Takaya had one class with Ren, one late afternoon lecture—it was a lecture Ren had promised himself he’d never miss. It was the one class Ren was taking just for the heck of it, one class that wasn’t required and one class that took away from surfing.
So the one hot summer afternoon Takaya walked into the lecture hall to see Ren’s seat empty, his heart gave a little jump, his head swarmed, and his chest grew heavy with anxiety.
Ren was known for skipping out on morning lectures to catch the waves before the heat became unbearable, but this wasn’t a morning lecture…unless Takaya had missed a very excited Ren going on about todays afternoon waves, he should be here…his seat shouldn’t be empty and most of all Takaya shouldn’t be feeling so anxious.
The lecture seemed to drag on, Takaya glancing at the empty seat across the room multiple times, and when the professor ended the lecture with a have a great weekend Takaya was out of his seat and across the room in seconds. He had a couple hours before his evening shift at the beach—two hours was enough time to stop by Ren’s dorm.
The campus felt bigger than normal, his walk felt longer, and his chest only seemed to grow heavier. The nerves of worry hadn’t calmed down since he walked into class, and they certainly wouldn’t calm down till Takaya was slamming the door to Ren’s dorm open.
Of course it was less of slamming the door open and more waiting patiently in the stretched-out hallway as bookbags brushed against his back and chatter made his already full head burst. Takaya took a deep breath, raising a fist to knock on the door.
It was a couple more seconds of awkward waiting, and bookbags brushing against backs till Ren’s door opened.
Ren looked…Takaya would hate to say Ren looked terrible, but Ren looked terrible. His usual mess of brushed out curls was a mess of disheveled loose curls that were knotted together in the normal morning look—or the type of knots Ren’s hair would dry in after surfing all day. His cheeks were pale, but his neck was flushed a dark red that traveled up to the tip of his ears.
“T-ta..taka—” His voice was deep and mucus filled, louder than normal with a sort of echoey sound.
“Hey…” Takaya cleared his throat, “Are you…okay?”
No, of course Ren wasn’t okay. He didn’t look okay, and he didn’t sound okay, but Takaya didn’t know what else to say, his heart felt trapped in his throat, words stiff against the tip of his tongue. He awkwardly rubbed at the back of his neck, eyes looking everywhere but Ren.
Ren opened his mouth as if to speak, his cheeks glowing a bright pink before they paled his mouth closing… “I-I- d-do you…wanna come in?” Ren twisted his fingers together in front of his body, pulled on the bottom of his sweatshirt—his cheeks pink and then pale.
All Takaya could do was nod, it was weird—the anxious feeling, his heard pounding in his throat. Words floated around his head, yet he couldn’t get them out…couldn’t speak. Ren awkwardly moved to the side, hands wrung in the bottom of his sweatshirt as Takaya brushed past him and into the small dorm.
Ren’s dorm was smaller than Takaya’s—though the students with sports scholarships got dorms to themselves in a separate hall, unlike the dorm Takaya shared with Azusa. Ren’s dorm was cluttered, a couple different sized surfboards balanced in one corner, an unmade bed and a mixture of swim trunks and t-shirts were scattered bout along with surface areas covered with half-filled plastic water bottles.
“S-sorry…about the mess.” Ren awkwardly inched past Takaya to sit on his bed (which was placed against the left wall), Takaya dropped his bag near the doorway, it fell with a bang; textbooks hitting the hardwood floor through a thin fabric barrier, before toeing his sneakers off.
“No, it’s fine. You didn’t know I was coming.” Takaya felt an awkward laugh bubble in his throat—something to fill the awkward silence that was slowly growing, but he swallowed it down. “You didn’t miss much, nothing that won’t be posted online.”
“No…new pr-projects?” Ren shoved his hands between his thighs, fingers twisting and turning against the fabric of his sweatpants.
“Not that I know of?” Takaya had barely paid attention, his head had been spinning, he was only able to catch the last couple words of the lecture.
“Why’d you uhh…miss class?” The awkward feeling in Takaya’s chest only grew, the longer he spent standing in the doorway, the heavier it seemed to become.
“I…I have a co-cold,” Ren cleared his throat, “And I-I hit m-my head.”
Takaya’s mouth fell open, a wave of worry making his spine straight, “You hit your head?! Where? When?”
