When Yuki’s turn came up, she said to Ami, “I’m going to try some of that Aikido fox fu of yours.”
Except the girl Yuki got paired with shrank away at the first show of aggression. Most of the student body at Sumiyoshi Prep aspired to become proper young debutantes, which even in this day and age meant wearing a kimono and serving tea, not getting sweaty and skinning knees.
Yuki grumbled, “At least the yankii hold their ground.”
Keiko, Tama, and Ma-chan were gossiping together a few yards off. Keiko threw her head back and laughed. Tama flushed and clenched her fists at her sides. The gaiety must be at her expense.
“Serves you right,” Yuki murmured to herself. “Comes around, goes around.”
Hoshino Sensei walked over to Yuki and Ami at the end of class. “That was impressive footwork, Ami. Have either of you thought of trying out for the soccer team?”
Ami answered with a noncommittal shrug.
“That’d be fun,” Yuki said. “But rugby’s more my game. I mean, kicking the ball away. What’s that about? I’d rather wrestle it to the ground. Hah!”
She spied a soccer ball a few feet away and sprang at it like a cheetah bringing down a gazelle. Holding it aloft, she said, “See? As my uncle would say, possession is nine-tenths of the ball.”
“Of the law,” Ami shot back.
Hoshino Sensei responded with the furrowed expression that Yuki regularly prompted from the teachers at Sumiyoshi Prep. “Well, why don’t you two gather up the balls and cones and put them in the equipment room?” She handed Ami the key.
Ami nodded. “Yes, Sensei.”
Yuki got up with the ball tucked under her arm. She pointed at it and said in a furtive whisper, “It tried to get away but I nabbed it.”
Ami sighed a sigh she’d been storing up all afternoon. “Get the rest of the balls. I’ll collect the cones.”
“Man, you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
After those amazing moves of hers, Yuki had hoped Ami would unbutton that buttoned-down mind a bit. She shook her head as she chased down the soccer balls, kicking them back toward the equipment room.
Ah, there was the last one, hiding behind an errant cone. Yuki snuck up on it, crouched down, and sprang over the traffic cone, flipped the ball into the air and snagged it singlehandedly.
“Gotcha!” she declared.
But her capture wasn’t lithe and graceful like Ami’s. She really needed the fox to give her a few pointers. Waving the cone aloft, she called out, “Hey, Ami!”
Ami was standing with her back to the equipment room doors. Tama towered over her. Tama didn’t have Ma-chan or Keiko with her. She was pissed. This time it was personal, not the standard bullying business.
Snatches of conversation floated across the field as Yuki jogged toward them. Tama was saying, “You think you can get away with making me look stupid like that?”
“I wasn’t trying to make anybody anything,” Ami said in an exasperated voice. “All I was trying to do was get the exercise over with.”
Tama didn’t want groveling. She wanted her pride back. Earning it was too much work. That meant taking it from somebody else. For once, Ami wasn’t in a giving mood.
This was the point at which even a good street fighter got dumb. Tama was no street fighter. Yuki doubted she could real-fight her way out of a brown paper bag. A smart mean girl never got in over her head but smarts were out the window. Keiko and Ma-chan must have razzed Tama bad about getting smoked by little Ami.
Tama shoved her right hand against Ami’s left shoulder. Or she intended to. The blow never landed. Yuki heard the crisp, clean smack as Ami batted it away with the palm of her right hand.
“Wow,” Yuki said aloud.
There was nothing ordinary about that slap. It was like a game of fox fist, an old version of rock-paper-scissors, where the headman outranks the hunter, the hunter shoots the fox, and the fox bewitches the headman.
Tama didn’t know she was playing a game she couldn’t win. She thrust her arm forward again. With an identical result. And a third time.
“What an idiot!” Yuki quickened her pace to a sprint.
Ami slapped again, her right hand a blur, her left seizing Tama’s arm and twisting it counterclockwise, sliding left and angling her body away. Tama’s face filled with blank disbelief. The tall girl stumbled forward to keep her wrist from dislocating.
Yuki felt a surge of apprehension. “No, Foxy,” she murmured. “Take it from me—you don’t want to do that.”
Circling around behind them, Yuki slipped her left arm around Tama’s waist and her right along Tama’s right arm, which she eased out of Ami’s grasp. She lifted Tama like a sumo wrestler, turned ninety degrees, and set her down.
“Count yourself lucky,” she said softly, hugging the tall girl close. “I would have torn that hand of yours clean off. You got beat fair and square. Own it.”
Yuki pushed her away. With a nervous backwards glance, Tama ran off, but not before plowing through the soccer balls flocked in front of the equipment room doors.
The balls scattered in every direction. “It’s worse than herding cats!” Yuki wailed in comic distress.