Because misfortune come in threes, Iwaizumi Hajime starts his Thursday having a screaming fight with Shittykawa, spends his lunch break listening to the UCI women's volleyball team gossiping about how Ushijima Wakatoshi had gone public about his longtime love affair with Oikawa Tooru, and closes out the day by drunkenly dropping his phone into a sewer grate.
I must have killed someone in a past life, Hajime thinks as he's passing out that night, and wakes up on Friday so hung over he wishes he was dead.
He emails his parents that his phone's a goner from his failing Chromebook, eats Del Taco for breakfast, and spends most of his first class of the day face down on his desk trying desperately not to either cry or vomit.
Hajime knows he needs to get a new phone, but he also needs to go to lab and not walk in front of a moving truck, so he backburners the whole thing and staggers into molecular biology after mugging Greg from morning chem for some close toed shoes.
"What the fuck, Hajime," Greg says, but he says it way people in California say things: like what you're doing is wild and terrible but also funny and great because they live in the most beautiful and blue-skied place on the planet and everyone is good looking.
"Sorry," Hajime says, and throws his flip flops — acceptable shoes! in public! California's incredible — at Greg. "Rough night."
"Dude, text me about those shoes later," Greg yells after him, to which Hajime's only possible response is muttering, "Fuck," and making a run for it.
Lab is also a rough night. Hajime's just about able to keep up with the English biochemical jargon when he's at 100% focus after 9 hours of sleep — today, he just turns to Julia Kim and says, "I'm so sorry. I am no use today."
She raises her eyebrows at him. "How much did you drink last night?"
Hajime thinks about how his roommate is going to absolutely lose his mind when he realizes there is not a single remaining White Claw in their fridge. "Many," he decides.
Julia pats his arm and then leaves her hand there. She does that a lot.
"Okay," she tells him. "Just try to look like you're helping and don't puke on anything."
what the fuck I think my roommate drank LITERALLY ALL of my watermelon claw
The first six months had been the worst. He'd been ready to be lonely, to be the youngest and the dumbest all over again, but he hadn't been ready for how it had felt to be plunged suddenly into an entirely alien place with an alien language and unfathomable social rules. Everybody was nice. Everybody smiled so much. There was a lot of skin. People were loud and the social hierarchy was impossible. Hajime had gotten okay grades in English, and he'd met UCI's TOEFL requirements but there was the academic and then there was the practical and there was an ocean between them. Everyone talked so fast, there was slang so rapidly evolving native speakers couldn't keep up — Hajime had no chance. It was hard to make friends. It was hard not to slip in with the group of clubby, insular Japanese ex-pats, who seemed to like him well enough but not well enough for Hajime to shrug off the feeling that if they were back in Japan, these people would never be caught dead talking to him. Every single one of his classes could unfold into infinity: with Hajime staying up late and long hours with his iPhone recordings of lectures, painstakingly transcribing with dictionaries and Google late into the night.
And the only thing that had made all of it bearable were the hours when his time zones overlapped Oikawa's like the lobes of a Venn Diagram. First the fingernail sliver of crossover when Iwaizumi stayed up too late and Oikawa got up too early and then the dramatic geographic shift after Shittykawa had gone to Buenos Aires.
Almost every single day, almost without fail, he'd sit for hours with Oikawa's face framed in Facetime as the little goblin complained about literally every single person he'd interacted with that day — a litany of grievances that felt as comforting as the shape and size of his childhood home.
@chilljot holy shit — HAJIME? he doesn't drink! is he okay?? what happened?
Hajime manages to both help and not puke on anything, which Julie says is both admirable and worthy of a treat, so she takes him for coffee and interrogations after lab.
This was one of those social dynamics for which no amount of online research could have prepared him, the way people in America just casually dragooned you into being friends without any clear discussion of consent. He'd been careful and entirely polite, but apparently they'd stood next to each other for a couple of months so that meant that this was his life now: getting bullied by a five foot zero Korean girl in line at Starbucks.
"What happened to you?" she asks. "You look terrible."
Hajime scowls. "I — slept badly."
"You're on a college campus, everybody sleeps badly," Julia dismisses. "But I've had to work with your muscular ass for months now and you've looked annoyingly handsome the entire time I have known you, so for you to — " she waves at him, from head to toe " — look like this — something's going on."
He stares at her, because his English and his idioms have come along by leaps and bounds but he's still so tired and so confused by everything she's saying.
"I had a rough night," he says again, because it had worked with Greg. Fuck. He looks down at Greg's stunningly ugly shoes. "I lost my phone. These aren't my shoes."
"All right," Julia says after a beat. "I can see this is going to take a while."
She gets a venti quad shot latte, which she knows is unhealthy because they've both taken all the biology prerequisites to M116L, and buys him a bottle of water and a juice. She won't let him pay for any of it, and then she makes him sit next to her under a nearby tree.
"I'm okay," Hajime tells her, because he'd learned early on that telling people, "this is unnecessary," either makes people think he's weird and hostile or even more desperately in need of their fixed attention. "I'm just hung over."
"You don't drink," Julia says flatly, and then she squints at him. "Is this about your boyfriend?"
Hajime doesn't bother to say, "he's not my boyfriend," because he'd never said Oikawa was his boyfriend to begin with. He'd just said what he'd said and let everybody else draw their own conclusions, and taken some kind of embarrassing comfort that to all of these unbiased parties, it seemed both possible and logical. It had felt good, a secret comfort all of these lonely faraway years; now he just feels — stupid. He feels stupid. A swallowing, mortifying hurt that starts in his gut and radiates outward along his Vagus nerve. Fuck. How could Hajime have been so fucking stupid.
He scrubs at his face because his eyes are stinging; he's grinding his teeth.
"He's — he's maybe seeing someone else," he says, because the other stuff was too intimate to say out loud.
Julia mumbles something that includes the words, "absolutely fucking shitting me," but then she's quiet for a long time before she asks him, more softly, "Do you want to tell me what's going on with your shoes?"
