Breakfast has been the first thought on Sho Sakurai's mind every time he woke up, since he and Satoshi Ohno started living together. This was for him, the most noticeable and comforting thought about the whole ordeal of sharing a life and a home with someone. Breakfast wasn't just the most important meal, and it was no longer the most hectic one either. It was a small happiness of being together in a whole new day.
When he opened his eyes and did not see Satoshi, he immediately took in the scent of fried eggs. Satoshi wasn't a morning person, but weekends meant Sho got to sleep in. Satoshi used to deactivate all the alarms Sho would set in his insistence of sticking to his body clock but that was years ago when they were new to cohabiting. Now, Sho lets himself get spoiled, especially on Sundays.
Automatically, Sho reached over to the side table to check his phone. It was Sunday before his anniversary and they had planned to leave for a quick Hawaii getaway to celebrate. He ran through the itineraries and schedules they were planning as he noticed a face hover into his peripheral view.
Satoshi was peeking from the foot of the bed and this startled Sho a little. "Hi," he said softly as Sho blinked for a second to make sure he wasn't still dreaming.
"How long have you been here―?" Sho began, sitting up, putting his phone away and rubbing his eyes.
Sho looked up at Satoshi even while his eyes were still a little blurry. "What?"
"Well, four if you mean living with you. Three if you mean this apartment unit." Satoshi was climbing into the sheets, still in his sleepwear but had on a blue apron with a hand-drawn disfigured tuna. Sho pretended he did not see his abomination of a painting attempt and softly poked Satoshi's forehead.
"I meant how long have you been in this room, you dolt." he said. Under his finger, Satoshi shut his eyes and wrinkled his nose in an exaggerated way that made them both laugh.
"A few seconds." Satoshi came closer to snuggle, but Sho was already getting up. "I've been checking you. I wanted to bring you breakfast in bed."
Sho choked on his feelings for a moment, making a sound that was between a gasp and a chuckle. "Did you accidentally spill paint on my papers again? Or is it some weird thing you're 'just trying out' that went the way things always go―"
Satoshi frowned. "No, no, I want you to feel special."
"I already do." Sho chuckled.
"No, I mean, with me. Like, not at work and stuff, although yes, you're pretty special there too, I mean...lots of people think you're special but I want you to feel special with me." Satoshi went on, getting up and helping Sho tidy the sheets.
"Yes, that's what I meant. But even then, breakfast in bed? That's...yeah, pretty nice." Sho walked off to the washroom and he heard Satoshi follow.
Satoshi often randomly does thoughtful things like slipping sticky note doodles in his files and, once in a while, some very affectionate things like breakfasts in bed. The former, Sho had gotten used to over the years but the latter was still taking a bit of adjustment.
"I know these things are kind of weird for you but it's almost our fifth." Satoshi watched Sho fondly as he washed his face.
"Oh, no, it's alright, I meant nice—nice. Not just 'nice'." Sho with all his achievements under his belt found himself absolutely robbed of words from the twinge of emotion in Satoshi's voice. He turned to his partner, still with his hair sticking out in varying directions. "You know? I do appreciate it."
"I know." Satoshi grinned and, on tiptoes, flattened Sho's hair. "So you better let me give you breakfast in bed."
"But we just fixed it." Sho said. Satoshi looked at the bed for a second and said, "Yeah, we did."
"Do you smell―" Sho began but Satoshi had gone back to the bed with a thoughtful hand on his chin and another on his waist. "Maybe you can sit on top of the sheets and―"
"The thing you're cooking!" Sho dashed to the kitchen on his long legs while Satoshi was still in the process of reacting.
The sunny-side ups were blackened beyond salvation even as Sho tried to flip them over. This only resulted in him breaking the yolks and butchering the eggs further. Satoshi caught up just as the second yolk broke, took the pan and spatula and seamlessly flipped the eggs. The smoke finally alerted their emergency sprinkler and in seconds, they went from groggy young men to pathetically soaked Dumb and Dumber. With burnt eggs and a possibly ruined pan.
Sho felt his anger rise but Satoshi's tinkering laugh interrupted his thoughts.
"I mean, I've always wanted to see you drenched in the rain―" he said between gasps, with his hand clutching Sho's shoulder as he doubled over, "―so I got my anniversary wish! That and our Hawaii trip."
Sho laughed despite himself. "You might want to hold something else. My shoulders are too sloped for support."
This immediately launched Satoshi into a renewed wave of giggles. Sho wasn't done, not wanting Satoshi to stop. "And hey look, you've finally copied my egg recipe!"
"Still, wouldn't change a thing." he wheezed.
Three or four emotions welled into Sho's eyes for a moment, before he could control them. It was five years of this, messy but happy relationship of laughter, burnt eggs and horribly painted tunas. He blinked them away as Satoshi took his hand and pulled him up.
"Let's clean up, change and have my breakfast in bed, alright?" Sho put the eggs into the trash bin and the pan into the sink.
Satoshi considered this for the moment and pointed to the living room. "Couch," he replied, knowing how Sho felt about keeping the bed tidy after waking.
Sho on the other hand, remembered the heated night Satoshi said the same word in a breathless yet unexpectedly commanding tone. He bit his lip and nodded, hoping Satoshi doesn't read minds.
Having no other responsibilities to attend to, they took time in putting things back in order. Satoshi insisted for Sho to shower and get dressed and the kitchen will be good as new. Instead, when Sho came back, the sink looked pretty clean but the mercifully waterproof floor was still a little damp. There was a mop in the corner, beside the counter where some dish towels and paper towels were stowed. At the stove, repeatedly saying "hot, hot, hot―" was the little man who caused it all. Minus his pajama top, but with a towel draped over his shoulders.
"That's not going to make it any cooler," Sho said, mechanically gathering the towels and examining the mop to see if it was soaked.
As Sho opened his mouth to remind his breakfast cook to put a shirt on, Satoshi immediately grabbed the towels, took them out of Sho's hands and placed them on the counter.
"Oh," Sho managed as Satoshi pulled up a chair and ushered him to sit. Sho tried not to make it too visible that the chair was still completely wet and had soaked right through the sweatpants he put on. He watched and nodded as Satoshi gestured for him to stay seated and quickly went back to his cooking.
"Ehh," Sho peeked a little bit past Satoshi's petite frame. Besides the fact that Satoshi hardly obscured anything from view, there was an empty bowl of batter at the side and the smell of pancakes were enough hints for Sho. In support, he still gave Satoshi cues that he was curious about it. Satoshi glanced at him and their eyes met for an odd second.
"Well, don't ruin the surprise," he said with a tone that pointed out common sense. Sho chuckled an apology but continued to watch. The damp pajama bottoms clinging to Satoshi's shape was enough breakfast anyway. That and the bare back.
"I wonder what's cooking," Sho said aloud with a sing-song voice.
"Fish," Satoshi answered. "But it's a surprise."
"I hope you didn't fish for tuna again because we still have some yellowtail from the last time you went." Sho chided absently as he propped his chin on his hand, resting his arms on the damp table. "And you better stop escaping to the sea and have started packing. Or at least planning what to bring."
"It was albacore tuna, not yellowtail tuna, and I gave them to Matsujun already." Satoshi said busily. He went on while his arms moved about carefully, "Packing isn't so hard, we'll only be in Hawaii for two days so I don't really need a lot of things." For a pancake, it looked to Sho as if it was taking a little too long with some odd manoeuvers.
"Still, you know. Planning ahead." Sho replied, now genuinely curious. He watched as Satoshi took the spatula and his movements were followed by the sound of a perfect pancake landing. The scent wafted anew, hanging in the air and making Sho's stomach growl. It was audible enough to make Satoshi chuckle.
Satoshi got a plate and slid his new creation on it. He turned and laid a placemat on the table in a succession so smooth that he could be dancing. He also laid down a fork and a knife but Sho had to reverse their positions beside the plate as quickly and quietly as possible so Satoshi could continue with the surprise.
And it was more worth it than Sho expected.
"What in the―? How did―? Ehh!" He was again at a loss at the sight of Satoshi's "fish".
It was definitely a pancake, but it looked like a painting. A pastry-scented sepia print of two curving fishes, a dark and a light one.
"You know what this is, right?" Satoshi pulled up a stool and looked at Sho with the face of a puppy after fetching a ball.
"Koi!" Sho said, a little overwhelmed by the graceful art but also by how good it smelled.
"And?" Satoshi nodded eagerly. Sho was a little stumped but he blurted his first thought.
Satoshi reached over and turned the plate around, letting Sho watch. He rotated it again and Sho finally understood.
"Yin and yang." He said, keeping his eyes on the fish, a little more mesmerized when he noticed the differently colored spots on the fishes' heads.
"Yin and yang." Satoshi nodded and smiled softly. Sho still kept his eyes on the fish.
"This is too pretty to eat, but I love it." He managed to say, using one finger on each hand to rotate the fishes again.
They didn't need to mention the relevance of the yin and yang koi fish because it was a near and dear memory of their first meeting. During the school trip when they were teens. At the aquarium where Sho was babbling to his friends about his fish knowledge from the books he read the night before. His bookish knowledge was thwarted by the fishing experiences of a sleepy looking boy from the other class, with a long middle-part fringe.
Satoshi's sleepy looking eyes always glistened when he talked about fish.
"Thank you for completing me." Satoshi said quietly. "Now have some breakfast."
"Man, this is so dramatic." Sho whined, laughing awkwardly. Satoshi just chuckled and handed him some butter and syrup from the counter.
"It's also an apology because practicing that is where all the eggs went. You were kinda mad yesterday and I had to kind of lie." Satoshi mumbled.
"Wait how many times did you practice?" Sho looked from Satoshi's sheepish expression to the pancake art and back.
"Once. I let Aiba-chan and Nino eat it." Satoshi nudged the butter closer to Sho. "Of course I can't let you try it if it's not perfect."
Sho took the butter and grinned. "Still. Wouldn't change a thing."
Satoshi, with a recognizable look in his eyes, stood up to come closer but Sho hurriedly got a chunk off the darker fish tail and swallowed. Satoshi nearly stumbled.
Sho let out a long whale call of satisfaction. "This is incredible! I'm in a pancake sea!"
The image of a sea of pancakes immediately made Satoshi laugh, as if on cue. Sho laughed with him and took another bite, trying not to imagine what would've happened if Satoshi came closer first. To keep it that way, Sho sliced a piece and stuffed it into Satoshi's laughing mouth.
He too, made a long whale noise.
"It is!" Satoshi said excitedly. "Pancake sea!"
Before the laughter died down from Sho, he knew he can't possibly reciprocate the thoughtful gesture. He had planned on taking Satoshi out on a fishing date but he quickly realized that this would be the second or third year in a row he did. Satoshi wasn't done, he was for sure planning something grand to have started with an amazing present days before their actual anniversary.
But how can one compare to perhaps the most loving old goof Sho ever knew?
Five years in a relationship with Satoshi was only equaled by Sho's five years in his current company. He got in thanks to his shining credentials but it didn't hurt that his upperclassman from his university's baseball team was there too and practically bragged about Sho like a doting father.
Junichi Okada was now chief trainer and was finishing up the day's lecture to newly hired employees after Sho represented his own department in the orientation. Okada was thrilled to be joined by Sho at last in the orientation, and so were some of the trainees, after hearing so much about the star employee of the marketing department.
He was not such a star employee in his head, however. In the front row at Okada's motivational lecture, Sho was a little too nostalgic to pay enough attention to his senior.
Perhaps it was Okada's deep voice and passionate speech that took him back to his university days, but it was truly Satoshi's sticky note doodle next to Sho's omelette rice breakfast that set his thoughts into the past.
Satoshi had gone to his part time work at the convenience store by the time Sho woke up that morning, and had cooked breakfast. The doodle, which to the artistically challenged Sho was more of a miniature masterpiece on its own, was actually a sketched and simplified version of his graduation celebration photo where the two of them were together with some of their mutual friends.
Sho and Satoshi stood awkwardly next to each other in the original photo, surrounded by some others. Sho remembered how he gathered the extras to be in the picture with them as Satoshi asked someone else to take the photo. In retrospect, Sho had realized that Satoshi meant for it to be a picture of only the two of them.
And yet, the simple drawing captured Satoshi's serene smile and Sho's broad grin. "Thanks for being my dream," was written at the bottom. Sho was amazed at the dedication Satoshi had put and had briefly wondered if he had his schedule set to the earliest possible time for the rest of the week. With his phone, Sho took a picture of himself eating the beautiful omelette rice and sent it to Satoshi with his thanks.
Satoshi worked at the convenience store just so he could have time outside their house to clear his thoughts and see people. This inspires him to do art. He was talented enough to live off his work if he really wanted to.
And Sho could always drop by the convenience store to personally thank him back but he had decided he wasn't ready. He had nothing to give back to Satoshi.
He dodged their neighbors, the jolly young men from the adjacent unit, and was stuck thinking of the past since then.
"To sum it up," Okada said, making Sho look up from his own lap. "Teamwork is essential in Kaizen, and trust is integral to teamwork." Okada was walking a little closer to the side of the stage Sho was at.
"It's important to be open to your co-workers and not just sensitive to their needs, but direct with your own." Okada gave Sho a little wink, as it was similar to one of his pre-game pep talks.
"Like in your own personal lives, the key to a smooth relationship with our clients is having a direct approach. More on Kaizen, tomorrow." he added.
Sho was a little hung up on his senior's words. Perhaps there was something he needed to open up about with Satoshi.
At the graduation celebration drinking party that the sticky note doodle reminded him, Satoshi had hugged him in front of so many people. No one much cared since they all thought Satoshi was drunk, but Sho politely reminded him to not be too excited anyway.
Sho didn't have to explain that he wasn't much of the physical type since Satoshi never hugged him in public after that night. He thought he'd hurt Satoshi's feelings then. He was quite the opposite of Sho especially with touch, after all.
