Anecdotes from the Story of the Century

Ballbreakers

For once, Misa lets her pick where to go for yet another potentially dreadful date night, on the condition that it turns out to be the best they've ever had, so far (given the quality of the last dozen, her expectations have fallen so low that a totally uneventful outing would do it for her).

Swearing that she'll do much better than that, Erin asks, "Any of you guys know a good bowling alley?"

Erin's not exactly the athletic type, that's more her brother's thing. But if she had to choose a favorite sport, bowling would be the first to come to mind. If one wanted honesty, anyway. There's just something relaxing about the whole thing: like packing all of your troubles into a smooth, heavy ball and swinging them down the lane of life, watching them disappear with all of your worries that loom up ahead with an awesome, thunderous crash (in fact, when she and Farley were growing up, he would tell her that actual thunder was the sound of cloud-giants bowling to help soothe her anxiety towards storms).

Unfortunately, he's here, too, as usual. L is like a black cat, and not just because of his feline mannerisms. Every time he's around, something goes wrong. What should be enjoyable ends up ruined. Why else does Misa think that almost all of their dates have gone awry since they'd all moved in together? It's certainly not her fault.

Matsuda takes a minute to let his surroundings sink in before sitting down to put on his cleats, his grin so big that it can barely fit on his face. "Going to the bowling alley was a great idea, Elin! This should be fun, and hopefully make up for the…uh, last date."

"It'd better," Misa mumbles, though a smile teases at her lips. It's nearly impossible not to feel good when one is in a bowling alley.

She takes a long, healthy whiff of the place as she ties up the laces of her bowling cleats—and laces them again, for good measure—reveling in the smell of air freshener, wax, and nachos. "It's been awhile since I stepped into one of these joints," she sighs to no one in particular, almost unable to hear herself over the constant crash of pins toppling to the polished hardwood floor. What a symphony! "You probably wouldn't know it from just looking at me, but this is my game. Here, I'm in the zone."

L doesn't say anything, for now. He examines the cleats that he's had to exchange his ratty sneakers for (and earned a dirty look from the clerk, while he'd been at it). Erin hopes it stays that way, however in vain. His oral fixation makes him physically incapable of shutting up for very long.

When they reach the actual lanes, Matsuda is the first to take a ball and go nuts. Misa follows at a close second, but not without fluttering her lashes and puckering her lips. "Light, darling, how about a little kiss for good luck?"

When he doesn't respond, the idol takes initiative and steals a healthy smack from his lips before toddling towards the lane closest to him, so that he can watch her. L, in the meantime, pauses to watch other players with his thumb in his mouth. Erin is on standby for when he tries to retrieve a coal-black ball from the rack.

"Whoa, hang on, tiger! I'm not sure if you should play. You sure you're gonna be able to lift that thing?" L has the physique of a wire coat hanger. The weight of the ball could pop his arms clean out of their sockets.

"You needn't worry about me. I may not look it, but I too, am an athlete of sorts. I was once the British Junior Tennis champion."

She explodes with laughter before her brain can even register how funny that sounds. Wiping a tear from her eye, she heaves, "Tennis? Oh Ryuzaki, you and your tall tales! You're just chock-full of them, ain't ya? Do you get invited to a lot of parties? You'd be the toast of the town."

Then Light jumps in, which astonishes her. If anything, he's the first to expose L when he's lying within his earshot. "He's not lying, Elin. At least, not about his tennis skills. I actually played him once. Best game I've played since the Japanese Junior High Tennis Championships."

Boy, oh boy. Two champs, in mind and body.

Nah! Mind, definitely (for the most part). Body? Eh…

"Aw Light, you'd be the bell of the ball! You and Ryuzaki are bosom buddies, so of course you'd want to back him up so he wouldn't fall flat on the punch-line. I totally understand that."

"I'm not sure if 'bosom buddies' is the right term," Light mutters. "And anyway, it's not a joke. Nearly a quarter of the school showed up to watch. We could host a demonstration sometime if you want proof."

"I'd love to see that!" cheers Misa.

"Mm, maybe later," she says noncommittally, though all the same refusing to believe in her heart that a couch potato like L could even run back and forth across a court, never mind whack a ball over a net while doing so, never mind become a champ at it. Light looks like the tennis champion type. L? Yeah, right.

Or perhaps she's giving him a hard time just to get a rise out of him?

(Why not both?)

"You can showcase your court moves later, Light. Tennis is cool and all, but bowling's where it's at. Or, um, you know, at least, where we are, right now."

"Hm, yes. Throwing a plastic and resin ball down an aisle to knock over a cluster of pins, also plastic…how primitive. I can see how some would find appeal in that, particularly you." If L has said this just to get a rise out of her, he unfortunately succeeds. He usually does.