Hajime has no clue what Greg's phone number is, so they do one of those creepy internet searches and find his Twitter handle instead.
"Tell him I will bring him his shoes tomorrow," Hajime suggests.
"I am absolutely not going to do anything that boring," Julia disagrees, and then spends the next five minutes posing them. She also buys him a Starbucks Pink Drink, rolls up the sleeves of his t-shirt — "Okay, flex. Yes." — and tells him to scowl at her iPhone.
When the infuriatingly hot beefcake nerd in your bio lab shows up rektd with stolen shoes. @greg_weisel_94
When Greg finds them under the tree at Starbucks, 15 minutes later, he introduces himself to Julia by saying, "You spelled rekt wrong," and then winks at her. Hajime doesn't know what's worse: that it's a good faith effort at making a pass or that it works.
"There's no OED rule on meme speak, Weisel," Julia says to him, but she's blushing.
Greg appears incredibly disinterested in getting his shoes back. "And what do you know about memes, Julia Julia Julia?"
"Please," Hajime manages. "Can we switch shoes again?"
They switch shoes again, but because they've gone straight to the library to work on lab reports in the past, Julia knows none of his weak lies about having to go do other stuff are true, which is how Hajime ends up at Seaside Bakery against his will.
"Come on," Greg says, having now been read in on the absolute shitshow that's Hajime's life. "I know you're not feeling good right now but being alone in your apartment isn't going to help either — here, have some donut holes."
"Greg's right," Julia says. "You deserve to eat your feelings."
"Yeah," Greg agrees. "Fuck that guy — you're fucking hot as shit."
"Right?" Julia cheers, and turns back to Hajime. "What even happened?"
Greg hands Hajime another donut hole. "I mean, if you want to tell us," he says. "You don't have to tell us. We can just keep giving you donuts."
"Keep giving me donuts," Hajime tells them, but he also says, "The news says he's dating someone else. Another volleyball player."
This rapidly moves into a series of questions that starts with, "what do you mean, another volleyball player?" progresses to, "seriously he's a professional volleyball player in Argentina?" and devolves into Greg and Julia on Google searching Tooru Oikawa and Ushijima Wakatoshi. It won't take long, Hajime reflects glumly. It's probably the top result in Google News if you search volleyball today: Team Japan's Ace confesses longtime affair with high school rival. If it was happening to someone else, Hajime might even find it romantic. Because it's happening to him, he eats another donut hole.
"Hajime I have approximately 600 questions," Julia tells him seriously.
"'I have admired Oikawa Tooru since we were playing in the student athletic leagues, even though he ignored my advice to attend Shiritorizawa,'" Greg reads off his phone. "'I would be pleased if he returned to play for Team Japan as it will be much easier on our relationship' — what the fuck."
"It's okay," Hajime says, even though it's not okay, because what is he going to do? Call Oikawa with his non-existent phone after their fucking blowout last night? Say, hey, asshole, I put up with you our entire lives, you owe it to me to love me back? It's all impossible, and the more Hajime thinks about it in the sickening light of day, the more it makes sense. Oikawa's a world-class player; he's going to the Olympics one day, and nobody had made any explicit promises one way or the other.
Then warm hands are wrapping around his own, and Hajime looks up to see Julia smiling at him, her eyes bright behind her glasses.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" she asks, and the way she says it sends Hajime all the way back to last night, sitting dizzy and crushed on the curb near his apartment building, fumbling with his phone and replaying their fight, scrolling through all those stupid headlines and realizing they were getting too blurry to read.
He clears his throat and squeezes his eyes shut. Stop it, he thinks to himself.
"Actually," he forces himself to say, "can you guys give me a ride to the liquor store?"
AVAILABLE: One incredibly hot and strong (????) boy who takes the best notes in all of organic chemistry and apparently can also bench like 200 lbs no sweat.
Greg and Julia take him to the liquor store, but then once they get there they also take like 400 pictures of Hajime moving around boxes of White Claw so he can find the random two cases of watermelon amongst the ocean of mango, lemon and tangerine. Hajime feels vaguely sick just looking at this stuff.
"What are you two even doing?" he asks.
"We're helping," Greg insists, and tells Julia, "Hey, like adjust his t-shirt — perfect."
So now there's an ass shot of him moving giant boxes of alcoholic seltzer burning through the UCI student population like a bad case of herpes, which is fantastic. Hajime decides he'll be more depressed about it once he has his phone again; for now, he keeps reaching into his right pocket for nothing at all, and feeling a momentary burst of annoyance followed immediately by gratitude he can't follow the continuing media firestorm around Ushijima or say anything else stupid to Oikawa. On some level, Hajime blames himself: all these years, he could have forced the conversation, asked for some clarity — he'd just assumed they were on the same page, that they'd just know each other, somehow, click the way they always have. Separately, as the world's number one expert on having an ill-considered crush on Oikawa Tooru, if this stupid rumor about Ushijima is true, then in ways too numerous to articulate, Hajime deserves this outcome having never taken an preventative action about the world's No. 2.
Julia insists on not just driving him home, but delivering him into his apartment, and since Greg is clearly on both the weirdest and best first date of his life, Hajime gets no help from him at all.
"Hey man," Greg whispers to him, when Julia goes off to the bathroom, "thanks so much for stealing my shoes — seriously."
"Please take her to dinner so she will stop trying to make me talk about my feelings," Hajime replies.
Except then he hears the front door open and his roommate yelling, "Dude, what the fuck — are you okay?"
Chirjot is a senior in pre-med, with five older sisters in five different extremely lucrative medical and dental subspecialties. The deepest, most terrible secret of Chirjot's heart is that he wants to work in family medicine and not dermatology. He plays too much Call of Duty and always leaves a mess in the bathroom, but he also once offered to practice kissing with Hajime when there'd been an early miscommunication and never forgot to pay the electric bill, so all in, he's technically a great roommate.
"I bought you more White Claw," Hajime says, because he doesn't know how to explain anything about today or why Greg and Julia have followed him home.
