t h e   f r e u d i a n   s e n s e

Echizen Ryoma has dreams he doesn’t understand. Half remembered upon waking, the arc and flex of muscle in the air. Long bodies and tennis shorts, twisting and catching on sweaty thighs. Faces he can’t quite see. He wakes too early in the morning with tense muscles and a raspy throat, like he’s been screaming at the top of his lungs.

He hits tennis balls against a brick wall before class, searching for the reassuring thud of impact.

--

He watches Kikumaru-senpai play a second year whose name Echizen only vaguely remembers. Tezuka-buchou is a long column at his side. Out of everybody Echizen likes watching tennis with buchou best; they both detest unnecessary chatter. Buchou’s arms are crossed and occasionally his fingers tap against the inside of his forearm. Echizen can hear the rustling of his jersey beneath Kikumaru-senpai’s shrieking.

After six games Kikumaru finishes with a somersault and a flourish. Six games Love.

“Hm,” says Tezuka.

--

Echizen Ryoma is twelve years old and everyone around him is obsessed with girls. Ryoma does not understand girls, and does not want to. In the evenings when they play tennis his father asks him about his girlfriends, grinning that knowing, irritating grin, and Ryoma wishes the ball would hit him in the face.

He doesn’t understand girl’s pink faces and shrill voices, the strange proportions of their bodies. Lately the girls around him are mutating beneath their uniforms, new fat pushing through the fabric. He walks through the halls and hears boys' breaking voices, mumbling and stumbling through conversation with the pretty girls in his class. The girls that must be ugly stand in clusters in the halls, staring mournfully out at the world.

Whenever he hears the words Ryoma-sama, he wants to walk a little faster.

--

He dreams that he goes to an arcade with Momo-senpai and they play shooting games. His gun is blue plastic and his aim is sure. The lights flash and the bells ring and when he wins he looks up to gloat, but it’s just Tezuka standing there with the pink plastic gun in his hand.

--

People seem to think that Echizen hates to lose. This is a misconception. Echizen hates to lose to the unworthy. Finding someone who can honestly beat him excites him. He becomes consumed by them, the puzzle of them. He moves his pieces to make them fit.

Few people have beaten him twice.

--

One evening Ryoma is waiting after practice for Momo-senpai, who is finishing the last of fifty laps assigned to him for getting into another argument with Kaidoh-senpai. He plays the stupid little tennis game on Momo’s Game Boy; tiny digital players moving mechanically across a fluoro green court with their tiny racquets. The locker room is empty, the Nintendo soundtrack bouncing off the walls.

“Che,” Ryoma huffs when his fat little player loses a point. He’d been trying to execute a complex play. Apparently the game doesn’t recognise it.

“Pardon?”

It’s Tezuka-buchou, standing by his shoulder. He’s back in his school clothes, the top button of his shirt undone. He must have been in the shower.

“This game sucks,” Ryoma replies.

“What is it?” Tezuka sits on the bench beside him. He smells like school-issue soap and his skin is a little rough when he reaches out to take the Game Boy out of Ryoma’s hands.

Ryoma has a brief flash of his dreams: the tennis court that stretches out for miles, kilometres of golden brown skin. His stomach hurts.

“It’s Momo-senpai’s,” Ryoma answers. Tezuka sits for a moment pressing buttons and trying not to look confused. He’s even worse than Ryoma. His fingers look gigantic over the tiny keys. Ryoma can feel the tension in his muscles where their arms press together.

After a few moments, maybe more, low, disgruntled music bursts out of the console.

“Tezuka-buchou,” Ryoma says. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen you lose.”

--

Sometimes Echizen dreams of running laps around the tennis court, caught in the stampede of his senpai-tachi as their feet pound the pavement. The court is always getting bigger and seems to have a thousand dislocated corners, and Tezuka-buchou is always right behind him, and getting closer.



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