The heat sweltered from the kitchen stove as Okuyasu carefully boiled the water to the exact temperature, a small candy thermometer dipping in and out of the chocolate as it slowly melted in the bowl on top. He checked almost obsessively, careful not to overheat the candy past its melting point. Tempering chocolate was a skill not so easy to acquire, and Tonio had been kind enough to lend him all the supplies, right down to the heart-shaped molds. It remained challenging however, and the moment the thermometer hit 29 degrees celsius he hastily pulled the chocolate off the heat.
He moved onto the molds, hand shaking slightly as he dripped the white chocolate in delicate stripes over each cooled piece, whisk moving back and forth with a certain dexterity only an experienced cook could acquire. And although Okuyasu was no expert in school, he did have a strange pride for his skill in the kitchen. It was the one thing he did well.
Finally, he stepped back and admired his hard work. A dozen chocolates of all shapes and flavors, some drizzled with white chocolate, some with milk chocolate, all decorated so immaculate they could’ve been purchased from the store. He wondered briefly if he should have messed a few up to make sure they would look homemade. Surely the box, a hastily wrapped thin box with a small, pathetic-looking pink bow, would reveal that.
It was the perfect present, he decided, even better than he imagined he could be capable of. Thoughtful and sweet, ready to make any giftee swoon. But there lied the problem, of course.
The truth was, there was only one person Okuyasu wanted to give his gift to, and it was his best friend.
Okuyasu sighed. Josuke . When Okuyasu was around Josuke, he felt like he was the most important person in the world. Josuke always smiled at him warmly when he spoke, eyes sparkling with thoughtfulness, laughter light and twinkling, like a small bell. He would always lean closer, squeeze his arm when Oku said something right, lightly elbow his side when he said something funny. Even a second with him was better than the hours of judgement he felt walking the school grounds alone. But luckily, he was almost never alone, again thanks to Josuke.
Okuyasu groaned in frustration, face heating up just at the thought. The way his stomach twisted when he was around Josuke certainly didn’t feel like friendship. Nor did the way he caught himself staring at those lips, pursed together in thoughtfulness, deep blue eyes hidden behind long lashes. Okuyasu wondered if his eyelids felt heavy from them, they were so thick and beautiful.
He cursed. Yeah, there was nothing straight about that thought. Even worse, he couldn’t even begin to articulate that realization. And Josuke was Josuke . He had a dozen girls after him on any given day. Okuyasu probably had never even crossed his mind like that. It was as simple as that.
But still, his heart twisted at the thought of not telling him. Already he had gotten so close a couple of times, a sleepover where they were so entangled they might as well have been cuddling, a quiet moment out on the roof of their school where they shared an ice cream. Okuyasu had almost blurted out the words on the spot, the three words, I like you .
Before he could make a fool of himself, he had decided that in a few days, on Valentine’s Day, he would confess just like all those other girls did. It would be perfect. He’d write a letter, give Josuke chocolates, and do it. Rip the bandaid off, his brother’s voice rang in his ears.
He cleared a small area of his kitchen table and pulled out a crisp sheet of paper and a pen. The tip hovered over the paper in anticipation.
He had no idea what to write.
The thing was, Josuke was Josuke . He just felt right around him. And as he tapped the pen against his temple, the words tumbled around and around in his head, making sense only in there.
He sighed, reluctantly capping his pen. It would be fine. Today was only the 12 th . He still had a whole day to plan his confession.
As he finished cleaning up the kitchen, placing a few spare chocolates under plastic wrap for his dad, he wondered if he could ever really find the words.
The next morning the radio clicked on at 7 am on the dot, and Okuyasu groaned, squishing his eyes together and wishing back the calm of sleep.
“Good morning Morioh, and Happy Valentines Day! Hope you’re spending today with a special something, and don’t forget to get a gift if you haven’t. Up next—”
Okuyasu reached a hand out, finding the button and silencing the alarm. Huh. Valentine’s Day.
