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confession, oh no

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It starts with a single confession.

Langa is eating lunch in the classroom with Reki when someone approaches- it's a girl who sits closer to the front. Langa doesn't know what her name is, but when he looks up at her as she stops in front of his desk, she smiles at him like they're friends. She's holding a small box in her hands. "Ah, Langa-kun," she says. "Would it be alright if we talked?"

Langa looks over at Reki, whose eyes have blown wide. He doesn't particularly want to talk to her, but when Reki catches him looking he waves his hands as if to urge him forwards. "Um. Okay."

There is a long pause where the girl doesn't say anything, and he glances up at her in confusion. She looks a bit perplexed. "Er... sorry, I should have clarified. I was hoping to talk in private somewhere."

"Why?" Langa asks.

Strangely, the girl turns her face away at his question, her cheeks coloring pink. "I'd rather not say, sorry. Please?"

Reki seems to agree with the girl. "Langa, don't ask why, just go!"

He isn't sure why Reki seems to understand what this stranger wants when she hasn't even said anything yet. He seems sure though, and Langa trusts Reki, so he pushes down the confusion he feels and nods, moving to stand. "Okay," he tells the girl. He hears a bout of giggles across the classroom as he stands. Reki gives him a grimace and mouths the words, 'good luck'.

He follows his classmate out of the room and down the hall until she stops near the water fountain. She's fidgeting, and her face is still red, and she won't look at Langa. "Are you okay?" he asks her.

She jolts at the question. "I-I'm fine!" she squeaks. He watches as she smooths the palm of her free hand on the material of her skirt, listens as she takes a deep breath. "Um. Langa-kun, I think you're really handsome, and you seem really sweet, and I have feelings for you! So! Please go out with me!" She holds out the box towards him.

Langa stares at her, and then down at the box, which is decorated with little hearts and smile faces. He feels like his brain is short circuiting. "But... you don't know me. How can you like me?"

His classmate pauses in the wake of his response, her expression frozen in some strange combination of embarrassment and shock. "Uh, well. I- I was hoping that... if you went out with me, that's when we would get to know each other?"

Langa doesn't know how to respond to this. He'd much rather be back in the classroom with Reki, eating lunch and watching skating videos. Why would he agree to date someone and then get to know them? He thought that the point of dating is that you're supposed to do it with someone you like. His mouth moves silently as he tries to think of something to say.

The longer he flounders for something to say, the more the girl in front of him deflates. He watches helplessly as her expression crumbles- and, to his horror, her lower lip begins to tremble. "It's okay if you don't want to," she says quietly, and her voice sounds different now, thick with unshed tears.

"I'm sorry," he tells her, because it's the easiest thing to do. "I just don't know you well enough." This earns him a loud sniffle and his stomach drops to his feet. Awkwardly, he glances around the hallway. Maybe he can say he needs to use the bathroom? Would it be rude to just leave her here? It seems that all he's doing is making things worse, so surely she wouldn't take offense to that.

Subtly, he tries to inch away. "Um," he says. "I need to..." he gestures vaguely in the direction of their classroom.

His classmate bursts into tears.

All at once, a group of girls come barreling down the hall to collect her, wrapping her in a large hug and guiding her away from Langa. He stands there awkwardly, eyes wide. His hands dangle uselessly at his sides. "I'm sorry," he tries again, because he doesn't understand where he went wrong but he does know that he's made a girl cry.

One of her friends turns her head to glare at him harshly. "I think you've said enough," she snaps.

"Oh," he says. He waits just a moment longer, unsure what to do, before awkwardly turning to walk back to the classroom. His limbs feel stiff and clunky when he moves, and when he slumps back through the doorway and collapses into his desk, he can feel the rest of his classmate's eyes on him. They're all gathered to one side of the room- judging from the way that girl's friends had come running, they'd probably all been watching.

Reki comes over and flicks him on the forehead. "What the hell was that, Langa?"

"I didn't mean to make her cry," he says, sullen. He feels awful, except he doesn't know what it is he's done wrong. All he'd done was be honest.

"Man, I can't believe you got a confession," his friend sighs. "I'm so jealous."

"If it happens again, you can go in my place," Langa promises. Reki slaps a hand over his mouth, and when Langa looks over at him, he's clearly trying to hold in a laugh.

"'As nah ow ih irks," he says, voice muffled. Langa stares. Gently, he reaches out and pulls Reki's hand away from his mouth, revealing a crooked grin. "That's not how it works," Reki repeats. "She wanted to confess to you."

"But we've never spoken before," Langa points out. "It wouldn't make much of a difference. She probably knows you better."

Reki looks at him strangely, then, and Langa shifts in his seat uncomfortably. "Haven't you ever gotten confessed to before?"

Langa feels like he's missing something. "Once," he admits. "My friend told me she had a..." he frowns. He isn't sure what the Japanese word for 'crush' is. "That she liked me. But I turned her down." He doesn't mention why, because Reki already knows that he's gay. In fact, looking back, it probably explains Reki reacting to the girl approaching him as if he were being sent off to war. He'd known that Langa would have to reject her. "Is this- is what that girl did normal? You seemed like you knew what she wanted."

