He wasn't exactly counting, but he was almost entirely, ninety five per cent sure it has been at least two minutes since Aoba started laughing.
What he has been counting were the times he distinctively wheezed like someone has been holding him in a fish tank for the past ten years and opened his mouth to say, “Oh, my God. Oh. My. Go – “, before his eyes would fall on the accursed paper cup sitting under the pretense of innocence on Koujaku's desk, when he would slap a palm over his mouth in a hopeless attempt to change the way Koujaku was glaring at him, and then catch the undeniable undertone of such utter helplessness on his face that it would always serve as a catalyst. Chuckles would start spilling through the cracks between his fingers, intersecting with occasional choking sounds, eventually turning into his hands being removed from his face completely to clutch at his stomach.
So far the count has been standing at four.
Koujaku sighed, thinking about how entirely beyond him it was what Aoba still found funny in this. Sure, when it happened for the first time, he, too, looked at it in confusion and cracked an amused smile, before reaching the classroom and showing it to his best friend as proof of an entertaining mishap. He brushed it off, easily forgetting about it once the cup was in the waste bin until the next time he decided to buy coffee in the morning. He didn't even notice it himself that time, it was Aoba who pointed it out to him, frowning once Koujaku took a seat beside him and motioning him to reach out his with his beverage. Thinking he maybe wanted a sip, Koujaku offered it to him without hesitation, but Aoba shook his head and said, “Wait, did they... Yes, they did. They actually did it again.” He looked at him with mirth engraved on his face before breaking into a light laugh, as Koujaku stared incredulously at his cup. But right, okay, no big deal, spelling someone's name wrongly can happen to anyone, and he wasn't even paying attention while ordering, so for all he knew, it probably wasn't even the same person both times.
The third time it happened, though, he was somewhat mortified. Two times in a row wasn't such a big deal, but three? Still, things proceeded in their natural order, Aoba laughed at him again and Koujaku went to assure himself, albeit with growing difficulty, that it was just a coincidence and that the next time he goes to the blasted coffee shop, it will not happen.
… Except that it did. The following time, and the time after that, and all the other times Koujaku decided he needed little something extra (extra being a caffeine shot) to get him through the day, his name being mercilessly butchered with various uses of C's and K's, as well as with combinations of kanji that he absolutely never would have thought of himself. With each occasion, Koujaku became more exasperated, while Aoba seemed to find more and more humor in his misery.
Up till that very day, when it, apparently, all culminated. “I swear, they're not even trying anymore”, Koujaku grumbled, slumping over his desk. He watched in disbelief as actual, legitimate, real tears started descending from corners of both of Aoba's eyes. The asshole in question, however, did manage to calm himself a little bit (although not enough to not hiccup every time he failed to avoid accidentally looking at the cup), and, through attempts to not sob openly, squeezed out, “Don't you think they might be doing it on purpose at this point?”
“Yes, the thought has crossed my mind, thank you”, Koujaku snapped. “I mean, they could have asked me how to spell it. Every reasonable person would, but they are probably just enjoying this as much as you are”, he accused.
Aoba, struggling for breath, leaned over to pat Koujaku on the back. “There, there. Nothing to get all fussy about. I'm sure it'll all get better soon.”
Koujaku didn't believe him, more so when he experienced what was probably the most embarrassing moment of his life when the professor walked into the class a bit later, his eyes casually roaming over the students until they suddenly focused on something. He coughed, doing his best to hide his obvious joy, and inquiring, “Nee, Koujaku-san, does that cup of yours say Cow-jack?”
As Devil would have it, the subject was English.
Koujaku colored red to the roots of his hair, as all of the student body, with whom Aoba has already shared the story and who eagerly awaited the updates, erupted into laughter, leaving the professor, unaware of the history behind what he just croaked out, grinning stupidly with the belief he just told the best goddamn joke in the universe.
Needless to say, the cup wasn't even empty before it landed in the trash.
From then on, Koujaku's coffee received frequent visits from cows, Aoba found the whole thing even funnier, even their first period professor was now in on the conspiracy, and Koujaku spent his mornings sprawled over his desk in defeat more often than not. All in all, things went along normally.
And then came the exam week, and Koujaku was in desperate need of caffeine basically every day. The problem was, the stress made him much grumpier than usual, and seeing someone who was usually all sunshine and flowers genuinely pissed can be quite a frightening experience. The twisted versions of his name came closer to the truth, and Koujaku suspected the only reason it was still spelled wrongly was because they never learned and were currently too afraid to ask.
He wished he could start visiting another coffee place, but there were, oddly, no others on his way to college, except for that shady little place that he went to once, which smelled like weed and sold him something that was more liquid tar than anything else in both appearance and taste, and straying off his route for that purpose would take too much time even for an early riser like himself.
Therefore, he succumbed to the horror of misspelling quietly.
On a Thursday, feeling cranky and tired, Koujaku placed in his usual order and gave his usual name at the counter, staring absently through the window until it was delivered to him. He glanced down in routine, to despair a bit at the newest torture his name had to go through, and... gaped.
He could have sworn his jaw unhinged itself, because it was correct. He shook his head and checked one more time to be sure, but there was no mistake, both on his and the writer's side.