Gradually, his mind caught up with his train of thought, and his heart skipped a beat. Okuyasu’s eyes blinked open.
Wait. Did the radio say Valentine’s Day?
He shot up out of bed and glanced at the calendar hanging on his wall. No, that wasn’t right. It was Tuesday the 13th. The calendar said so right there. Tuesday, February 13th, 19--
Okuyasu yanked the calendar off the wall, eyes widening in horror.
The calendar was for last year.
Okuyasu nearly slapped himself. No wonder there had been so many “pop quizzes” recently. Hadn’t Josuke been dragging him to school on days he was sure they were off? God, he knew he was stupid, but this had to be the winner of them all.
He sprang out of bed, starting the daily ritual of hastily getting ready and running downstairs to make breakfast for his dad and Stray Cat. As he worked, his father lumbered into the kitchen, gently tugging on his sleeve.
“Heya, dad,” Okuyasu sent him a smile. “I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna ask him out today.”
His father made a gurgling sound that Oku decided was excitement. He finished making food for him, setting the table (and watching with dismay as his father once again pulled the food down onto the floor). He carefully coaxed a little bit of cat food into Stray’s mouth. The cat seemed content enough, even purring a little when Oku caressed a petal.
Carefully, he tucked the box of chocolates into his school bag. He eyed the blank sheet of paper, abandoned on the table.
He carefully placed it in his bag. Maybe he could write it during class? That seemed really lame, but he had to try.
Finally he headed out, eyeing his bag to make sure the box in it wasn't obvious. He arrived at the Higashikata household with a strange pounding in his heart, and he knocked softly on the door.
Not thirty seconds later, the door opened abruptly, revealing his best friend. Josuke looked perfect as always, hair combed without a single strand out of place, a faint hint of cologne enveloping Okuyasu’s nose and immediately setting his heart aflame in his chest. Huh. Josuke didn’t usually wear cologne.
"Bye, mom!" Josuke tossed the words over his shoulder as Oku stepped aside to let him pass. "You ready, dude?"
Okuyasu shot a wavering grin at him. "Yeah!"
They walked side by side, Josuke complaining about some quiz he hadn't studied for. Okuyasu kept finding himself distracted, stealing looks at Josuke’s eyes. He couldn't be sure, but they seemed even more bright than normal, practically popping out against the sharp contrast of his smooth skin. He looked like a freaking model.
Was he wearing makeup? Okuyasu felt his face warm up at the thought, and he quickly looked away to hide his blush. He knew Josuke had experimented with makeup a few times, especially when they dressed up for lame school events. So why would he wear it today?
Okuyasu's heart skipped a beat at the realization.
Was Josuke expecting something to happen today? Was he going to confess to someone?
"Oku," Josuke said suddenly, startling him out of his thoughts.
"You okay? You're not listening at all." Josuke playfully tapped his forehead. "What's going on in there, huh?"
Okuyasu waved his hand away, forcing out a laugh. "Nothing! Just thinking about it being Valentine’s day."
Josuke's eyes widened. "Oh, yeah. Got anything planned?"
Oku snorted. "What?? No, of course not!" He said quickly. "Do you?"
Josuke pursed his lips. "Uh, not really! Just gonna see what happens, you know? The girls always go a little crazy with the presents." Josuke laughed sheepishly, the sound making Oku want to sigh with relief. So maybe it was in his head, then. He could still confess. Right. Easy. Don't worry , he thought.
So naturally, Okuyasu was a nervous wreck by the time they got to school. His palms were slick with sweat, and he swallowed over and over as he tried to moisten his dry throat. The mantra in his head repeated itself over and over.
I will write the letter. I will write the letter and confess.
He had never been more terrified in his life.
A couple of classes later, the pair found themselves on the roof of the school. They had skipped History, partially because Okuyasu didn’t have the homework, and partially because Josuke didn’t want the next round of love letters he was sure to get from girls in the class.
