. “I’m no good with girls.”
“Then stop going out with them,” says Ryoma. Even an idiot like Momo-senpai should be able to figure that out.
Momo doesn’t exactly reply to what Ryoma says, but goes on for fifteen minutes about how he doesn’t know what to say to girls and how Kyoko is never going to go out with him again and how he hates that particular shade of pink-orange anyway. Ryoma stops paying attention about halfway through and picks up the game controller to play Mario Tennis again. Momo doesn’t seem to notice that Ryoma isn’t answering him.
The next day, Momo drags Kaidoh into an empty classroom and tells him that he wants to date him for real, not just make out behind the school building whenever they feel like it after practice. Kaidoh gives Momo a split lip and Momo retaliates by giving Kaidoh a black eye. They give each other a lot more bruises, enough that it looks like they’ve been beaten up by the Yakuza or something, and by the time they walk out of the classroom they’re an official couple and are going out to the movies later (Kaidoh’s treat, because Momo doesn’t have any money left).
Ryoma doesn’t see any of this happening and doesn’t really want to know, but Fuji-senpai tells him all about it during lunch anyway. At practice Momo and Kaidoh both look like they’ve been run over by trucks, and Momo looks happier than he’s ever looked during one of his dates, so Fuji must be telling at least part of the truth.
For a long time Ryoma has been next to Tezuka whenever he can be, which means whenever Fuji or Inui or Oishi aren’t there already. Today Tezuka walks over to stand next to Ryoma instead, and Ryoma wonders if this has happened before and he’s just never noticed. Tezuka smells like tennis and sweat and effort and like the court by the tracks and very, very faintly of the same kind of shampoo Ryoma uses. They’re watching the doubles match between Inui and Oishi, Momo and Kaidoh, but Ryoma isn’t really paying attention. He doesn’t have to, because he knows that Inui will score with that serve, that Momo will smash that ball, that Oishi will land the ball right at the line but that Kaidoh will reach it in time to make the return.
Tezuka knows these things too, and he turns away from the game as soon as Ryoma says, “Buchou,” and then tells him, “I don’t want to date girls any more than Momo-senpai does.”
For a minute Tezuka turns back to the match, and then, without looking away from the court, he says, “Neither do I.”
By the end of practice, Tezuka and Ryoma are an official couple too, because nothing stays a secret within the Seigaku tennis club for very long, and they’re not trying to keep it a secret anyway. They don’t look like they’ve been run over by trucks or beaten half to death by gangsters, though, because they’re not a pair of idiots.
They do kiss behind the building, but that’s different because no one else ever finds out, not even Fuji or Inui.
“Hey, Echizen!” Momo waves to him and comes jogging over, and then puts an arm around Ryoma’s shoulders and looks around to make sure no one else is close enough to listen. “Do you want me to come with you on your date with Tezuka-buchou?”
Ryoma looks up at Tezuka, who is standing there with his tennis bag slung over his shoulder and his hair still wet from his after-practice shower, ready to go on a date that will have everything to do with tennis and getting better and nothing to do with nervous laughter and lip gloss. Tezuka smiles slightly.
“No,” Ryoma tells Momo firmly. “I don’t.”