His friend stares at him for a moment. "Yeah, it's pretty common. Do they not do stuff like that in Canada?" Langa shakes his head, and Reki winces dramatically. "Ah, sorry man. If I'd known I would've explained what was going on. That must've been super awkward."

"It was," Langa agrees. "I didn't know what to say at all. And then she cried and I tried to apologize and her friends yelled at me."

Reki gives him a sympathetic look, but he hides his mouth behind his hand again, and Langa knows that he's trying not to laugh. "Well, look on the bright side! After that train wreck, I doubt you'll be getting any more confessions."

* * * * *

It is not the last confession that Langa receives. In fact, he gets three more confessions by the end of the week, and he leaves school on Friday afternoon thoroughly exhausted. None of the girls seem quite as upset by his rejection as the first one- at least, none of them cry, which Langa counts as a success on his part.

"At least there'll be a break for a few days," Reki offers sympathetically. They're at the skate park with Miya- the younger boy is currently skating circles around them as Reki sits on his board and eats a protein bar. "You know, the weekend."

Langa's fingers play with the edge of his board, tapping the other end against the pavement. "I wish they'd just stop."

"Man, I don't know what to tell you! It's not like I've ever been confessed to before." Reki pushes himself back and forth.

As he comes around the front of them, Miya chimes in. "He wouldn't want to avoid getting a confession either," he says. "He'd just be happy to get one."

"Hey!" Reki cries, indignant. "What's your advice then, catboy?"

Miya makes a face at the nickname. "Ask Joe. He totally got tons of confessions when he was in school."

Langa considers this. It's not a bad plan, he decides, so he pulls out his phone to message the group chat.

4 slimes, a villager, and Miya

Me: joe, miya says you have experience dealing with confessions
Me: can i ask for some advice?

Joe: Sure. What's up?

Me: i've gotten a number of confessions recently and i don't know how to turn them down without hurting the girls feelings

Langa watches as Reki pulls out his own phone as well, and even Miya kicks his board up so that he can join in on the conversation.

Reki: hes gotten like 4 this week!!!!! its crazy!!! who knew langa was such a ladies man huh??!!

Me: i don't want to be a ladies man reki
Me: i don't like ladies

Joe: I'm not sure what to tell you, honestly. Just be honest about why you can't accept and try to sympathize?

Me: so i should come out?

Joe: If that's what your comfortable with.
Joe: If you aren't ready for that, obviously don't do it though. Maybe try something else, like saying you already have feelings for someone else?

Miya: i thot u said 2 b honest joe

Shadow: God your text talk is appalling

Cherry: I agree with Kojiro. If you can't be honest, and what you're doing now isn't working, then that does seem to be the best option. That's what I used to say when I got confessed to.

Reki squawks, loudly, and nearly falls off his skateboard.

Miya rolls his eyes. "Dramatic much?" he drawls, but he, too, looks intently back at his phone after a moment.

Reki: YOU GOT CONFESSED TO??!!?!?!?!?

Cherry: Yes. Quite a lot, actually.
Cherry: Probably more than Kojiro.

Joe: Lies and slander

Miya: nonono hold tf up cherry were u hot in hs
Miya: this is important
Miya: 4 science n shit

Me: so i should tell them that i have feelings for someone else?

Joe: Yes. Sorry for getting distracted.

Langa thinks that's probably good advice. Joe had told him to be honest, and while maybe he doesn't need to come out to do that, saying he already has a crush is technically the truth. He glances up at Reki, who is still reading through the recent messages. His half-eaten protein bar is dangling from his mouth, crumbs falling into his lap as he scrolls, and the sight of it makes something ache in Langa's chest.

He wonders what it would be like to receive a confession from Reki. He doesn't know much about the tradition, even with all that's happened the past week, so he isn't sure how to imagine what might happen. Maybe Reki would get him a little gift, like the first girl. He wouldn't need to, though- Langa would accept in a heartbeat.

Maybe I should confess to Reki, he thinks. It would certainly solve the issue of getting confessed to, as well as the way his palms sweat nervously whenever his friend looks at him. He entertains the idea for only a moment longer before his face warms and he has to look back at his phone to avoid suspicion.

Cherry has sent 3 photos!

Miya: omfg i-


* * * * *

The next confession is a turning point.

On Monday, he's cornered on the way back from the bathroom during break. Reki is somewhere behind him, having gone to get water himself, and Langa can see him duck around a corner in his peripheral vision, presumably to watch. "Langa-kun," the girl says. She holds out a pink envelope that has a wrapped candy taped to the center. "I really like you! Please date me!"

"I'm sorry," he tells her. He takes a deep breath- he knows this, he's practiced this. "I can't return your feelings. I already like someone else."

Her expression quickly sours, but for some reason it throws him off. The look on her face is something new in terms of a reaction- so far, he's gotten the predictable sorrow and disappointment, yet this is something he can't quite place.

