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your guiding song, my tracing hands

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Yet another day filled with boring business meetings had finally come to an end. 

Sougo was supposed to be enjoying his summer vacation, using the break from university to wind down and lower his stress-levels to their basal, barely-manageable state again - otherwise, his stomach ulcer would be at risk of acting up once more and that added stress was the last thing he needed, on top of everything else. He had planned on visiting his favourite record shop and add a few more CDs to his collection, maybe even try listening to one of the new foreign breakout bands that’d become popular recently. There were some lives he’d noted down on his schedule as potentially attending. Those were a popular summer attraction, after all.

Instead, his father had decided to volunteer him for an unpaid internship with FSC, providing support to the negotiations one of the group’s branch companies was currently conducting. It would be great hands-on experience, his father argued. Sougo should become familiar with the group’s purview and proceedings as soon as possible. It was his role as heir and future president.

As much as the idea had displeased him, Sougo couldn’t find it in himself to give voice to his objections. It was what he was raised to do; what he was studying for. Maybe it would provide the motivation he’d been lacking so far and interest him enough to chase away the misgivings that he’d been carrying for a long time now, and that’d been steadily growing and extending their grip on his heart, showing no signs of receding.

In reality, the job he’d been given was nothing short of a secretary’s. He brew coffees, connected computer cables and prepared the room before a presentation, introduced each spokesperson, summarized the discussion points in a detailed minute and cleaned everything up afterwards. By the end of his first week, his coffee-brewing skills were only passable at best, his introductions were awkward and imbued with overly-formal speech in an attempt to mask his bumbling with politeness and modesty, and he’d noticed no one actually took the time to read the reports he compiled. Sure, his attending the meetings gave him a feel for what skills it entailed and he’d certainly learned a few useful tricks on how to reach a compromise through sweet-talking, but it wasn’t like they really needed him there. With each hour he spent at the office he felt less and less like himself and more of an empty shell, on auto-pilot. Was this truly what he was meant to be doing? What his life was leading up to? He tried to imagine spending the rest of his days in such a manner and it just made him sick.

The only upside to his current summer arrangements was the travelling, since the branch company was based in Okinawa. Sougo was rooming at the local biggest hotel chain for the month. The view from his room’s balcony was breathtaking. The back and forth movement of the tide, creating beautiful, ephemeral patterns in the sand, in a lazy, lulling rhythm. The heat of the sun reflected in the limpid water, twinkling… He spent every day’s end there, marvelling at the calming sunset scenery. He longed to be a part of it - taking a walk on the beach, splashing his feet in the dying waves, breathing in the seabreeze, letting his body feel alive again. But he hadn’t gone down below yet.

Sougo’s hours at the office were never regular; while he always managed to reach his hotel room before sunset, the scene he came home to varied according to the timing of his arrival. If he left early enough, he got to spot the first fishing boats’ in the horizon as they returned home, and witness in full the bustle at the lot and the lively cleaning of the nets. On the days he stayed until the latest, what welcomed him were already the evening’s dog walkers. 

But even when he arrived at the same hour, the scene was never the same. He delighted in that denial of the routine, in the freedom of finding out how much today was different - what made the present worth waking up the next day, and the next.

Today he had come at the midpoint - the fishermen were already on land, the lot nearly finished. Like a game of spot the difference, he searched for and latched onto the day’s individual detail - three early-teen kids sprinting through the sand headed towards the boats, giggling and calling out to a young man carrying the already empty baskets. As soon as he spotted them, he dropped the baskets and met them halfway, allowing the boys to climb into his arms and legs and drag him down towards the sand. Sougo was too far away to be able to tell what they were talking about, but the sounds of their rumbling laughter echoed and made their way onto his balcony. The few years gap in their ages and similar looks suggested they were related. Sougo couldn’t recall his family ever feeling this close. He avoided dwelling on the memories of his uncle teaching him music, the closest image he could invoke. Instead, he held onto the picture of distilled purity he was being witness to and allowed himself to smile.

After some minutes of more playing around, mocking battles and tickling fights, the group of four finally made their way to exit the beach. Sougo couldn’t help following their movements with a nostalgic gaze. Now that they approached closer, he managed to discern parts of the conversation. 

“Onii-chan, sing for us!!” the youngest demanded.

“Right now?” the brother’s cheeks became slightly flushed. His voice filled with embarrassment, “We’re in the middle of the street!”

“As if you don’t do stranger things in public when you go out for drinks with your friends,” the second oldest snorted.

Not knowing what to reply to that, other than a marginally exasperated “ Souta! ”, the young man caved. “What do you want to hear then?”

