Said I don't know if I've ever been good enough
I'm a little bit rusty
And I think my head is cavin' in
And I don't know if I've ever been really loved
By a hand that's touched me
And I feel like something’s gonna give
And I’m a little bit angry
--Push (Matchbox 20, 1997)
One of the things Okuyasu Nijimura hated most was when people clapped eyes on him the first time. No matter how well they tried to hide it, there was that brief, split-second reaction that said ‘what the hell happened to this guy?’ when they saw his face. People shied away from him and sometimes they’d stare openly when they thought he wasn’t looking. Either way, most people assumed that he was some thug who had gotten scarred up by a fight and steered clear of him.
It hurt like a bitch and Okuyasu couldn’t help but get angry at himself for feeling that way. His brother was always telling him that he shouldn’t let it get to him, that those people didn’t matter and he was too sensitive. That last remark always made shame knot itself in his guts because sensitive felt like it was right next door to weakness. He often found himself wishing he could be like Keicho, who never seemed to care about anything.
Hell, Okuyasu sometimes wondered if Keicho even cared about him. He figured that he must make it pretty hard considering how often he seemed to screw up. It made him feel like a dumbass and Okuyasu couldn’t help but wonder if that was actually the case. Sometimes his head felt like it was full of drunk bees; it was always hard for him to hold onto one train of thought for long. If someone ever asked him what he was thinking, Okuyasu would probably just say ‘nothing’. It was easier than explaining he always seemed to be having at least six thoughts at a time.
But nobody ever asked him what he thought because hardly anybody was willing to approach him. It sucked, but maybe it was for the best since it also meant that almost nobody messed with him. Okuyasu had had enough of being messed with to last him a lifetime. So he leaned into the image a bit, shaved the sides of his head down short, furrowed his brows and went through life hoping he looked mean enough for everyone to leave him alone. It seemed to be pretty effective and any time it wasn’t, Okuyasu wasn’t shy about throwing a punch. He might have started most of the fights he’d been in, but he also finished them.
Otherwise, Okuyasu never stayed in one place long enough for his classmates to feel emboldened to bully the new kid with the cut up face. Until now. He was going to stay here long enough to graduate, then he and Keicho would move on and find better jobs somewhere else. Maybe even back in the city. That was their deal.
First days sucked the hardest. Mostly because most of his day always consisted of those little moments he dreaded; seeing people’s eyes trace the scars that lined his face, seeing them flinch or grimace or turn away. As Okuyasu entered the school yard, he felt every pair of eyes that so much as glanced in his direction. He shrugged deeper into his uniform jacket like a turtle might withdraw into its shell. As he neared the building, anger spread like fiery wings over his breastbone.
‘Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer.’ he wanted to shout.
A chorus of feminine voices was enough to distract him. There was a gaggle of girls by the door, each of them talking or giggling amongst themselves. At the center, almost a head and shoulders above all of them, stood a boy with a meticulously styled pompadour and an easy smile. He looked like he’d walked straight out of the glossy pages of a fashion magazine despite still being in a uniform like everyone else. Okuyasu suddenly felt the same restlessness that he got right before someone threw the first punch in a fight. He was an impulsive guy--Keicho was always getting on his case for acting without thinking--but he was pretty sure he wasn’t the type to fight a guy for no reason.
So what was his deal, then? Was he jealous that the guy had it easy or something? That he was some pretty-boy surrounded by cute girls? Was that it? Maybe--
Okuyasu was so busy trying to untangle his thoughts that he didn’t realize he was on a collision course until it was too late. In an attempt to disentangle himself from his fanclub, the boy was slowly backing out of the semi-circle as he made his excuses. When he backed right into Okuyasu it was enough to throw him off course and make him stagger a little. For a moment, the two of them spoke in unison.
“My bad, I didn’t see--”
“Watch it.” Okuyasu ground the words out and clenched his fists. If it was possible for the nape of somebody’s neck to look pissed off, then the other boy just proved it.
“I said my bad.” He whirled around to face him for the first time and Okuyasu braced for impact. All the annoyance dropped from the other’s expression as soon as their eyes met and was instead replaced by surprise. Okuyasu swallowed thickly and the boy wet his lips to speak.
Shit, shit--he’s gonna say something. He’s gonna say something about my face.
Okuyasu’s knuckles strained white and his blunt nails bit his palm. If this asshole did say something then Okuyasu would just punch that stunned look off his face, just drive his fist right between those unusual eyes and--
“Your mom lets you do your hair like that?” The question caught Okuyasu so off guard that he flinched like he’d been struck. There was a moment of confused silence and Okuyasu knew he must be looking at the other boy like he’d just spoken some kind of foreign language. Heat rose to his face.
“No.” Okuyasu said before spinning on heel and entering the building.
His mood didn’t improve as the day went on. Okuyasu was never known for being particularly attentive in class, but today it was almost impossible to focus. By the time lunchtime rolled around, he was ready to get away from everyone so he took his lunch and stole away to the roof. Okuyasu seated himself on the cold stone floor, leaning against the chain link fence with a quiet rattle.
He’d been so absorbed in his food that he hadn’t heard the door open a second time.
“Oh. You’re up here.” It was the boy from earlier. Okuyasu eyed him suspiciously as he crossed to the chain link fence and leaned against it. At least he had the decency to stand a few feet away. Okuyasu had assumed that a guy like him would have no shortage of people who wanted to eat lunch with him. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe both of them had come up here because they thought they might be alone.
Wordlessly, the boy took a Kamakura Custar that must have come from a vending machine out of his pocket and opened it. Was that all he was eating? Was he on some kind of weird diet or something?
“Forgot mine at home,” the boy explained, jerking his head at Okuyasu’s lunch, “my mom’s gonna kill me.”
If this had been some kind of after school special, Okuyasu might have offered to share some of his. But it wasn’t and well, when you were worried about buying groceries it kind of made you stingy with food sometimes.
“I don’t live with my mom,” Okuyasu spoke without thinking, the mention of parents reminding him of the boy’s question from earlier this morning, “or my dad. ‘S jus’ my brother and me.”
“Mine’s a single mom, so it’s just the two of us, too.” The boy almost said the words defensively, looking at Okuyasu out of the corner of his eyes with a small scowl. Maybe he’d caught shit for not having a dad in the past. Okuyasu knew the feeling.
“Oh.” Okuyasu didn’t really know what to say and so grunted around a mouthful of food.
“She’s alright, but she would never let me shave down part of my head like that,” the boy said, indicating Okuyasu’s carefully gelled undercut. He’d combed the longer, dark strands on the top in an attempt to emulate the characters on TV and in movies that always seemed to be trouble. “Looks cool, though.”
Okuyasu eyed the other boy’s pompadour that somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between rigid structure and easy curls. It was an old, dated hairstyle that would have looked lame as hell on anybody else, but it seemed to suit him.
“Yours is pretty good, too.” The words tumbled from his lips before Okuyasu had a chance to stop them and for a split second, he was annoyed with himself for running his mouth. His present company didn’t seem to mind, though.
“It’s Okuyasu, right? I’m Josuke.” Josuke’s mouth curved into a smile and Okuyasu found it infectious.
What the hell is happening?
By the time lunch was over, it was discovered that they lived in the same neighborhood, had a mutual love of video games and Okuyasu made Josuke laugh at least twice. There was something about him that made him easy to talk to.
When they met in the school yard to walk home together, Okuyasu was half way back to his house before he realized that he hadn’t noticed if anyone stared at him.
Maybe whatever the hell was happening wasn’t so bad.