"Well," she sighs, and he thinks that maybe she might sound a little bit angry. "Thanks for listening, I guess." He watches her walk off with a frown.

Reki approaches from behind, coming out from his hiding spot. "Man, she seemed really annoyed you didn't like her back," he says, and Langa turns to look at him.

"She was annoyed?" he asks. "I wasn't trying to be annoying." Maybe his response hadn't been as well thought out as he'd thought it had been?

"Nah, you weren't," Reki assures him. He reaches up to pat Langa's shoulder and it makes his skin tingle even through the fabric of his uniform. "She must've been super self centered or something to act like she was entitled to your feelings like that."

Langa nods in agreement, but for some odd reason he feels off for the rest of the day.

The next time a confession throws him off is during free period a few days later- the fourth one that week already. Langa is hunched over at his desk, frowning at the kanji on his worksheet. He can't quite make out what it says- is this supposed to be asking him about a horse or a cow? Or, he supposes, the kanji could be translated to noon, but he doesn't think that 'What does the main character mean when he refers to his mother's noon' makes very much sense.

He slides his foot along the linoleum flooring and toes at the side of Reki's shoe. His friend looks up at him. "What's this word?" he asks. He angles his paper so that Reki can see what he's pointing to.

"Ah, it's cow," Reki tells him. Langa smiles softly in thanks, turning his gaze back to his paper. "How are you doing with kanji anyway? Did you even know any before you moved to Japan?"

Langa shrugs. "I knew some. I'm still learning, though. Homework is hard sometimes."

"Well if you ever need to, we can do our homework together in case you need help!" Reki offers. Langa smiles softly, grateful, when suddenly Reki's attention is drawn to something behind him. Langa's stomach curls up in knots at the familiar expression that washes over his friend's face.

"Excuse me, Langa?" comes a voice from behind. Langa drops his head and pushes himself out of his desk, eyeing the girl that stands behind him with a small gift bag in hand. "Is it alright if we step out into the hall?"

"Sure," he tells her. He'd rather just get this over with.

She leads him out into the hall. They don't even get too far from the classroom this time, stopping several lockers away. He waits impatiently as she turns around and presents him with the gift bag. "I apologize if this is out of nowhere," she tells him, "but I think you're really sweet, and attractive. Will you go out with me?"

Langa carefully constructs his excuse, repeating his line. "I'm sorry, I can't return your feelings. I like somebody else."

And then, the strangest thing happens.

The girl in front of him smiles.

"Oh my god, really?" she blurts out. She seems almost excited, and Langa is taken aback by it. Of all the confessions he's gotten, none of the girls had reacted like this in the wake of his rejection. He doesn't think he would react like this either, if he were to be rejected by Reki. What about being turned down by a crush is exciting? "Who is it? Would you tell me?"

Langa shifts uncomfortably, unsure of how to react. "Um. I would rather not. Sorry."

He notices a small shift in the his classmate's expression, but he can't identify what it means. "Ah, that's okay!" she assures him. His head is spinning, mind whirring as it tries to wrap itself around the situation. What does he say, what does he say? "I heard that you liked someone, and I thought I would take my shot with you just in case. But I wish you luck with whoever it is!"

Langa frowns at the admission. She'd heard that he likes someone? He supposes this is what he wanted, for the girls who confessed to him to spread his 'lie', but he had hoped that it would have the opposite effect. It's supposed to deter further confessions, not encourage them. He suddenly grows nervous- has he made things worse for himself? Are more girls going to confess, hoping that they are the token of his affections? If that's the case, coming out might be the only remaining option- but he isn't quite sure that he's ready for that yet. He doesn't know if he wants to tell the whole school- doesn't know if he can- just so the confessions stop.

His classmate, ignorant to his inner panic, gives him one last smile before skipping back to the classroom.

Langa just stands there.

* * * * *

He and Reki leave school together, backpack straps tight around their shoulders and skateboards clutched in their hands, ready to be dropped as soon as they are off school grounds.

"Hey," Reki says. "Since I offered to help you with your Japanese, can you help me with the English homework? It's so confusing!"

The mention of the English homework sets off a lightbulb in Langa's head. "Oh. I think I left my notebook on my desk." He glances at the school building over his shoulder.

"Aw yeah, don't wanna forget that! Want me to come get it with you?"

Langa shrugs noncommittally. "It should only take a couple minutes. You can wait by the entrance."

Reki nods and pulls out his phone as he goes to find a place to sit while Langa goes back to the school. It's not a far walk, and it only takes a couple minutes until he's back in his hallway. He's nearly to the classroom when all of the sudden he hears a voice drifting from around the corner. It's distinctly female, and before he knows what he's doing, Langa is backtracking down the hall and ducking into the boys bathroom, pressing himself against the door as it closes. He feels a bit like an idiot for doing so, and also maybe a bit presumptuous- he doesn't know if these girls are even interested in talking to him. However, on the off chance that they are, he'd rather be safe than sorry. He just wants to get his notebook and leave.