Matsuda's just gotten a gutter ball, to his disappointment. Misa is faring better; she's no ace, but she couldn't care less, so long as she's having fun and Light is paying attention to her ("Light, check this out!" "Light, look! I got seven pins!").

"Great shot, Misa," Light reinforces, albeit with a slight lack of enthusiasm. Is he annoyed because Erin is giving them a hard time about sports?

"And I suppose whacking a little rubber ball over a stupid net is hella more sophisticated? Bowling's a legit sport, in its own right! People wouldn't be forming leagues all over the world if it wasn't. I should know. I've played competitively, too." This piques Matsuda and Misa's interest.

She flops down in a vinyl seat to collect her memories, her knuckles rubbing against her shirt. "High school, senior year, I played on my school's bowling team. We were so great, we made it all the way to the…state play-offs."

State may not be quite as impressive as national, not to these two, but damn it, it is to her! Nevertheless, L doesn't hesitate to pop her bubble as soon as she's blown it, like every other bubble she's blown around him. "You weren't an actual player. You were in charge of polishing the team's bowling balls."

Has her aorta just ruptured? No?

"I didn't shine the balls!" she snaps, but something about the intense way he's staring at her, along with the others, compels her to come clean. "O-okay, maybe I did shine our balls between games. But I volunteered to do that."

(She doesn't tell them that being the ball-shiner had been part of her plan to get the scoop on the team's progress throughout the season, in order to gain redemption as a reporter after a certain fiasco regarding the principal and one of the gym teachers.)

"Anyhow, we made it all the way to the championships, and just before the game, one of our guys came down with some nasty carpal tunnel. The gang noticed my awesome arm and at the last minute, decided to let me fill in for him. Man, if only you guys were there; we were setting the lanes ablaze!"

"So what happened?" Misa pipes up, steepling her fingers. "Did you win? Did you become the state champions?"

Someone seems to have jacked up the thermostat. Of course they were going to ask that. Why hadn't she remembered that while trying to make herself look more like a hot shot than she really is?

Suddenly, it's getting tough to keep eye contact. "We came in second," she answers, trying to sound proud, but her voice comes out too small to give that impression. Her fidgeting doesn't help, either.

"You messed up, didn't you? You were supposed to break the tie, and you missed it. The ball rolled into the gutter along with your chances of claiming the title." Light glares at L. Not hard enough, though.

Childish as this sounds, she wants to curl up into a ball and roll down the gutter for a minute there, the same way she'd felt as the opposing team was handed that big, pretty trophy while her team handed her cold shoulders from on the ride home all the way up to graduation. She'd never seen him, but she'd suspected her old friend the principal to be reveling in her failure as soon as the news had reached the school.

Oh, what would L know about anything? What's he been doing in his spare time, digging up every single documented clump of dirt tracing her nineteen-year existence? He wouldn't like it if she did that to him, and that was if she was even smart and resourceful enough to. She doesn't tell him this, though. That only works when the person is capable of empathy.

Matsuda places a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Elin. You played, and you played your best. Isn't that what counts?"

"Yeah, and your team got second place overall. That's something to be proud of! Ooh-ooh, maybe we can divide up into teams? Misa and Light, against Elin and Ryuzaki! Matsu can keep score!"

"B-but the boards keep score automatically," Matsuda points out. Not that anyone listens.

Erin folds her arms and glares in any direction she can as long as L's not in it. "I wouldn't play with that fool if he was the only one in the world that I could play with, and/ or my life depended on it. Plus, how's Light gonna play with you? They're…you know."

Lately, she'd use the excuse she'd formulated not long after the gang had started going out with the handcuffs: "The poor kid is a couple cards short of a deck, and he have to keep him on a sort of leash so he doesn't wander off and get lost." When people are staring and otherwise paying attention, that is. The "poor kid," of course, is L. Surprisingly, he's had yet to say anything about it, likely because it gets people off their backs.

"Besides, he'd probably cheat. I'd never want to play with a cheater."

"Now how exactly would I cheat in a bowling game?" he asks.

"Off the top of my head, I dunno. But you'd find some way to do it. You cheated at the restaurant; why would you consider the bowling lane any more sacred?"

He cocks his messy head to the side, like she's just said something nonsensical. "If one is already good at a game, then he should have no reason to cheat." This is coming from someone who's probably never stepped onto a bowling lane before tonight.

He already has a ball dangling in his hand, the one not wearing the handcuff that connects him to Light. Somehow, the ball looks as though it fits with his usual two-finger gesture, like a fucking glove or something. Well, if Misa can toss a bowling ball, why can't he?

