"Out Getting Ribs" (Ritsu Act 2-2)

Jul 16th, 2013
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  1. Early to bed, early to rise. Makes a man stupid and blind in the eyes.
  3. I showed up at the Yamaku track early on this Saturday morning. Far too early, it appears. The sun isn’t even out and the sky is a pale gray.
  5. The nurse told me when I first came to Yamaku that I should start running to stay in shape. Part of me wants to start running to stay in shape, but part of me also has a lot of questions for Emi, who I’m sure is going to be up this morning for to run. She told me she’s up here every morning, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Hopefully she doesn’t mind an extra running partner.
  7. I admit that what I’m doing is a little overbearing. Ritsu doesn’t need a hero, and I’m certainly not one. She’s an individual and she can carry herself just fine. She doesn’t need me to pick her up and solve all of her problems.
  9. But part of it is to know for myself. I’m don’t know anything about the life of an elite athlete. Ritsu made it seem like it was Mars.
  11. But I guess also as much as it pains me to admit it, I’m just as new to the concept of a relationship as Ritsu is. I don’t know what to tell her or what she wants to tell me. I just was stupid lucky that she decided I was worth opening up to. In a way I feel pity for Ritsu.
  13. I chuckle.
  15. I should be feeling pity for myself. 17 with a heart of an 80 year old and at a boarding school for the disabled. I take enough pills to make Lindsay Lohan look like a pariah. I don’t think I’m doing that much better than Ritsu herself.
  17. But I’m still out here at the track, for better or worse. Maybe Emi can provide me with some answers or direction. Or at least an idea of our next date. Or something. I think it’d be even more stupid to assume Ritsu can handle herself and just leave her alone. For now, I think I’m going with the heavy-handed option. She’s the kind of girl who will tell me if I’m being too overbearing anyway.
  19. I shiver in the cold. It’s fucking freezing at this time of day. I guess when they say the sun warms the earth they aren’t joking. My breath is crystallizing in the air and I’m clad only in a thin PE shirt and shorts.
  21. I take a look at the track. I’ve never run on a track before. Speaking of which, I’ve never run at all before.
  23. I mean, yes, I’ve run on the soccer field, and ran when I was late to class or I had to catch a train, but I’ve never put on running shoes with the express purpose of running. It seemed stupid to me somehow. Traveling a distance to actually end up nowhere. And it seemed so painful. Running is one of those sports where it’s a constant mental battle to keep yourself going to the next step. Why run when you can play soccer or a sport, if the exercise is the same and the latter is so much more fun?
  25. Well, it is one of the most popular and ancient sports in the world. I guess some people see merit in it.
  27. A head pokes over the edge of the bleachers I’m sitting on. It’s not the strawberry-blonde hair color I was expecting.
  29. Instead it’s dark brown, followed by a dark, angular face, and a purple, flashing set of eyes?
  31. Miki?
  33. She cocks her head in amusement.
  35. “Hey loverboy, what’re you doing here?”
  37. I make a nonsensical gesture with my hands. Miki was the last person I expected to see. My head is groggy. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect this. at all.
  39. “I was waiting for Emi to run, but I kind of didn’t tell her, so I was waiting for her.”
  41. I exhale slowly in the winter morning. From the events of last week to this morning, my days have only been getting crazier.
  43. Miki quizzically tilts her head even further.
  45. Uh oh. Have I slipped up? Or am I reading too deep into it.
  47. I mean, am I implying that Miki isn’t an adequate running partner, or that I’m a weirdo who waits for girls in the track in the morning, or that I make sudden appointments on people and expect them to accommodate me? Or am I just worrying too much? Or is it not weird to be on the Yamaku bleachers at 5AM on a Saturday morning wearing shorts while a pretty girl with one hand and a stump stares at you in quizzical confusion as you try and explain that you’re actually asking about being an athlete because your girlfriend is a serious ex-athlete, but she hasn’t told anyone at Yamaku and you’re not sure if it’s a secret you can share with anyone, so you’re going to have to dodge the question, and you were going to ask Emi about it, but she’s not here right now and Miki is here and Miki’s going to run and you’re going to look like a dumbass because you’re just going to sit on the bleachers and watch her run because you’re waiting for Emi and that’s not creepy and all and AUGHHHHHH.