The voices grow closer, and he manages to make out that there is a small group of them- maybe three or four. He listens as they pass the bathroom door and down the hall- however, after another minute he realizes that they aren't getting any quieter. He hears the distinct sound of the water fountain being turned on.

He doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but the girls are talking particularly loud. "Ah, I wonder who it is he likes?" one of them says. "At this rate the whole school will confess and he'll still turn them all down."

"He's got to like someone though," says another. "Personally, I've got my money on Teruhashi."

"I was really hoping it was me though!" comes another voice. Langa's eyebrows shoot up when he recognizes it as belonging to the girl who'd confessed to him earlier that day. "I lost five hundred yen when I got rejected."

"That just means more for me when I win the pool," laughs the second girl. "Teruhashi, alright? Remember that I said Teruhashi."

It takes a few seconds, but suddenly Langa feels something click into place in his brain. Oh, he thinks. They're placing bets on him. Apparently the girl whose confession he accepts will get a reward. It certainly explains why he's been getting so many confessions- from what it sounds like, there's quite a sum up for grabs.

Even though it isn't as if he would have accepted any of the confession in the first place, he's surprised to find that the discovery leaves a hollow feeling in his chest. He doesn't like it. It's like he's just a game, some tool for the girls' entertainment- don't they care about his feelings? They clearly think he's straight, yet they continue to toy so brazenly with him, offering money for his hand like he's some machine at a casino. Spin for the chance to win and break Langa's heart.

He stays in the bathroom for a few minutes after the girls leave. He doesn't go back to the classroom- he doesn't much feel like looking for his notebook anymore. He finds Reki still waiting near the entrance, fiddling with his phone. He looks up when he notices his approach, beaming at him all wide and happy. Clueless. "Hey, did you find it?" he asks.

Langa chews on the inside of his cheek. He finds that he can't quite look Reki in the eye. "No," he lies. "The teacher was already gone. I'll just look for it tomorrow."

"Aw man, that sucks," he whines. "I hope you don't get too far behind." Langa nods distractedly. "You still down to work on the rest of our homework together?"

Langa wants to say yes. He does, he really does, but his mood is ruined and all he can think about it how much money his classmates think he's worth, and wonders how many of the confessions might have been fake, and suddenly it's all he can do not to shrink into himself and curl up right there on the pavement in humiliation. "Um. I actually don't feel very well," he says. It's not even really a lie. "I think I might just go home."

Reki looks at him strangely for a moment, eyes raking over his face like he's looking for something. "...Alright," he says. There's a cute little crease right between his eyebrows, and Langa wants to reach out and touch. He forces his hands to stay still. "You think you're coming down with something?"

"Maybe." Langa wonders if he can get away with faking sick tomorrow. At least then nobody can confess to him.

"I'll walk you home then," Reki offers. "Just in case something happens."

Langa stares at his shoes. "You don't have to."

"Langa," Reki says, and there's something in his voice that makes his breath hitch. "Let me walk you home."

"Okay," Langa relents. Then, because he feels the need to, he adds, "I'm sorry."

Reki leans in and wraps an arm around his shoulders, guiding him around a corner. "No need to apologize, man. I just hope you feel better."

Yeah, Langa thinks to himself. Me too.

* * * * *

When Langa gets home he turns on Netflix and takes a gallon of ice cream out of the freezer. He eats straight from the tub as he curls up underneath his blankets and turns the lights off in his room and puts on one of his favorite movies. He feels like a cliché, but there's a reason that so many people do this when they're sad- it makes him feel a little better, at least.

He's about halfway through the movie when his phone rings, startling him. He scrambles to put the cover on the ice cream and press pause, searching for his phone within the tangle of blankets. He manages to find it and press 'accept call' on what is probably the last ring. "Hello?"

"Langa." It's Cherry, which is surprising. The older man has never called him before, either preferring to text or simply talk in person. "I wasn't sure you'd pick up."

Langa frowns. "Why?"

There is a slight pause on the other end. Instead of answering his question, Cherry asks, "Are you okay?"

"I-" Langa stumbles over his words for a moment. "Um. Yeah, I'm fine." He diligently ignores the tight feeling in his chest at the question.

"Are you sure?" Cherry presses. "Reki asked me to check in on you. He seemed worried that something was wrong."

"Oh. That would make sense. I told him I was sick."

Somehow, even through the phone, he knows that Cherry is arcing a single eyebrow in response to his excuse. "Are you sick?" he asks.

Langa very nearly says yes, but something makes him pause. Aside from Reki, Cherry is probably the one in their little group that he's the closest to. He's also an adult, and he'd given good advice alongside Joe earlier in the week. He knows what it's like to get lots of confessions. Maybe...

"Langa?" Cherry's voice breaks him out of his thoughts, and he Langa realizes that he's been silent for a bit too long.

He takes a deep breath. "Has anyone ever confessed to you and not meant it?"

"What do you mean by that?"