"Are you mesmerized?"
Sho was hurled right back into reality by the gentlest pat on the shoulder and Okada's quieter "off mode" voice.
"A little. It's just like the old days." Sho congratulated Okada on the training session and they made their way outside the hall as well.
"Ah, you see that lad over there? Reminds me of you." Okada looked at a lanky trainee with a messy bowl-cut brown hair. The trainee saw them approaching, making his eyes widen before he bowed and Okada simply patted him on the head once he got close enough.
"Back when I gave you a similar advice about life. Back when you needed me." Okada went on, giving a wink and a wave to the confused trainee as they went on their way.
"I still do, of course." Sho smiled.
Okada chuckled and they turned left at a corner. "When I watched you do your presentation, I knew you've grown up."
"I still have a long ways to go." Sho said, a little embarrassed to be praised. He was too distracted during his own presentation, trying to figure why Satoshi would draw that particular awkward night. Sho couldn't even recall if he really did well in the presentation or not.
"Just a little bit more, really." Okada's brows furrowed in thought. "But you were a tad stiff at the shoulders today. Didn't let go of the papers you held except for one gesture: holding out your right hand to the screen."
Sho realized this and hung his head in regret. Okada laughed and ruffled his hair just like he always used to.
"Maybe my topic about openness hit a nail somewhere?" Okada helped Sho straighten his blazer and they continued walking.
"No it's just...someone's important day but I don't know what present to get." Sho tilted his head in defeat. "When someone has always given you excellent gifts, you'd want to give something of worth, too."
"You make it sound like a competition!" Okada patted Sho on the back and then resting his hand on Sho's shoulder. "Think of what you want the other person to have, not what you want to give. It's for that person's happiness, not for you to comply to a tradition..."
Sho felt his lungs release a long breath. There it was, an answer to his dilemma. It only took one sentence to ask for help, but Sho had to muster his guts to even admit that it was a problem. Now he just needed time to concentrate on a practical answer.
"That's actually a good idea." he said, his mind immediately racing.
Okada chuckled. "You owe me a drink."
Although it felt like a solution to Sho earlier, on the train ride home, it felt like a whole new question all of a sudden. What does he want Satoshi to have anyway? Other than a bit of a stubble, that is.
Even if he had known Satoshi for ages, he was never satisfied with what he could give to a man whose mere existence was the best present Sho could ever hope for. And on top of that, Satoshi does have moments when he seems to read minds.
When Sho took a whole troubled hour worrying about looking great for his first major company presentation, Satoshi had made a whole two-tier bento for him to bring. And gave him a blue handkerchief and necktie set, too. Sho didn't understand the point of the two at first, but Satoshi said blue was the soothing color of a calm sea and sunny skies and that he noticed that Sho only started panicking about his presentation when looking at a mirror.
Sho looked at his reflection in the glass on the door at the other side of the train. The gentle blue of his now favorite tie stood out on the dreary chromes all around. The color never really calmed him, but the memory of Satoshi's warm hand and feather-light voice did, the day of his first presentation.
He snapped out of his thoughts when the doors opened and the blue slid out of view. He stepped out and remembered that he hand-painted a purplish-gray tuna on a blue apron as thanks for Satoshi's good luck presents.
He almost slapped a hand right to his face in his embarrassment, recalling again how ridiculous the mutant tuna looked, his sloping shoulders wincing at the imagined contact. His face still contorted in the shame of it, he somehow remembered how Satoshi looked so delighted to have it.
Sho didn't notice he was grinning like an addict on a high from the memory of Satoshi's smile until he saw the familiar tall and lanky figure of his neighbor.
"Sho-chan?" Masaki Aiba looked at him with the excited smile of a dog greeting his master. There was a convenience store plastic bag in his left hand and a smartphone in the other.
Sho never really understood how he became friends with the guy, but it wasn't something he was against. Aiba and his roommates always had some nice dishes to share for some reason.
"Oh, hi Aiba-kun." They exchanged short bows as they headed for the elevator. "What's up? Oh and thanks for the gyoza from last time."
Please don't rant, please don't rant, Sho realized what he said when the words were out of his mouth. He and Aiba entered the elevator, the perfect place to have a conversation.
Aiba was talkative, and an animated conversationalist. As much as he was fun to talk to, he was also a deep listener and Sho always thought he'd be fun to drink with. But Sho didn't want to chat at the moment.
"Is Oh-chan a painter?" he asked, round eyes blinking innocently. "I smelled paint."
Sho almost rolled his eyes. "He's not that kind of painter."
"The kind that paints walls."
"Oh," Aiba reactivated his phone. "I didn't smell wall paint. I smelled "painting" paint. Like, picture painting paint."
Sho was about to interrogate him to find out how he can smell through the metal doors when Aiba showed him a picture from his phone of what looked like the unfinished interior of a restaurant.
"I wanted an artist to paint some dragons on this wall." Aiba grinned, gesturing with his fist, and making the cans clunk in his plastic bag. "I think my restaurant could be a cool place that way."
Sho's eyebrows shot up in surprise and realization just as the elevator bell chimed. Ding!
"Tell him for me, please?" Aiba said happily, glancing at the picture and then back at Sho, his long strides taking him almost halfway across the hall in a few steps.
"Yeah, sure." Sho was still surprised. He wondered why he had never known much about their neighbors despite having hung out with them a few times. Then he quickly added, "He might be busy this week and at the weekend he's got a trip. He can probably meet with you to settle a schedule."
With a smile to rival a child in a candy store, Aiba nodded. "No rush, you guys are just across the hall and I don't need the painting done yet. Have fun on your Hawaii trip!"
For a moment, Sho was confused as to why Aiba even knew about the Hawaii trip for the weekend but Aiba reached his door first and wished Sho a good night. Sho got to their unit and, deciding to ask if Satoshi had told the neighbors about their trip, swung the door open.
Aiba was right, there was a faint smell of "picture painting paint" indeed. It still didn't explain how Aiba smelled that from outside but Sho quickly became occupied with the fact that Satoshi must have made a new painting.
"I'm back." Sho hollered once he finished changing to slippers. There was no response.
In the living room, he found Satoshi wearing a deep blue yukata, soundly napping with half his body on the floor and his head propped on the couch.
Near him, just by the wall, was something draped clumsily with an old curtain.
It was definitely a painting.
With Satoshi in a yukata, Sho knew what memory was being evoked this time.
In their first year being officially "together"—the word Sho had insisted on using—they actually spent much less time with each other. In fact, Sho didn't really know when their relationship started until he coincidentally saw Satoshi at the summer festival that year, standing out in a blue yukata.
They didn't really plan to meet. Sho had come with Okada and other friends from work, all of whom left with other people. It was when he had become alone that he had seen Satoshi in the quiet path going up to the temple.
Satoshi was for some reason sitting on a rock at the side of the path. He had a small goldfish in a plastic bag right on his head and was muttering to himself until Sho had come and had called out his name.
Sho remembered how Satoshi had simply looked up at the sound of his first name, how it had lit up his face brighter than the full moon did. But looking up had made the goldfish roll onto the ground, its bag bursting at one side, spilling the little fish onto the stone steps.
Sho had been on the case faster than Satoshi could stand up. He had quickly put the fish in the mineral water bottle he was bringing.
Satoshi had thanked him, and had said he was happy that Sho came. Sho had apologized, assuming he had forgotten to meet up. Satoshi had confirmed that it was purely coincidence that they met there.
"I said that if I caught a fish, I'd definitely see you, too. Miracles happen." Satoshi said then. Sho wanted to say that it didn't have to be a miracle for them to meet, but Satoshi had quickly interrupted his thoughts.
"Look over there!"
Satoshi had pointed to the sky, where a sudden swipe of silver appeared and faded. Followed by another, and yet another.
"Meteoroids?" Sho then had an odd feeling of déjà vu. As if they had that conversation already.
Satoshi's brows furrowed for a moment in thought and then he had responded. "Yeah, that's the word I think. Falling stars? And those."
Two stars looked pretty close together in the sky.
"I don't recall seeing those there..." Sho had checked the surrounding constellations briefly then and Satoshi chuckled lightly.
"It was just like this when we first kissed a year ago." he said, his voice a far away whisper.
Looking back, Sho wanted to hit his past self in the head for not remembering. For not treasuring that night enough.
But in that year, Satoshi didn't let Sho think these guilty things. He had stood on the higher step of the stairs, gently pulled Sho close by the hands and kissed him again, wishing him a happy anniversary right on his lips.
The flustered five-years-ago Sho had no idea how to respond. Sho in the present couldn't even recall what happened next.
He pulled his thoughts to the present and removed the awkward draping on the painting.
Sho yelped at the suddenness of Satoshi's voice, turning too violently around and dragging the painting and the drapes with him as he tripped over his own feet.
It was too fast, but he had caught the painting just in time to land in Satoshi's arms.
"I wanted to show it dramatically," Satoshi snorted, "but maybe this is better."
"Sorry!" Sho said, getting up and quickly making the painting stand again. It didn't seem damaged in the unfortunate tangle.
In fact, it was majestic.
It was abstract, with beautiful strokes and blobs of color, but Sho can see it cleanly. A goldfish in a water bottle, in the backdrop of a starry summer sky, complete with the two stars Sho couldn't name and the meteoroids. Sho and Satoshi were in the foreground, colored blocks of maroon and navy respectively.
"I remember this night," Sho said, not taking his eyes off the painting, but feeling the weight of Satoshi's stare right on the back of his head.
"Our second kiss." Satoshi took the drapes from Sho's hand and threw it aside. When he came close once more, Sho had lifted the painting up and walked off to an empty wall.
"I'd be glad to see it every day. It's beautiful." Sho let the canvass rest on the wall and admired it a little more while Satoshi came close again.
"Thanks for being my dream," Satoshi said, his voice ever so light.
"Oh man, this really puts my stupid tuna painting to so much shame." Sho chuckled, unable to hold the shame any longer.
"On my apron?" Satoshi looked from Sho to the direction of their kitchen where the mentioned apron was. "But I love it!"
Sho looked at Satoshi as he hurriedly got the apron from where it was hanging and put it on. Sho could barely hold down a laugh.
"Don't mock me, I know the tuna is terrible!" Sho rolled his eyes and rubbed his temples in a comically overdone way, but was laughing quietly at himself.
"No, that's not what art is about." Satoshi stomped closer with a cartoonish pout, hands on his waist. "It's all about the thoughts and feelings in making it."
Sho stopped laughing. Satoshi still looked really goofy, but his point was more than valid. It was eye-opening.
"I know you hate your drawings, and people make fun of you. But you still drew for me, and that," -Satoshi pointed to the disfigured tuna- "This! Is art. Real art."
Sho's lip quivered but he tried not to look too touched. "And you said you didn't want to be famous. You speak like a famous person already."
Satoshi furrowed his brows in mock focus, gesturing for his imaginary crowd to keep cheering him on.
Sho did, at least in his mind, as he laughed out loud and clapped in amusement.
Signatures have been looped and crossed, and smiles have been faked. Sho knew he had closed on a good deal. While he really didn't have much to do the rest of the day, he had to buy a few travel essentials for the Hawaii trip.
While he is aware that strolling around in malls is a very teenager thing to do, and not for a grown man in a suit, he also wanted to see how many establishments used scarily realistic fake food now that the travel shopping was done.
The painstakingly handmade plastic food gained popularity among foreigners in the last few years. Sho noticed some tourists taking pictures of the replicas but not actually going into shops. He would have scoffed and called it ignorant a couple years ago, but since he learned how much work those replicas took, he had become oddly proud of it.
As he passed one such shop display of food replicas, two young men were struggling to take a picture together, one of them holding an expensive looking camera.
Sho briefly wondered if they were tourists, but the shorter lad said "oh my god," in English.
"Do you need help?" Sho offered in English. The boys looked at each other and nodded at Sho, the taller boy handing over the camera.
"Oh, um," The taller boy looked unsure for a moment and called out to his friend, who was ready to pose. To Sho's surprise, he spoke in Japanese.
"Wait, how do I say―"
"Oh, are you Japanese?" Sho glanced at them both.
The smaller boy came closer as the taller boy nodded and apologized for the confusion while chuckling.
"We're trying to make a photography portfolio. But we also want some wacky pictures." the taller boy said grinning eagerly.
"Are you featuring the food replicas? I know who made them." Sho said, hoping that there wasn't too much pride in how he spoke. The lads looked thrilled.
Sho took some shots of them in poses that he can only describe as "brimming with youth" then they both prepared to take notes on their phone about the origin of the food replicas.
"Can you show us on a map?" The taller boy requested, showing Sho a map of Tokyo on his smartphone.
"Do you mind if I record your instructions and information?" the English-speaking boy added.
"It's here." Sho double-tapped a location on the map and added proudly, "All the ramen replicas are made by a retired replica maker formerly from that shop. He also made that statue at the main entrance."
They told him that the ramen replicas were the most interesting ones and that they've also taken photos of the statue, then gave Sho their thanks. Sho's grin never left his face as he said goodbye and went on his way.
Although it would have been a longer turn, he never exited and entered the mall at any other part than the place where the statue was.
It was glorious in its gold sheen, standing in the soft sunlight at the center of a fountain. Two human figures in dynamic poses circled by a fish, trailing water. It never ceased to amaze him that the person who made such a beautiful work of art was also the sleepy-looking little man who lived with him.
As if he sensed that he was being thought of, Sho felt his phone alert him of Satoshi's incoming call.
"Hi," Satoshi's voice was as languid as it was quiet. Always sounding like he just got out of bed when talking over the phone.
"Did you know I'd be out by lunch?" Sho might have sounded snappy, but they have a rule about calling when the other was at work. But anyone who saw him pick it up might have guessed it was a lover by how he smiled fondly at the screen and continued to grin through the call.
"Of course. You posted your schedule on our calendar and on your home office desk." Satoshi said quickly. "Sorry, is it a bad...time―?"