"Yes, that's great, thank you," Chirjot says, "but more importantly: what happened? You don't even drink, man — you were a mess last night and then you were gone by the time I woke up this morning."
It's weird and harrowing sometimes to find out in unexpected ways that there are a lot of people who care about you, and it makes the pulpy wound in Hajime's chest hurt worse to know this: that Greg gave Hajime his shoes and Julia bought him Starbucks and that Chirjot cares more about his feelings than White Claw. It's worse because Hajime's already so bad at this stuff in Japanese — in English he doesn't even have the vocabulary to begin.
"Hajime is a single man now," Julia declares, returning from the bathroom and scrubbing her wet hands down on her army green shorts. "And also, he lost his phone."
"Shit," Chirjot says. "Really?"
Hajime holds up two empty hands. "I dropped it."
Chirjot's face does something complicated: traveling through surprise and then worry and finally settling on — and this is extremely troubling — determination.
"Well, I'm done with my classes, so we can go get you a new phone now," he says.
Hajime feels his shoulders loosen, his wariness ebb. "If it's no trouble," he manages.
"Don't be ridiculous, dude," Chirjot assures him, and adds, "Besides, what kind of roommate would I be if we don't get you fucked up tonight?"
roommate got dumped :(((((( me and the fam getting lit tonight
The AT&T store is a series of blue and orange blurs: Hajime produces his passport, his credit cart, a utility bill. There's the discussion of iCloud accounts and at least four different store associates all fetch up to help him even though this probably isn't that complicated and there are a bunch of other, angry looking people hanging around waiting to be helped.
"Do you want me to help you get logged in on all of your apps?" offers Callie, wearing an improbably tight store uniform and a blinding Southern California smile.
"Oh — um, I don't remember all my passwords," Hajime admits, and scrubs at the back of his neck. He's got a battered Keropi notebook jammed into his desk at home with all of them written down in neat rows: email, Instagram, Facebook, LINE. "It's okay. I'll do it later."
On the other side of the counter, Chirjot is unsubtly taking pictures of him and even more unsubtly sending them to Greg and Julia, who are now in a group chat with Hajime's roommate they've decided to title Hajime's Hoes. Hajime will never understand America; problematically, now that he's lived here for four years, this doesn't even strike him as fundamentally weird or inappropriate, which means he's been ruined for civilized society.
"Well if you have any problems, let me know," Callie says, and slides his new phone across toward him, smiling. "I just put my number in your contacts, so feel free to text."
Hajime feels himself flush so fast he's dizzy with it. He still doesn't have any idea what to do with this kind of attention — when they were younger it was always directed at Oikawa, who seemed to soak it up like it was his birthright. And then there's that other thing, the whole other thing, that had taken a while to get comfortable with, and even longer to articulate.
"You're really pretty," he says, shy, "but — um. I'm gay."
Next to her, a short, skinny guy with Millennial Pink hair pops up, eyes shining. "Alternatively, I am also available to help you with your phone."
Chirjot — thank fuck — finally decides to come help off of what Hajime imagines is the single most desperate expression he's ever made. Chirjot slides in, throws an arm around Hajime's shoulders and squints at everybody's nametags before he says:
"Callie, Dexter, this has been an unsurpassed customer service experience — "
Hajime nods. "Yes, you've both been so nice."
" — but my bro Hajime just got into a fight with his mans last night, and cannot be trusted with either my stash of watermelon Claw or your hearts," he goes on.
"I miss Julia and Greg," Hajime says to himself, to the unfeeling universe.
Dexter just picks up Hajime's new phone and starts thumb typing rapidly. "Well, just in case you get lonely and you want to have meaningless sex, here — " he hands the phone back to Hajime " — my number's in there under Pink AT&T Guy."
Hajime doesn't even know how to respond to that, which turns out to be okay because some maniac starts leaning on their car horn just outside the store.
"That's total psycho behavior I hear," Chirjot says over the ear-piercing noise and claps Hajime on the shoulder. "Gotta be my sisters."
Hajime goes cold. "What?"
"Let's go, if they have to come in and get us we're dead," Chirjot says, like that's fine, and starts dragging Hajime out the door by the back of his t-shirt, Pink AT&T Guy mouthing call me — any time, as they slip out of the air conditioning into late afternoon heat.
Chirjot's sisters Dilreet and Haspira are intimidatingly beautiful twins who run a cosmetic dentistry practice in Northwood. They are also driving a florescent yellow Hummer and yelling out their car window, "Hurry the fuck up, I don't want to get stuck in traffic on the way to Santa Ana."
"Oh, no," Hajime tries. "I can just — take a bus."
"Don't be rude," Chirjot says, and steers Hajime toward the Hummer. "I told them to bring you edibles and everything."
Apparently Dilreet has an entire side hustle via Instagram baking keto pot brownies, and she greets Hajime with a luminously kind smile and a rainbow patterned bakery bag as Chirjot shoves him into the backseat of the car.
"Hey, Hajime — heard you're having a rough one," she says. Even her voice is beautiful. If Hajime was six degrees straighter he'd be dead; as it is, he's sweating.
He sets the bakery bag meekly in his lap and manages, "Thank you. This is too kind."
Dilreet winks. "You'll have to make it up to me later, then."
"Jesus fucking Christ, Dilreet, the man is mourning a relationship," Haspira snaps, but when she glances at Hajime in the rearview mirror, her eyes are warm. "Hey kid — you holding up okay?"
"Everybody has been very nice," Hajime decides to say, because Haspira is exactly the same kind of beautiful as Dilreet, of course, but somehow infinitely more frightening.
"What the fuck, you brought him free brownies? You've never once brought me free brownies!" Chirjot whines as Haspira leans on the gas and they burn rubber out of the parking lot at the same escape velocity as a rocket leaving Earth's atmosphere. Hajime close one clammy fist around the oh shit strap of the car and resigns himself to keeping it there for the rest of this cursed night.
Dilreet, unmoved, says, "When Norah finally sees through you and dumps you for someone better — "
"For example, Hajime is now available," Haspira cuts in, smirking.