“A-at practice yesterday…” Ren’s fingers curled into the fabric of his sweatpants, “There was this really big wave,” Ren’s voice raised an octave, the eyes staring at the floor seemed to glow an even brighter hazel; a honey color. “I-I caught it, but when I turned it…knocked me over.”
Takaya nodded along to Ren’s words, hands hanging awkwardly at his side as he leaned his shoulder against the wall near the entrance. “Is your head okay?”
Ren looked up, his eyes still glowing—the honey color—and his cheeks a bright red, it traveled across his forehead and down to the tips of his ears. “Y-yeah, I visited the school’s…nurse.” Ren twisted his fingers together even more, nails digging into the fabric of his sweatpants. “You can…sit down if you want.”
Takaya stood up straighter, shoulders pulled backwards. He could feel the heat rushing to his cheeks, “I didn’t know if you…wanted me to stay.” Takaya finished his sentence with a laugh, forced through tight lips—it only seemed to make his face grow hotter.
“I-if you don’t have to…get to the beach,” Ren reached a hand up to pull at the curls twisted against the back of his neck; the one place Takaya noticed his brush never reached. “You can stay…I don’t m-mind.”
“No, I—” Takaya awkwardly entered, sliding his socked feet against the hardwood floor. Ren had a small desk to the right of the door; Takaya turned the chair around so he could sit down. “I have an hour until I should…go home and get ready.” He cracked a small smile, his face still hot—but he didn’t think his cheeks were as bright as Ren’s. His face seemed to be glowing, almost like a strawberry. His cheeks puffed up with air, red and round. His glowing face only seemed to make his strawberry blond hair even pinker in the dimmed room.
“O-okay,” Ren leaned back on his bed, pulling his legs up to rest his heels against the edge, “Can you tell Azusa that I-I can’t come…” He wrapped his arms around his knees, fingers twisting together tightly.
“Yeah sure,” Takaya twisted his foot around the leg of the chair, “Want me to tell him you’re sick, or, that you have a head injury?”
“I-it’s not a…a head injury!” Ren’s feet hit the ground loudly, his socks sliding against it, “I just hit m-my head on the sand! And it…h-hurts, but I—”
“Azusa would never believe me if I told him you’re sick,” Takaya crossed his arms over his chest, leaning his head back to suck in a deep breath, “You came to work with an ear infection…and still got in the water to save someone.”
“I-I…you,” Ren’s bottom lip jutted out in thought, his cheeks only seemed to grow in color—if Takaya pressed his hand against the blooming skin, he knew it’d be hot to the touch. “You busted your shoulder on a jet ski and…and still stayed at w-work.”
“I really should of gone to the hospital for that,” Takaya laughed, “I used like two green whistles, that shit hurt, and then I was too high on pain medicine to even go in the water.”
“Y-you sound like…F-Fumiki.” Ren lips twisted into a small smile, the laugh that slipped through his lips was nasally—a reminder that he wasn’t okay.
“Really,” Takaya sat up, leaning forward on his knees, “At least I didn’t get high and fall off the top of the ramp in the skate park,” He laughed, “Now that’s something only Fumiki’s capable of.”
“W-we couldn’t even c-call an ambulance.” Ren’s bottom lip jutted out even more, his pout was deepening and the blush blooming across his cheeks grew darker on the tips of his ears.
“That’s cause Kousuke didn’t want Fumiki to get arrested, but that would of been funny.” Takaya’s smile grew, stretching his cheeks out so far, they hurt.
“T-that would’ve been…terrible.” Ren was smiling now too, though it was small and awkward, he was still smiling.
“He would have deserved it. I had to stay an hour after work to clean up the blood.” Takaya sat up; arms folded across his chest as he grumbled.
Honestly when Fumiki had been dancing around the top of the ramp it had been funny, they had all been laughing—Fumiki was known for getting high. His stoner jokes were funny (not all the time, sometimes they made Takaya want to die from stupidity)—he didn’t know how Kousuke could deal with him down on the sand during the day, Takaya would of drowned himself.
But when Fumiki had fallen off the top; which if Takaya had to be honest, Fumiki sucked at falling. He took the worst route down, most people would of slid down—but Fumiki just hit the ground. It had happened in slow motion, and Kousuke’s horrified scream still haunted his nightmares.