Langa anxiously swallows the lump in his throat and pushes forward. It's too late to turn back now, even though he can feel regret festering in his stomach. "Have you ever had someone confess to you even though they didn't have feelings for you? Like as a joke? Or a game, or something?"

For a moment, Cherry doesn't say anything. Langa holds his breath. Then, "No, I can't say I have. May I ask why it is you want to know?"

Knowing Cherry, he's already connecting the dots. He's smart, smarter even than people think he is, and he picks up on the small details of a statement, the minor tells in a persons face, even when others try not to let him. "Um," Langa mumbles. He can't quite get the words out. "Yes."

And Cherry is so, so patient, indulging him, asking again, "Why did you ask?"

Langa's shoulders sag. "The girls at my school," he starts, wincing when his voice cracks. "They made a game out of confessing to me. They have a betting pool, and whoever gets me to accept their confession gets the money." He pauses, but when Cherry doesn't say anything, he adds, "I'm not supposed to know about it."

It's quiet on the other end for so long that for a moment Langa wonders if he's been hung up on. He is about to pull his phone away from his ear to check when suddenly he hears Cherry take a deep breath. "That's horrible. Langa, that's awful. I can't believe they would do that to you."

Langa is not someone who prides himself on being intuitive when it comes to recognizing emotions. Even so, the anger is the other man's voice is palpable. For some reason, though, he feels the need to play it down. He doesn't feel comfortable being the person to elicit such a passionate reaction from someone. "It's not a big deal," he tries. He doesn't even sound like he believes it.

"It is a big deal," Cherry tells him, voice fierce and stern. "They made a game out of your emotions with no regard to how you actually feel. There is a cash prize. Not to mention you aren't comfortable with being confessed to in the first place. You didn't consent to any of this. That's harassment." Langa stays silent. "Langa, do you understand that they're harassing you?"

In all honesty, Langa hadn't. "Yes," he whispers. His voice sounds so small to his own ears. He wonders if Cherry picks up on it. Knowing him, he probably does.

"Can I have your permission to do something about this?"

The question startles him and he frowns. "What do you mean?"

"You shouldn't have to deal with this," Cherry explains. "You don't have to be the one to talk to anyone, but if you like I can call your school and explain the situation. Get them to do something about it."

Langa thinks about it for a moment. "What if the girls think I'm overreacting? They're just confessions."

"Are they just confessions to you?" It's probably a rhetorical question, or maybe it's more of a challenge, but either way, Langa doesn't answer. Cherry takes it as confirmation. "Then it's not an overreaction. You're entitled to your feelings, Langa. If what these girls are doing makes you feel bad, then you feel bad. That's all there is to it."

Teeth dig into his lower lip as he rolls the words around in his mind. It only takes a few moments before he comes to a decision. "I want it to stop."

"Then I'll call the school," Cherry says, and suddenly Langa wants to cry. It feels like a weight being lifted off his chest, and he's hit with the realization of just how much he's been bothered by all the confessions. Now that the chance of them stopping is a possibility, it's like he can finally breathe again.

"Thank you," he manages to choke out.

"Of course." Langa thinks that this is it, that Cherry is going to say goodbye and hang up, but he doesn't. "One more thing," he says. "What do you want me to tell Reki? He's still worried about you."

Langa freezes up. He isn't sure what he wants Reki to know- although the thought of him finding out makes him want to curl up into a little ball under his blankets again. The feeling of humiliation comes back, and he shakes his head even though Cherry can't see him. "If he hears about it, I think- I think I want it to be from me."

"That's fine," Cherry assures him. "I'll text you when I get off the phone with the school."

"Thank you," Langa says again, because he doesn't know how else to express how grateful he is.

"Of course."

When Cherry texts him thirty minutes later, saying The principal promises it's going to be taken care of, Langa can't help the relieved laugh that bubbles out of him.

* * * * *

The next morning at school, their teacher makes an announcement first thing that the first class of the day is cancelled and that all girls are to report to the gymnasium for a meeting. It sends the rest of the class into a frenzy, and Langa tries to tune out the theories being thrown around in favor of doing the English homework he'd missed.

"Maybe it's some special girl holiday?" Reki wonders aloud. "Do they have those? I've never heard of a school celebrating one before."

Langa shrugs, scribbling in another answer. If it were any other day, he might have found the assumption amusing. "Maybe."

Reki seems to accept it. "Anyway, I'm glad you're here! Guess it was just a stomach bug you had yesterday, or something?" He says it hopefully, and when Langa chances a look at his friend, that worried crease in his brow is back.

I should tell him, Langa thinks. It would be so easy to open his mouth and say, actually, the girls are having a meeting because they kept falsely confessing and made bets on me. Instead, he mumbles, "Yeah," and the chance is gone.

When the girls get back, they spend the rest of the day looking at him guiltily over their shoulders. Since he sits at the back of the room it's super obvious, and Reki notices. At lunch he asks, "Is it just me or have the girls been looking at you more than usual?"

Tell him, Langa's inner monologue screams. Tell him you idiot.

What comes out is "I hadn't noticed."