"He's gay!" Chirjot howls.
" — then I will provide you free brownies," Dilreet concludes peacefully, and twists around in the front seat to ask, "Hajime, I understand you've had a difficult day."
Hajime considers this, reviews the progression of events that had kicked off with a seemingly harmless phone call from Oikawa and then gone rapidly downhill from there, and has to nod in agreement.
"Well, it is our mission that as an honorary member of the Singh family to make sure that at the very least, you have a good night," Dilreet informs him.
"I would be fine going home," Hajime tries, feeling a flicker of reasonless hope.
"Don't be ridiculous," Haspira tells him. "As soon as we're out of the car I'm force feeding you a pot brownie and then we're getting tacos."
We found this beefy thirst trap in an AT&T parking lot and we're keeping him.
On the way to acquire tacos, the following events transpire:
- Dilreet, Haspira, Chirjot and two of the other Singh sisters (Hajime is unclear on which ones) all get on a mass conference call and have a fight about where to get the best tacos in Santa Ana. The argument devolves into name calling and childhood receipts in less than 5 minutes.
- They stop at a Coffee Bean, where no one gets coffee but someone else does get into the car. She makes Chirjot sit in the middle of the bench seat, and leans around his sulking face to grin widely at Hajime.
"Hey, I'm Kainaat," she introduces herself, and without waiting for a response, adds, "Holy shit — " reaching out to touch one of Hajime's arms " — how much can you lift?"
"Sorry," Chirjot says, sounding at least sincere in this. "She's the youngest and worst."
"Wow," Kainaat goes on, unstoppable, and gives Hajime's bicep a thoughtful squeeze. "What — 500 pounds?"
Hajime takes her hand off his arm. "That's — no, 500 is a lot, and how much you can lift isn't a very good measure of your overall fitness," he says, because he can't help it, and it's just a reflex from yelling at guys at the gym.
"So like, 400?" Kainaat presses.
"Oh my God, are we there yet?" Chirjot complains, leaning forward in between the front seats and straining the seatbelt. "I'm fucking starving, Hazza."
Dilreet shoves him backward with one hand, unfeeling. "Atty, stop being a fucking psycho, Hajime is a beefcake with thoughts and feelings, and tonight is about him, not your weird early 20s horniness."
"Can I eat a pot brownie now?" Hajime asks, out of desperation and a vague hope that somehow it'll make things better. He'd shored up in California with exactly three combini beers under his belt, wide eyed over how casual everybody seemed about marijuana when half the campus was in an athletic program that got pee tested on a routine basis.
"Eh, why not," Haspira says, and it's only now that Hajime realizes they're pulling into a strip mall parking lot. "Why not."
"Thank you," Hajime mutters, and tears into Dilreet's care package.
The brownie hits him midway through his fifth birria taco, when he's taking a swig of grapefruit Jarritos and listening to Kainaat and Dilreet are discussing their plan to help Chirjot come clean to their parents about wanting to do family medicine. Kainaat says she can fail a math test, and Dilreet is offering to allude to an unplanned pregnancy. "Whatever, if they get mad at you, you can just come live with me until you're on your feet," Haspira had said in between housing a prodigious number of fish tacos.
The body high comes first: sudden warmth suffusing him inside-out, and then every sharp edge in his throat goes soft. The tension that had been twinging along his neck and shoulders all day melts entirely away. He has no idea why he was so pissed off all day, now that he reflects on it, because the whole situation is fucking dumb and hilarious, and Dilreet says something so funny he snorts Jarritos up his nose laughing.
"Oh, here it is," Chirjot says, cracking up. "Hey, man. You okay?"
"I'm good," Hajime tells him. "These tacos are good," he tells Haspira.
Haspira grins at him: sharp and stunning. The glint in her eye is so similar to the one in Oikawa's that it makes Hajime fall a little in love with her. "Good, I'm glad."
"You're so beautiful," Hajime says.
This of course cascades into a series of Singh family demands to be told of their own comparative physical beauty, which — also of course — devolves into a fight about who Hajime likes best. Sometime in the middle of all this, Kainaat goes and gets Hajime a tamale, and while he's distracted by that and the great cartoon cactus on the menu taped to the table, he feels someone slinging an arm around his shoulder and pressing close.
When he looks up, it's Chirjot, smiling at him. "Holding up okay?"
That had been one of those sentence constructions that used to throw Hajime for a loop, when he'd just arrived, still trying to parse out noun, verb, object like his sleepy afternoon English classes. It'd taken a few weeks to just absorb it organically, to be less shy about learning by doing, to let himself trip over his shitty conversational English — but everyone had been nice about it, talking more slowly, giving him suggestions for missing words. Most people seemed to be listening to him just as hard as he'd been listening to them — and it had been something he and Oikawa had talked about for long hours, as night has welled up like deep ocean around Buenos Aires and the sky was going pink with winter afternoon light in Irvine.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Hajime tells him, and it's not even a lie.
"They're a lot," Chirjot laughs, and looks across the table at where Dilreet and Haspira are doing something with their phones. "But they're great when you need a distraction."
Hajime nods. "Thank you," he says, probably too close, too much for this taco restaurant, this strip mall, this particular moment, but Hajime knows how lucky he is, how lucky he's been. That he got into his program; that his parents had money saved up and could afford to help him out; that he found so many kind people along the way; that he'd answered Chirjot's roommate wanted ad.
"Dude, of course," Chirjot says, and holds up his hand for a fistbump.
Hajime stuffs the last of his tamale in his mouth. "Wait, I have a better idea."
When your little sister won't stop touching your brother's roommate's arms and then you feed the man a @neatoketobrownie and he starts putting your siblings onto his shoulders and carrying them around Santa Ana
@julia_kim_is_here OMG IS THAT HAJIME
After he gives each Singh sibling a ride they all pile back into the Hummer. At this point Hajime has progressed beyond emotional dissociation and frankly he feels fucking great. Tacos are delicious, Kainaat has the best shrieking laugh in the world, and the organization of drivers versus passengers in the car has shifted so that he's sitting in the back between Dilreet and Haspira, each of whom is holding one of his hands.