Okuyasu had seen the state of his locker this morning, so filled with letters that Josuke had decided against even opening the door, and he couldn't help but agree a little. They settled on the edge of the roof, backs to the ground below them. “I can’t believe you don’t want to collect them,” Okuyasu said, heart secretly soaring at the thought of Josuke denying just a few girls of their confessions.
Josuke shrugged. “They always get so embarrassed talking to me. I’d rather they just leave them in my locker, save them the trouble.”
It was such a selfless thought, and Okuyasu’s head spun at just how much he liked Josuke for that. He glanced at his bag next to him, filled with the chocolates made for his confession. He could give them to him right now, it would be so easy…
But he had nothing to give with them. The blank sheet of paper had stayed empty all through the first classes, his words becoming mush in his head. What the hell would he say?
“Hey, Okuyasu,” Josuke said suddenly.
“Hmm?” Okuyasu startled, snapped out of his runaway thoughts. His friend had a peculiar look on his face, lips pouting slightly in concentration.
“Do you believe in soulmates?”
Okuyasu paused. His heart pounded in his chest at question. The guy he had a crush on was asking him about soulmates? His mind started whirling at a thousand miles an hour. “Like, being in love?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Josuke sighed, shifting on the windowsill. His blue eyes dragged over Okuyasu, bright and sparkling like the ocean. Taking all of him in his heart-stopping gaze. “Like, you’re meant to be with one person, forever, and no one else will make you feel the same way.”
“I dunno,” Okuyasu felt funny, like he was making a confession of some sort, and he certainly didn’t want Josuke to think that. Not yet. “I think some people get along really well. And if you did have a soulmate, what if they lived in the US or something? What if you didn’t even speak the same language?” Okuyasu frowned at the thought. “That would be hard.”
Josuke laughed half-heartedly. “Oku, you think of everything! You’re right. I guess it wouldn’t make sense.” He looked away quickly, smile fleeting, and Okuyasu wondered if he said something wrong. He was dying to ask what Josuke thought, but the air around them had shifted slightly, and something stopped him from continuing on the subject any further.
Any ideas about confessing now died as sipped languidly on his juice box, listening as Josuke hastily changed the subject to something else.
Soon enough, it was time to head back, and the two walked side by side, hands dangling next to each other as normal, fingers brushing but not quite touching.
Lunchtime came, and Okuyasu quickly bounded to his locker to grab his bento. He fumbled with his lock a few times before managing to open it.
A small letter fluttered to the ground.
What? Okuyasu picked it up. It was a little crumpled, but otherwise it looked fine, sealed with a bright red sticker in the shape of a heart.
His heart did a quick jumping jack. No one ever gave him anything on Valentine’s Day. Surely this was a mistake. It couldn’t be for him, right?
But his name was on the front of the letter.
A couple of girls giggled behind him, and Okuyasu turned sharply. They quickly looked away, darting down the hall.
Well, that decided it. It had to be some practical joke. Okuyasu shoved the note into his pocket. He figured he shouldn’t give them the satisfaction of opening it at school. He’ll probably just throw it away later.
Okuyasu made his way to the classroom, where Josuke, Koichi, and Yukako were already situated, barely beginning to unpack their food. “Hey guys.”
"Hey," Koichi said cheerfully. Yukako nodded at him, a sign of content that he knew he was lucky to have from her.
“Oh! Hey.” Josuke looked up at him, eyes a little startled, but Okuyasu didn’t think much of it. Instead, he was focused at the massive mountain of valentine presents in front of him. Dozens of boxes, letters, and chocolates poked out everywhere, covered in hearts, glitter, and every shade of red known to man.
“Are those all for you?”
“Yup. Just a bunch of love sick girls. Jojo this and Jojo that.” He gave Okuyasu a knowing look, and Okuyasu attempted a small smile.
“So, get anything in your locker?” Josuke asked.
Okuyasu panicked. Right. The letter. He couldn't tell Josuke about it, not when he was so close to confessing. “Uh, nope.”