Then she notices his cleats, a garish red contrast to his otherwise dull attire. They're untied.

Junior Champion, my foot. How can a guy play tennis, or any sport, if he can't even tie his own stupid shoes?

"Okay, so you can hold the ball. But at least let me tie your shoes. Can't go running up with a bowling ball while your shoes are untied, unless you want to roll down the gutter and bust your lip along the way." While a part of her does wish something like that would happen, another part of her won't let her keep a good conscience if that happened while she could've prevented it. Besides, this is her chance to one-up the guy: by demonstrating her superior knowledge of the game over his, even if it's about something as trite as the importance of lacing up one's cleats pre-game.

He lets her tie his shoes, though his eyes drill a hole into the top of her head, all the while. "And I should think that you'd like to shine my ball, while you're at it?" Though his face is deadpan, Erin finds something vaguely smug about the way he says this. Maybe she imagined it? They're already on bad terms, as it is.

She pulls the laces tighter than she should, hoping that it's uncomfortable for him. Not that he lets on if it is. "Ladies first," she announces when she rises, dusting her hands. "Since you're new and I'm a veteran, you should let me go first so you'll get an idea of what we're doing."

"Suit yourself," he dismisses, which she finds a little surprising.

She lightly cracks her knuckles before picking out a forest green ball. "Oh, I will, buddy. I'll suit myself, all right. We'll see who's shining whose balls at the end of the night…"

Before she gets into her bowling stance, Erin stops to breathe onto the smooth surface of her ball, then rub at it with her elbow to see her reflection, elongated at odd angles and flustered. She swallows.

Push, step, swing, throw. This is the mantra she's used to remember how to do it ever since she'd started playing. Push, step, swing, throw.

Although twenty feet in reality, the pins seem twenty miles away. She has to move sometime. Everyone's watching. She wills herself to relax. Bowling is supposed to be relaxing.

She pushes, steps. Gets on the tips of her toes and imagines tinkling noises with every shuffle. The Flintstone™ maneuver. Sometimes it works, more often it doesn't. Why she's trying this in front of L, she herself doesn't know. An attempt to show off, most likely. She's been trying off-and-on to perfect the technique for years, though will ask herself sometimes why she bothers when the only one who can bowl on their tiptoes is Flintstone™.

Or maybe it's because he makes her nervous? Erin fools around when she gets nervous.

She might've slipped up anyhow if he hadn't, but L picks that crucial moment in her play to comment, "I don't think that's the correct way to approach the pins."

As soon as he says that, she loses her footing, almost crashes to the floor, but not quite. She catches herself on her feet before she does, but loses the ball in the process. It teeters precariously on the edge of the gutter before veering to the right. It gets two pins, way in the back. Three, if that neighboring pin would lose its balance, but it settles back into place after waddling for five seconds. No thunderous crash. The impact is almost soundless.

She can't bring herself to look back at the boys and Misa. "Uhm…showmanship! Just fooling around, I meant to do that!"

"Of course you did. I wonder if this is the stellar technique that cost your team the championship. Wouldn't you agree, Light? I thought you were, as you put it, 'in the zone?'"

For his information, this wasn't the play that blew it for them. At the championship, she'd lost her footing while on tiptoe about to knock those five damn pins out of the way to their victory. The shot became a gutter ball. Her laces had been tied too loosely.

By this point, she's getting as red as her shoes. "I was in the zone! You're throwing me off!"

"How am I doing that? We're at least nine feet apart."

You were born.

Erin rubs out the corner of her eye when something gets in it. "You won't shut up. You're supposed to be quiet while I'm taking my turn. Save your comments and questions for after the presentation, will ya? Thanks a lot."

There isn't any actual sense in keeping quiet; bowling is one of the noisiest games out there, especially when the alley is almost full. Light does her a small favor by telling L to shut up in that polite way of his, let her finish her turn in peace.

He does. She does, without any fancy crap, this time. Her pulse is drowned out by the triumphant crash of the remaining eight pins toppling to the ground before they are swept away into the darkness at the end of the lane. Spare.

Erin has some confidence, again, briefly. She pumps and shakes her fists out in front of her, her cheeks aching as her grin pushes them to the limits. "Ooohhhh! Didja see that, guys? That's a spare! H'oh, yeah! Top that, Ryuzaki!"

Misa and Matsuda hand her applause, to which she bows several times while stepping aside to let L take his turn, high off of this small upper-hand she's gained. Yeah. Let's see you top that.

He steps up with his ball and pauses to survey the path while Light tries to maintain a safe and workable distance. That once triumphant crash of pins that ensues shortly after becomes as though someone's taken a blunt object to her head, effectively killing her buzz.

