Sachiko rolled her eyes, and pointed her own blue racquet at her younger sister. "It did too count. I hit to you, it went over the net and then you missed. How doesn't it count?"
"I wasn't ready!" Michi tried to fold her arms, but couldn't do it with her racquet in hand. Instead, she put her free hand on her hip, imitating their older brother's 'I'm greatly annoyed at you' stance. "You didn't say you were going to hit it right away."
Ten-year-old Sachiko was starting to regret ever agreeing to practice with her sister. While she had faith in her own abilities – and the fact that her brother and his boyfriend kept telling her she had natural talent – Michiko sadly did not possess the same skills. However, that didn't deter her from trying to win, by any means necessary. Including, Sachiko thought wryly, deciding that every ball she dropped was discounted by a technicality known only to Michiko. Being the more relaxed and easy-going of the two, Sachiko really didn't stand a chance against Miki-logic. She tried to argue anyway. "Michi, I threw the ball in the air. You watched me do it. That means I'm in the middle of serving."
"I still wasn't ready!" came the insistent reply, and Sachiko rubbed her head tiredly.
"Fine," she said, wanting to drop the whole thing. Miki could and would argue for the next hour if someone didn't be the mature one. "We'll start over. Go get the ball." Michiko grinned the grin of the one who had gotten their way, and turned on her heel, dropping the racquet onto the court as she jogged onto the grass, searching for the ball. Sachiko counted down. "Three... two... one..."
A plaintive – and predictable – cry broke the momentary silence. "I can't find it!"
Sachiko could never be accused of not knowing her sister. "Of course. Hang on," she called, and set her own racquet down. Maneuvering around the net, she joined her sister on the grass. A glimpse sideways showed her brother still deep into a match with Momo-chan on the far court. It had been the only free court available when they'd arrived almost an hour ago, but the college kids that had commanded over the area had left twenty minutes ago. That meant she and Michi could play for a while, until their brother beat his friend into the ground. She swung her gaze around into the grassy fields that lined the back end of the court. "Jeez, Mik, why didn't you get the ball before you started whining?"
"I wasn't whining," Miki stated with a mild glare in her direction. "And if you'd waited until I was ready, the ball wouldn't be lost."
Sachiko rolled her eyes. There was no arguing with Michiko when she'd decided on something. 'Kaya-niichan had said something about choosing your battles once, and this seemed like a good time to try it out. "Fine, fine. Check over there by the bushes. Maybe it rolled underneath."
Michi scampered over and promptly stuck her head under the lower branches. Two seconds later - "Ow! Sachi, my hair is stuck!"
Sachiko snickered and moved to help untangle her sibling. Once her hair was free, she gave her sister's t-shirt a tug, guiding her into backing out of the brambles. Michiko squirmed free and held up the scuff-marked tennis ball proudly. "I found it!"
"Finally!" Sachiko stood up and brushed off her knees, reaching over to help clear the debris from Michiko's pant legs. "Let's go try that again."
"Okay!" Michi grinned and raced around her.
The courts held a surprise for them, though. Two boys, big ones, were standing in their place. The tallest one had Sachiko's racquet in his hand. Sachiko glared and stormed over. The fact that they were considerably larger than her didn't slow her down in the slightest, but then, her brother was always telling her she had a short fuse. "That's my racquet!"
"Oh, really?" The boy holding her racquet sneered at her, swinging it in a way that could have been casual, but seemed threatening to Sachiko who suddenly found herself re-evaluating the size difference between them. "This quality racquet is too good for a squirt like you."
"It's my brothers racquet," Sachiko said firmly. Intimidated or not, she had no intention of letting some goon steal her brother's lucky blue racquet without a fight. She shot a glance at the far court, but her brother was too far away to hear what was going on, and when Akira-nii was in the middle of a game, it took a lot to break his concentration. "Give it back."
"Or your brother will beat us up, right?" The ugly boy – his face was all pock marked and gross-looking, Sachi noted with disgust – raised his hand threateningly. "Get lost."
"Give it back!" Michiko shouted suddenly. Sachiko whirled around; the other boy had circled behind, and had grabbed Michi's racquet – which happened to belong to Akaya-nii. "It's not yours!"
"It is now," the other, pudgier boy said. He swung the racquet, just missing Michi's head by about a foot. "You heard my pal there. Get lost before you get hurt!"
Michi gasped and backed away. Sachiko raced over and wrapped her arms around her little sister, pulling her close. The two boys laughed, obviously amused at the fear they were instilling in the young girls. Sachiko bit her lip and looked down the court again. No one was paying any attention at all, and her throat was too closed up to scream for help.
"Sachi..." Michi's voice was wavering, tears welling up in her eyes. Fear shone clearly from sky-blue eyes, and Sachi knew her own face was reflecting the same thing. She didn't know what to do.
Suddenly a shadow fell across the court, and a low, growling voice cut through the laughter like a knife. "What the hell is going on here?"
The two boys looked around in shocked surprise. Michiko beamed broadly, and Sachiko let out a relived sigh.
Akaya-nii was there.