“Yuki-san’s latest song!” requested the second youngest.

“Aren’t you tired of it yet, after looping it non-stop since it was released?” questioned the boy named Souta.

“Of course not!! I could listen to Yuki-san’s songs forever and never tire of them!!!”

“Pftt, what a fanboy.”

Before the teasing could escalate, the eldest brother calmly intervened, “Alright, alright. Kou has a point, Re:vale’s music is always beautifully composed. I love their new single too.” The corners of his lips turned up in a warm smile before he invited his brothers to join him singing.

Watching their playful antics, Sougo’s heart was melting, but it wasn’t until the young man opened his mouth and started crooning the first verses in a gentle yet potent voice, as if tenderly caressing and imbuing every note he was producing with a bewitching echo, that he was overcome to the core with longing.

Sougo had listened to the original song before, but the way this person was humming it almost made it sound like a different melody altogether. The acapella, acoustic arrangement, along with his rough, untrained breathing pauses and heavy Okinawan accent had transformed a dance pop tune into a soothing ballad, the perfect soundtrack to a scene of returning home at the end of a long and arduous day of work. It was comforting, welcoming, and refreshing to the point of recharging your energy batteries.

Sougo regretted not being able to continue listening, as the group of siblings retreated away from the hotel.

He’d forgotten what experiencing the power of raw music first-hand was like. Even though he still enjoyed his CDs daily and was a regular guest at concerts, those were all end-product, refined musical experiences. The last time he had witnessed someone simply singing for the sake of it, stripped of any accompaniments or performance stunts, had been when his uncle was composing. He had missed this feeling severely. How addicting it was.  

Withdrawing from the balcony back into his room, and refusing to think too deeply about his actions, Sougo reached for his laptop and made an impulsive online purchase.

 


 

Sougo refused to call it stalking, but ever since that day, he had found the spirit to leave his hotel room’s comfort zone and spend his evenings in a secluded spot by the beach. It provided him a strategic angle to keep an eye on the boats’ arrival while still far enough from the crowd to remain peacefully undisturbed. Since his work hours varied, he wouldn’t see the siblings everyday but now that he had become aware of them, it was easier to spot them when they came to pick up their elder brother, the fisherman. 

That Friday, when Sougo arrived at the hotel lobby, he was informed of his package’s arrival. Excited, he nevertheless attempted to keep his composure until he was inside his room but couldn’t help the slight skip in his steps.

Indeed, he was greeted by a rectangular box, carefully protected with wrapping, which he undid with uncharacteristic wolfish movements. The rest of his evening was devoted to getting himself reacquainted with the instrument, chasing after that nostalgic feeling. He skipped out on going to the beach. That’s how he spent his whole weekend, and the next couple of weekdays.

At last, Sougo was somewhat satisfied with his progress and decided to resume his forays into the beach. Emboldened by his breakthrough and a reluctance to separate himself from the instrument, he brought with him the guitar case, carrying it on his back. His usual spot was still not occupied. There were scarcely any people hanging around closeby. Casually embracing the guitar, he started to pluck a few notes, almost soundlessly.

But before long, he’d already become too absorbed in the music. He didn’t even notice the stray kite flying straight in his direction.

“Watch out!” someone called, but not in time to prevent the impact between the object and Sougo’s head.  

The sudden pain awakened Sougo from his haze. Checking that the guitar hadn’t been harmed, he sighed in relief. He was ready to admonish the kite’s owner, when he realized the boy who had approached and started asking for forgiveness was precisely the middle sibling, the one who liked Re:vale’s music.

Placated by the kid’s polite apologies and the worried look that marred his face, Sougo quickly reassured him that there was no problem. In the meantime, they were joined by the other brothers.

“I’m very sorry for my brothers’ reckless behaviour,” said the eldest, bowing. “Please let me make it up to you.”

“I’ve already told your brother, it’s fine. There’s no need to worry.”

Realizing that the stranger wasn’t going to start scolding them, the youngest boy, who’d been hiding behind his brothers, curiously peeked at the guitar in Sougo’s lap. “Sir, are you a musician?”

“Oh no, not at all. I’m just messing around.”

“The song you were playing just now--it’s Re:vale’s new song, isn’t it?” asked Sougo’s attacker, apparently encouraged by his brother’s question.

Despite the siblings having no idea, Sougo felt embarrassed for being caught red-handed.

“Onii-chan sings that song really well!” praised the youngest.

I know.

The young man shook his head awkwardly, smiling sheepishly at his brothers’ antics. 