CRASH!

Strike.

Matsuda and Misa are going crazy, now. Light grunts, "Good shot." She wants to call him out on cheating. But she can't. She can't see any possible way he could've cheated, this time (except perhaps his ball is remote-controlled, but is he even capable of that? Maybe he secretly paid somebody off to blow over the pins he hadn't knocked over—no wait, how could he do that while he's handcuffed to Light?).

Her slouch could rival his. Maybe. Not really. "Hmph. Lucky shot, Lebowski™. But let's see if you can do that—"

CRASH!

"…again."

"Gosh Ryuzaki, you don't mess around!" marvels Matsuda, bowled over by his performance (obligatory lame pun here).

This isn't right. She wasn't this good when she was starting out; it'd taken her weeks before she'd made her first strike at her twelfth birthday party. Never mind get two in a row...

Then again, she's not a genius. He is, whatever that means.

Trying to pretend that his upstaging her doesn't faze her, she takes her turn. Seven pins at her first throw, two at her second. The lone pin still standing mocks her at a distance, shivering with chuckles before settling back down. It reminds her of L. She thinks about running down the lane and snapping it in half, but whatever reason she has won't let her do it.

Actual L takes his turn, which hardly registers in her mind until her ears bleed with a solid third strike.

CRASH!

Holy shit. He's just scored a turkey.

Forget heart attack; she's about to have a stroke. She needs to sit down, stare out into space for who's counting how long until someone—she can't tell who—reminds her that it's her turn again. But she doesn't want to play anymore. Not with him. She doesn't want to see him score another turkey and feel compelled to ask herself how her old team might've fared if they'd had a hot shot like him.

Or think about looking up past British Junior Championships, to see if he really had been telling the truth. Depends on what alias he'd played under.

She's been whipped at her own game by a schmuck who can't even tie his own shoes. She knows she's mediocre, but doesn't necessarily want that rubbed in.

If only he could find it in himself to put that much effort into the case.

"Elin," he says, "I believe it's your turn, now."

"You suck, Ryuzaki. You've always sucked and always will suck, no matter what you do," she snarls, her gaze turned up towards the fluorescent lighting so the tears retreat back into her skull. Why they are there in the first place, or whether she wholeheartedly means what she's just said, she doesn't quite know. Somehow, saying it hurts her more than it does, him, no matter how much he deserves it.

If her skin were that much thicker, like his, maybe she wouldn't have this problem?

In the meantime, a faint murmur admits, "That's too bad. This display of my prowess in your favorite sport was vaguely intended to impress you."

"What?"

"That's too bad," he says a tad louder. "This display of my prowess in your favorite sport has left a poor impression on you. I vaguely suspect envy. Am I correct in assuming this?"

"That's what I thought you said." Humiliation and the roar of bowling balls actually making their mark must be distorting her hearing. Making a tilting motion over her head as though she's wearing her hat, she huffs, "I'm gonna go get some snacks. Light can probably play with you; you guys are both junior champs, after all. I'm just a ball-shiner."

Getting out of her seat feels more like hard labor.

"Hey, come on, Elin," scolds Light, "there's no need to get sour. It's just bowling."

"Are you insinuating that you think Light 'sucks,' too?" She hates it when he throws her slang back at her. It sounds all weird, despite the clear, deliberate articulation. But maybe that's what makes it sound funny?

"I'm not 'insinuating' anything."

Ryuzaki may not have ruined this date for Misa, this time, but he's definitely destroyed it for her.

She should've left it at that, but her big mouth won't let it be, especially when it comes to her wounded pride. "But at least I can tie my shoes."

"Ugh. Quit being a baby, Elin," says Light. She knows she's being a baby, but can she help it? Maybe, except something in her won't let her. Well, that's one thing he and she have in common.

"Matsu! I think my ball is lost," cries Misa. "I scored a spare, but my ball hasn't come back to me, yet."

He was going to follow Erin to see if everything is okay, but Misa is equally demanding for his attention, if more direct. It's moments like these that make him wish he could be in two places at once. Being the loyal "manager" that he is, and assuming that this wouldn't take too long, Matsuda climbs over the ball return to inspect the situation.

"I don't think climbing on top of the ball return is a good idea," says Light. L doesn't contribute to the conversation. Having placed his ball back on the rack, he's crouched in a seat, his eyes fixed on the snack bar, chewing on his thumbnail. Is he waiting for Erin to come back with snacks?

"Oh, right. Better get someone from the staff!"

It rolls into him like a freight train he doesn't hear coming. Matsuda has one leg on the floor and the other hiked in mid-air when Misa's ball crashes into his crotch.


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