"I can't believe he was cheating on you," Haspira says.
"Not really," Hajime admits now. It's easy to admit now, now that he feels like he shed a bruised up skin in that restaurant parking lot, now that he's warm through. "We were never really official."
"Yeah but you said you promised you'd come home to each other," Dilreet points out.
Hajime has no memory of having told Dilreet about this, but so many conversations and things have already happened since the taco restaurant he's too tired to keep track of how embarrassing he's been.
"Fuck, that's so romantic it makes me want to punch somebody," Kainaat chimes in from the front seat. "I wouldn't fuck that up — maybe like, the reporter got the story wrong."
That would probably make more sense than Shittykawa and Ushijima having a secret, years-long love affair, but the truth is that's also not why Hajime was drunk on the curb last night or stoned out of his gourd in this car right now. And all he can say is, "There are other problems, too," suddenly heavy under the weight of longing. He misses that piece of shit so much his teeth hurt.
Haspira smiles at him: tender and secret, softer than she's looked all night.
"Long distance is a bitch," she says. "And college is hard — you can feel shitty tonight and cut loose a little bit, but you should call him tomorrow."
Hajime's head swims. His throat aches. "What if he doesn't want to talk to me?"
"Then he's an idiot and we'll let Kainaat make you a Grindr profile," Dilreet promises.
"Dude, fuck, yes," Kainaat says. "Hold up, I already got some great thirst pics."
Kainaat is a surprisingly gifted photographer in addition to being a menace, so he can't even be mad about this whole thing. Anyway this whole night is a clusterfuck so who cares if she tells him to lick his lips like a whole slut and he does it and she takes a video.
"Where are we going, anyway?" Hajime asks, because by now they've been in the car for a long (?) time, and he doesn't recognize any of the passing landmarks.
"I told you, man, we're doing this night right," Chirjot says from the driver's seat, and they cross into Costa Mesa.
So……………it's Carnival night at @strutorangecounty
Hajime's first impression of Strut is a long line and then a bleached white wall of bananas that are also sometimes gold dicks. Incredible. He's never laughed so hard in his life. He takes a half dozen pictures with the bouncers and then with Kainaat and Chirjot and then they're wending through an ocean of bodies strobed in lights, covered in confetti, all moving like the thrash of a heartbeat to the throbbing music.
He doesn't do clubs much — not really his scene — but for lots of reasons, chemical and otherwise, Hajime feels unwound tonight, like this is allowed, that he can check out the cute server balancing martinis, that as they pass under a pink disco ball, and a man in a gray henley makes hard eye contact and says, "Babe," he's can smile back.
They take a slow pilgrimage to the bar, all the Singhs yelling back and forth to one another, and Hajime just lets himself enjoy the press of hot bodies around him, soak up the way people are looking and he's letting himself look, too — he tries not to think about how much he's wanted to be wanted, and for how long now.
Dilreet manages to hit the bar first and orders him something called a Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is mostly champagne and glitter.
"You have 1 minute to drink that before I shove you onto the dance floor," she tells him.
"She's not kidding," Chirjot says, solemn as a grave. "She is 100% going to do it."
Hajime shrugs. "Fuck it," he says, and chugs the glass.
It's a crowded club so of course he spills and gets glitter everywhere, but that and feathers seem to be the principal design aesthetic, and when Dilreet does as promised and shoves him out onto the dance floor, he fits right in.
It's mostly a flash of bright teeth and skin to him, everything blue and neon from the club lights, and Hajime can't really dance but that doesn't seem to matter all that much. From his peripheral vision, he can see Haspira bobbing into view, doing some sort of incredible wiggle up and down. Kainaat whips her hair back and forth, and Chirjot is doing the robot, ducking down mechanically to avoid getting smacked in the face by it.
And through all of it, even though he's having a fucking blast, Hajime can't help but think, fuck, I wish Oikawa were here, too, and that's it, isn't it? That tells him everything he needs to know.
@iamdilreetmom @imnotdilreetmom @chilljot @kkkkkkkkkkainaat I hate all of you tell Hajime I also want him to carry me like a baby in his handsome arms.
@tara___singh this could be you but you're too busy doing orthopedic surgery @iamdilreetmom @imnotdilreetmom @chilljot
Sometime after he gets a kiss on the cheek from a cocktail waiter wearing a full plume of peacock feathers and very little else and just before 1 a.m., they tumble out of the club into the cool air. Hajime's heart still racing and his t-shirt sticking to his arms and chest: he feels like he sweat something out on the dance floor, cooler headed and calmer, woozy from drinks and chilled through, now, from the night.
Haspira directs Dilreet and Kainaat — toasted — toward the Hummer, and after the third time Chirjot almost eats asphalt from passing out upright, Hajime just slings him over the shoulder.
"Incredible," Haspira says, snapping a picture before tucking her phone away. "Okay, I gotta deal with Atty and Dill — Norah just texted to say she's on her way to come get you guys. You okay waiting here?"
Hajime snaps her a thumbs up. "Yeah — thank you for tonight."
Haspira winks at him. "Anytime," she says, and climbs into the Hummer, throws Hajime's remaining bag of keto pot brownies at his head, and heads off, opposite direction of Hajime and Chirjot's apartment nearer to campus. Hajime stands in the parking lot watching her tail lights fade away, feeling the wind eddy around his bare ankles and looking at the hazy orange-blue sky overhead. There were never many stars in the night growing up, either, their neighborhood and town and school too close to too large a city in Sendai, but the canopy overhead still feels different, unknown, even after four years of sheltering underneath this sky.