“You know, if you guys want to talk to this person so badly, shouldn’t we all introduce ourselves properly first?” reasoned the second eldest.

So they did.

The eldest was Ryuunosuke, three years older than Sougo. Then came Soutarou, a 14-year-old who loved swimming; Kounosuke, the Re:vale fan, who was eleven; and nine-year-old Kotarou.  

Without thinking, Sougo introduced himself with his full name, but none showed signs of recognizing his surname and what it meant.

The conversation flowed easily, and at some point, Kotarou had even managed to convince Sougo to fly the kite with them. (Ryuunosuke’s unconscious puppy eyes’ look may have helped).

Sougo couldn’t remember having that much fun in years.

 


 

As sporadically as his work hours allowed him, Sougo kept his routine of spending his evenings playing the guitar by the beach. Although they’d never made any official plans, whenever the Tsunashis were around at the same time, they always went to meet him and asked him to play with them or made conversation. Some days, the three youngest would stay home to help with chores or make a dent on their homework and it would be only him and Ryuunosuke. 

Sougo learned he really enjoyed his company. Beyond that first impression, and what it had triggered, Ryuunosuke was a kind, gentle man, whom it was easier to open up with. Additionally, there was no way to ignore his incredible attractiveness.

During their time together, Ryuunosuke had come to notice Sougo’s emotional conflict. Without prying, he’d let him know he would listen to Sougo if he wanted to share his troubles.

And eventually, he did.

Even if Ryuunosuke had some difficulty in understanding the situation completely, given their diametrically opposed family environments, he was supportive and provided Sougo with valuable insight. 

On the other hand, Sougo heard about Ryuunosuke’s worries about his father’s dire financial situation and his conflict over whether to leave Okinawa in search of a better-paying job.

As conditioned by their circumstances as they were, they took comfort in each other, helping the other see things in a more positive light and find the energy to deal with the drawbacks.

Their lively evenings together continued.

 


 

The last day of August was fast approaching. Sougo scorned the irony of having started out his stay in Okinawa begrudgingly but once he began finally enjoying himself, time just relentlessly flew by. He could sense Ryuunosuke’s own anxiousness as well. In conversation, the topic of a reunion after their time together was up had come up on occasion and they hadn’t been afraid to make several vague promises and plans to that effect. Still, disregarding the likelihood of it happening or at least how long it would take, Sougo was aware that they could never go back to these blissful, dreamlike days. 

Things would change. They had to. And it was okay. Sougo was willing to put in the effort now.

His flight home was scheduled for noon. Everything packed, Sougo spent a few minutes bidding farewell to the view from his balcony. It was the first time he was gazing out this early in the morning. The sun hadn’t even fully risen yet.

Before his phone had vibrated with the message notification, Sougo had already spotted Ryuunosuke’s profile. He’d taken the day off work, so rather than his usual casual clothes, he was donning a smarter outfit. The look suited him unfairly well.

Sougo went down to meet him at the beach.

Ryuunosuke had sat down on the sand in the meantime. Although he must have heard Sougo’s advancing footsteps, he made no movement and remained watching the horizon.

Sougo took a seat beside him, their knees brushing. “You know, this is my first time watching the sunrise.”

Ryuunosuke finally turned his head in his direction, smiling softly. “I’m happy you’re sharing another one of your firsts with me.” 

As the light gradually grew brighter, Sougo leaned his head against Ryuunosuke’s shoulder and brought his right hand to his lap, playfully intertwining their fingers. They spent a long time in comfortable silence, merely relishing in the surrounding natural beauty.

At last, Sougo broke the silence, “I decided to pursue a career in music.”

Although he couldn’t see Ryuunosuke’s reaction from his position, he felt him snap his head in surprise, and then the audible grin in his voice as he congratulated him profusely.

Hugging him against his chest, Ryuunosuke whispered to his hair. “Let’s make a promise, Sougo-kun. To change our situations by the time we meet again.”

Feeling his eyes tearing up and afraid of his voice choking, Sougo could only nod in response.

They spent the remaining time snuggling together and basking in the heat of the sun. Ryuunosuke had gifted him a memento from his brothers, a postcard filled with their shared adventures immortalized in 4-koma rough sketches, send-off greetings and all of their respective contact information.  

Sougo missed them terribly already.

Ryuunosuke offered to give him a ride to the airport but they didn’t leave before taking a selfie together, which Sougo immediately set as his phone wallpaper.

By the time he ultimately occupied his plane seat, observing the island progressively shrink until it was left out of view from the window, he silently renewed his commitment to set foot in this place once again, a happier person. 

One year later, that wish came true.