  49. What a headache. It’s too early to deal with all of this. I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do.
  51. I acutely feel a sudden weariness in my bones. I’m so tired. There’s too much information to process. I’m overextending myself. I can barely keep my head up right now. There’s too much to think about and I’m doing too much with myself.
  53. Why did Ritsu have to burden me with all her problems? Why me? Why now? Why am I up at 5 in the morning at some school for disabled kids in the middle of nowhere?
  55. I feel an unexplicable anger build up inside of me.
  57. Why of all people did I have to have a heart problem? I should be at home with my old friends in the city. Life wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t nearly as stressful as this. I had my school, and my subways, my hangouts and my routines. Life was stupid and routine and perfect. I didn’t have to deal with any of this shit then like girls with braces and bangs and stupid bleachers and creeping around everyone’s fucking disability and pretending that I’m normal and everyone else is normal when they clearly aren’t.
  59. Miki watches the entire play of emotions roll over my face without saying a word, looking slightly concerned and a little confused at the play of emotions on my face.. She starts to speak. I expect her to crack a joke and I’ll have to make small talk before she goes off and runs and I wait like a dumbass. What comes out next is a shock.
  61. “Well, she’s not here because she’s out with the flu, so want to run with me?”
  63. She says it without any pretense and completely normally. It’s a normal offer. The kind of thing normal people do.
  65. For some reason, which I can probably pick out from my frustrated mental rant, I can’t formulate a reply.
  67. “Uhh... sure.”
  69. She flashes a smile with me and waves her arms at the track.
  71. “Great! Let’s get started then!”
  73. I follow her down to the track and do my best to imitate her warmup routine, which is a bewildering mix of static and dynamic stretches, high knees combining with long reaches and lunches. I feel my muscles already start to burn at this level of activity.
  75. She notices my clumsy attempts to follows her routine and raises an eyebrow in question.
  77. “Not a big athlete, huh?”
  79. I shake my head, regaining my breath in the cold morning air.
  81. “No, not at all.”
  83. She shoots me a grin and crosses her arms on her chest.
  85. “There’s always a first time, and it’s better you’re out here starting than in your bed being a fatass. We’ll take it easy today.”
  87. I breathe a sigh of relief. Miki wags a finger at me.
  89. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to slack off, though. For starters, you do that stretch like this, all the way down, not with a bent knee.”
  91. With Miki’s help, I manage to make it through her warm up routine, and we start into a light jog.
  93. The jogging is a lot easier than I thought. My hair is jumping up and down in the air, and I’m slightly out of breath, but it’s a lot more relaxing than I thought it would be. My shoes create a quiet rythym, beating out a steady rubber patter against the turf of the track.
  95. Running isn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. It’s still gray outside, but I’m not cold anymore. The air is moving through my lungs as I run at a steady pace, and as I complete my third lap, I feel strangely alive. My legs move of their own volition and I’m floating on a mental cloud.
  97. Allowing for some introspection, I probably shouldn’t have freaked out like I did before. I guess I can blame it on not getting enough sleep because I woke up so early. A lack of sleep always leaves me a little frazzled.
  99. My mind drifts back to Ritsu. I want to be there for her, but I’m not really sure what qualifies as being there for her and being overbearing. I don’t want to be a drag, but at the same time I don’t want to be too distant either.
  101. I mean, I fucked up majorly with that dog thing. I saved the damn dog and I don’t even bother to follow up after it had surgery. Ritsu handled the bill and everything.
  103. To be honest, it kind of made me feel like a child. She took care of it all and I just sort of dawdled along in my school life without any responsibility or idea. I guess it shows how used she is to taking care of herself, which kind of scary how mature she is, but I guess what she told me before directly contradicts that.
  105. It’s kind of funny yet sad in a way. I don’t really know what to make of it. I guess I’ll think about it more later.
  107. Ahead of me, Miki slows down to a stop on the track, barely sweating at all. I’m drenched with sweat, but it’s still a good feeling, a healthy, glowing one.
  109. I stop in front of her and catch my breath.
  111. “Hey, what’s up?”
  113. Miki gives me a shrug.
  115. “I dunno. Don’t really feel like running anymore. Want to do something else?”