"How far away can we really be from one another?" he remembers telling Oikawa — red-eyed, his lips bitten bruised — at the airport years ago, when they'd both been younger and newer and terrified, jittery with everything they were about to do. He'd been talking nonsense then, anything to get Oikawa to stop crying. But Hajime had meant it somewhere deep and quiet and unchanging, because three months ago in another airport, on the other side of the world, older and not much wiser, flushed from the hope of each other, he'd said, "We're under the same sun and stars and moon, on this same planet. Wherever you are, I can come to you — wherever you go, you can still come back to me," he'd meant it, with all of his heart and every breath.
And Tooru had been starry and shy, the way he's only ever shy when they're alone, when no one's watching who could give him away. He'd come in close, trembling, and kissed Hajime — sweet, so fucking sweet — in LAX Terminal B, fingers clutched into Hajime's jacket, like he'd been starving his entire life, like he's wanted to do this for as long as Hajime had — until the boarding call for his flight back to Buenos Aires had echoed through the cavernous space.
"Iwa-chan," he'd whispered, shaky. "Iwa-chan."
"It's okay," Hajime had whispered back, lipped tenderly across Tooru's damp lashes, the beautiful upturned corners of his eyes, and gathered him in close to his chest, tucking Oikawa's head under his chin. Fuck, he'd wanted to throw that asshole back into his car and fuck him in a parking lot, for weeks in his apartment, on their wedding night, in a house they lived in forever and ever. "Hey, it's okay, Shittykawa — I know."
Now, tonight, staring at the shape of the moon through a thin layer of clouds, Hajime's mad at himself all over again. Back then, stuck watching the shape of Oikawa's shoulders disappearing into the crowd, he'd been pissed with himself he hadn't said more, hadn't don't more, hadn't kissed Oikawa first, kissed him earlier, told him to stay. Now, Hajime feels — stupid. He feels like someone beat him up from the inside out. That the way he'd hoped, every embarrassing bookmark he'd made on his phone, all the little starter homes he'd researched buying in Tokyo, every plan he'd made — secret — it had all been unwanted, too much; he'd misunderstood somehow.
Oikawa's never been one for small dreams. If you're going to hit it, hit it until it breaks, after all. Even when they were little, everything Oikawa wanted seemed impossibly huge, too much, too hard for anybody to actually do — and it had given Hajime courage, too, because every wild hope he had seemed more reasonable in the shadow of Oikawa's. What was school in America compared to going pro overseas? He'd been swept along in the wake of Oikawa, growing taller and broader, finally learning words for what it was that mapped out the space between them.
"What did I know," Hajime says — to himself, to nobody, to the same sky above Oikawa, somewhere. "You don't know anything, Hajime."
Lights scan across him and Hajime looks down to see Norah's dark green Jeep pulling up to the curb, her familiar face a vision of delight at the driver's seat.
"Hey," he says, voice scratchy from shouting in the club, from how much his heart hurts.
She turns off the engine and points at Chirjot — still slung over Hajime's shoulder. "Did one of his sisters already get a picture of this?"
"You guys are really mean to him," Hajime says, partly out of loyalty but partly observational.
"He deserves it," Norah dismisses, and climbs out of the car.
Hajime tries to put Chirjot in the backseat, but it turns out to be a logistical nightmare given that he's completely passed out, at which point, Norah makes an executive decision and says, "Fuck it, let's put him in the trunk." The trunk is normally where Norah's 50 kg Bernese Mountain Dog hangs out, so there's a massive dog-hair covered blanket, and a pet seat belt they can sort of jury rig around Chirjot's unconscious body. It makes Hajime feel about 5% less guilty about the whole thing, but to be fair he didn't feel that guilty about it to begin with.
"Thank you for coming to get us," Hajime says, watching Strut get smaller and smaller in the side mirrors of the Jeep, Norah poking around her phone until music starts pouring out of the car speakers — soft in the dark.
Norah winks at him. "No worries, man, girlfriend obligations," she says, easy, and slows the car to a stop at an intersection, the red light radiant overhead. "So I hear you and your Shittykawa had a fight."
One day, Hajime is going to have to reckon with the consequences of having unintentionally convinced a bunch of Americans in Southern California that Tooru's name is Shittykawa, but probably not for a long time.
And it's that weird time of night, sliding into morning, where nothing feels real anyway, so it's easy to to say it, to just blurt out:
"He's staying in Argentina — he's giving up his Japanese citizenship."
Norah's eyes go big in the rear view mirror. "Jesus. Okay. Wow."
Hajime rubs his eyes. From the trunk, Chirjot starts snoring softly. "He planned this for a long time," Hajime manages. "He didn't tell me until yesterday morning."
"I would ask how you feel about this, but everybody's Instagram stories were very clear on how you feel about this," Norah says, and after a beat, asks, "Did he ask to break up?"
"Did he need to?" Hajime snarls, rough with humiliation. They'd kissed, once, in that airport — had gone back to their ends of the earth heavy with all kinds of promises, Hajime had thought. What was the point of breaking up if Oikawa didn't even want to get together? "We were supposed to go back to Japan together. He doesn't want to do it. Isn't that enough?"
Norah hums, neutral, and something spacey and sharp plays in the quiet of the car.
"How long have you known each other?" she asks, out of nowhere.
"Our whole lives," Hajime answers, reflexive. "We grew up in the same neighborhood, on the same street — we were born one month apart."
Norah smiles, still staring out into the road. "And when you left Japan to come to UCI, did you do it because you were sick of him?"
Hajime had done it because he'd been scared not to: like a star on the edge of supernova after months of endless panicked studying — for the SATs, for the TOEFL, through agonizing essay submissions, grinding his way through the UCI application, researching the labyrinth of being an international student. He'd done it completely convinced he'd be rejected, that there was no way they'd be able to afford it, that he'd promised himself he'd try, but that to expect the impossible was an invitation to disaster. When the acceptance letters had come, he'd been propelled by numb fear and nauseating anticipation: moving eternally in the direction of California by inertia alone, too spent for anything but to go, still terrified the entire time.
"I — it didn't matter that much," Hajime hears himself say, but it feels small now, and strange inside his mouth. "He was leaving, too."
"You were both leaving Japan, I don't think you were leaving each other," Norah corrects, kind, and after a long pause, she says, "I don't think he's leaving you, now, either, Hajime."
God, he must be exhausted, because his vision is blurring. The road ahead of him, through the windshield, is fuzzing out, all the lights dissolving.
"He's making this so hard," Hajime confesses, finally and at last, that thing he hates to say, that awful truth of Oikawa that hurts to swallow, that has plagued their entire lives. "He's making it so hard for us to be together."
It's the heart of the matter, the white hot thing at the core of it all: Oikawa is fucking hard work. He's exhausting. Every step of the way, their entire lives, Hajime's barely kept up — in extremis, clinging to the comet's tail. And maybe worse, maybe the other secret he's been keeping all along, is that Hajime's not cut out for this: Oikawa's the one with a meteoric rise in his future, the world stage at his feet. Who fucking knows, maybe he's having a fucking affair with Ushijima, too. Iwaizumi's never been meant for that, been built for smaller, quieter things. Maybe they'd never fit together at all. Maybe they'd always been looking at different stars.
"He's my best friend, before anything else," Hajime says, can't help himself. "What if we can't fix this? What if we don't even talk to each other anymore?"
Norah takes one hand off the wheel, holds it — palm up — to him, and Hajime takes it because there's nothing to say. It's too big a fear, too close. It's so weird to grow up, to realize that the same things that made him cry as a little kid make him cry, now, and hurt much worse: missing his mother, scary new places, the crushing fear that one day, Tooru won't like him anymore. Some things are just deep under the skin, in the marrow.
Outside, 24/7 signs are lit up and street lights are sodium orange, the earth is still spinning. Tomorrow's still Sunday, and Hajime still has to do his homework and show up for his internship with Dr. Utsui on Monday. He has to get Chirjot out of the trunk. He has to call Oikawa.
"Hey, so this Shittykawa," Norah says, sudden after a long silence, as they pull up to the apartment building. "Tall? Brown hair? Does he have a pink hoodie?"
Hajime blinks, his brain resetting, and he frowns at Norah. "What?"
"Hajime," Norah says, laughing and pulling her hand away from him, "I don't think you have anything to worry about."
if I leave @chilljot in my trunk overnight to facilitate gay love piercing the veil of time zones for his roommate, does that make me a bad girlfriend, n/n?
As soon as Norah's Jeep stops in the parking lot and Hajime pops open the passenger door, he hears Oikawa wailing, "Iwa-chan, where have you been?"
"What the fuck," Hajime says, out loud and in English, as he steps out of the car.
"Have a good night," Norah tells him, and speaking to someone over his shoulder, she yells, "Nice to meet you, Shittykawa — I look forward to talking to you later!" and then she pulls the passenger door shut and drives away.
Hajime turns around slow, disoriented, and he blinks two, three times to see — to see Oikawa standing in front of his apartment.
He looks fucking awful: eyes nearly swollen shut from crying and his cheeks bloodless, his mouth gray, hair flat on one side. He's wearing an oversized pink hoodie with a tiny embroidered Godzilla on the left breast, and he's clutching at the torn-up sweatshirt sleeves, in beat up jeans and Adidas kicks, a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. Hajime can hear him crying from three meters away: whiny little hiccuping sobs.
"I — Oikawa?" he hears himself gasp.
Oikawa — fucking Oikawa! — scrubs at his face with the left sleeve of his hoodie. "Iwa-chan, I called you 400 times," he cries, choking on every other syllable. "I called your mom and she said you lost your phone, but were you just ignoring me?"
Hajime staggers closer, one step, two steps. "You called Mom?"
"I emailed your boss but he said it was a weekend and he didn't know where you were but he was sure you missed me, too," Oikawa keeps going, weeping around the words, free hand clutching his bag strap now. "But you were out with so many people all day and took so many pictures, and I don't think you missed me at all."
I'm going to have to quit my job and abandon this human identity, Hajime thinks.
"Oikawa, what the fuck," Hajime manages.
"You were so mad on the phone, Iwa-chan," Oikawa chokes out, shuffling closer, like he's scared he doesn't have permission — and it's so awful that Hajime has to jog up the steps from the parking lot, to start closing the distance between them. "And I kept texting you and calling you and you never answered, and I panicked and I thought if you never talked to me again I would go crazy because I love you — and I'm sorry, and — "
"God, Shittykawa, you're killing me," Hajime laughs, his heart on fire, his chest exploding, run through with something cosmic and too big to fit inside himself. He reaches out, he closes a hand around Oikawa's shaking fingers, and he pulls. "Come here, okay? Just come here, it's okay."
Oikawa slams into him with the impact of an extinction level event: obliterating, remaps the history of him, the future of him. It's wild, to be so familiar with the shape and weight of the man in his arms, to have known him as a baby and to have known him as a boy, to know his beautiful long limbs now and the hot press of his swollen face, to love him and love him and to love — without hesitation but with clear-eyed fear — the burden of him. Oikawa smells like international air travel and the damp green of Southern California night, the faint trace of his overpriced shampoo. He smells like sweat and panic, the sour hiss of fear, and Hajime clutches him too tightly, until it probably fucking hurts, and all Oikawa does is clutch back — trying to merge them, atom to atom, through their clothes and skin and the continents in between.
This will be so fucking hard, Hajime thinks. This will be the only thing that's worth it.
"Iwa-chan, I'm sorry," Oikawa is still crying, hiccuping into Hajime's shoulder, through his t-shirt. "I can't give this up — can you forgive me? Is that okay?"
Hajime thinks, I have to look up new houses, and, I have to make new plans, and all he can do is thread a hand into Oikawa's sweaty, tangled up hair, to press his mouth into the tender skin near Oikawa's ear and choke out, "God — yeah, I'm sorry, Tooru. Of course. We'll figure it out — there's nothing we can't figure out together, right?"
Oikawa has the carefully manicured nails of a setter, and he digs them into the meat of Hajime's back: savage, possessing, not at all as fragile as he sounds when he whispers, close and scared, "I can't do this without you. You have to love me back."