Satoshi's question faded as Sho chuckled. "Alright, alright, stalker. What is it? Take out requests?"
"No, I cooked so please come home and eat with me."
"No accidental showers this time?" Sho practically bounced all the way to the taxi line in no time. Satoshi's laugh was such a refreshing sound in the hustle and bustle of the mall.
"Unless you want it." He responded. Sho bit his lips, trying to contain the heat rushing to his face so as not to alert the few others in the taxi line. Satoshi probably sensed it as he laughed at Sho's silence.
"Wait, guess where I am." Sho said, looking at the statue again.
"On your way home, I hope." Satoshi said.
Sho couldn't contain the laugh as he took his phone away from his ear for a moment and took a quick picture of the statue. He sent it and told Satoshi. After a pause, Satoshi laughed too.
"You like that piece way too much!"
"Obviously! It looks grand!" Sho felt his smile drop when he began wondering why it was the art work that he was most fond of looking at, among Satoshi's other work. Was it because it was a piece of Satoshi that was in a bold location but only he knows its meaning? Perhaps.
"And you get to see it a lot?" Satoshi guessed. Sho cursed in his mind and then took it back, briefly convinced that Satoshi read his mind yet again.
"You—I—No, pff. What!" Sho hammered his fist to his forehead in embarrassment, unwittingly swatting his face with his suitcase. People were definitely staring now, so he bowed and lowered his voice.
"Whatever, I'm on my way." He said and he put down the call even if he wanted to listen to Satoshi's laughter a little more.
Satoshi could have been famous three years ago, when he and Sho had been walking at the park and Sho came across his boss and a client who was looking after a seven-year-old daughter.
As the boss, the client and Sho decided to talk business, the little girl took Satoshi by the hand and dragged him away to play. Sho wanted so much to just watch them, the slouching little man and the bubbly little girl.
After a while, the girl and Satoshi had become quiet, playing with some clay that she pulled out of her little pink purse. But something about the clay made her a little too happy that she stole her father from the small business talk and showed him what looked like an almost perfect omelette rice replica.
Even Sho was surprised. That client so happened to be a food replica company president. His daughter had an eye for sculpting talent as much as he did.
That was only the start of Satoshi's replica making job after getting scouted by a kid.
Within several months, he had made those memorable ramen replicas that was in high demand at the time. He was so talented that despite his lack of English speaking skills, he was taken to demonstrate for tourists at a shop in Asakusa. It was there that an art collector commissioned him, and later, Sho's own boss did.
Satoshi refused to be identified, and instead went by "O" in his pieces. O's mall statue and the painting that was commissioned gained some popularity online, but also its mysterious creator.
Yet there he was, opening the door in his house clothes—an old shirt and boxers—and a blue apron with a disfigured tuna. The mysterious artist was just a slouching man with a dumbstruck grin saying, "Welcome home!"
"I know I said you must be a fish in your past life," Sho said, carefully removing his shoes, "but now I'm convinced that you're more like a dog."
"Hey." Satoshi put his hands on his waist indignantly. "I am a good dog."
"Doofus." Sho managed, poking Satoshi on the forehead and trying not to imagine Satoshi on a leash as he loosened his tie. He knew more than anyone that Satoshi was a little more untamed than a cute little domestic pup.
Satoshi seemed to have caught Sho's look anyway because he guffawed. "Seems you want something?"
"Don't imply strange things." Sho suppressed a giggle and hung his blazer.
When he entered the dining area, there were three bowls of food out, one looking a little different.
"That's a replica!" Sho grabbed the fake oyako-don in surprise. "I was just reminiscing about your past job like, two seconds ago. Do you read minds?"
Satoshi looked a little smug. "Yeah...? Yeah, maybe I do."
"Yeah? What do I want right now?" Sho challenged him.
Satoshi grinned and snorted into the back of his hand. Sho hit him softly on the head.
"Lunch! I want lunch." Sho gestured for Satoshi to sit down. Satoshi wheezed one last time and raised a palm.
"Why?" Sho had a strange feeling he knew what was coming.
Satoshi walked into the spare room and Sho covered his face in his hands to breathe for a brief second.
Satoshi came out with a tall box.
"Oh my god." Sho said in English with a big slap to the forehead.
"Oh my god." Satoshi echoed excitedly in his best imitation. He handed the box to Sho who resisted every urge to question how many presents were prepared.
"I know you'll love this one." Satoshi nearly sat on the air as he to grab a chair. Sho didn't miss this small scene and cracked up a little, still cradling the box.
"The box." Satoshi made a small gesture, but there was a touch of finality in his tone. Sho quickly obeyed, lifting the lid gingerly.
"Oh my god." Sho gasped. This time, it was real.
Once the lid came off, the sides of the box dropped to reveal a replica of the mall statue. It was just as mesmerizing as its bigger counterpart. The details were all the same: the two figures hand in hand, the fish leaping in a curve around the two.
"That better go to your office desk." Satoshi propped his elbow on the table, grinning happily.
Sho set it on the table, marvelling how exactly the same every detail of it was with the mall counterpart. "When did you make this?"
Satoshi's head bounced from left to right in thought. "Some time back."
Sho pursed his lips. Satoshi had ongoing projects, and Aiba's restaurant was the newest. Satoshi wasn't a man with lots of time to spare.
"Thank you." Sho managed, turning the statuette around. "I can't even imagine dividing your project time for this."
"I make the time," Satoshi said with a sagely little nod and a thoughtful pout. "I mean, it's not much, really."
Sho didn't notice when exactly he had put his hand on his mouth. Perhaps seconds earlier, based on the quick shift in Satoshi's expression to that of concern.
Satoshi made time for him just for the statuette. And for a man who seems to jump on the first thing on his mind, he had to go out of his comfort zone to do some planning and even some trickery of sorts to pull off three days worth of surprises.
"That's exactly how you looked at the bigger one." Satoshi smiled softly this time. But when Sho looked up to meet his gaze, he had diverted to the statuette, too. Sho turned it around slowly with one hand. "I don't think I could've made something this cool without you, though so it's kind of a very belated and like, not so equal thanks."
Sho said nothing, just watching the humans and the fish. The scene seemed to change with every angle, like a whole story was being told.
He felt Satoshi's eyes on him so he looked up again but Satoshi was back to rotating the statuette. This time, Sho just looked at him.
"A lot of things. Really. I think I might be worth a lot less overall if not for you." Satoshi mumbled with his quiet voice and let the statue go, looking up to Sho.
Their eyes finally met. There was something about Satoshi's gaze that was so longing and slightly tired. Sho wanted to say that Satoshi was so much more than he could use words to describe. He prepared a breath but Satoshi spoke up immediately.
"So thank you for being my art." Satoshi said it with both his soft voice and his somewhat sad looking eyes.
"...don't prepare a eulogy for me just yet." Sho smiled back and stood up to pull the art piece into the middle of the table. "This stays here because I don't want to flatter my boss thinking I'm passionate for art because of him."
It didn't quite sink in Satoshi's mind yet, based on the bewildered look on his face. Sho reached over and prodded Satoshi's cheek to snap him out of it.
"This one's mine." Sho said, relieved when Satoshi smiled again. "So I'm keeping it here, close to myself."
"Right on the table?" Satoshi was standing up too, at least until Sho pushed his oyako-don closer so they can start eating.
"Yeah, right where I like to do my favorite thing. Which is eating." Sho sat down and pulled his own oyako-don serving closer.
"Among other things that can be done on this nicely sturdy table," Satoshi snorted and added under his breath while positioning his chopsticks. Sho flashed his eyes and jutted his chin in mock annoyance, unable to contain the heat in his cheeks.
That look of pure-hearted acceptance mingled with a healthy helping of desire on Satoshi's face, Sho could live with for the rest of his life. He knew his answer by then. What he wants Satoshi Ohno to have is none other than himself.
Conversation flowed comfortably in the mornings when Satoshi's and Sho's working hours started at the same time. Neither one was in a hurry or too bleary to talk. Besides, they had a little bit of planning to do about their Hawaii trip.
Satoshi himself was by no means a morning person, but he never dared to pass up the chance to see Sho transform from sluggish and sleepy to all perked up and professional. It was almost the stuff of magical girls.
The thought of Sho Sakurai jumping into an impossibly sparkly background and having his clothes magically change made a little grin creep up onto Satoshi's face over his bowl of miso soup.
"Do I want to know?" Sho said, noticing immediately. Satoshi wondered how long he had been observed.
"Maybe I'll draw it." Satoshi snorted before eating a mouthful of rice. Sho still had his eyebrow raised but was chuckling a little.
"We need more fish food, by the way." Sho reminded Satoshi before taking a bite of broiled fish. Satoshi snorted at the irony of this and Sho pouted.
"Seriously?" Sho couldn't exactly keep his expression angry either, and this made Satoshi crack up louder. "I feel like there's an invisible person whispering jokes to you sometimes."
Satoshi shook his head. "You said, 'get fish food' while eating fish." This was as far as he could explain before he started snorting into the back of his hand.
Sho closed his eyes for a moment, as if he would have slapped his face had his hands been free. Instead, he wolfed down the rest of his breakfast and gulped it down with some tea before declaring, "Weirdo."
Satoshi almost choked on his laughter.
Sho immediately had a cup of water to hand to him. Satoshi gratefully took it and looked up to thank Sho.
There was something pensive about the higher than usual angle of Sho's eyebrows. Both he and Sho were prone to zoning out, but Sho's look was a little more conflicted than usual.
Satoshi puckered his lips. That immediately snapped Sho out of his reverie.
"It's like that time I was looking for lip cream and you offered your own lips." Sho finally slapped his forehead and Satoshi chuckled. Sho still looked a little concerned, however.
"What is it?" Satoshi recovered and asked Sho at last. The latter immediately turned to put his dishes into the sink and started to wash.
"You're on morning duty, right?" Sho was suddenly very intensely rubbing soap on the bowl. Satoshi grinned and came closer.
"Mm." he said, right on Sho's arm. Sho didn't move away, but started rinsing the bowl a little too aggressively.
"If you're not gonna work on something tonight," Sho began soaping the same bowl. He nearly dropped it when he realized. "Let's go to Kato's Sweets."
"Oh," Satoshi looked up quickly. Sho was usually thrown off by the overly adorable decor and the bubbly owner of the mentioned cake shop. They both enjoyed the cake rolls there, but only Satoshi has actually tried everything on their menu.
Sho finally met his gaze. His eyes were a little excited, but his brows were unsure.
"Awesome." Satoshi smiled. He walked off to the fish tank they had on the counter so Sho didn't have to hide his reddening cheeks. Satoshi felt like fist-pumping or jumping but Sho was still washing the same bowl, eyes fluttering from the bowl to the tap in uncertainty.
Whenever Sho stepped out of his comfort zone of absolute privacy, he kept his hands and eyes busy. Satoshi instead made faces to the fish tank, soundlessly screaming in excitement. They have been together for five years and yet, the concept of going out was still pretty exciting for him.
"We haven't actually gone out in a while." Sho finally washed other dishes.
"Oh―uh, yeah," Satoshi finished mouthing it's a date! to the oblivious quintet of goldfish.
There was a clang of things falling into the sink and Satoshi quickly turned and rushed over.
"Well, yeah, it is. Obviously, jeez." Sho said a little too quickly for authentic irritation. Satoshi bit his lips, now knowing that he wasn't actually quietly talking to the fish.
"You know what, leave those to me. You still have a train to catch." Satoshi said as Sho was about to soap the same plate twice.
"Thanks," Sho said distractedly, handing the soapy sponge and running off to the bathroom. Satoshi watched the whole time until the door closed.
"It's a date and he said it is." Satoshi told the fish matter-of-factly. Only one goldfish looked up at him for a second but turned away quickly. Satoshi scoffed smugly at them in response.
He listened to the running faucet in the bathroom and went into the spare room to fetch his uniform.
The blue-and-white striped uniform was stowed in the built-in closet at one side of the window-lit room but Satoshi first headed to the little toolbox that hid in plain sight right under his drawing table that was across Sho's desk.
As he pulled out the box, he recalled fondly the night Sho decided to buy the drawing table, even if it was such a bother to get delivered and assembled in the small room.
He used to borrow Sho's desk for when he would do some sketches and linearts, but Sho pointed out that it was very bad for his already terrible posture. Satoshi still used Sho's desk when he felt like doodling and while Sho was away. He was fond of looking at Sho's things and sometimes arranging them neatly because Sho was a bit of a mess.
Now, Satoshi moved some papers and folders and put the toolbox down on the desk, looking through Sho's things expertly. He carefully pulled out Sho's planner from the desk drawer and turned to the daily plans. Sho may be pretty private but he never had problems with Satoshi looking through his things.
"If it's meant to be secret," Sho had once said, "I wouldn't leave it where it can be uncovered. Go nuts."
Sho had a planner at home, their personalized calendar where they both note their appointments, a planner app in his smartphone and a desk planner at work, but he can't stack his papers neatly nor stuff them nicely into his suitcase. He was as much a mess with his stuff as he was with his thoughts-too much to do and too much to think of.
Satoshi didn't often look into it, but he was curious as to why Sho suddenly had time to spare for a dinner date. It was crucial to Satoshi's own plans that Sho would be occupied for the day.
Satoshi glanced at the toolbox as he riffled through the planner. A red and yellow mark caught his eye and he looked at the page.
On the date of their anniversary, there was a red star and a yellow circle drawn beside it. That yellow circle was a new code that Sho never had in his older entries, but Satoshi was mostly excited about the fact that it had a special mark at all. He then turned a few pages back and ran his finger across the high quality paper, looking over Sho's tasks for the current day.
In Sho's rather angular and bold handwriting, there was a note about his co-worker Okada's "Kaizen talk" and some other reports. The first part of the talk was right after his lunch hour and the second part was right before the end of his work day. Urgent things were marked with red, but this was marked with black.
