Chapter 37:

My Parents Are Rooting For Me.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

Most of the year, Chiba Prefectural Gymnasium #2 sits empty, but on days like today, it's so packed that I can barely follow the rest of my team to the locker room without bumping into at least three people on the way.

The interior of the gym is already big enough to fit six basketball courts, but the crowds both on the floor and in the seats in the balcony make the inside of the building seem truly cavernous. Believe it or not, this isn't even everyone competing today. Just as many students are having their matches in the older gym next door. The prefectural tournament is spread across two days.

Today, Saturday, is the individual tournament, while tomorrow is the team and kata tournament. Needless to say, the team tournament goes a lot faster than the individual because only three students per school compete- and I’m not one of them. Nagase-senpai is the lead position (he fights first), Aoki-senpai goes second, and Takeno-senpai (obviously) will be the anchor, going last in the team bouts. All I’ll be doing is cheering them on from the stands.

If I want to win, I have to do it today, because I don’t get another chance tomorrow. It’s all or nothing.

Banners of blue, red, white, and almost every color you can imagine drape off the edges of the balcony. The names are familiar- Buyu, Teshigaoka, Nishi-Kisarazu, Chiba-Chigusa, Ankou- all schools with teams so big that they have enough members for full-time cheering sections. Meanwhile, our entire team is competing today, and we still have fewer members than the maximum (eight per school). I want to be optimistic about our chances today, considering how good Takeno-senpai is, but something tells me we need a miracle to get anywhere.

Leading this ridiculous parade is Mizoguchi-sensei, stooped over, bleary-eyed, and 100% hungover, followed by Takeno-senpai, then Nagase-senpai, then Aoki-senpai and finally the first-years. It's the first time I've ever met Mizoguchi-sensei and it couldn't have been a worse first impression. He looks like a zombie.

The different schools have areas marked by tape at the very edge of the gym for their coaches and advisors to sit and watch, and for the competitors to rest between matches. The "sidelines", if you want to call them that, surround a massive number of square mats, sitting back-to-back with the out-of-bounds areas touching each other. There has to be at least 30 of them. A few referees and officials are milling about, inspecting and sweeping the rings.

A loud, piercing voice cuts through the crowd. "Heeeeey! Over here!"

I'd recognize that voice anywhere, and also that hyper girl it belongs to, and also the girl next to her with what's got to be the largest pair of breasts in all of Kanto.

Even at 8:30 in the morning, Ayame, standing in our bench area, looks like she's mainlined pure caffeine. The same can't be said about Suzuran, who may as well be out of it.

My parents know about the tournament, so I expected to see them here, but I thought Ayame was busy, and I didn't realize Suzuran even knew about it.

If Takeno-senpai is as surprised to see them as I am, he's not showing it. "Good morning, Shiritori, Suzuran- what brings you here?"

"Hey, everyone!" Ayame replies peppily. "We wanted to help out a little. I told the people at the registration tables that we were the team managers."

"But we don't have any managers-"

"We do now. Takes the load off of me," Mizoguchi-sensei mumbles, practically falling into one of the chairs. "You kids go get changed." He weakly flicks his finger toward the locker room.

And get changed we do. After a short trip to the locker room, the place seems even more packed when we come back out. Nagase-senpai and Aramaki sure looked really fidgety in there, and Tatsu was leaning over their shoulders talking to them about something, but I was too far away to figure out what it was. It's probably just nerves. I'm a little restless myself, but if I take deep breaths it's not too bad.

Our temporary "managers" are still organizing stuff when we return. Mizoguchi-sensei is not. Is he...passed out? Yup. He's not moving.

As we get settled on our part of the bench area, Takeno-senpai begins to hand out the identification numbers that the registration desk gave us. "Aoki, 052. Aikawa, 158. Kouga, 107..." His voice fades into the buzz of the gymnasium as I look around.

Every entrant in the prefectural tournament fights 5 round-robin matches, and the 64 with the best records advance to a single-elimination bracket, where the winners from the Gym #1 and Gym #2 brackets will go on to the Interhigh. All the competitors have a number, which is called over the PA system along with the ring when your turn to fight is up. A schedule is also posted outside. It's a bit convoluted, but it's worked for years.

"Hey, Haru-kun. Need a water bottle?" My childhood friend is standing next to me as I sit down, holding out a blue plastic bottle in her right hand.

"Sure, but I’m not thirsty yet. We haven't even started."

She smiles as I take it from her.

Why is Aoki-senpai glaring at me? Did I do something wrong, like committing a breach of etiquette or something?

"I didn't think you would show up," I mumble. "Don't you have your track tournament to worry about?"

"Well..." She laughs a little bit. "It was last Sunday. We lost." I guess even Shinchoushi's "ace" is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty average.

Wait. She went out of her way to come to my tournament, and I didn't even know about hers. Crap.

"You should have told me about it. I'd have come and cheered you on."

It takes her a second to reply as she looks away. "I didn't want you to have too much on your plate. You were already pushing yourself really hard."

I had too much to deal with? She was working on her doujin when she was supposed to be prepping for her tournament, and was organizing a circle meeting the day before the competition, and was doing MRC stuff as well, presumably, and studying (I hope, but probably not)...and I told her to correct all that stuff when she already had a full schedule.