The day continues. Langa tries his best to ignore the staring and pay attention, only now Reki is sending him concerned glances too. His hand shakes as he tries to remember the correct kanji in Literature class, and he spends the entire afternoon break hiding in the boys bathroom. After class, his teacher stops him by the door and tells him that "I'm here if you need anything", and Reki is right there when she says it, and he looks at him strangely the entire time it takes them to get to the front doors of the school.

Langa fiddles with the edge of his skateboard as he carries it, avoiding his friend's gaze. "Hey, man, are you sure you aren't still sick or something?" he asks. His voice is softer than it usually is. "You've been acting weird all day."

It's not something he can avoid answering much longer. Still, Langa has to swallow the lump in his throat so that he can try and get the words out. Just admitting it to Cherry had been embarrassing- this is Reki, his best friend. He isn't sure how he'll react. He doesn't want him to react badly. "Reki, I-"

He's interrupted by a voice. "Excuse me, Langa?"

Langa stiffens at the feminine voice, but he turns around nonetheless. There is a group of them standing there with a small bag. His eyes dart between their faces, and he realizes that it's all of the girls who had confessed to him, aside from the very first one. He eyes the bag warily. "Um-"

"No, it's not like that!" says the one in front. "This isn't a confession. It's- well, it's an apology."

He can feel the confusion radiating off of Reki, and he tries to inch closer to his friend under the pressure of his classmate's earnest stares. "Langa, we're so sorry for what we did! We didn't think of your feelings at all. It was super unfair of us."

The girl with the bag nods, holding it out for him to take. "This is all of the money we'd set aside for the pool. We think you should have it."

Langa reaches out awkwardly and gently removes the bag from her grip, being careful not to touch hands. He brings it to his chest, knuckles white. Quietly, he says, "Thank you." He doesn't say, I accept your apology. He feels like he supposed to, but the words would be empty. Maybe it's silly, but their apology only make him angry. How could they not consider his feelings? How could they put a price on his head and compete for his affections with no regard for how he might take it? Why are they only sorry now?

"We're very sorry!" they say in practiced unison. Then, the girl in front adds, "Please accept our apology!"

Langa stares at them, unsure of what to do. He isn't sure how these things work- is it considered rude to not accept an apology? Is this also some cultural thing he's unaware of? His eyes move over the crowd, looking for some indication of what he's supposed to do, what he's allowed to do.

Thankfully, it's Reki who comes to his rescue. "Hang on! I don't know what's going on here, but Langa doesn't have to accept your apology if he doesn't want to. Right, Langa?" Langa is taken aback by the declaration, but he nods jerkily at his friend's words.

"Um. Right."

He knows he isn't misreading the shock on the girls' faces, but they quickly school their expressions into something more serious. "Right," says one. "That's okay. We really messed up."

"We'll continue apologizing until we make up for it!" exclaims another.

Langa winces. "That's- that's not necessary," he tells them. "I'd rather just move on."

The girls deflate. "Oh," says the one in front. "Of course, if that's what you want."

"It is," he confirms. He's looking anywhere but at the girls now, and the bag of money is burning a hole into his chest. He jerks a thumb over his shoulder. "I'm going to... I've got somewhere to-"

"We'll be late for work!" Reki, bless him, understands what he's trying to do.

"Right." Langa turns, giving one last awkward nod to the group of girls before letting Reki tug him along by the wrist. He follows his friend off school grounds, and they make it halfway through the familiar route to the skate park in silence before the redhead stops, turning to look at Langa with confusion written all over his face.

"Okay, what the hell just happened?"

There's no point avoiding it any longer. Reki's already heard bits and pieces, he knows that there's something to apologize for, and he isn't stupid. He's probably already coming to his own conclusions. And Langa, honestly, really just wants to get it over with.

So he spills everything. He explains the strange reactions he'd started getting to his rejections, reveals what he'd overheard after school the day before, his conversation with Cherry, what the just-girls meeting during first hour was really about. Throughout it all Reki listens, uncharacteristically quiet. His brow furrows and the corners of his mouth turn down the longer Langa speaks, but once he starts he can't stop, and by the end of it he's embarrassingly close to tears. "I'm just angry," Langa admits, voice wobbling. "I'm angry and I don't want to forgive them."

Reki is silent for a long time. Langa can hear his own heart pounding in his ears.

Suddenly, Reki is dropping his skateboard, using both hands to reach out and pull Langa into a hug. Langa tenses up for only a moment before relaxing into it, letting his head fall forwards so that his mouth is pressed into Reki's shoulder. He wraps his arms around the shorter boy, squeezing tight, and Reki's grip on him tightens more in return. "You don't have to forgive them," he says. "You shouldn't forgive them, because what they did was so shitty. I'm sorry they did that. You don't deserve that."

Langa nods into Reki's shoulder. He's too choked up for words at the moment, but he thinks that his gratitude gets across to his friend anyway.

Reki tightens his grip for just a moment. The pressure is comforting. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know," Langa manages to get out. He's mumbling- he wonders if Reki can actually hear him. "It was embarrassing."