Satoshi's smile faded. Okada is Sho's favorite senpai since high school. They even ended up in the same university. Sho always looks forward to working with the guy. Satoshi never had a problem with Okada, but he sometimes felt that he may be stopping Sho from hanging out with his senior and his other friends.
Unlike Satoshi whose current job as an artist didn't require him to meet a lot of people outside of work, Sho had friends from university and the company that he met from time to time. Satoshi's social life was basically just Sho and their four overly friendly neighbors. He had art contacts, clients as well as fishing buddies but no one with a significant history with. Sho was more than enough for Satoshi.
Sho is everybody's friend and Satoshi liked that about him, as he did with all the sides of Sho. However, things were a little different after Satoshi moved in with him about three years back. At first, he only moved in Sho's apartment but to accommodate his art stuff, they decided to move to the unit across as their first official home together.
Remembering this, he opened the toolbox.
Inside were the pieces of a miniature version of their bedroom, the first night they moved in. There was a miniature clay Satoshi and a miniature clay Sho lying on either side of a miniature fish bowl with a solitary foil-paper goldfish on top of the cardboard wall panels and window squares. It was yet to be assembled into the vivid scene of their first night officially living together.
Satoshi wanted to bring back the memories of their third year together, when they finally relocated into their apartment across Sho's old bachelor pad. There was, however, a small twinge of guilt he had for seemingly taking Sho all to himself—away from his university and work friends, possibly away from his family and perhaps even his hobbies
Sho had made it a point to express how he loved his alone time and had done so fairly often. Ironically, he was also the one who came up with the idea of moving in together and Satoshi was simply happy to be with Sho daily.
But Sho had changed since then. He no longer went on small weekend trips to some far province. He no longer met up with work friends and no longer passionately pursued a certain position at work. Sho always talked about those things in the years before.
But that night two years ago at their new shared bedroom, among the boxes of Satoshi's things, they laughed about scenarios of living together. They joked about possible decor but also seriously discussed the payments. They had sat side by side on the floor with only the fishbowl tucked in the small gap between their hips.
Satoshi looked at little clay Sho and remembered: Sho's tired eyes and slightly parted lips, how he shut his eyes and crinkled his nose when Satoshi wiped the sweat off his angled brow. He didn't want to, but he instantly recalled what Sho said then.
"I gave it up for better things." Sho's voice echoed in his head. It was the one line that kept Satoshi up at night, wondering if he was worth all the changes Sho had made. He could only make little presents as thanks, but he'll never be able to give Sho that dream job, and perhaps many other things Sho wants.
Satoshi closed the toolbox and put Sho's planner back to its place. It was still too early in the morning to think of these things.
By the time the two had finished preparing, the fish had been fed and the dishes had been washed. Sho was in his suit and Satoshi was in his striped convenience store uniform. Sho still seemed a little fidgety, having adjusted his tie three times until Satoshi helped him with it.
He didn't ask any questions, letting Sho plan out his sentences. Satoshi smoothed the suit over Sho's sloping shoulders, buying time. Sho was always careful with his words now, but he used to be pretty fierce when he was in university. Especially in high school, that is.
Sho's actual first words to Satoshi was, " Aren't you too short to fish for tuna? "
"Actually I—wait, what are you grinning about now?" Sho demanded. Satoshi shook his head, hands still on Sho's shoulders.
"I just remembered the first thing you told me." Satoshi answered, letting go to open the door and let Sho out first.
"Not again," Sho rolled his eyes as Satoshi locked the door behind him. Not that he doubted Satoshi, but he checked if the door was properly locked at least thrice.
Satoshi nodded at him so they could get going together. Sho took a deep breath as they walked and Satoshi imagined the speed and number of Sho's train of thought.
He learned the phrase "train of thought" from Sho a couple of weeks back and he couldn't help but picture out how everyone must have a different kind of "brain train".
Satoshi's own "brain train" would be a peaceful and slow express train, and Sho's would be the entire railway system of Tokyo.
He quickly pictured out Sho in a train conductor uniform until the elevator bell summoned him back to reality. He tucked the mental image away for later use.
Satoshi was in the process of stepping into the elevator when Sho roughly pulled him back out, grabbing him by the elbow while pressing the elevator call button again to keep the doors from closing.
Satoshi was shaken but it would be a lie to say his heart didn't make an excited little jump at Sho's sudden rough action.
"Do you—are you—lunch at home?" Sho said urgently. Satoshi blinked at his questions, boggled by the mess of words.
Ding! Satoshi briefly glanced at the gaping elevator doors and then back to Sho's somewhat frenzied eyes. He could tell it was taking a considerable amount of mental strength and not physical strength to hold on to Satoshi's slender arm.
"Are you having lunch at home?" Sho said again, letting him go and pressing the elevator call button once more.
"Yeah," Satoshi replied with a blank face. Sho was stalling for something else and he was trying to pinpoint what it could be. Sho had always known that Satoshi never has lunch out when his work would end early.
"I want to thank you for the presents." Sho said hurriedly, yet again pressing the elevator call button. As his eyes darted from Satoshi to the elevator, it seemed as though he was making it up as he went. "So maybe we could have lunch together too?"
It clicked in Satoshi's "brain train" at last. "You don't have to, I'm the one who has to thank you."
"Oh, psh, don't-don't be sentimental now," Sho said quickly, looking everywhere but Satoshi's eyes. Satoshi had expected this kind of reply and another jab at the elevator call button. He had to help Sho make a more firm decision.
Satoshi pushed Sho into the elevator, quickly pressing the ground floor button before Sho can collect his thoughts and press the hold button.
While Sho—a member of school sports teams and top ranking student since preschool—had quick thinking and fast reflexes, Satoshi could predict Sho's every move just by watching his eyes or shoulders. He could tell when Sho was having trouble making up his mind.
"Geez, I wanted to say something," Sho huffed.
Satoshi snorted a little and spoke. "But anyway, maybe Okada won't be too happy if you skip on his Kaizen talk or something. It's right after lunch isn't it? You'd end up late if you come home."
Sho's already sloping shoulders couldn't possibly droop even more. It almost made Satoshi laugh because Sho's shoulders were just as expressive as the rest of his face. It was basically as easy to read as the bold letters on their calendar and on Sho's planner.
"Alright," he said with such melancholy that Satoshi almost took back his words. As much as he wanted Sho to come home for lunch, he had something important to do.
The unfinished room replica, clay Sho, clay Satoshi and the foil-paper goldfish waited innocuously under his drawing table.
"So you checked." Sho had no arguments.
"It's alright. We have our dinner date." Satoshi said quietly. "I think I'll go see Aiba-chan about his restaurant. And you said you'd tell me all about Kaizen and the five X strategy. If you miss the talk, how will you practice giving your version of the lecture?"
"Five S." Sho snapped, but he heaved a long and rather sad sigh, looking at the elevator's display screen. Satoshi followed his gaze, realizing that they have just arrived on the floor before the last. There was a little stab of emotion in Satoshi's chest. Sho was willing to skip something important just for him and he had refused.
To his surprise, Sho turned and kissed his cheek in one quick motion. When Satoshi's "brain train" caught up with what happened, he looked at Sho and wished with all his might that he wouldn't wake up if it was a dream. The spot where Sho's lips touched his cheek radiated warmth that spread to the rest of his face.
There was a little smile on Sho's lips, and Satoshi was entranced. "For luck," Sho said, turning to him. Satoshi wasn't going to let Sho off with being cheeky. He stepped closer—
Sho had stepped forward and out of the elevator, making Satoshi stumble awkwardly but catch himself neatly. He immediately ran out of the elevator, tagging alongside Sho's long strides.
"Well you did promise you'll help me practice the whole Kaizen and 5S talk thing." Sho shrugged. "You're in for a sleepless night."
Satoshi grinned. "Bring it."
They stepped out of the apartment unit and went separate directions. Sho walked off to the station, leather shoes making an elegant tap, tap, tap on the walkway. Satoshi stopped going the other way for a second, just to watch Sho walking away.
He stored the mental image of the contours of Sho's athletic build in the back of his mind. He'll need it sometime. For art, of course.
Clay Sho was leaning on the cardboard door with a little plastic fish bowl right at his hip. His face had been painted in; the angled brows, the round eyes and the plump lips. Satoshi had just finished painting Clay Satoshi's face and was just about to add the little clay man to the scene when the doorbell snapped him right out of his concentration.
He looked at the door angrily, having dropped Clay Satoshi in his surprise. The house was always as quiet as a cemetery without Sho and his hundred topics a minute.
The doorbell chimed again, mocking him and his silence.
Straightening his convini uniform and getting up, he scratched the back of his head and dragged his feet to the door. When he looked at who was knocking through the intercom, he sighed.
Holding a tablet and wearing a black shirt with a Miku Hatsune print as well as jeans and fluffy black bunny slippers, Nino looked more like a teenage couch potato than a senior independent game developer.
"Yes?" Satoshi said, hoping that he pulled off the Sho style "pokerface voice".
"Can we talk? I need some advice," Nino huffed, showing him what looked like a three dimensional character clad in red.
Satoshi doodled a character once, a version of Sho that fit Nino's heroes and villains themed fighting game. Nino liked it so much that he made Satoshi the official character design consultant.
Through the intercom, he stared at a "dark lord Sho" in his red leather vest and pants. If real Sho would dress that way, Satoshi would probably not be able to handle himself.
"Come on, you're gonna love this dark lord guy when you see him." Nino insisted, making Satoshi jolt back to reality.
When he swung open the door, Nino strolled right in with a grumbled greeting. Satoshi was quite fond of his neighbors despite their habit of barging into his house. Even though he was perhaps two or three years older, they put no pretenses around him, never trying to get on his good side or something. It was relaxing for him.
Nino flipped the tablet and unfolded a keyboard from under it. To Satoshi's surprise, it was actually a laptop, even if Nino was poking the screen minutes ago.
"Don't look too confused, uncle." Nino teased. "By the way, that's the thing Aibasshi was talking about? He wouldn't shut up about 'picture painting paint' something-or-other."
Satoshi followed Nino's gaze to the painting in the living room.
"It's as good as he says. And way better than only seeing pictures of it." Nino nodded thoughtfully. "To me it looks like a couple looking at a sea of goldfish."
Satoshi smiled and said nothing more.
"So anyway, was hoping you'd name the doodles you made? You're the official consultant and all." Nino strode off to the couch with his eyes on the laptop as he typed something on it. Satoshi dashed over quickly, moving the room replica away even though it was far from Nino's path.
The latter looked up, eyes widening. "Sorry, did I...?"
"No, no," Satoshi said, looking at the interior. Nino stood up and took a peek.
Clay Satoshi was right on top of Clay Sho.
"Well...that's kinky," Nino grinned. Satoshi snorted and put his clay version in its proper place.
"New project?" Nino watched as Satoshi put the miniature on the table.
"It's a present." Satoshi said softly, as if any louder would wake the clay couple.
"For Shoyan?" Nino pointed to Clay Sho.
"How did you know?" Satoshi's mouth hung open.
"The camouflage print pants and that red plaid shirt." Nino chuckled. "J called it a disaster combination."
"He loves those, don't be mean." Satoshi defended, but still laughed.
"No but, I met him maybe last night or the night before, on my way home." Nino went back to his acrobatic laptop. Satoshi could never imagine Nino going any further than the convini at the end of the road so it didn't make much sense to him that Sho and Nino met outside at all.
"He was worried you're overworked from making something. A statue or something." Nino removed the keyboard from the laptop and handed the monitor to Satoshi. This time, Satoshi was distracted by the fact that the tablet that had a keyboard was in fact a tablet to begin with.
"Oy," Nino nudged the tablet and Satoshi took it gingerly. Nino went on, "The other day, you asked us to help with pancake fishes and some stuff, what about those?"
Satoshi looked at the dark lord Sho in the tablet. "I gave him the pancakes. And the statuette. I gave him that painting too. Was he...not happy about it?" He almost didn't recognize his own voice with how hollow it sounded.
"Not really, I'm just asking." Nino tilted his head thoughtfully.
"He's worried." Satoshi observed every detail of the dark lord Sho character, especially the slight curls of his sideways fringe and the round eyes.
"Dunno," Nino reached over and poked something on the screen to display five other characters. "He doesn't seem upset. Last Toma saw him, he looked kind of giddy."
"Giddy?" Satoshi took a moment to remind himself that it wasn't a negative word.
"Yeah, wouldn't stop grinning. Almost didn't see Toma until he jumped." There was a bit of a laugh in Nino's voice, like the audience before a punchline. "Toma's not a small guy and he had to jump so Shoyan could notice him. Why he just had to be noticed, heck if I know."
Satoshi could imagine it and thought it was rather endearing.
"Then of course he snapped into 'your friendly neighborhood business dude', when Toma finally came to him." Nino poked one of the characters' portrait. A petite man wearing a mostly blue outfit slid into view. "So I'd say he's just about normal. Not that we can easily tell what's in his head."
Nino was right. Sho often misunderstood people as much as people didn't understand him. He was like an islet on his own, but Satoshi would swim back and forth from the mainland if that is what it took to reach Sho.
"You spoil him." Nino was on his feet, looking into the room replica again.
"He spoils me," Satoshi said simply.
Nino looked at him pointedly.
Satoshi put the monitor down. "He gave up his job for me once."
"Mr. Work-Is-Life gave up work for you?" Nino's eyes widened again. "No kidding, he really does spoil you, then. But how?"
"Two years ago, he was given a promotion. He would have been on the same rank as his favorite senpai but he chose to give it up so we can stay in this city." Satoshi recalled, putting the monitor down as Nino sat with him again. "I was just starting out as freelancer so all my contacts are here. He would've been assigned abroad."
"Never thought I'd hear about the noble and great Sho Sakurai choosing his heart." Nino nudged Satoshi by the knee. The thought of it made the heat rise in Satoshi's neck and ears.