I guess she doesn’t need sleep like the rest of us mortals.

"...Thanks for coming, I guess." The tops of my ears are starting to feel a little warm. "What's Suzuran doing here, though?"

"Nakamachi kids gotta stick together." Once again, Ayame grabs Suzuran by the shoulders and practically drags her over to me, as Suzuran lets out a plaintive yelp.

"Ah! H-h-hello, Kouga-san...I g-g-got f-forced into helping..."

From afar, Aoki-senpai's staring at me like he wants to murder me. What's with him? I thought we were on good terms.

"Did you two make up?" Takeno-senpai's deep voice reaches my ears as he takes a seat beside me.

"...None of your business."

"Something like that...ehehehe~" Ayame quickly says, flustered.

Ignoring my grouchy comment, Takeno-senpai turns to the two girls. "Really, thank you for helping us. I was a bit worried about the sidelines-" he takes a long, disappointed glance at Mizoguchi-sensei, who is still passed out- "but I think we can handle it now."

Ayame's attention isn't focused on him, though. "By the way, Haru-kun, your mom and dad are in the lobby now, if you want to go say hi."

I didn't expect to have any time to go talk to them before the tournament starts, but it would be nice. I didn't get the chance this morning, since I left early to meet the rest of the team. "Captain, can I?"

"Go ahead," he nods.

Sure enough, my parents are waiting in a corner of the lobby of the gymnasium right by the spectator entrance, where there's now a line backing up out the door to get in. Dad has on totally average clothing, but I'm so used to him wearing nothing but shirts with holes in them and anime merchandise that it looks a lot better by comparison. Mom's face lights up when she sees me approaching. She's wearing...what is that she's got on? Did she borrow one of my dad's happi?

No, it's worse than I could have imagined. The coat draped over her back is white and brand new, and on top of that she's wearing a headband with "Haruto Banzai" written on it, and are those...plastic fans with my face on them in her hands?!

Instead of telling my parents how happy I am to see them, the first words out of my mouth are, "Mom, take that stuff off, this isn't an idol concert."

She immediately gets a defiant expression on her face like a small child. "But I made it myself-"

"Chisato, please," my dad quickly butts in before she can pitch a fit in public.

Begrudgingly, Mom does as she's told, slowly shedding all her "Haruto fan club" gear.

A month ago, I would have done everything in my power to make sure they didn't come to watch me, but today I don't feel the same way. I'm even okay with Mom's little fashion mishap- she only did it because she loves me.

"Mom, Dad...thanks for coming." The words are still hard for me to get out- I'm not used to telling them stuff like that.

"No, we're happy you invited us," Dad replies.

"Where's Kaede?"

"She went to find us some seats. I didn’t realize you were coming or I would have told her to stay…"

"No, it’s alright. I'll tell her thanks later."

Suddenly, the PA system roars to life with a loud buzzer- it's the signal that the competitors need to return to the floor for the opening assembly. It feels like I only got the chance to talk to my parents for a single second.

"Sorry, I gotta go..."

"Do your best out there," my dad replies. "We'll be in the stands." His voice sounds a tiny bit disappointed by how little time we had to talk to each other, but his face remains proud.

"Yeah!" my mom chimes in. "Do your best!"

"Thanks. I will."

I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

When I manage to make it back to our bench area, dodging people all the way, our team members are lined up, standing at attention. I quickly slip into the line. Normally, we would be listening to some words of advice from our coach or advisor, but since our advisor is still fast asleep, for whatever reason our "temporary manager" is taking up the slack.

"I...don't really know what to say here, but try your hardest and have fun!" Ayame exclaims, flustered. Wow, that statement could have come right out of a self-help book.

"I'll be in the stands cheering for you, Tora-senpai-" She starts going down the line. "And you, even though I don't know your name-"

Aoki-senpai turns red.

"And you, even though I also don't know your name-"

Aramaki turns a deeper red.

"And you, Takkun, and you two who I don't know, and you, Haru-kun...most of all..."

"WHAT?!" My reaction comes out before I can help myself.

She giggles. "See you guys!" She departs for the stands, basically dragging Suzuran with her as she goes.

We're silent for a few seconds, and then I realize that both Aoki-senpai and Aramaki are staring into my soul with murderous rage. On the other side of me, Tatsurou is just smirking.

Suddenly, the PA system crackles to life, ordering the fighters to assemble in the center of the gym for the opening ceremony. Just like every other tournament I’ve ever participated in, all the karateka line up by school as the national anthem plays and then the president of the local Association branch gives a speech and some guy from Chigusa reads the sportsmanship pledge.

As we return to our bench area, the PA starts listing out a stream of numbers.

"...Numbers 222 and 107, please report to Ring 19..." comes the static, distorted voice echoing from the rafters.

I take one deep breath, then another, to settle the butterflies in my stomach. I've worked extremely hard these past few weeks, and so has everyone else here, but the results of today will judge if my effort was truly enough or not.

As I turn to go to the ring for my first match, Takeno-senpai's voice rings out behind me. "Kouga, do you remember what I told you about today?"

"Uh...go out there and give it everything you've got?"

"Yes, and?"

"If I don't win you're gonna beat the shit out of me?"

"Go dominate 'em, Kouga." Takeno-senpai holds up his fist with a proud smile on his face.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy