When Touma wakes up in the morning, he first checks the clock on the table. The time shown is glowing green, and he always wakes five minutes early. He closes his eyes and dives deeper under the blanket, out of habit, because this is summer and the sun is already up. He’s sweating already, but the weight on his body is calming.
Then the alarm goes off.
He gets up, for real, then he makes up the futon, pushes it to the corner of the room. He goes to the bathroom. He makes coffee. He reheats the leftover dinner he had last night. He turns on the TV and watches it while having breakfast. He puts on some clothes for work.
Then, he goes, walking to work.
While walking, he checks on his phone that has been silenced; not even in a vibrate mode. His friends and colleagues have been insisting and pestering him into turning the mode on, so he can reply or accept the phone call faster. With a grin on his face, Touma will nod and pretend to turn off the silent mode on his phone. They will leave him for a few days, until an important call is made, urgently wanting him to cover their shift because their mother has fallen ill, or no one can pick up their children, or other reasons. Then they will complain again.
But really, Touma has been doing fine with only a few phone calls from Seiya and Akiko and his nephews and nieces who insist on talking on the phone. And maybe some of his friends from highschool, too; Futaba, sometimes, mostly. Masami, only when she’s with Futaba.
Although he and Taichi usually talk over texts; sending each other stickers and games updates and funny videos, instead of calling each other to ask what they are up to.
There are many nights when Touma wonders whether he should call him. There are many times when Touma has seen Taichi's numbers on his phone screen, until he memorizes it, until he can type the numbers without even looking. There are many nights when he just wants to hear Taichi’s voice, saying his name in wonder, probably, because why would Touma call him in the middle of the night?
It is only five steps from his apartment, where Touma stops at the sight of a notification on his lockscreen. It is only one banner from his LINE, no missed call, no other text. It is just one; from Taichi.
You free tomorrow?
Touma always remembers Taichi’s birthday. August 30th. When they were little, Touma would go to school ten minutes early so he could wait by the gate and greet Taichi a happy birthday first, even though it was late for a few days. His birthday date is easy to remember.
For the past few years since that one time in high school, he always managed to give Taichi something; a handkerchief, a hand-painted mug. One time he gave a pair of handmade knitted gloves, despite it being summer. Last year, he gave one paper crane, to which Taichi jokingly asked if he was holding the 1000th paper crane. Touma had laughed and replied, no, he only made that one paper crane.
Taichi, having curiosity ever in him, asked why.
No reason, Touma had said.
This year, Touma doesn’t prepare anything. Maybe it just slips at the back of his mind, maybe he’s just been so busy, maybe he just doesn’t have the time.
Which is not really the case.
But he doesn’t want to deal with… whatever it is that has been bothering him.
So, he waits in front of the station. Taichi’s train will arrive in a few minutes.
They haven’t seen each other since that time when Taichi broke up with Futaba, and Yorkie called him to participate in cheering Taichi up. It was sudden, and far from where he lives, but later that night, someone knocked on his door. It was Taichi, drunk and alone, and very insisting on staying over.
Touma had let him in.
They didn’t talk much in the morning after, nor a few days or weeks after. Taichi had sent him a text, apologizing, to which Touma replied that he shouldn’t have worried about that. And with some thoughts, he sent another text, How are you?
It never got any reply.
Taichi only came — still, comes — back with a bunch of funny videos and stickers of their favorite characters in a game they play together. They never talk about it again, and Touma won’t pester him.
One time, Akiko asks him first. There are only two of them, cleaning up after dinner, while Seiya and the kids are taking a bath together.
“So,” Akiko starts. “Are you never interested in girls?”
Touma almost drops the plate. He stammers, “Uh — wh — “
Akiko laughs, but then stops herself. “Is this why you moved out?”
Touma licks his lips, opens his mouth, and closes it. He doesn’t know what to say; he has given some thoughts of coming out and clean to his brother, but he never finds out how and when. He tries to be subtle, but perhaps he is not as subtle as he thinks.
Akiko continues, “I think Seiya also has known, for some times.”
Touma finds his voice. “How long?” His voice trembles, and he hates it. He looks down and continues washing dishes, to keep his mind off of it.
Akiko replies, “I don’t know. We never talk about it.” Then, “I don’t want you to think that you are obligated to tell us the truth, but we care about you and just like Seiya, I also want you to think of this house as some kind of refuge, a place where you can relax, a place you called home.”
“... It is my home.”
“And I am glad you think that way.” Akiko says as she wipes her hands on her trousers. She reaches out to pat his head. “You’ve grown so much.”
It is easy to spot Taichi; a trail of black hair looking around. But this is what Touma has realized: Taichi always spots him first.
“Hey,” Touma says when Taichi is in front of him.
“Yo.” Taichi nods. “Were you waiting long?”
“Not really.” Touma smiles. “Shall we?”
Touma notices Taichi bring a bigger bag than he usually does. Taichi has only explained to him that he wants to meet, but he doesn’t say anything else about where he’ll be staying, or other purpose he has in mind.
Taichi always has a plan, and in a few minutes he’ll be explaining it all to Touma, but right now, Touma just wants to walk beside him, stealing glances at him, thinking and reflecting on that Taichi is finally here with him.
But it isn’t until another few minutes that it dawns on Touma that they’re walking toward his apartment.
He asks, “Where are we heading? Do you have something in mind?”
With that, Taichi stops walking. “Can we go to the festival there?” He asks, pointing at the summer festival that is right across the street from where they are standing.
Touma nods. “Okay.”
Taichi stays close to him, but it’ll be so easy to lose him in the crowd. Touma has tried to keep an eye on Taichi, but it’s so hard with all these people pressing him forward. He feels Taichi’s arm and bag on his side, and he tries to hold onto the bag, when he suddenly feels fingers wrapped around his wrist.
He can’t see Taichi’s face, but he can feel his face feel hot from ears to cheeks. So he clenches his fist.
They still don’t talk much. Other than the casual exchange of asking what to eat and what to play like they are still young, high school students, Touma still hasn’t wished him a happy birthday, or asked what he is going to do.
Maybe they still have time.
Maybe they even have a whole night.
Touma doesn’t dare to hope, but when he sees Taichi munching takoyaki rather happily, Touma just can’t help it. He hopes, just like he has hoped for the past few years, during his childhood, during his teenage years. Even though he knows — he has known — the outcome, he still hopes.
Because he doesn’t know what else to do.
Taichi never tells him, but Touma knows Taichi and Futaba confessed to each other during that first firework. He still remembers when he saw them; all red cheeks and stammering words and bright eyes and glancing at one another, he felt a rage burning in him but he pressed it down, concealed it, until it cooled down.
When the fireworks start, he feels a hand holding on to his. His eyes widen, but he keeps on looking at the fireworks; he tries to focus on the colors, on the bright in the evening, when he secretly wishes and dreams of Taichi’s touch, and having the dream come true. He tries to focus on something else — but Taichi’s hand is warm, sweaty yet rough with dry patches but he holds on really, really tightly — and Touma has to hold it as tight.
There was a time, in their childhood, when they had stopped holding each other’s hands. Touma had been the one to say that holding hands was not meant for boys.
Thinking back about it, he kind of regrets ever saying that.
They’re still holding on; even when the crowd has dispersed and no one else is around them, they’re still standing side by side, Taichi’s shoulder is pressed against Touma’s arm, and their linked hands are hidden between them.
Touma hears whispers; of dubious and disbelieving and for once they are back in high school. He tries to let go, but Taichi grips tighter, and looks at him.
He mouths, Stay.
So Touma stays.
The only time they let go is when Touma has to unlock the door and open it. Even after the door is open, they manage to twine their fingers. Touma has never wanted to let go from the start, especially behind the closed door… he wants to hold Taichi, all of him.
Taichi looks at him. “I don’t know where to start.”
“I do,” Touma replies. “Happy birthday.”
Touma finds the battle pencils they used to play with.
He shows them to Taichi. “It’s not much,” he tells him. “But shall we play it again for old time’s sake?”
That earns a smile from Taichi.
Later that night, after many cans of beer and much laughter from reminiscing about their childhood and school life, Taichi tells him.
“Are you sure about this?” Touma asks.
Taichi can’t hold his liquor well, his face is already red, and he mutters some incoherent words that Touma asks to repeat.
“You’re drunk.” Touma says.
“Maybe,” Taichi replies. “But I stand by my words.”
“Why?” Touma asks again, later, when they both are too tired to clean up the mess and decides to lie down on the floor.
Taichi lies on his side, looks at him. Touma stares back; at his red face, at his strand of hair that gets in his eyes, at his ears, at his mouth.
“We fell out.” Taichi says. “It happened, I guess. I don’t know. She was my first girlfriend…”
Touma reaches out to push a strand of hair from Taichi’s face. He freezes; his fingers are still on Taichi’s hair. Hesitation creeps up on him; what Taichi has said before to him doesn’t count — he’s drunk — they’re not —
Taichi grabs his hand, lies it down between them, and holds it; his palm on the back of Touma’s hand, clammy and cold.
“Come closer,” he whispers, and Touma obliges, scoots closer, lies on his side with an arm under his head. Taichi closes his eyes, and Touma watches him until his breath evens; he falls asleep.
Touma is still watching him; memorizing his closed eyes, his slightly open mouth, his frown, as he tries to also remember how he looks like when he’s awake and around him.
It has been a few years, yet nothing has changed for Touma.
Touma wakes up to the stiffness all over his body, and to a massive headache that hits him almost immediately when he opens his eyes.
Taichi is not there.
He gets up quick and the headache hits him ten times harder. He puts his hands on his head and hisses from the pain. He hears a door open and close, footsteps come near —
“Touma, you up — “ He hears Taichi crouch down beside him, hands on Touma’s shoulders, his voice turns panic — “What — “
“... You’re here.” is what Touma manages to say, through pain and blurry eyes. He grabs Taichi’s hands. “You’re still here.”
Touma’s vision has not come back fully yet, but he can still make out some expressions Taichi makes. He exhales. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
As Touma manages to swallow some bites and drink some tea, his mind clears. He remembers. He always remembers everything happened when he gets drunk. He sneaks a glance at Taichi — who is looking through his phone — and wonders whether he remembers too.
“You don’t have work today?” Taichi asks, looks up from his phone.
“It’s my day off.”
Taichi nods. “Do you remember last night?”
So he does remember.
Touma finishes his tea and gets up. “Let’s take a walk.”
Touma brings him to the park near his place. It’s quite empty, maybe because the children can’t go out to play to finish their summer homework. Or maybe they’re bored of playing outdoors.
They walk to the swings.
Touma sighs; he remembers Taichi’s I don’t know where to start, because he also doesn’t know. He tries, “I…” He takes a deep breath, and tries again, “I am… conflicted.” He sneaks a glance at Taichi; he listens. “And… this is too sudden.”
“I am sorry, I tried to be subtle, but…” Taichi’s voice trails off as he looks away.
“Are you… really sure about this?”
“What do you mean?”
“We live… far from each other. This won’t be easy. You’re still in college, I’m working. We won’t have much time together. And… you just broke up with Futaba.”
Taichi sighs. “I broke up with her a year ago.”
“Yet you look like you’re still not over her, like you still care about her — “
“I do care about her because she’s my friend first before she was my girlfriend!” He interrupts. “I am sorry if this is too sudden for you and maybe I just never thought that you don’t love me anymore but I do! I do! And this feeling… it’s strange, new, but not surprising, like I — I — I knew it! And I just, I don’t know, want you to know? Want you to confirm? Want you to acknowledge it? Aren’t you my fucking best friend?” He stops to catch a breath.
Touma looks down. “I’m,” he starts. “I am sorry. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. I do, and it...hurts.”
“Then don’t make it hurt anymore. I’m here.”
“And this is new. For you, for me. It is going to be hard for us.”
“And… you’re still… sure?”
“Touma,” he calls. “I think about it a lot. The happiness that I really want.” He says. “I think about it when I wake up, when I go to class, when I study, when I’m with my friends, when I… text you. And, uh, it’s what keeps me going. I mean, happiness, my happiness, our happiness, can’t just have one thing, right? It has to have more than one? Like, a list or something? So I have that list. Or priorities. Or I don’t know what else to call it.”
“More than one?”
“More than one,” Taichi repeats. “Because why depends on one thing? If that one thing is gone, does that mean we can’t be happy anymore? I’m happy with playing games, but if the battery suddenly runs out, does that mean I’m not obligated to be happy? No, I’ll just find some other thing to keep me happy.”
Touma listens; eyes and ears focused on Taichi, solely.
“And when I think about it. The happiness I want. Everyday. Every time. Every minute. It’s always different things. But also the same thing. I mean,” he stops, sighs as he rubs his head. “There are always the same things. Playing games, eating food, drinking beer after a long day, you. Sometimes in that order, sometimes not. I don’t know. But you’re on the same thing list.”
Touma’s eyes widen.
“And, that’s. That’s when I realized.” He admits. “I know things are… complicated, even after Futaba and I broke up. But there was nothing special about it, we just chose our path in our own different ways. And we kinda fell out. A bummer but, I didn’t think much of it now. I just, think of that ‘same things’ list. The same things that make me happy everyday, every time, every minute. And, you’re there.”
When Taichi looks at him, he really, closely looks; it makes Touma not want to look away. Touma’s heart skips a beat.
“I choose you, Touma.”
After a breeze, a fleeting moment that Touma uses to gently think and swallow down Taichi’s confession, he nods. “You’re also on the list.”
Red creeps up on Taichi’s neck to his cheeks, ears, and nose. Touma snickers.
“Don’t laugh!” Taichi yells. “This is… embarrassing.”
That makes Touma laugh even harder. “What are you, still a shy teen boy?”
Touma stops laughing, but still smiling; wider, even. “So,” he says. “What are we now?”
Taichi looks at him a moment before looking away, ears unbelievably even redder. “You’re my,” he clears his throat. “Boyfriendorloverorsignificantotherorwhatever.”
Touma can’t hold it any longer; he laughs. And Taichi is also laughing with him.
The road ahead will be long, but it is a good start.
“Do you think I deserve this?” asks Taichi when they walk back home.
“You do.” replies Touma. “You’re here now. And you deserve this. You choose me, and I choose you.”
Touma can see Taichi blushing, but he’s also smiling.
Months later, Taichi will tell Touma about how he once had thought Touma to be unreachable; and the only thing Taichi could see was his back.
“I’m happy I caught up to you,” Taichi will say. “I’m happy I went to you.”
Two years later
When Touma wakes up in the morning, he first checks the clock on the table. The time shown is glowing green, and he always wakes five minutes early. He closes his eyes and dives deeper under the blanket, out of habit, because this is summer and the sun is already up.
Then he hears the doorbell.
With a grunt, he gets up, walks to the door with half-closed eyes. He opens the door to find a sheepish Taichi smiling apologetically at him.
“You forgot your key?” Touma yawns, and lets Taichi in.
“It’s fine, don’t forget again tomorrow. You have this crazy schedule.” Touma leans on the door, still feels drowsy as his eyes are closed.
“I won’t!” Taichi says.
Touma doesn’t hear anything else. He opens his eyes. Taichi is there; standing in front of him, smiling.
Touma smiles. “Welcome back.”