"Yeah but—" Satoshi began too quietly that Nino spoke over him.
"The mysterious and famous "O" chose not to reveal his identity and never takes projects that would drag him out the country." Nino held his hand out to the room replica like a show host. "True love, folks. Or maybe narrow-minded co-dependency because you two could've earned a buttload abroad."
Satoshi nudged Nino, somehow feeling a little lighter. Nino was right. Sho did pretty much the same thing he did when he refused the overseas offer he received after making the statue that was displayed at the mall.
"Now enough of that saccharine stupidity before our blood sugar goes up." Nino tapped the screen. "What's a good name for the kick-specializing, red-leather wearing villain dude?"
"Red Slash!" Satoshi chimed.
Retro and vintage elements made Kato's Sweets popular among people of different kinds as opposed to places that cater mostly to women. In retro lettering, the signboard bearing the shop's name shone in neon pink light.
The employees had a thematic uniform for every day: 70's on Mondays, 20's on Wednesdays, 50's on Fridays, and something else Satoshi can't quite tell on other days.
The owner, a young man just about Satoshi's height can be seen at the counter, waving at Satoshi as he came closer. Before Satoshi could wave back however, he spotted Sho at a table in the corner.
The summer sunset gave the shop a pleasant pinkish orange glow and Sho looked as if he were the source, with light in his cheeks and hair, and with his loose fitting shirt like a whispy candy cane colored cloud.
Satoshi wasn't sure when exactly he had entered the shop and imagined Sho to be a giant marshmallow, but Kato was suddenly right at his face, happily greeting him with a shrill voice.
"Yes, yes. I'm here!" Satoshi jokingly punched Kato and fumbled with the box in his hands. Kato just laughed.
"Someone's waiting for you!" He said while bouncing on his heels excitedly, ushering Satoshi closer to where Sho was seated.
"I know, I know, jeez." Satoshi pretended to be pestered but he likes Kato well enough to be on a playful mood with him. He made sure to deflect Kato's push and handed him the box. "Could you, maybe...do me a favor?"
"This is pretty huge for a ring." Kato examined the box after taking it. Satoshi immediately grabbed his wrist before he could shake it. "It's not a ring, don't shake it!"
"Sorry!" The bowl-cut lad made a small bow. "When do I give it?"
"After the orders. Now go!" Satoshi held Kato by the shoulders and forcefully rotated him on the retro-printed hardwood floor. He gave Kato one good push before the bowl-cut haired store manager ran off to the kitchen.
When Satoshi turned, Sho was peeking at him with a knowing little smile. "What're you both yelling about?"
"Ha," the sound was out of Satoshi's mouth before he could even conceptualize Sho's sentence. Sho just laughed, gesturing for Satoshi to sit.
Finally seated across Sho, Satoshi had a good look at the other man. His white cotton shirt had large red stripes and was of thin material, with very wide sleeves that tapered just below Sho's elbows. His hair was a little windswept but still neatly patted down over his brows. Everything about him looked gentle.
"You look like a pillow," Satoshi chuckled.
"You look like a beach towel," Sho scoffed.
Satoshi's eyes widened. "I'm wearing stripes too!"
His own shirt was also white, a round neck with medium sized stripes in different shades of blue.
"Did you check my wardrobe for what's missing again?" Sho raised a brow as Satoshi fiddled with his nose shyly. He had done that once, just to mess with Sho.
"Did not. It's a coincidence this time." Satoshi retorted, feeling the heat in his ears rise. Sho signalled for a waiter and turned back to Satoshi.
"What were you talking about to the shop owner earlier? You guys seem to be good friends." Sho spoke, his face in a calculated curious look. Satoshi has memorized so well that if Sho really didn't understand something, his brows would furrow, not rise.
He was being tested. Satoshi blinked at Sho.
"Oh," he whispered. Sho's brows rose even more. There was still that knowing little smile on his face as he propped his chin on his hand with an elbow on the table. His arms and hands were projecting a relaxed look, but Satoshi could see the tenseness in Sho's shoulders and raised brows.
Sho was suspicious. He would have crinkled his nose randomly if he was really relaxed.
This made Satoshi chuckle and rearrange his sideswept fringe so his hands had something to do. He loved that Sho kept track of all the people Satoshi knew, but he also felt a little unsure about whether it was really alright for him to enable that potentially unhealthy habit.
"What?" Sho was still half-smiling, but his question was serious.
"I asked him for a favor." Satoshi could never lie through his teeth to Sho, and it would never work with him on high alert anyway. Sho could read Satoshi's blank expressions just as well.
Sho nodded and hummed as the owner himself came with a box.
Satoshi flashed his eyes at Kato and the box.
"Hi, so this is um—" Kato smiled at Sho and finally caught Satoshi's look. The store manager froze.
"What is it?" Sho looked at the box with laughing eyes. He was playing coy so blatantly, with the dramatically eager look, eyes blinking a little too much and the salesman smile ever present. He was teasing Satoshi's botched surprise.
Satoshi grabbed the box and said to Kato, "I'll have the usual cake and drink. He'll have a slice of banana cake roll and a tall iced caffe latte, extra milk."
Kato blinked his long-lashed eyes at them for a moment then nodded happily. Satoshi released a breath he unknowingly held and Sho looked at him, this time with his mouth hanging open slightly.
"Slice of banana cake roll? More like a slice of dominating psychic," Sho said with a grin.
Satoshi couldn't keep himself from grinning at the comment. It wasn't much, he could even guess what Sho would have ordered from the restaurant across the street.
"So..." Sho's eyes trailed to the box. Satoshi pushed it toward him.
"Open it." Satoshi said, watching the rise of color in Sho's cheeks.
"This is a little too big for a ring." Sho pulled the box closer and Satoshi snorted.
"Unless it's for my neck or something." Sho said coolly as he glanced into Satoshi's eyes in a moment so fast that Satoshi almost didn't catch it. In the next quick second when he visualized what Sho meant, the latter had begun opening the box.
"Oh, this is..." Sho's expression was surprisingly unreadable. His lips quivered but his brows were relaxed. There was a glint in his eyes that made him look tearful, but he didn't blink as much as he would have if it were really tears.
"Our room, but the first time we called it that way." Satoshi helped.
"Yeah," Sho was smiling sincerely now. "It has your boxes of stuff. Oh and that quirky fishing rod lamp thing! Where is that now?"
"Look there," Satoshi reached in and pointed to one corner of the room, at what looked like a fish tank but had little colored balls. "Remember that little experiment?"
"Ah, merging the sea and space! Putting planets in the aquarium!" Sho shut his eyes and laughed. "It was so hard to clean, we had to give it up."
"I think we can pull it off now that I'm not as busy." Satoshi sat back down. "I mean back then I had the food models thing,"
"Oh, please. You're doing commissions left and right. Our fish tank is fine as it is." Sho was looking at the box so contentedly that he didn't notice their order arriving until Satoshi pushed Sho's cafe latte into his field of view.
"You even remembered the clothes we were wearing." Sho sounded impressed.
"Yeah but you're able to confirm it so that means you remembered it well too." Satoshi said with a nod.
Sho looked into his eyes and for a moment, Satoshi stopped moving. Or it seemed as though the world did.
Sho's eyes softened and he smiled, taking a table napkin from the holder and wiping off the icing that Satoshi didn't even notice at the corners of his mouth.
Satoshi chuckled. "Guess I'm pretty useless without you."
"Please, you're the best at laundry and dishes. And cleaning the bathroom." Sho shook his head, now cradling the replica on his lap. "And cooking. That's basically everything."
"I'm not very good with calculating taxes. Not even budgeting!" Satoshi argued, watching as Sho took out their clay replicas.
"You barely spend money so it's not an alarming thing. Besides, I like doing these calculations, you know that." Sho let the clay couple sit side by side near his glass and took out his phone.
"Well, I like cleaning the bathroom because...because you look very relaxed when you're in the bath." Satoshi said honestly.
"We should change that broken doorknob." Sho rolled his eyes. "And seriously, watch your sugar intake. We still have banana cake roll at home."
Satoshi snorted. "You're one to talk. You were sneaking around the house last night. Were you hiding something sweet?"
Sho looked more surprised than he expected, cautiously putting the replica back on the table. "You were awake when I got home?"
"I wasn't, but I could hear you walking about everywhere." Satoshi observed Sho. He was putting the clay couple back in their positions. "What were you up to anyway?" he asked, but doubted that he would get an honest answer outright. Sho did stick to the truth, but in his own time.
"I can't find our power tools!" Sho said a little too loudly and quickly, making Satoshi wince.
"It's in the other room. Under the shelf," Satoshi said simply. Sho began wolfing his cake. "You put it there," Satoshi continued.
"Would've asked you if you were up, but I completely forgot so I went about looking." Sho's drink was quartered in one sip and a big gulp.
"Why do you need power tools?" Satoshi reached out with a table napkin when he saw the little droplet of cafe latte near Sho's lip but the latter was fast enough to wipe it himself.
"Because...I murdered someone and I needed to break their joints to stuff them in a bag." Sho replied with a smug little grin.
"Sometimes I wonder if you really do those things because you sound so prepared." Satoshi chuckled. Sho will tell the truth when the time would come. He let it rest.
Sho doesn't really keep something quiet for too long to Satoshi anyway.
"When we're married, I apologize in advance if you get dragged into a 2am body-hiding plan." With a finger, Sho took a bit of the cream at the side of his glass and licked it off. For a second, Satoshi gazed at him dazedly, with the words simply bouncing off the walls of Satoshi's mind.
When we're married—
"When?!" Satoshi blurted. "Not if-"
"Woah, someone's too eager to hide a corpse." Sho chuckled. "If you don't watch your sugar intake, it could be yours, you ninny. Kato-san told me you've tried everything on the menu."
"Wai—no, I mean yeah—not at the same time," Satoshi was shaken by the leap in their topic. "If we're gonna talk health, you might wanna lessen the nightly alcohol then."
"But it's nice and warm on the inside." Sho whined mockingly, paired with an exaggerated pout that only emphasized his lips.
"Hey, I know something nice and warm on the inside." Satoshi said and braced himself for a possible impact. To his surprise, none came and Sho simply grinned as he sipped his cafe latte.
When their eyes met, there was an instant electric pulse that ran within Satoshi. Sho was still holding his straw although he had stopped drinking, and there was that small knowing smile Satoshi so loved on him.
"Shall we go to bed?" Satoshi was at his stupidest when Sho has that look.
"You're ready for an all nighter?" Sho leaned closer, again daintily sipping from his cafe latte. It was almost finished and Satoshi felt himself gulp along.
"Good." Sho leaned back. "Prepare your pen and paper for my Kaizen talk tonight."
Satoshi fell face first on the table.
Waking up without the familiar warmth and scent of Sho beside him alerted Satoshi for all of five seconds as it did most of the time. He would lie back down, relish in the residual coziness of the bed for a little while, and finally get up.
Sho's Kaizen talk practice had wrapped up earlier than Satoshi expected. They had spent the night putting up the painting and reminiscing about their first year in that house. They also found the lamp Sho mentioned and it now replaced their plain bedside lamp.
He usually hummed while making the bed. Sho must have heard, since he called out a greeting.
"I tried eggs again." Sho immediately said once Satoshi entered the kitchen, his sleepy face still a little damp from washing. It was hard to imagine what time Sho had gotten up and gotten ready as he was already in his suit sans blazer.
Satoshi blearily walked to him, wanting to feel Sho close and also wanting eggs that were not burnt for breakfast. He smoothly slid a hand over Sho's on the handle of the pan. Sho winced but was unable to move away quickly enough.
"Both of us will get burned!" he let the pan go so Satoshi can take over. With a flick of his wrist, the not-so sunny side ups landed with a soft plop.
"Showoff." Sho scoffed. Satoshi laughed and set the plate of eggs in front of him. Sho removed Satoshi's apron, pushed his sleeves further up his arms and sat down to have some toast.
This part was one of the two highlights of Satoshi's day. Sho usually hurries through breakfast, but he eats everything as if it was gourmet. His cheeks puff when he stuffs his mouth and from time to time, especially when it's Satoshi who cooks, he'd moan about how good the food is. Or he would just moan. That was always nice.
"How's life in Jupiter, sir?" Sho said thickly. Satoshi blinked at him, trying to register what seemed to be a Chinese word.
Satoshi tried to repeat the word but Sho waved a dismissive hand, laughing a little. "You were staring at me like an alien studying a human who's doing this strange habit of stuffing his face."
"I like when you stuff your face." Satoshi smiled.
"No dirty talk at the table!" Sho scolded, but Satoshi had no clue where that idea came from. Sho's eyes betrayed the fact that it simply amused him. "Sleepy from my Kaizen talk? You said you could handle it. And I might be home early so I was hoping for a round two."
That was Sho's way of asking Satoshi to talk about his thoughts, the latter knew. Sho was just being considerate of whether Satoshi wants to talk or not.
And mostly, he does. But Satoshi can't exactly tell Sho he was still about to prepare another present.
"Are you back to Earth yet?" Sho peeked at Satoshi through aligned fists, as if staring through a telescope.
"I was thinking...there's no real way to find a 'perfect hiding spot'." Satoshi told him honestly. He couldn't think of anything else to cover up his problem.
"Well, why not?" Sho looked genuinely curious.
"If you find it, then it's not so perfect after all." Satoshi took one piece of toast from the pile that Sho had made. At the very least, Sho wouldn't die of hunger without Satoshi cooking for him.
"I disagree," Sho's brows furrowed thoughtfully. Satoshi was just surprised that the conversation continued at all. He was more used to getting dismissed as weird. Sho never put Satoshi's thoughts away from discussions.
"If it's to be a hiding spot, it has to be visible when looking for a place to hide. Otherwise, it cannot even qualify as a hiding spot." Sho added.