  117. Come to think of it, after stopping, I don’t really want to start running anymore either.
  119. “Sure. What did you have in mind?”
  121. After rolling her head around in mock deliberation for a minute, her eyes settle on the field in the middle of the track.
  123. “I know! Let’s play soccer!”
  125. Miki darts over to the shed at the corner of the track, and after fiddling with the lock, ducks inside.
  127. A loud crash occurs inside the shed, and I move closer to see what’s going on.
  129. “Are you ok?”
  131. Her voice rings out from inside the shed, abnormally loud.
  133. “I’m fine! No need to come in, haha. Just getting the soccer ball. That’s it.”
  135. I’m a little suspicious, but she sounds fine, so I guess I’ll wait outside.
  137. Around 30 seconds later she emerges from the shed, spinning a dusty looking soccer ball in her palm.
  139. She boots it to me and I catch it in my hand. For all the dust, it seems pretty inflated. We walk over to the field, and I take a look at the Yamaku field. It’s actually pretty nice. A full-box goal with suspended corners, like they have in the pros, and an astroturf cover. It’s much nicer than anything I’ve ever played on, and I feel the spring of the turf under my feet as I step onto the pitch. It feels familiar, and I’m hit with a surge of confidence. I might not be able to keep up with Miki on the track, but I’m right at home here.
  141. I juggle the ball in my hands as I look at Miki, pumped to kicking the ball around. I guess one of us will be in goal and the other will take shots.
  143. “Hey, what position you want to play?”
  145. She rolls her eyes at me
  147. “I don’t do goalie that well, Hisao.”
  149. I wince at my mistake. All of my confidence drains out of me like a balloon.
  151. “Sorry.”
  153. She waves her hand--no--stump--at me in a dismissive gesture.
  155. “It’s fine. You’ll be taking goal then?”
  157. I nod, and take my position. Slightly in front of the line, hands in front, knees slightly bent. I was defense, but I’m not unfamiliar with playing goalie.
  159. Miki drops to the ball to her feet, takes a short dribble, then winds up, her left shoe arcing back. She’s goofy-footed, or she can shoot with both feet. Interesting.
  161. She makes a solid kick, the ball flashing through the air with lefty slice, and it takes all of my speed to knock the ball out with my right fist.
  163. She arches an eyebrow at me.
  165. “Not bad, Nakai.”
  167. I give her a bemused look.
  169. “You’re not so shabby yourself.”
  171. As she moves off the pitch to get the ball, my eyes flicker to Miki’s shoes. Adidas Sambas. The classic indoor soccer shoe. Someone’s played soccer before.
  173. Miki jogs back on on the field and gives my goal position a careful eye. I bend down again and settle my feet. The noise outside fades to a drone.
  175. I feel my heart slow as Miki winds up again, and her left foot flicks out instead of in--spinning the ball toward the post instead of the center. I reach for it, but the ball passes right beyond my outstretched hands.
  177. "Nice shot, Miki"
  179. She mockingly bows.
  181. "You're all too kind, Sir Hisao."
  183. As I roll the ball back to her, the question escapes my lips.
  185. "Did you ever play before?"
  187. As soon as the ball reaches her she powers it into the net, and answers my question with a shrug.
  189. "A little."
  191. Miki pauses and continues.
  193. "I used to play for a junior national selection squad, but I decided to do track here because soccer at Yamaku isn't that great, y'know?"
  195. Another shot rockets past my hands and into the goal. Miki's shooting form is excellent--shes completely relaxed.
  197. "You're not that bad at track, either, you know."
  199. Miki flashes me one of those thousand-Mikiwatt grins.
  201. "Thanks, Hisao."
  203. Miki seems like more than qualified to answer my questions about Ritsu, and she seems to be pretty friendly too. And she saw the entire thing in the classroom. She seems pretty "on the ball" about social stuff as well.
  205. I guess the only thing left to do is ask.
  207. "Miki, I have a question."
  209. She shoots me a sideways glace as she drills in another goal. She really has put her time in.
  211. "It's about Ritsu, isn't it?"
  213. My reaction is one of surprise.
  215. “Ye--how did you know?”