The arms around him loosen and suddenly Reki is pulling away. Langa misses the contact before it's even fully gone, and he stares helplessly at his friend as he looks up at him. He's got that serious expression on his face that's so rare, that he really only wears when he's talking about something really important, like skating. The fact that he's using it now, when he's talking about Langa, makes his heart race. "Man, you don't ever have to worry about being embarrassed around me," he says. "I'm always on your side, no matter what!"

The words make Langa smile, soft and involuntary. Reki answers with a smile of his own when he notices. "Really?"

"Really," Reki tells him. He holds out his hand. "C'mon, when I said infinity, I meant it. Didn't you?"

Langa's heart soars. He wants nothing more than to reach out and pull Reki back in for another hug, or even a kiss, maybe, if he'd let him. He doesn't even know the words to describe what the declaration makes him feel- not in English, and certainly not in Japanese. All he can do is lift his own hand and press it against Reki's as they go through the motions of their handshake. "Of course I did."

Reki grins at him and it's so bright it threatens to swallow him whole. "Come on, you can treat me to dinner with that bet money."

Somehow, it doesn't hurt as much like this. It doesn't hurt when it's Reki. "Yeah, okay," Langa agrees. "Let's go then."

* * * * *

They get takeout from Langa's favorite place. Reki nearly screams when Langa pulls out the wad of cash from the bag, eyes bugging out. "That's- this is so much!" he babbles, reaching out to sift through the bills. "That's awesome! I mean terrible! Awesome for you now, but terrible that they bet this much!"

Langa frowns, but he gets what Reki is trying to say. "I guess so. How much is there?"

"Dude, I'm not counting all of this! It'll take forever. But you could totally get takeout a bunch of times with this!"

"Oh, cool." He guesses he'll be treating Reki a lot in the next few weeks then. Not that he minds. "Get whatever you want then."

Langa gets his usual several burgers, and Reki follows suit, ordering some fries for them to share as well. They take the food to the skate park- it's blessedly empty today, so they sit right on top of the half pipe and let their legs dangle over the side. Langa rests his board across his thighs and uses it like a table.

He's halfway through his third burger when Reki speaks up through a mouthful of food. "Are you really okay, man? It sucks what those girls did, you know."

"It does," Langa agrees. He takes another bite, taking his time chewing. "It makes me pretty sad, to be honest. But I'll be fine." He fiddles with the wrapper on his burger, staring at a piece of lettuce that's dangling precariously from the edge of the bun. "It's like I told those girls, I just want to forget about it."

"That makes sense," Reki says. "Still, you were so cool with how you handled that. I totally wanted to yell at them, and I didn't even know what was going on."

Langa winces. "Yeah, sorry about that."

"Wait, no! That's not what I meant!" Reki waves his hands around, almost losing his grip on his burger. He catches it in the nick of time, but a stray tomato goes flying. He stares at it forlornly as it plops onto the metal of the ramp. "Aw, man. I meant to say that I totally had your back. I was ready to fight for your honor no matter what! Even if you don't tell me what's going on, I'll be there, you know?" He pauses, chewing on his lower lip. "I feel like I'm repeating myself."

A tiny smile works its way onto Langa's face. "Maybe a little. But it's okay."

"Ah, okay."

He risks a glance over at his friend. He's already gone back to devouring his food, and there's a splotch of ketchup on his cheek that he doesn't seem to have noticed. "Anyway, I feel the same way." Reki chokes on his burger and Langa panics, punching him on the back. Reki sputters and coughs out a piece of lettuce, gasping for breath. "Sorry! Sorry, are you alright?"

"I'm great," Reki rasps, bringing a hand up to rub at his throat. "Um- yeah, I'm fine."

Langa smiles. "You have ketchup on your cheek, by the way."

He watches, fascinated, as Reki's cheeks color red and he rubs his palm over his mouth. "Aw, crap. Did I get it?" It's still there, but it's kind of smeared around now, and Langa really shouldn't be finding this as cute as he is.

"No, it's sort of-" Langa makes a vague gesture with his hand, and when Reki just looks back at him in confusion, he swallows his nerves and digs around in the takeout bag for a napkin. "Here, I'll just get it."

"No!" Reki squeaks. It's loud enough to startle Langa, and before he can do anything, Reki is snatching the napkin from him and rubbing it all over his face. "I got it!" he says, muffled by the napkin.

Langa blinks at him. "Oh- okay." When Reki finally lowers the napkin, the ketchup is gone- it has to be, what with how rigorously he'd been scrubbing his face. He won't meet Langas eyes, though, staring at the crumpled napkin as he lowers it to his lap. His cheeks are still flushed.

There's an awkward silence where Reki doesn't say anything, and Langa isn't sure if he's supposed to talk or not, so he settles for going back to eating his burger. He feels like the conversation has just dropped off a cliff, feels like he's supposed to try and start it again, but he isn't sure how. He lets it be.