"Oh," Satoshi didn't expect a deep explanation, but Sho's determined look did not let up. Satoshi watched as Sho stood up to put his plate in the sink.
"But then, if it will be a perfect hiding spot, you can theoretically find it and it'll still be perfect for hiding..." Sho pushed his sagging sleeves back up his elbows, Satoshi simply enjoyed the view. Sho caught him staring again and stared right back.
Satoshi sat up in attention but Sho wasn't done with his lecture. "I think Plato said something about that, though."
Half the time, Satoshi had no idea what Sho would talk about when he would begin babbling about philosophical or scientific things. He still loved listening, anyway. Sho was often passionate about the things he knew and believed in, and it was so refreshing to hear someone standing up for their thoughts instead of falling back into the comfortable norms of society.
Satoshi stared so intensely that Sho stopped talking and with a small chuckle, took Satoshi's toast then stuffed into the latter's open mouth. Satoshi was startled but took a crunchy bite anyway. He completely didn't notice when his jaw had dropped while gazing at Sho.
"I guess it doesn't help to analyze it." Sho patted the breadcrumbs off off the corners of Satoshi's busily chewing lips and round cheeks.
Sho continued speaking as he unrolled his sleeves. "But I had strict parents so I got pretty good at hiding stuff in plain sight." he grinned.
Satoshi nodded knowingly.
Sho was definitely good at keeping secrets. Satoshi still didn't know how Sho managed to get a Joël Robuchon cake in time for his birthday. Satoshi can't even read the name of the chef nor the cake, much less figure out that it was all that rare until their neighbor, the bubbly chef Masaki, pointed it out as limited edition.
"Hiding in plain sight." Satoshi repeated, looking around the house.
"So..." Sho bent down so his face was very close. "You can't possibly hide anything from me."
There was a playful little glint in Sho's round eyes and Satoshi accepted the challenge.
"I have nothing to hide," he said with a smile that made Sho's eyes grow wide. He really hasn't got anything to hide, not yet anyway. Two can play Sho's mind games, as long as Satoshi has had breakfast.
The doorbell made them break the staring contest. Satoshi cursed in his mind, and for a moment considered switching off the intercom.
"I'll get it as I leave." Sho said, with a little smirk. Satoshi knew that his every move will from now on be watched closely. Everything he would do from then would be a clue now that Sho's curiosity had been piqued.
Sho put on his blazer and took his suitcase. The doorbell chimed again even as Sho quickly strode off to the door.
Satoshi looked at the kitchen counter and noticed something important that Sho had forgotten. He took out a banana case and pulled a banana from their bunch.
"Oh, Matsumoto-kun. Good morning," Sho's voice came from the entryway. Satoshi hurried over with the banana now in a case to see their neighbor, the handsome production designer.
Jun Matsumoto looked a little disheveled with his brown waves not pushed back as was usual, but he still looked like he was rocking a new trend. He raised a platter with a foil covering in his hands.
"Aiba-kun forgot to give you guys this and now he's too shy to, he said." Matsujun was never happy in the morning.
"Woah, what is it?" Sho took the platter from Matsujun.
"Paella. I made it, actually." Matsujun brightened up a little. "Aiba-kun doesn't do much western dishes."
"Oh," Sho said as he and Satoshi peeked at what seemed to be a platter of orange rice with seafood toppings inside.
"How much is this again?" Satoshi asked. Matsujun waved a hand dismissively.
"You guys get it for free as long as you tell me if it's good or not."
"Oh but that's-" Satoshi and Sho exchanged looks but Matsujun interrupted.
"I insist." he gave them a nod of finality. "You've helped Aiba-chan with his menu with all the stuff he's been making us all try. Or you can thank us by coming by for a beer sometime. Like this week or so."
"Yeah, that'd be quite nice." Sho had on a cordial smile that Satoshi knew was his sales pitch face.
"But you have a thing to do the whole week." Satoshi said quickly so Sho didn't need to think of an excuse. Perhaps it wasn't visible, but that salesman smile only ever appeared when he had to do something he didn't want to.
Sho put a fist on his forehead and it looked somewhat theatrical to Satoshi.
"Ah, yeah." Sho had on what Satoshi recognized as the practiced look of regret. "Why'd you have to remind me of these boring things."
Satoshi chuckled in spite of himself. Sho was a little too good at secrets.
"I can go, though." Satoshi asked permission with his eyes.
"Yeah, he can have a shot for me, right?" Sho nodded.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry if I insisted. Aiba-chan also wanted you guys to try a bunch of stuff that might go well with beer and all that." Matsujun said with a shrug. "Just come by or catch up, or not. Thanks anyway."
Satoshi could hear the fondness in how Matsujun switched from talking formally about his roommate to using an endearing nickname. He was very supportive of his chef friend's upcoming restaurant.
When Matsujun had said his goodbye and left, Sho turned to Satoshi with a soft gaze.
"I figured you're quite busy this week." Satoshi explained as he took the platter from Sho and exchanged it with the banana case. "It's a given that we'll be out on our anniversary but for now, I'll pop up with them and give you some quiet time. They'll also rest the daily invites if one of us turned up once."
"Jeez, don't make me sound so antisocial." Sho laughed, but this was his way of thanking Satoshi anyway. "Thanks for the banana. Almost forgot."
"You should get going so you don't miss your train." Satoshi reminded him. "We can have this tonight."
"You better leave some paella for me. I might be able to get off work early." Sho checked his watch at least thrice but seemed hesitant to move.
"Sure, amore ." Satoshi snorted.
"That's Italian." Sho scoffed. "Paella is Spanish."
Satoshi stepped up and was about to retort but got stopped when he felt Sho's lips on his forehead. He stepped back and blinked for a moment in confusion as Sho laughed cheekily and said, "I'm off, put the paella inside!"
Satoshi could only grab thin air as Sho's long strides took him all the way to the end of the hall. He would have chased Sho all the way, feeling the heat spread from his forehead and all the way to his neck.
He was never gonna get used to these ambushes, but he likes it even if he knew that Sho hurried away to end the moment as quickly as he could. Satoshi himself has other pressing matters to attend to, so it couldn't be helped.
When he heard the elevator bell, he slipped back inside with his hands supporting the paella platter. He hurriedly put on shoes and skipped over to the unit across.
When he rung the doorbell, he was surprised when the door immediately opened.
"Oh! If it isn't Ohno-kun! Not on the morning shift at the convini?" Toma Ikuta greeted happily. From behind, Matsujun peeked.
"Is something wrong with the paella ?" he came closer.
"Come in, Ohno-kun! There's breakfast, Aiba-chan made a lot of stuff. I heard you like bread." Toma ushered Satoshi inside.
Satoshi liked how their house was designed. Most of the larger furniture and the wall accents were in monochrome but there would be a pop of color in random places, most noticeable of which were the square pillows that adorned the couch.
Perhaps the best part was that the house always smells pleasantly of fresh food.
"N-no there's nothing wrong with the paya ." Satoshi hurriedly said with a bow. "Thanks for letting me in."
"What's up? Must be urgent that you'd come in your pajamas." Matsujun gestured to their living room.
"Oi! Teacher Toma, you left your stupid socks in the bathroom again!" Nino came into the room with a bright yellow toothbrush.
"Well look at the time! Gotta go and inspire the future of our country!" Toma winked and hurriedly left before Nino could see him.
"He left, Nino. Let it be." Matsujun said dismissively, but he was smiling a little. "Sorry for the mess, Ohno-kun. What did you need?"
"What could world famous artist O-sama possibly need from us, plebs?" Nino grinned, briefly entering and exiting bathroom. "Maybe some clothes, uncle exhibitionist?"
"Oh, sorry." Satoshi finally noticed that he was still in pajamas.
Matsujun once again gestured to their fashionable monochrome couch. Satoshi finally sat and said, "Do you know how to make banana roll cake?"
"You don't like the paella?" Matsujun looked at the platter and then back at him.
"No, I do. I just thought. I want to bake something as a present...and I don't know how to bake anything that isn't bread." Satoshi looked at the paella platter again and realized that he was hungry. "I just forgot to put this down." He added.
"Why don't you have J make it?" Nino sat down across them, curled in the corner of the long black couch.
"Oh I..." Satoshi wondered how to not sound like a snob by refusing.
"He wants to make and give the present." Matsujun spoke with a knowing nod. "So it has to be him. Yeah, I'll help."
"Thank you." Satoshi breathed easy. He realized how much he had been relying on Sho to speak for him all this time. How Sho translated Satoshi's thoughts into actual words, he wasn't sure. He guessed that reading minds through body language was taught at business school.
"You called?" Masaki peeked from the kitchen. He immediately smiled wide when he saw Satoshi.
"Sweets loving buddy!" Masaki took two steps before retreating back to the kitchen, stumbling slightly in his excitement. "I've got some pastries from somewhere..."
"Aiba-chan, Ohno-kun needs our help." Matsujun gestured for Masaki to join them.
Masaki was immediately back at the living room, but with a basket of pastry. "You can have this. Someone gave them to me, but I have two more. How can we help?"
Satoshi looked from Masaki's eager round eyes, Matsujun's curious brows and Nino's Cheshire cat grin. He was so far past his comfort zone of discreetly asking for advice and favors that he suddenly felt like shrinking from their gaze. He had no clue how to deliberate his request.
However, he had to try. For him .
"I need to make banana roll cake." Satoshi said with a nod. "Please teach me."
"Aw, I don't know how to make banana roll cake!" Masaki gasped. He grabbed Matsujun's sleeve and tugged a little. "Maybe you can?"
"I'm too clumsy for something that delicate but, I can help." Matsujun nodded back.
"Eh, I think if you saw how it's done, you could figure it out, like the pancake art thing." Nino shrugged. "You're the O-sama after all, you just watched how it's done on Youtube and did it."
Satoshi was bewildered at being called a king, so he just looked at Nino.
"I don't mean we aren't helping. I mean, we'll help you learn it." Nino went on, slowly. "We're just probably not gonna be able to teach you because none of us bake."
Satoshi blinked at him, trying to imagine what situation would have him learn without being taught. He immediately pictured out meditating under a waterfall.
"Well don't worry about it!" Masaki was on his feet again, looking quite pumped. "I'll help you even if I don't know what to do! You've done a lot for my restaurant."
"Hey, I owe you for the character design thing." Nino gave Satoshi a small salute.
"This house? You basically designed the concept for it." Matsujun interrupted before Satoshi could retort. "We owe you. And in a way, Sakurai-kun too."
Satoshi could only shake his head.
When Matsujun and the trio were just moving in, he had a completely different set of furniture in mind, but due to a lot of confusion he got all of them in only blacks except the pillows-lavender, lime green, yellow and soft pink.
Satoshi had simply remarked at that time that color splash in real life looked brilliant, and later made the color splash painting of Sho asleep. He didn't mean it as advice.
"Okay, stop. This is cheesy." Nino got up and threw a pillow right at Masaki's head. The latter immediately protested by throwing it back but Matsujun caught the pillow and gave them both a stern look, which Nino ignored as he stretched catlike on the couch and spoke. "Just let us know when."
"Today." Satoshi said, a little too quickly. Nino and Matsujun had an identical look of surprise.
"Sounds urgent. Deadline is?" Matsujun asked calmly.
"Well, tonight..." He sighed. "It's hard to hide things from smart people."
"Oh, it's for Sho-chan! Yeah, he's good at guessing." Masaki bounced back to the couch beside Matsujun, but didn't take a seat. "Have I told you the time he guessed what I was going to talk to him about? He's really smart."
Matsujun cleared his throat. "I don't have a shoot today, the other two are busy. Let's get to work. I'll need your kitchen."
"But that'll leave evidence, won't it?" Nino raised an eyebrow.
"He needs to physically remember how to make it in his own kitchen...just in case." Matsujun looked at Satoshi. "Well, that's what I'd do. That okay with you?"
Satoshi nodded slowly, like a child pressured into sneaking out past bedtime. It was going to be a lot of trouble, but it was all going to be worth it.
It was quite late in the afternoon when Matsujun came over just as Satoshi got home after a short trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients.
They put the ingredients and tools down on the dinner table and Satoshi watched as Matsujun pointed to every item for the second time.
"That's actually more than enough bananas for the recipe." Matsujun looked at the wooden banana holder. It was considerably larger than average, looking more like a miniature coat hanger with bunches of bananas hanging by twos on the arms.
"And, I've never actually seen that kind of banana holder." Matsujun said, taking the banana bunches.
"Oh, we made it." Satoshi said fondly. "We eat a lot of those together."
Matsujun chuckled. "You guys love bananas a bit too much. You should hang out with Aiba-chan."
"Yeah..." Satoshi trailed off, thinking of a more complicated time when they didn't much think of health and nutrition.
"Get mashing, I'll show you how the batter is made." Matsujun handed the bunches of bananas over. Satoshi never expected Matsujun to take the reins so readily but it was preferable for him at the moment. Or rather, in general.
"You guys health nuts?" Matsujun peeked at Satoshi as he put flour and butter into a bowl. "I kind of am, so we could like...share notes."
"Kinda." Satoshi considered this for a moment. "Or maybe not so much. We just really like bananas, I suppose. And I love strawberries. We love oranges..."
"What's with bananas?" Matsujun wasn't quite done with his interview, but all in good heart, as he was chuckling.
"About three years ago I think, I got kleptomania." Satoshi tilted his head, trying to recall the long word that Sho used. It was in English, but it could have been any other language and Satoshi would not have recalled it any better.
"You...what?" Matsujun paused, raising his well-maintained brows. He was holding the electric mixer in one hand and the metal whisk in the other.
"Ka...kaleido....uh..." Satoshi racked his brain. Matsujun's reaction clearly meant that he said it wrong.
"How about," Matsujun made a vague gesture with the whisk, urging Satoshi to continue mashing. "describe what happened."
"It's a lack of some vitamin." Satoshi looked at the partially mashed bananas. "The thing bananas have."