Josuke’s expression suddenly stilled. "No? Nothing?"
"Nah, dude. You know me, I'm not their type." He shrugged.
Josuke stared at him blankly for a moment.. Then, then he grabbed his bag. “I gotta go.”
“Go where?” Okuyasu asked. Uh oh .
Josuke looked away from him, eyebrows stitched together. “Somewhere.” And just like that he was gone.
Koichi frowned. “Is Josuke okay?" He gestured to the abandoned Valentines.
Okuyasu scratched his head "I don’t know. That was weird."
"Was there really nothing in your locker?" Yukako spoke up suddenly, eyes not leaving her nails.
Okuyasu's throat closed up. "Uh, what do ya mean?"
"Did you get a letter?"
Yukako rolled her eyes. "You two are so oblivious. Come on, dear. Let's enjoy our lunch somewhere more private." She stood gracefully, motioning for Koichi to follow.
Koichi stood. "Uh, okay. Sorry, Okuyasu. Catch you later?"
Oku nodded and watched as they left the room.
Okuyasu blinked. He was alone. He collapsed into a nearby desk.
Oblivious? What was Yukako even talking about? Okuyasu reached into his pocket, feeling the edge of the letter. He was tempted to open it, but something stopped him.
He glanced at the huge pile of Valentines next to him, abandoned completely. All for Josuke.
How could he possibly compete with that?
So Oku sat there, barely eating his lunch, and wondering just how he could work up to courage to say what he wanted to.
Josuke wasn’t in their next class. Or the next one. Okuyasu tapped his foot nervously, at one point with such tenacity that the teacher had to ask him to stop.
What was wrong with Josuke? He certainly didn’t want him in a bad mood if he confessed. Okuyasu’s heart panged at the thought--he should be worried about where Josuke was, not how this affected him.
But still, he hoped nothing bad happened. Did he get sick? Or--Okuyasu gulped--was he avoiding him?
Finally, blissfully, school let out. He bolted out of his chair and headed outside, patiently waiting for Josuke at their usual spot. He couldn't possibly miss him if he was early.
He leaned against the wall, waiting. A few others had already started heading home. He caught a glimpse of someone already walking down their street.
It took Okuyasu a moment to recognize the pompadour.
Okuyasu took off, mind doing mental gymnastics. Seriously? Josuke didn’t even wait for him? This was bad, he decided. He had to find out what was wrong.
He caught up easily, falling into place beside his friend. “Hey! How come you didn’t wait for me?”He went to throw an arm over Josuke’s shoulder, like he always did, but Josuke just knocked it away.
A pang of hurt traveled through Oku, but he ignored it. “Josuke, what’s up with you?”
“Nothing, okay?" Josuke snapped at him. "You don’t have to pretend like nothing's wrong. Just give me a couple of days at least.” He didn't turn around.
Okuyasu had no idea what was going on. “What the hell are you talking about, dude?”
“You’re really gonna make me say it, huh? Fine. The letter, Oku. Ring a bell?” Josuke turned around then, face scarlet, and Okuyasu felt panic flutter through him, because Josuke's eyes looked red like he'd been crying. He wanted to hug him, provide any sort of comfort, but the look of pain in his eyes stopped him from advancing.
Wait. Did he say a letter?
"What letter?" Okuyasu launched back.
"The one in your locker," Josuke spat.
Okuyasu froze. He hastily fished out the letter from his pocket, now completely crumpled. “You mean this letter?” He smoothed it out as best he could. The sticker sealing it glimmered in the sunlight.
Josuke stilled. “You didn’t open it?” he said softly.
Okuyasu shook his head. “No. It’s obviously just some prank. I never get a confession." Okuyasu's mind shrugged to put the pieces together. "Wait. How’d you know about it?”
Josuke looked at him. And looked. And just when Okuyasu felt like he was going to burst if he didn't say anything, Josuke groaned. "Fuck, dude, are you kidding me?"