Reki finishes his burger before he finally speaks, ending Langa's internal dilemma. "Hey, Langa. I really like you, you know?"

Langa's head shoots up and he stares, wide eyed, at his friend. His heart suddenly starts up a very passionate jig behind his ribcage, and he feels like he can't breathe. Had he heard that right just now? "Uh- um, I... like you too?" he tries. Whatever way Reki means it, his response is true.

The other boy shakes his head. "Not like that," he mutters. He seems frustrated for some reason. "I- I mean, I do like you like that, as a friend, but also... I like you more than that?"

This doesn't seem real. This can't really be happening, can it? Langa's mouth moves up and down like a fish as he tries to find words. "You... have feelings for me?"

"Yeah," Reki says, all plain and simple, like he hasn't just made Langa's chest explode and his brain short circuit. "For a while now, actually." He lets out a strangled little laugh at the end of his sentence, and it sounds forced.

Langa watches him carefully for any sign of a joke, but he doesn't find one. And anyway, it's Reki- even if what he's saying is unbelievable, Langa doesn't think he would lie. "Why tell me now?"

Reki shrugs, looking away to hide the intensifying blush on his face. "I don't know," he mumbles. "I guess- I thought you deserved to be confessed to by somebody who meant it. And I do. Mean it, that is."

There isn't anything Langa can do but gape at him, eyes stinging. "Reki..."

"It's okay if you don't feel the same way!" he blurts out, pushing his shoulders back. His voice is full of fake cheer and it sounds wrong, wrong, wrong. "But I wanted you to know. Even if you might reject me."

Langa finally manages to shake himself out of his stupor. He reaches out with his free hand, seeking out Reki's, and he curls his fingers around his. Reki looks up at the contact, eyes wide. "Why would I reject you?" he asks. "I told you, I feel the same way."

Now it's Reki's turn to gape like a fish. It's painfully cute, and Langa keeps his smile from growing too large by biting his lower lip. Reki's eyes follow the movement, and Langa can hear the hitch in his breath. He squeezes his hand, gently turning his palm towards the sky so that he can thread their fingers together. He think his hands are probably clammy, but he's too excited to care right now. "Seriously?" Reki says. "Me? You like me?"

"Who else?"

Reki sucks in a deep breath through his nose and the hand around his tightens. "Oh, wow," he says. "Um. In that case. Can I... kiss you? Maybe?"

It's so excitable and so awkward and so Reki, and even though neither of them know what they're doing it's perfect. Langa just smiles in response. He takes the initiative instead of answering, and he watches Reki screw his eyes shut tight in anticipation just before he lets his own lids flutter shut. He leans in quick, and their lips press together, soft and warm, and it sends shivers up his spine. He's kissing Reki. Reki had asked to kiss him. He's holding Reki's hand and he's kissing him. It's his first kiss, too, but he doesn't think that he would want to imagine it happening any other way.

He pulls back after a few seconds. It's over far too soon, but for some reason it feels right. And anyway, he thinks that it won't be the last time he has the opportunity to kiss Reki. "Wow," he breathes, echoing Reki's statement from before.

Reki stares back at him with bright eyes, lips parted enticingly. "Yeah," he says. "Uh. Wanna-?"

"Yes," Langa blurts, and then he's leaning back in, the hand that's not holding Reki's coming up to cup the other boy's cheek. This time, the kiss lasts longer- their lips touch once more, but after a peck or two Langa tries moving his mouth like he's seen in the movies. Reki stiffens against him for just a moment before relaxing, pushing into it, letting Langa set the pace as he tries to match it. Something wraps around Langa's knee and he realizes that it's Reki's hand. He shudders into the kiss, catching Reki's lower lip between his own. This earns a soft noise from the other boy, and Langa thinks that he could probably do this forever and be happy with it.

In reality, it's only a minute or two before they separate, but it feels like longer. As he catches his breath, he tucks his chin towards his chest, pressing his forehead against Reki's, his hand sliding to the back of the other boy's neck to keep him there. When he chances a look at him, his eyes are still closed, and he's grinning. Langa can't help the giddy smile that makes its way onto his face.

"Can we get dinner again tomorrow?" Reki asks. "I can pay this time."

Even though he knows the answer, Langa needs to hear Reki say it. "Like a date?"

That startles a breathy laugh out of him. "Gods, I sure hope so," Reki says. "Otherwise this is about to get really awkward."

Langa snorts, moving to press the tips of their noses together. "Yes, I'll go on a date with you. Hopefully I'll go on several dates with you."

Reki laughs again, loud and unrestrained. Langa wants to listen to that sound on loop. "Why stop at several? Let's go on dozens of dates!"

"A hundred."

"A thousand."

"Two thousand."

Reki pulls back just enough so that Langa can see him playfully raise an eyebrow. "Two thousand?" he muses. "I don't know, that sounds like a lot."

He's teasing, Langa knows, and it makes him want to scream, like he can't hold everything in. "I'm sure we can do it."

"Yeah." Reki squeezes his hand one more time. "Yeah, we can."

And then he leans in.