It had looked worse than it really was, just a small head cut…but a lot of blood.
“I-I thought he d-died!” Ren fell back on his bed with a laugh, his head missing the wall behind him by just an inch—a wave of anxiety pushed at the back of Takaya’s mind…the thought of the boy hitting his head again scared him. He was starting to understand the fear Kousuke had probably felt that one day—although the memory was funny now, it had been scary in the moment.
Takaya didn’t really know what he was doing, but his mouth was moving, and his heart was stuck in his throat. The organ struggled back down to his chest, pounding louder and louder until all Takaya could hear was his own heartbeat.
He could see Ren’s eyes, the honey color wide and sparkling and his cheeks round with laughter and red with the reminder of a fever.
Takaya took a deep breath, nervous fingers digging into the uncomfortable fabric of his jeans.
“I should probably get going,” He laughed, a dry chuckle that filled the silence he created, “You know how Azusa gets when you’re late.”
Ren sat up at that, the skin around his face still looked hot to the touch. “O-oh, r-right.”
He smiled; the type of smile Takaya had seen too many times before…it was the smile that he used to hide his disappointment. Takaya first learned what it was after a stressful Elimination Heat. Ren had lost by just one point.
Takaya stood up awkwardly, turning the chair back around. It scraped loudly against the hardwood floor as he pushed it back under the desk.
Ren stayed on his bed, watching Takaya slip his sneakers on—and when he bent down to fix the laces Ren filled the awkward silence.
“I l-like you.”
Takaya was unsure if he heard him correctly—his heart was still struggling its way down his throat. His fingers stuck in the laces of his sneakers, he looked up. Ren’s eyes were sparkling, part of his bottom lip anxiously between his teeth—and his face was ten times redder than before.
“S-s-sorry,” Ren looked down, pressing his hands between his thighs, “T-talk to A…Azusa for me..”
“Can I—” Takaya stood up, one sneaker on and one off, “I-I…” The words seemed to be trapped in his mouth, they pressed against the back of his slips, but he couldn’t shake them off his tongue.
Takaya sighed loudly, the words finally lose from his tongue, but they hung in the air. He laughed, “Sorry, I sounded like a-a middle schooler.” Takaya clenched his hands at his side, digging the dull tips of his nails into his palms.
“I-I…You…Not l-lying. Hug?”
Time seemed to be going backwards, Ren’s nervous jittery talking making Takaya’s head swarm. It reminded him of when he had first met Ren. The boy had been quiet—but loud when someone talked to him, he’d jump between words unable to finish his sentence.
But when he was in the water…the first time Takaya had seen Ren rush out into the water, chest heaving up and down as he paddled through waves knees pressed into the traction pad of the longboard Takaya had seen a new side of Ren; the confident side. And when Takaya had watched Ren pull the almost drowned girl onto his board from the tower his little summer crush had started…but his little summer crush was no longer a little summer crush.
Takaya could only nod, his mouth dry with the disappearing memories. Ren stood up fast, making his way over to Takaya with his overly confident jump. It almost felt like Takaya was the water he was rushing into.
His skin was as hot as Takaya had imagined, Ren’s forehead pressing into Takaya’s neck just below his ear. His arms were flushed, and just as hot as his face. The heat traveled past Takaya’s thin T-shirt, his skin burning where Ren’s arms were wrapped around his waist.
It took Takaya a couple seconds to wake up, his body surrounded by the heat of the feverish Ren. He didn’t understand what was happening, how a visit that started from his anxiety ended up in the warmest hug Takaya had ever received.
“Y-you’re s-supposed to…hug me back.”
Ren’s voice was nothing but a whisper that tickled the skin of Takaya’s neck.
Takaya wrapped his arms around Ren’s shoulders, let his fingers tangle in the curls at the base of his neck. Takaya understood why he was always pulling at them, the hair was soft the touch, the ringlets twisting around his fingertips.
Ren gave a contented hum, holding Takaya against his body tighter. “S-sorry if…I get you..sick.”
“It’s alright, it’s just a cold.” Takaya let his head rest against the top of Ren’s head, the strawberry blond frizz tickled at his neck. “So…are we dating now?”
All Ren could do was nod the curls atop his head tickling Takaya’s nose even more.
“Maybe I should tell Azusa I’m sick too?”