  217. She gives a shrug, rainbowing the ball over her shoulder.
  219. “I figured that you came to the track to ask Emi about Ritsu. If you came for your health, you would have started coming when the Nurse asked you to, which was most likely when you first arrived at Yamaku. Barriing the possibility that you had a sudden come-to-Jesus moment about your help, you probably came to ask Emi a question about Ritsu, which was supplemented at your surprise at me showing up and the fact that you just asked me if you could ask a question. It’s because she’s an athlete, right?”
  221. My mouth hangs open in shock as Miki slices the ball into the high left corner, with a righty kick.
  223. “H-how did you know?”
  225. Another shrug as I roll the ball back to her.
  227. “I could say the entire Emi thing again, but it’s really because of how Ritsu walks. I knew she was a top-tier athlete she walked into the door at Yamaku.”
  229. She flashes a bright grin at me.
  231. “Most elite athletes can identify someone who’s especially gifted, because the way they move is normally different from most people. Not saying I’m an elite athlete, but if I had to guess, I would say her sport was something in bursts, like basketball or tennis or racketball.”
  233. She’s pretty spot on. Still, I have my doubts whether Miki has an outside source of information and she’s just playing me.
  235. “What makes you say that?”
  237. Miki crosses her arms in thought.
  239. “It’s the way she moves. Everything is very efficient. Distance and endurance athletes move very languidly. Ritsu tends to make short, powerful, moves--you can tell she’s a top-tier athlete because she’s still graceful, but an endurance athlete wouldn’t move like that because it costs a lot of energy.”
  241. Miki uncrosses her arms and starts dribbling the ball again, apparently bored with the conversation.
  243. “So, what’s your question?” She begins spinning the ball around in circles, weaving it through and between her legs.
  245. My brain stops. For all my deliberation, I hadn’t actually thought of the question I was going to ask. Fuck.
  247. Miki pauses and sees the confused look on my face.
  249. “Okay, let’s start small. What’s her sport?”
  251. “Tennis.”
  253. Miki chuckles to herself. I guess everyone likes being right.
  255. “Tennis, huh.”
  257. I guess I should ask now.
  259. “I was wondering what it was like to train at an elite level for a sport. You know, the kind where you don’t go to school and learn or anything.”
  261. Miki rolls her eyes at me. I hurriedly rephrase my question.
  263. “I-i-mean, what’s it like in general training at a top level. Is it really that different from everyday life?”
  265. Miki gives another shrug and crushes a goal in the corner, with a little more force than normal.
  267. “I wasn’t that good, Hisao. I never made the national team. But I suppose I can answer your question. I know a couple of kids who made it.”
  269. She pauses and lets the ball lie still at her feet.
  271. “Soccer, at that level, isn’t a sport. It’s a lifestyle. You can laugh at say it’s a stale joke or whatever, but I’m not joking. You have to love it, you have to live it, you have to breathe it when you wake up in the morning and dream of it at night. You have to have grass stains on your on not just your knees but your elbows and your shins and everywhere you can think of. This sport is your life. It’s all you have.”
  273. She starts dribbling the ball again.
  275. “I never really wanted to make that commitment, so I never really reached the level of the national squad.”
  277. I should have realized I was asking Miki to relive her past. Stupid of me. Shit. Now I’ve basically forced Miki to evaluate all of her life choices because I had a question about my girlfriend. Selfish Hisao. I’ll make it up to Miki somehow.
  279. Another goal in the corner.
  281. “But to answer your question, if Ritsu was any worth, she’d know nothing else but tennis. She’d have grown up with a racket in her hand and went to bed with it every night.”
  283. Miki looks at me and I see a strange fear in her purple eyes. What is it a fear of? Why is she afraid?
  285. “I was always afraid that if I took soccer seriously I would wake up in some backwater country, playing for a nobody team with nothing but a string of goals and a pair of shin guards.”
  287. She sighs.
  289. “Everyone wants to turn into Lebron James when they’re a kid. But no-one realizes the harsh truth until they get older. For every Cristiano Ronaldo, there are a hundred or even a thousand twenty-year olds chasing the dream in some backwater development team in the middle of nowhere, until they wake up and they’re forty and all they know is how to kick a stupid leather ball with a pair of destroyed knees. And you know what the crazy thing is Hisao?”