Dumbfounded, he looked up to the barista, thinking how one of the people working here must have finally gotten lucky in guessing, only to be greeted by an image of someone he had definitely not seen here before.
The guy had short blond hair, a cold expression and piercings everywhere. Koujaku counted at least seven just on his face before he looked up. They stared at each other and Koujaku was pretty sure he gurgled some incomprehensible thing which made him sound like an idiot, but neither looked away. That is, until the guy raised one punctured eyebrow at him and Koujaku became aware of what he was doing. He jumped and scampered out the fastest he could, feeling a pair of eyes on his back the entire time.
By the time he reached the classroom, Koujaku was in a glorious mood. He sat down and shoved the cup in Aoba's face before he could even ask what was going on, smirking triumphantly when his friend's eyes almost fell out of their sockets. “No way”, he mumbled. He held the cup up to the light. “You didn't just get a paper cup somewhere and write the name yourself, did you?”
Koujaku shook his head, and Aoba narrowed his eyes scrutinizingly. “But then again, this isn't your handwriting. Yours is like a 17th century's countess”, ignoring Koujaku's angry sputtering at that, “and this one is more... pointy. Sharp.”
Putting the cup back on Koujaku's desk, he looked at him in amazement. “Huh. Never would've guessed. Seems like they finally learned how to spell it.”
Koujaku smiled. “Actually, they have a new employee who took my order today. It's most likely that they haven't told him to screw with this one customer yet.” Realizing something, he went on, “I never got to thank him properly. I was so shocked I just ran away.”
Aoba cast him a side glance. “You know, it is a bit weird to thank baristas just for getting your name right... but I know how much this means to you.” He grinned. “You could buy him coffee. That would keep it all themed, now, wouldn't it?”
He meant it as a joke, but Koujaku was seriously thinking the suggestion through. “That's... actually not such a bad idea. Yeah. Yeah, I might do that.”
Content, he looked ahead of himself, imagining the best way to pull this off, but after a while, he sensed Aoba gazing at him. Turning his head, he was met with an unwavering set of light brown.
That was suspicious as hell. “... What is it?”
Aoba cocked his head. “You're smiling.”
Contradicting, Koujaku scowled. “Why wouldn't I be smiling? Something good happened.”
“No, no, no”, Aoba turned his chair, wood scraping against the floor. “This is a different kind of smile. This is the kind of smile you have when you have just finished one of your flirting sessions.”
Aoba was apparently set on getting his dose of fun on Koujaku's account even though his usual reasons have been ripped away from him, because after abruptly getting up with a bewildered, “No way”, he crashed back down and started cackling. “You like him!”
Koujaku felt himself becoming red. “Aoba!” He wasn't officially out yet, mainly because he wasn't sure how many people would believe him and how many would write it off as him “fending off chicks”, as Aoba so delicately put it.
“Come on, come on, now”, Aoba gauged. “He's cute, isn't he? You totally think he's cute.”
Koujaku lasted under the teasing for a while, but seeing how it was getting unnervingly close to the time for the beginning of the class and Aoba didn't show any signs of wanting to give up, he gave in. “Yes, okay! I think he is quite handsome, if that will shut you up.”
“Ohh, what does he look like?”
The next morning, he was standing in the damn coffee shop once again. Luckily, the guy was here, which, while relieved, also made him extraordinarily nervous. Something about him, like his handwriting, was weirdly piercing.
When it was his turn, he smiled at the emotionless face in front of him, running a hand through his hair. “So... what would you recommend I get?”
The guy stared at him, reminiscent of their previous encounter. He clearly remembered him from yesterday, and was probably wondering why was he only asking him now. He shrugged.
The nervousness grew. Okay, new plan. “Um... what would you get, then?”
The guy shrugged again. “Black.”
“Black it is.” The guy stared some more, probably because of how much Koujaku's order clashed with the one from last morning, but Koujaku ignored him and requested an ordinary, chocolate muffin to go with that.
When he got his stuff, he marched over to the register again (thankfully, there was no line at the moment) and handed it to the barista. “Here.”
The guy stared at him. Again. After a long silence and a lot of fidgeting on Koujaku's side, he finally spoke. “Listen, I don't know what you're trying to accomplish here, but – “
“No, wait, let me explain”, Koujaku interrupted. “It's just that... I wanted to thank you. I've been coming to this café for a few months now, and your co-workers developed a habit of misspelling my name, which turned into a game to annoy me later on. You're the first one who got it right, so... yeah.”, he finished awkwardly. Fuck, when he put it like that, it sounded so incredibly stupid. Great. Now the guy certainly thinks he is some over-sensitive –
When Koujaku looked at him again, he saw what might have been a hint of a smile curling at the corner of his lips. Feeling encouraged by this, he stammered, “Um, yeah, by the way, when does your break start? Maybe we could meet up and chat while you, er, eat that.” He nodded his head toward where the guy had put the goodies below the counter.
He glanced at the clock and said, “Noon.”
Koujaku couldn't believe his luck. “Okay. Right. See you then?”
He got a nod in return.
It was only when Koujaku was walking toward the campus, satisfied, that he stopped and slapped a hand over his face.
He didn't even find out the guy's name.
Well, he concluded, it wasn't so bad. At least he knew the guy knew his.
And that he knew how to spell it properly.