I somehow walked all the way to work and was hanging my coat up on the rack in the personnel break room before I realized what I'd done.
"That is a very nice sweater, Mr. Callenreese."
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Higuchi."
I looked down at my chest. I'd slept in so late and been so groggy while rushing to get dressed that I didn't even know which of my sweaters I was wearing.
It turned out the sweater wasn't mine. Looking closer at the width and colors of the stripes, I flashed back to a memory of Eiji handing me a cup of cocoa last Christmas morning, his hair lightly tussled. He was feeling festive, wearing a green, red, and white sweater he'd bought the week before. For Eiji it was understated; when it came to holiday clothes he had a tendency to go for the tackiest, most flamboyant options available.
Fortunately for me, this one could pass for professional well enough that a coworker had even complimented it. Also fortunately for me, Mrs. Higuchi shuffled in and out of the room quickly so that I had a moment to myself before my shift began.
I tugged a bit of the cloth up toward my nose and smelled it. Mostly odorless, but with just a hint of one of Eiji's perfumes. I smiled to myself. The material was nice and soft against my skin as well. I'd been dreading the workday just because I was tired, but I already felt a bit better just from taking a minute to think about Eiji first thing.
He's probably wearing my clothes too, I mused. Every time I came home early I found him in one of my old tank tops or jackets. At first he'd seemed a bit embarrassed about it, but I didn't mind. It was cute.
And he was cute. I walked out of the personnel room and over to my desk with the faint scent of Eiji on my skin and on my mind.
Decisions, decisions. What to make Ash for dinner?
I was walking through the supermarket, carrying one of the small plastic baskets with handles and tossing things in it periodically as I debated what to do for food that night.
I'd already grabbed natto ingredients for my lunches for the next week, plus some meat to make hamburgers for Ash. What would be good to sit down with together after he got off work, though?
It's been a while since I made curry, I thought. That sounded good. I started making my way through the aisles to find the right spices and such, occasionally noticing other shoppers staring at me for slightly too long before averting their gazes. Did I have something on my face?
I pulled out my phone to look at my reflection in the screen. My face and hair were normal, but...
Maybe it was the shirt. It was very loud. I'd searched through Ash's half of the closet that morning unsure of what to wear before stumbling on a t-shirt I'd never seen before. It had some sort of almost devilish-looking clown face on it with spiked hair that was orange and possibly on fire. The line-art was kind of muddy and the whole thing was too bizarre to really make heads or tails of. I'd slipped it on that morning more for the novelty than anything else, though I now supposed that it was a bit embarrassing to be seen wearing in public.
"Yo, big brother!"
I glanced over to my left and saw my sister waving at me.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" I asked, walking over to her.
"Picking out what to make Mom for her birthday on Tuesday. You and Ash better still be coming."
"Of course we're coming. How could we skip Mom's birthday?"
"You disappeared for almost a whole year on your little honeymoon and never called!"
My cheeks reddened and I looked away indignantly. "It was not a honeymoon! We are not married yet!"
"Yet," she chuckled before pausing to look at my shirt. "Eiji?"
"Is that your shirt or Ash's?"
"Ash's. I don't even know what it is."
"...Ash is a juggalo?"
I'd been making my way through pages of translations and before I knew it, my day was half-over. I popped over to a cafe across the street for lunch and sat down at a corner booth. I ordered a cup of coffee and small sandwich and swiped through photos on my phone as I waited. Photos of Eiji, photos of nature and buildings from our trip across Japan, photos of both of us acting like tourists (and for much of the trip we both had been).
I smiled at a picture of Eiji and I at a temple where we'd prayed for good luck at New Years. It was at the tail end of our trip, shortly before we'd picked out the apartment we now lived in. I'd asked Eiji if it was sacrilegious to take selfies at a temple and he just shushed me and cuddled up closer against me. His smiling face on the screen made me smile as well. This day hadn't been so bad after all.
"Here's your food and coffee, sir," the waiter said, dropping off my order.