  291. “What?”
  293. She looks at me and the fear is deep, strong, present in her purple eyes. This is a choice Miki made.
  295. “They all know it. You know it when you sign up. For every concert pianist at Juilliard there are five hundred music teachers in Wisconsin. But if you love the sport anyway, you take the chance and you hope you go for it. So every game is a question. Every practice. Every minute, every goal, every kick, every second. Am I good enough? Every day is a test. And it’s torture if you come up with the wrong answers.”
  297. She starts walking off the field.
  299. “I hope that answered your question about Ritsu. Come on, let’s get some breakfast.”
  301. I follow her off the field. Now seems like a good time not to ask any questions.
  303. Miki ducks into the shed again, and returns with two bags of chips.
  305. She tosses me one, and I turn it over. Lay’s potato chips. Barbecue ribs flavor.
  306. I turn a questioning eye towards Miki.
  308. “Barbecued ribs flavor?”
  310. She shoots me a pouty look.
  312. “If the track team sent me to go grocery shopping, and I just pulled a bunch of bags off the shelf and threw them into the cart, is it my fault that some of the flavors were less than normal?”
  314. “What flavor do you have?”
  316. She turns her bag towards me. Barbecue ribs flavor. Okay... I’m still pretty suspicious.
  318. “Why does the track team need chips?”
  320. She waves a hand in the air.
  322. “Calorie replacement. Don’t tell Emi, we hide the chips under a plank she doesn’t know about.”
  324. I’m still dubious about the entire idea.
  326. “Still...”
  328. Miki punches me in the arm, a light grin on her face. She looks more normal now.
  330. “Don’t be a wimp, Hisao. Eat the chips, breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day.”
  332. I reluctantly open the bag of bag of chips and take a bite.
  334. Sweet. Tangy. A little porky. And crunchy, of course.
  336. On a whole, it’s not as bad as I expected. Maybe not something I’d buy in a store... but not that bad.
  338. I look over at Miki. She’s eating her chips and gazing out towards the track.
  340. Rosy-fingered dawn is peeking over the horizon, just beyond the trees surrounding the field.
  342. Miki speaks again.
  344. “I don’t know too much about Ritsu. She hangs out with us sometimes, and she’s good company. I think she’s a good person. But I think she made the choice, Hisao. Ritsu got lucky. She got an early exit option for what most likely would have been a life of disappointment. Not saying she didn’t have the talent. But it’s just the math. Talent can only carry you so far. Hard work can only carry you so far. At some point, it’s just luck.”
  346. I wonder if Miki knew how good Ritsu was. Or if she’s saying something that’s true no matter how good Ritsu is at tennis. Miki crumples up her chip bag.
  348. “I think Ritsu’s a nice girl, and I hope what you get what you want, Hisao, you and her both. But don’t forget that she’s never done anything normal before. Be nice to her, Hisao, and be forgiving. She deserves it. When you live your life like that, with every day a question, you deserve it.”
  350. She wags a finger at me.
  352. “So I’ll be keeping an eye on your relationship, Detective Nakai. And I’ll be around to help if necessary.”
  354. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s good to know I’m not on my own.
  356. “Thanks, Miki.”
  358. She smiles at me knowingly. Feminine wiles.
  360. “Okay, Hisao, time to run again.”
  362. Wait, what?
  364. “What? Again? Why?”
  366. She shrugs.
  368. “I feel like it.”
  370. “But we just ate! And it’s Sunday. Don’t you want to go back to the dorms and shower and sleep?”
  372. She blinks innocently at me.
  374. “Sleep, Hisao? I don’t know anything about that. I didn’t spend all night playing poker in a room with the crewinstead of going to sleep on a Saturday night like the choirboy I am.”
  376. I roll my eyes.
  378. “Come on, Hisao, don’t be a bum! Don’t you want to show Ritsu that toned bod of yours?” She pokes me in the stomach for emphasis.
  380. I follow Miki out onto the track as she beckons me with a hand. Sun’s out. It’s warm now.
  382. A few more laps couldn’t hurt. Even on a full stomach.
  385. =======
  387. "Out Getting Ribs" is a song by Zoo Kid/King Krule
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