"Vita—wha—you mean like, potassium?" Matsujun's eyebrows couldn't possibly go any higher. Satoshi nodded vigorously at the familiar English word.
"So like, hypokalemia?" Matsujun said.
Satoshi gave him a finger gun salute. "Yes! I think."
"Ohno-san," Matsujun said between giggles. "Potassium isn't a vitamin, and bananas aren't its primary source."
"Close enough. But bananas are perfect so we like them." Satoshi held out the mashed banana bowl and Matsujun approved it with a nod.
"Hang on, how many years ago? Because I recall that you weren't around much after we moved here and you said that comment about color splash." Matsujun replied, handing the batter and the mixer to him. "I wanted to thank you, but Sakurai-kun said you were hospitalized."
"Yeah it was a bit after that I think?" Satoshi tilted his head. "I fainted or something, so I was hospitalized. It wasn't so bad...I felt a little dead but I wasn't."
"You know, that was probably Sakurai-kun's worst year too." Matsujun gestured for Satoshi to pour the batter. When Satoshi didn't quickly understand the motion, Matsujun took the bowl and did it himself. "I'd greet him, he wasn't...well, as nice as he is now."
"He wasn't nice to you?" Satoshi accepted the pan when Matsujun handed it. He then opened the oven and let Satoshi place the pan in.
"Not that he was rude." Matsujun waved a free hand. "He was just out of sorts. I thought he was a grouch and a slob. Of course he isn't but...you know. First impressions matter."
Satoshi snorted. Matsujun doesn't know the state of Sho's seemingly disaster-struck desk.
"He was not one for much small talk, is what I mean. Which is okay. I mean, I probably annoy him." Matsujun shrugged lightly as he laid wax paper down. Satoshi was pretty sure he never had wax paper.
"No you don't." Satoshi said quickly. "He likes you guys. He just...he—"
It was then he learned that he was not as good at explaining Sho's behavior.
"I get it. He likes to keep to himself. Nino's like that too." Matsujun smiled warmly. Satoshi was immediately glad Matsujun was more equipped to understand people. Satoshi would have gone on a possibly nonsensical tangent about Sho being an islet one has to swim to, or about "brain trains".
"People like him and Nino...they're very good at presenting themselves in the way that they prefer to be seen." Matsujun said slowly. Satoshi guessed that he was choosing his words carefully. "But really, Sakurai-kun was a mess."
Satoshi fell silent. In his point of view, Sho was his strength that time. He wasn't in pain that he couldn't tolerate, but it was hard for him to be bedridden and completely unable to work nor help Sho.
"He visited me every day." Satoshi remembered. "He would ask me to listen to his practice presentations." It only hit him then that Sho never looked like a mess when seeing him. And even made Satoshi feel useful by making him listen to those presentations.
Yet Satoshi knew Sho could have gotten anyone else for that.
Satoshi fiddled with the oven mitt in his hands. He chuckled all of a sudden, making Matsujun look up.
"How did I get so lucky?" Satoshi asked Matsujun and this made the latter burst into giggles.
"I think both of you are." Matsujun said with a serious nod, and this made Satoshi's cheeks feel hot. He was spared from answering when Matsujun got up to see the cake.
Matsujun's phone on the table started vibrating, interrupting Satoshi's attempt to respond.
Matsujun excused himself and answered the call, walking over to the entryway. Satoshi squatted in front of the cake, imagining the happy noises Sho would make when he would eat it; how his cheeks would puff and he would moan and all that.
Satoshi sat watching the cake bake. It fascinated him how gradual and gentle the change was. The smell was wonderful too. He thought about making a strawberry cake roll next.
Sho had once told him about the times he would be alone in his house waiting for his mother. He would eat cake rolls then.
Satoshi looked up to the clock subconsciously. It was a quarter to six...
Then it hit him.
I might be home early so I was hoping for a round two.
I might be able to get off work early.
Sho usually came home around six in the evening when he would be early.
Satoshi looked at the half-baked cake. "Oh...no..."
He made a mad dash to Matsujun at the entryway, just as Matsujun ended his call. "I think Sho's gonna be home early," he said hurriedly.
Matsujun's eyes went wide. "What. The cake isn't done—oh wait, shouldn't see me here."
"What should I do with the cake?" Satoshi glanced at the clock again and was reminded of a time Sho came earlier than six when Okada would drive him home.
"Here, I sent you the recipe." Matsujun's thumb tapped about on his smartphone so fast Satoshi didn't even notice. "Return my stuff tomorrow and—"
Satoshi, Matsujun and Sho stood in the entryway frozen in their spots for a few seconds.
"Matsumoto-kun!" Sho greeted him with a bow as he closed the door.
Satoshi had no idea what to do with his hands nor his face for that reason, gaping like a fish out of water.
Matsujun smiled at Sho. "Sakurai-kun, just the person I need."
"Oh, how can I help?" Sho seemed to be in a good mood as he smiled and raised both brows expectantly. Satoshi helplessly looked at him and then at Matsujun.
"I was just asking Ohno-kun if you're home and all that." Matsujun smoothly replied. Matsujun was perhaps on Sho's level of keeping secrets but Sho in his good mood seemed to have his guard down.
"Oh, what is it?" Sho asked again, and Satoshi decided to let Matsujun handle it. He took Sho's suitcase.
"Aiba-kun has a thing he needs about tax? And we're not quite sure what's going on, would you be able to lend us a hand?" Matsujun pocketed his smartphone.
"Oh, yes, sure. Wait, now?" Sho replied.
"If you're not too busy?" Matsujun offered. Satoshi almost sighed aloud in relief.
"Matsumoto-kun, I uh..." Sho's tone surprised Satoshi. This was Sho mustering his courage. "I came early to...well, so we could kinda...spend time together..." He gestured vaguely to Satoshi.
"Oh," Matsujun's own perfectly maintained brows shot up. Even Satoshi was surprised. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."
"But you could tell Aiba-kun to email me whatever papers he has on the matter and I'll help him." Sho shuffled on his feet. Honesty makes him awkward, perhaps, or the directness of it. Satoshi still couldn't believe his ears. "I've just kind of had a long week. And I'm excited to try your paella!"
"Right, of course." Matsujun looked excited about this. "The drink invite stands, by the way. Next week perhaps."
He looked at Satoshi and then at Sho. "We'll be across the hall." Matsujun said with a few little nods as he left.
"Did you let him in?" Sho turned to Satoshi as he locked the door after Matsujun.
Satoshi's stomach dropped. The cake's scent was undeniably good. He had absolutely failed. It was all over.
"I..." Satoshi gripped the handle on Sho's suitcase.
"You should have shown him your painting!" Sho said happily as he came in. Satoshi followed, dragging his feet. His mind was blank and he had no such talent for making things up that Sho and Matsujun had. "Matsumoto-kun loves paintings—oh, are you baking?"
"I am," Satoshi could only tell Sho the truth. There really was no perfect hiding spot.
Sho hurried to the dining room and kitchen. "It's a cake!" he cried happily as Satoshi put Sho's suitcase down on a dining chair.
"Sorry...it was supposed to be a surprise." Satoshi began sheepishly.
"I'm plenty surprised! I knew you made simple bread—which I love, by the way—but I didn't know you could bake! Is that why you didn't let Matsumoto-kun in?" Sho was watching the cake in the oven. Satoshi came beside him and shook his head. "He helped me with everything. I can't really bake..."
Sho looked at Satoshi, biting his lips. Satoshi's heart must have stopped for a moment, but Sho spoke. "That's banana cake, isn't it?"
Sho laughed and took a seat. "And you bake too!" He slid a hand over his face, biting his lips again. Satoshi examined him. It seemed that Sho was stopping himself from smiling. "I lose, I totally lose."
Satoshi shook his head. "You can do a lot of things too! You—"
"No, I mean—" Sho waved a hand. "I was with aniki just now and we were talking about perfectionism. He said I'm too much of a perfectionist."
"Oh," Satoshi sat down too. He was not sure where the conversation was headed.
"And I tried to disagree, I said, no, I'm simply aiming for the best, not necessarily perfect. But he says, 'oh but you fell in love with perfection, didn't you? You can no longer settle for less.' He sees right through me, I tell you." Sho said in between little chuckles and snorts.
Satoshi didn't immediately catch up so he laughed along. Sho looked at him, amused. "He means you."
"Because I baked a cake?" Satoshi snorted. "That's perfection?"
"Why not?" Sho grinned.
"I didn't even finish the cake on time. And I had a lot of help anyway." Satoshi said quietly.
"Yeah but it's for me, you know how I love eating." Sho chuckled lightly. "Is it done yet?"
"I still have to roll it." Satoshi said, getting up to check the cake again.
"Hey maybe...I can help?" Sho tilted his head.
Satoshi looked at the table, where a bowl of icing sat. He grinned widely and burst into laughter. "Yes, please do."
Satoshi let Sho take his phone and look at the recipe Matsujun sent so he could take the cake out of the oven. He set it on the table and looked at the familiar blue thing Sho was holding out.
The blue apron with a hand drawn tuna.
Satoshi grinned and put it on.
"Matsujun told me," he said as he tied the apron into a small bow. Sho picked up the icing in the bowl and looked at him.
"I didn't think he knew how to bake a cake, either." Sho replied.
"No, I mean he told me about that time." Satoshi came closer. "When I had...high...high-per-"
Sho looked absolutely bewildered.
"Hyp-oh, hypo-calendar." Satoshi gave Sho a spatula.
"Hyp—ohh!" Sho burst out laughing, almost fumbling with the icing bowl. Satoshi caught it on the other side. They stood with only that small silver bowl between them.
"Hy-po-ka-le-mi-a." Sho repeated slowly and Satoshi nodded with each syllable.
"That's what I said," he added. "You never left my side then. Even if it was really bad for you. And if I recall, the house was pretty clean even if I was gone for quite a while."
"It wasn't all that amazing," Sho didn't meet his gaze and instead, stuffed the spatula into the icing, scooping the ones that stuck on the bowl. "Not like there was a lot to clean or something."
"Thank you." Satoshi would have wanted to meet his gaze but telling him while only being a bowl apart may be enough for now. "For taking care of me."
"Likewise," Sho said before meeting his eyes.
Satoshi came closer to lay a quick kiss on his lips, but instead, he felt something soft and rather...fluffy.
Sho cracked up, making Satoshi open his eyes and see his blurry reflection on the fish tank across him. Sho had made him kiss the icing-filled spatula.
"Alright, Santa, let's roll this cake." Sho said enthusiastically, tasting some of the icing all over Satoshi's mouth by sampling it with a finger.
In retaliation, Satoshi took some off and smudged it on Sho's hair as he was unable to dodge. It was war, but it ended fast when they realized they still had a cake that didn't even get rolled. That was the only time they ever had cake and Kaizen talk for dinner.
Humanity has turned the miracle of reaching the skies into a relatively affordable commodity but Sho was too busy being pissed at his middle seat in their third class flight.
He, like other respectable passengers, especially those with frequent flier cards like himself, know and understand the stress of a long flight―from Narita to Honolulu, no less and not to mention one that departs at the earliest possible time.
Therefore, simple rules would have at least made it a lot easier to endure. Window seat gets the window, middle seat gets both armrests and furthest seat from window gets one armrest and the ability to go down the aisle without needing to bump on anyone's legs.
Satoshi at the window seat and was very much invested in cloud shapes, laughing at ones shaped like odd things ("That one looks like a daruma doll with a big open mouth!"). The pleasant old man beside Sho however, not only claimed his armrest but also wouldn't stop talking in English about the good old days of Honolulu.
All Sho would have wanted was to sleep, but he enjoyed listening to Satoshi's ridiculous imagination. At times, Satoshi would recall a bit of their past from just what Sho would see as a blob of water vapor.
But the other man joined in; this time speaking Japanese, and Sho felt rather suffocated by the friendly conversation on either side of himself. It seemed that the friendly old man was reminded of his son or grandson or something by Satoshi and they had a full storytelling time about it. Sho was conditioning himself to let it be until the man asked.
"So what brings you to Hawaii?"
Before Satoshi could even open his mouth, Sho interrupted, punctuating the sudden answer with his palm between the two new friends. "Vacation, it's better to go when it isn't peak season and all that."
"Son, I've lived in Oahu all my life and I know this time of the year is when it gets quite rainy," The old man seemed concerned.
Sho felt a weight drop in his stomach. Weather was the one factor he forgot to check, with all his other worries.
"Oh, a little rain isn't going to stop our anni―" Satoshi began, but Sho was quick to speak over him.
"Our annual vacation!" Sho clapped his hand once. Satoshi looked bewildered.
"Ah, I get it. Strict bosses, can't find any other time...just gotta get away from it all," The old man said the last bit in English.
"Yeah," Sho said, also in English. Now that the conversation was out of his understanding, Satoshi just smiled and nodded, echoing Sho's "yeah."
While the old man went back to storytelling in English, Sho was about to distract Satoshi with the clouds but it clicked in his mind at last why Satoshi stopped paying the window any attention anymore.
It was raining like the gods were furious. There was lightning and a lot of turbulence. Some of the passengers were looking rather uneasy. Sho's job had him traveling to other countries often so he wasn't the least bit fazed by the turbulence; he had barely noticed.
Sho hadn't realized how close they were to landing as well, because of the old man's many stories in both Japanese and English (and sometimes a mix of both that made Satoshi nod in utter confusion which in turn made the old man laugh).
"So you often travel together? It's nice to have a travel buddy," The old man said fondly.
"Travel buddy," Satoshi repeated and looked at the other two, asking in Japanese if it had something to do with one's health*. (トラベルバッデイー＝バッデイー=body=体)
"A friend that travels with you," Sho said. He was admittedly an intellectual snob, and can't help but secretly look down on people who proved themselves to be uneducated, especially those that are outspoken about illogical things. But a willingness to learn always softens his heart, and Satoshi, despite his prestige as a world-class artist, had an open mind and a pure soul of a true learner even in the Zen perspective, Sho could say.