Okuyasu’s heart panged, but confusion overpowered everything. “Huh?”
“Okuyasu.” Josuke sighed. “Just open the letter.”
Okuyasu slowly ripped the envelope, pulling out a yellow sheet of paper. He was expecting the curly writing of some girl. Instead, he saw scraggly, terrible scratches. Handwriting that he recognized from notes he borrowed, homework he copied almost daily.
He gulped, and read the letter before he lost the courage.
I’ve never written one of these letters before, and I never thought I would. I thought maybe I would get a confession first. I always thought true love would just appear in front of me, and I would know who was the right one for me. And it took me a while to figure out that it did.
I think that you’re my soulmate. I never want to spend a second away from you. I like you that much. You are so kind and gentle. You always back me up in a fight. And we get along sooooo well. So I like you. I like you and I want to be your soulmate too. But if you don’t, I totally understand, just as long as we can still be friends.
Your best friend, “Jojo”
Okuyasu sniffed, and he blinked rapidly as tears began to fall down his cheeks. His heart soared far above his head. Gradually, everything began to click.
“Don’t cry, bro!” Josuke protested, face still red. “I’m sorry. I wrote that letter like 12 times, I hope I didn’t come on too strong.” He rummaged through his bag before pulling out a beautiful heart-shaped box.
Okuyasu blinked. He carefully took the box and peered inside, spotting about a dozen clearly homemade chocolates. “Are these…for me?”
Josuke scoffed. “Duh! I spent all night making them.”
“Oh. Oh my god.” Oku went through his actions of the day, how he had told Josuke he didn't believe in soulmates, how he had lied about the letter. How Josuke was slowly hinting at this moment, and he had just brushed it aside.
“What?” Josuke looked frantic, and Oku quickly pulled out his box of chocolates out of his bag.
Josuke examined it closely, before a look of recognition went through his face. “No way.”
“I couldn’t finish my letter. I just really like you, a lot, and I couldn’t put it into words. My thoughts get all messy. You’re just…so kind and nice, and when we hang out I feel really happy. I don’t want to hang out with anyone else. You make me feel good, you know? And you’re really cute.” Okuyasu could feel his mouth babbling, but nothing could stop it now. “You’re so handsome, dude. You must be the prettiest guy in Morioh.” He winced at his own words, and he felt his face heat up to the temperature of the sun.
Josuke was staring at him, brows raised so high they disappeared under his hair. His mouth opened and closed, and Okuyasu wondered if he said something wrong, if Josuke would be upset with him for not writing a letter, and letting it all spill out with no rhyme or reason.
“Oku…” Josuke said softly, so sweet and gentle, and then the unthinkable happened.
Josuke stepped forward and kissed him.
He kissed him sweetly, eyelashes fluttering, and Okuyasu sighed, leaning fully into the touch. His free hand came to a rest at Josuke’s hip.
And it was perfect. Everything he wanted it to be and more. Josuke's pompadour bumping lightly against his head, his warm, soft lips a perfect complement against his own. His heart felt like melting, after spending all day beating rapidly in his chest.
Josuke finally pulled away, and Oku was so grateful, because he wasn't sure if he could take much more.
“Is this really happening?” he asked.
Josuke grinned from ear to ear. “Dude. Yes. I'm just mad I didn't do it sooner."
Okuyasu winced. "I was being real stupid today."
Josuke snickered. "Me too, but who cares?" He stepped back. "Do you wanna go hang out or something?"
Okuyasu nodded so hard his neck cracked. "Yes!" He carefully placed the letter and the chocolate into his bag. Then, on an extra stroke of boldness, he grabbed Josuke's hand and interlaced it with his. "You ready?"
Josuke turned the color of a tomato, and Okuyasu loved him for it. He couldn't wait to make him blush more. "Yeah, Oku. Let's go."
And even if all of the feelings Oku had in that moment were too big to be said, it didn't matter, so long as he had Josuke by his side.