Hajime pulls away, and it's only so he can look at the ruin of Oikawa's face, square into his crazy eyes, when he cups Oikawa's jaw and says, "Tooru, you're the love of my life," and seals it with a kiss.
A mistranslated news article has been circulating, causing rumors regarding Ushijima-san's personal life. The rumors are not accurate, and Ushijima-san asks for your understanding and apologizes for any confusion.
After Hajime finally gets Oikawa inside the apartment, he forces the psycho to drink a liter of water, take a shower, and change into some pajamas so he can get some clearly needed sleep.
"I'm not tired," Oikawa lies, already slurring as Hajime forcefully tucks him under the covers. "I think we should have sex right now and consummate our marriage."
"Not into fucking your unconscious body," Hajime tells him, and keeps trying to put away Oikawa's grabby hands before sighing, "If I get into the bed, too, will you fucking knock it off and get some rest?"
"Yes," Oikawa lies some more, but Hajime's been a sucker for that asshole his entire life, so what's another round. He turns off the lamp, peels out of his shirt and shorts, and slides under the covers — already opening his arm for Oikawa, pushy and invasive, pressing up against him tip to tail.
He's quiet for less than 45 seconds.
"Iwa-chan — who were those people you were with?" he asks, still nasal from crying.
Hajime presses his free hand over his face. He's grinning under his palm, so he knows this is just what he deserves. Years ago, Oikawa's mother had said, "If it's anybody's fault Tooru is like this, it's Hajime-kun," and Hajime-kun knows she's probably right.
"Norah is my roommate's girlfriend," he says, and slants a look down at Oikawa's face. "So don't get any weird ideas, okay?"
Oikawa just frowns at him. "I know Norah — "
"Why do you know Norah?" Hajime asks.
" — what about those other people?" Oikawa presses. "From earlier, from this morning. What about that girl you were drinking pink drinks with? Who was that guy who gave you his shoes?"
Hajime is quiet and reflective for a long time.
"Shittykawa," he asks, careful, "were you — stalking me through social media?"
Oikawa makes a spoilt, wounded little noise. "And what about all those people at that club? They posted so many pictures of you on their Facebook."
This is the kind of thing they should actually have fights about, Hajime thinks, half hysterical. Sometime after their blowout yesterday morning and the news cycle yesterday night, after Hajime had lost his phone to the sewer system, Oikawa had been forced to go more than 12 hours without immediate connective access to Hajime and lost this entire mind. He'd packed his passport and a fistful of credit cards, an extra phone battery and charging cord, the stupid $60 By Terry lip balm he makes Hajime buy for him and mail to Argentina, and had gotten onto a redeye flight to LAX. He'd cried the entire 11 hour flight and paid the extortionate fee for slow, shitty in-flight wifi to use his secret Instagram and Twitter accounts to stalk random UCI students.
Oikawa is completely bugfuck, and Hajime cannot wait to stick his dick in this crazy for the rest of his life.
"If you don't go to sleep right now, I'm giving Ushijima your phone number," he says.
"You're the worst," Oikawa complains, his voice foggy and close, his breath soft on Hajime's throat. "I can't believe I'm in love with you."
Me neither, Hajime thinks, smiling like an idiot.
yo what the fuck @norahbelle_adorable left me in the TRUNK in the PARKING LOT every single one of you is an asshole I smell like dog and I think my spine's broken
Because Chirjot is truly a prince among men and Norah's the best person Hajime knows in America, by unspoken agreement they cede the apartment to Hajime for the week. By the time he and Oikawa peel themselves off the kitchen floor to get to brunch the following Sunday, it's pretty clear what they've been doing the entire time. Oikawa looks so smug Hajime wants to smack him; he also looks like he lost a fight with a wolverine and is exaggerating his limp.
Their group is too big and clustered in outside seating at Eureka! in the mid-afternoon sun, and Hajime spends maybe like 5 minutes trying to intermediate between Oikawa and Chirjot's sisters before he gives up and orders a beer.
The conversation's too awful to listen to in detail. When he zones in and out paying vague attention, he catches, "you called his mom?" and "you called his boss?" and "you deleted the AT&T guy's number out of his phone?"
Oikawa's English is passable, Dilreet's Spanish is good, and Hajime and Oikawa both still spend time searching for words in Japanese, so the whole conversation flows into and out of three different languages. At some point, Oikawa slips a hand into Hajime's pocket for his new phone and unlocks it casually so he can make everybody look at the screen grab he'd taken. Because of course Hajime had woken up late Sunday afternoon a week ago to see Oikawa hunched over his cell phone in bed, reading all of Hajime's LINE and text messages like a fucking crazy person.
"You called him 218 times?" Haspira screams, delighted. "How many of these LINE messages are from you?"
"Shittykawa — I'm going to kill you," Hajime says, rubbing at his forehead, where Oikawa says he's getting wrinkles already, as if they aren't his fault to begin with.
Later, once the mimosas and porn star martinis arrive, Oikawa will throw a performative fit that everybody at this table thinks his name is Shittykawa. Later, Dilreet and Haspira will sink into a deep and sincere conversation about retinol with Oikawa with the assistance of Google Translate and something called CosDNA, and Kainaat will air drop Oikawa the nearly 100 (!) purportedly thirst trap pictures she was planning to use to seed his Grindr profile, if everything had gone tits up. Later, they'll get a text from Julia and Greg asking if they want to grab dinner at In & Out before Oikawa has to run to the airport tomorrow morning in an extremely delayed international walk of shame.
Right now, Oikawa just grins — glowing, as bright as the sun — and presses in close to Hajime, utterly shameless.
"No you're not," he chirps, so happy it makes something in Hajime's chest hurt. Oikawa's the best, most gorgeous thing he's ever seen. Fuck. "You love me — you're going to figure out how we can spend our lives together, no matter what."
"Yeah," Hajime agrees, pulling Oikawa against him more tightly, so he can press a kiss, lingering, to his temple and say, "I do — I am — we will."