"How do you say 'travel boyfriends' then?" Satoshi asked.
Sho's mouth went dry.
"Oh even better!" The old man said cheerfully.
This time Sho choked on pressurized cabin-air.
"You two did strike me as a handsome couple." The old man looked twice as fond of them. Sho was still speechless and Satoshi looked giddy. "And I'd have introduced you to my husband but he's knocked out."
He discreetly pointed to a dark-skinned man on the opposite window seat. Sure enough, he was fast asleep, with his head leaning comfortably on his neck pillow.
Sho looked from that man to the old man next to him, finally managing a croaky "Oh."
"He's tired from the reunions he had to go to and is just glad we're going home." The old man chuckled.
"Reunions?" Satoshi said as Sho still hadn't located where his vocal chords had hidden themselves.
"Yeah, he was invited to his high school reunion, and his family all gathered because he was coming home to Japan." The man looked at his husband again then back at Sho. "To answer your unspoken question, yes, he's Japanese and I'm from Hawaii. I met him when his family came to my hometown on vacation and now he's my forever travel buddy."
"That's cool," Satoshi said with a soft smile.
They were interrupted by the pilot announcing they were delayed by thirty minutes and such, and the old man decided he'd sleep the rest of the way.
"Don't think I can handle more of the turbulence anymore." He chuckled and shut his eyes.
"Yeah," Satoshi said in English, then added in Japanese, "me too."
Satoshi gave Sho's hand a squeeze and closed his eyes.
Sho sat with the turbulence in his mind for the rest of the flight.
Murphy’s law, Sho thought as the receptionist made what felt like the fiftieth call on his landline phone speaking to god-knows-who. Of course.
Sho had a salesman smile plastered on his face as their reservation was being clarified. There was so much confusion about their booked room that it was wearing down Sho’s patience, but mercifully, Satoshi was beside him and his soothing presence kept Sho from screaming and pulling his hair out like a madman. Whenever Sho looked at him, Satoshi would make a dumb face and chuckle, making Sho instantly recharged enough to listen to several more apologies and excuses.
But he was getting worn down, he had a schedule to follow. Sho signed them up for a tour that was starting in less than 30 minutes (exactly 28.3 minutes) and Satoshi got distracted, favoring staring at nothing or possibly everything somewhere in the distance. Satoshi couldn’t really help as English was a hurdle for him still.
Everything must be perfect. If anything upsets Satoshi in the slightest, his mission would fail.
“Please, ah,” Sho bowed several times and gave the receptionist his best apologetic look. “We’re on a schedule.”
Just as the receptionist finally looked relieved and seemed to be done with whatever he was trying to do, Satoshi tugged on Sho’s sleeve and pointed to a framed poster. Sho nodded to the receptionist, listening in on the details as he waved to Satoshi for him to wait.
When Sho received their room keys and the bellboy came over for their luggage, Satoshi tugged on Sho’s sleeve again. This time, Sho looked but he still didn’t see the poster. He saw the large clock on the wall behind it.
“We’re late!” Sho cried, massaging his temples. He pushed his tongue on the inside of his cheek, distracting himself from the very strong urge to curse aloud.
“No, look! We’ll make it.” Satoshi said excitedly, pulling Sho toward the framed poster on its stand.
Loud and Proud at Pride Parade! Join us to celebrate love…
“But…” Sho did a double take, reading the poster’s headline several more times and blinking dumbly at Satoshi. “That’s—”
“Let’s go, please?” Satoshi beamed at Sho excitedly. There was no way to say no to that face. Sho rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips, but he was curious too. He thought about it for a moment, frowning and massaging his chin.
“This is gonna be exciting,” Satoshi turned to the poster with a small smile, looking at the group of colorfully dressed people at the bottom of the headline.
Sho chuckled at his words, but understood that he had lost the battle of wills. “Alright.”
Loud was definitely loud and very proud indeed, Sho and Satoshi had never seen anything like it. Perhaps the energy of the crowd at the pride parade was a lot like that of a pop star’s concert, only so much more . More color, more vibrant, more people—everything to the highest degree. There was a contagious kind of joy in everyone, making Sho forget all about schedules and plans.
There were rainbows everywhere—flags, clothes and even face paint. The excitable air got to both Sho and Satoshi as they made their way through the crowd to see the floats and the performers. They were handed some rainbow themed lei and small flags to hold by total strangers and Satoshi was doing his best to pick up as much English as he could, every so often asking Sho about what some words meant.
While explaining the meaning of “pride” to Satoshi, Sho noticed a tall pair of men trying to take a picture together. He was going to pull Satoshi away but it was too late—Satoshi’s head collided with the hand of the wavy haired one of the couple making him fumble his phone and nearly drop it.
The black haired man beside him caught it in the quickest and smoothest reflex Sho had ever seen, but he nearly lost balance so Sho helped him straighten up.
“That was close!” The black haired man laughed into his hand and gave the phone to his companion. “Thanks, mate.”
“Oh my god, sorry about that,” The wavy haired one said. “I have terribly lanky and uncoordinated arms.
Satoshi looked completely dazed. Between the accent and hitting his head, he wasn’t sure if it was still English that the two men spoke.
“It’s alright, it’s alright.” Sho waved at the men and Satoshi just gave them his best smile. If Sho spoke in recognizable English, that meant his brain was fine—this thought somehow reassured Satoshi although it would have made no sense if he had said it aloud.
After the three—Sho and the two men—made sure Satoshi wasn’t injured, Satoshi decided to show them how alright he was by trying his hand at English.
“ Are you pride? ” He drew repeated circles around the two men and gestured to the floats.
“Oh, he means—” Sho started automatically but the two men exchanged confused looks as Wavy hair responded.
“Like, organizers? No, we’re just participating.” He said with a smile but he had to yell over the noise. “It wasn’t exactly our plan to come but Phil here saw the poster somewhere. No regrets, though!”
“Dan and I haven’t participated in pride before, so I thought it’d be fun!” Black hair—called Phil, added.
Sho’s and Satoshi’s brows shot up as they too exchanged looks. That sounded like a familiar story. On the other hand, Satoshi was just confused.
“You are?”—Satoshi decided to change the topic to a yes or no question so he could at least understand. “Together?”
Sho gave him an incredulous look. Satoshi grinned at him, knowing that the string of words just now was a good sentence because he had heard it only minutes ago.
Wavy hair—Dan—laughed, flushed. “Yeah, I mean...”
“Sorry!” Sho bowed blurted from beside Satoshi. “We’re Japanese, he can’t speak English well.”
“No, it’s okay!” Phil said. “You’re alright!”
Satoshi looked confused at Sho’s apology, but Sho was awkwardly checking his pockets.
“Everyone is welcome at pride,” Phil went on, “Well, everyone who wants to celebrate.”
“Love wins!” Satoshi said, wanting to be positive. He had memorized some things from the signages people were holding, too. “I am happy!”
“Yeah,” Dan laughed and looked at Phil.
“That’s really all that matters,” Phil agreed, meeting Dan’s gaze and looked back at Sho and Satoshi
“Let me help you take a picture,” Sho said immediately. “We interrupted your selfie.”
“Oh! Yeah, that’s cool, thanks!” Phil said, giving Sho the smartphone in his own hand then he and Dan stood together.
When that was done, Phil offered to take a picture for Sho and Satoshi with which Satoshi excitedly agreed, understanding based on context and Phil’s helpful gestures.
Sho noticed that Satoshi was completely bubblier than usual too, and that suited him as much as his languid demeanor. He smiled fondly, patted his pocket one last time and put an arm over Satoshi’s shoulders, both of them holding up their flags.
When they’ve thanked the couple and said their goodbyes, Satoshi immediately set the new picture as his wallpaper.
“Now this is ‘love wins’.” Satoshi said, showing his phone.
Sho could only laugh shyly and distract Satoshi by pointing to the next float, but he agreed.
Tired from the yelling, pushing and partying, Satoshi and Sho made their way back with little smiles. Sho was feeling peaceful, his hand in Satoshi’s, the warm breeze flipping his hair. It hardly mattered to him that they were being eyed by some hotel guests for whatever reason as they made their way to the elevators with two women who were also holding hands.
But Satoshi let go of Sho’s hand, and it suddenly felt naked and empty. Sho looked at Satoshi but he jogged ahead to catch press the call button and Sho decided to brush it off, albeit being distantly saddened by the loss of touch. The two women looked a little irked and the one with bright orange lipstick gave the other a kiss on the lips, making Sho look away quickly.
The elevator chimed and the woman who kissed her girlfriend smiled at them and stepped in. Sho and Satoshi followed suit.
“You were at pride?” The other woman said kindly in Japanese, adjusting her monochrome blouse.
“Ah, yeah!” Satoshi was glad to hear his mother tongue. “It was awesome.”
The women giggled. Sho was so surprised that he spoke in English. “You too?”
“Yes, us two.” Orange lipstick said with a wink as the elevator halted. Satoshi pressed the open button and stepped out, waiting for Sho.
Sho stepped out, still somewhat unable to wrap his mind around the whirlwind of a day they had. He wanted to say something to the ladies, but it was too late, the doors had closed and they were gone. Satoshi tugged on Sho’s fingers to lead him to their room.
Satoshi smiled softly. “Let’s rest. I know you’d like to be up early so we can go with your plans.”
That was all it took for Sho’s heart to skip a beat: Satoshi’s smile and a few words that meant how thoroughly Satoshi knew Sho. He decided then and there.
“Wait.” Sho said, slapping the elevator call button. “I want to walk by the shore. I still feel a little excited.”
“Oh.” Satoshi turned and followed quietly when the elevator on the other side came and opened for them.
Satoshi continued to keep quiet and Sho went on, patting his pockets. “Don’t—don’t you feel excited?”
Satoshi grinned, “Actually, yeah! I’m glad you want to walk at the shore, we’ve never done that.”
The silence stretched on until they were at the shore in front of the hotel. The sea was dark, the waves were strong and the wind was perhaps as ‘excited’ as Sho. Before they knew it, they were hand in hand.
“I have something to say...about today and all.” Sho said.
“Me too.” Satoshi replied, stopping in his tracks where the water slightly touched his feet. He let go of Sho’s hand. “I’m sorry about today, I know you had a lot of things planned, I went against your schedule and all that.”
Sho was flabbergasted to say the least. He gaped at Satoshi, closed his mouth and tried to speak again but no sound came out of him, or at least, none loud enough to be heard over the wind and waves. Satoshi was definitely speaking more than usual.
“I know you prefer things that way, planned and proper. I’ve been selfish today. So tomorrow and for the rest of our tomorrows, we’ll plan everything!” Satoshi grinned.
“N-no!” Sho stepped closer and grabbed Satoshi’s upper arms as if the latter might get blown away by the wind or carried away by the waves. “I find it hard to say sometimes but I-I—”
“Sho-chan, it’s okay.” Satoshi touched Sho’s cheek. “You don’t have to say ‘I love you’ to say ‘I love you’.”
“I see it in your eyes. In your laugh lines.” Satoshi closed his eyes and felt the corners of Sho’s eye. “I smell it in the fabric conditioner you meticulously chose and kept buying when I said I liked it.”
Sho couldn’t believe his ears.
“I hear it in your booming laugh when I make dumb jokes...I feel it in your beer belly.” This time, Satoshi patted Sho’s midriff and laughed. Sho swatted away Satoshi’s hand and laughed along.
“Damn it, I knew there was a catch.” Sho kicked some sand at Satoshi who laughed harder and retaliated. “Rude!” Sho added.
“Still,” Satoshi deftly entwined their fingers. “All I need is you.”
Sho fell to his knees on the sand and laughed. He tugged Satoshi down and said, “Ohno Satoshi, listen to me.”
When Satoshi was kneeling too, Sho held his face and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
“For all the presents.” Sho said, making sure to speak through the lump that formed in his throat. He kissed Satoshi again. “And the years. Thank you. I need you, forever.”
Sho pulled out a box from his pocket, the thing he had been patting the whole day.
“I give you my whole life—” Sho opened the box but Satoshi burst out laughing.
Sho stared at Satoshi as he put his hand in his own shorts pocket and pulled out a beautiful ring that looked like woven strips of black rock-like around a thin, gleaming red band.
“Wait what?!” Sho cried out. “Are you serious?!”
“This is my greatest masterpiece.” Satoshi finally said, recovering. “Wanted to say something cool like ‘for the greatest muse’ but you—” He laughed a little more and slipped the ring on Sho’s finger. It fit perfectly.
Sho opened the box in his hand and slipped the ring he had bought for Satoshi, silver band inlaid with a band of sapphire. “Blue and silver always made me think of you—wait, did you make this?!” Sho looked at the ring Satoshi put on him.
“Yeah, it was really hard, keeping it a secret all this time.” Satoshi chuckled.
He leaned closer and they simply sat, holding each other’s hands and looking at the rings.
“Well this whole trip certainly went as planned.” Sho chuckled.
“I’m sorry about the tour package you paid for.” Satoshi said quietly. Sho nudged him.
“You’re exactly what I need, a reminder that the world doesn’t have to be planned.” Sho smiled.
“It just has to have you.” Satoshi agreed. Sho pushed him again and he got himself a faceful of seawater.
“Good morning, my cute ex-disciple! This is your wake up call!” Okada’s voice came loud and clear from Sho’s phone, a few hours later.
Sho pulled away to check the time on the phone and then put it back on his ear. “It’s 2am, Okada-kun. I need to sleep because our flight back is later.”
“Ah but you must know that I have plotted your schedule for you!” Okada sounded very cheerful.
“Thanks, I almost forgot to.”
“—you have the whole month off!”
“Use it wisely. Say hi to Ohno-kun for me! He gave me some really good banana cake!”