I slowly ate and drank while continuing to flip through the enormous photo album on my phone. What was Eiji up to now? Which one of my shirts was he wearing? I happily sipped my coffee, excited to get through the second half of my shift so I could go home and see him.
Once I got home and put all the groceries away I went to the bedroom and searched for a different one of Ash's shirts to wear. I still didn't know what a juggalo or the Insane Clown Posse was. My sister had just laughed at me when I asked; she said something about Ash having bad taste in music. Regardless of how good the band (if that was what it was) sounded, I'd decided after my fifth time getting gawked at in the store that I didn't like that loud shirt.
I settled on one of Ash's most comfortable tops: a thin white tee with the word "BANANA" printed within a black rectangle on the chest. Bizarre, maybe, but not visually offensive.
I savored the feeling of the soft cloth on my skin and the trace smell of Ash's cologne as I made my way to the kitchen to start cooking curry. It would be a while yet before Ash got home but I was using the slow cooker for the meat, so hopefully the timing of food getting done would match up pretty well with him walking in the front door.
I smiled as I began the prep work. Ash and I both had the next day off, so once he was home and fed I could cuddle him and we could lazily do whatever we wanted without having to think about any responsibilities we might have the next day. I put on some music and danced around a bit while cutting and pouring, then played around with my phone once there was nothing left to do but wait for the meat to cook.
I pulled up an album of photos from Ash and I's trip around Japan. It had been the best year of my life. Just the two of us together talking, laughing, walking, exploring, getting to know and support each other even more without worrying about who might be following us, trying to hurt us. It had been a year of teaching Ash basic Japanese and watching as he sometimes embarrassed himself in front of strangers, but other times impressed me with how fast he was learning and improving.
My finger swiped by physical memory to one of my favorite shots: me pulling Ash in close for a selfie at the temple we'd visited on New Years. I'd had difficulty deciding what to pray for. Ever since Ash came to Japan I'd felt like I had what I needed, so I ultimately prayed for more of the same, for our lives to continue as is. A boring wish, maybe, but one I felt sincerely.
And the couple of months since had been as great as ever. Ash and I had our own apartment now, we both worked part-time, and our free time was spent on photography, writing, and lots of cuddling. I smiled, just having thoughts like those until the curry was almost ready and I heard the front door opening.
"Eiji? I'm home," Ash said.
"I'm in the kitchen!" I called out.
A minute later Ash walked in smiling.
I pouted at him. "Aslan!" I exclaimed, picking the ICP shirt off of the counter where I'd set it to show him when he got back. "What is this? I wore one of your shirts to the store and everyone looked at me funny! My sister was there and she just laughed at me without explaining why!"
Ash stared blankly at me and then the shirt. "Pfft," he started laughing. "That's not even mine, it's Bones's. It must have gotten mixed up with my stuff at some point and I didn't notice with how rushed I was packing to fly over here."
"Oh," I said. "So it is Bones who has bad taste in music? My sister was very judgmental about this...this clown thing."
Ash laughed again. "So bad I almost wanted to kick him out of the gang." I could tell Ash was joking, and I pictured Ash and the rest of the guys teasing each other over their likes, dislikes. I hadn't gotten to see a lot of moments like that in America with how dangerous everything was and with how scared everyone was to bother Ash in the middle of chaos. Still, they must have had playful banter too from time to time.
"Well what about this one?" I asked, pointing at my chest. "Why do you own five shirts that just say 'banana'?"
Ash just kept laughing. "I don't know, honestly."
I started laughing too and walked over to him, wrapping my arms around his back and nuzzling my face into his chest. "Hey, wait..." I looked closer at his stomach. "You're wearing my clothes, too! But you always tease me for wearing yours!"
"It was an accident," Ash said. "But...I have to admit, it's comfortable."
He looked down at me. I looked up at him. We moved in tandem, brushing our noses together.
"Welcome home, Ash. Food should be about ready."