Lying on his bed using Langa’s lap as a pillow, Reki asked, “Do you have any friends from Canada?” It was late; Langa should have gone home hours ago, but there was a soft, easy atmosphere in Reki’s room that neither of them wanted to break.
“No,” Langa said after a moment of deliberation. “I knew people, I guess. But I haven’t been close with anyone since elementary school.”
“So you don’t talk to anyone from your old school?” Reki pressed. It didn’t make sense to him that Langa didn’t have any friends; sure, he was quiet, but for the short month they’d gone to school together, a few girls had already confessed to him (always met with Langa’s blunt no's). Their classmates always greeted him with a smile. It was just that Langa always seemed to brush them off in favour of talking to Reki.
Langa shrugged. “No. I’m not very good at talking to people.”
Reki sat up, glaring. “You’re good at talking to me, Langa. Everyone at school likes you!” He poked Langa in the chest. “You’re just too quiet.”
Langa’s expression didn’t change; it rarely did, but he tangled his hands in the hem of his shirt, twisting it around his nimble fingers. “I guess I’m not very social, not like you.”
“Hah, good one,” Reki muttered. “They’re all nice, but no one likes to hear me talk.”
“Because all you talk about is skating,” Langa said. From anyone else it would have been insulting, but when Langa said it, it felt like a simple observation.
Reki nodded. “No one ever listens except you.”
“And your mom,” Langa added, a hint of a smile on his face.
Reki let out a noise of indignation and tackled Langa back onto the bed so his back was shoved against Reki’s mountain of pillows. “You’re teasing me!”
“Yeah,” Langa said, grinning so brightly Reki thought he might go blind. Taking advantage of this moment of distraction, Langa flipped them over and pinned Reki’s shoulder down with one hand, digging his fingers into the side of Reki’s ribs where he was very, very ticklish.
Reki fought against Langa’s grip, but Langa was taller than him and if he was completely, totally, honest with himself, he didn’t hate Langa straddling his thighs. It was kind of nice, actually, or it would have been if Langa wasn’t trying to kill him.
Or tickle him.
“Get off of me, you giant,” Reki gasped, grasping at Langa’s wrist, but Langa was surprisingly strong. They tussled until Langa released Reki from his iron grip and heaved out a great sigh. “Can I stay here tonight?”
Reki nodded. “You should text your mom, though.”
Langa flopped onto the bed, or tried to; Reki was still pinned beneath him, so Langa ended up lying almost completely on top of Reki. “My phone is dead. Can you text her?”
“I can if you let me move,” Reki retorted, voice raspy from the way Langa was crushing his lungs. “And you probably shouldn’t wear the clothes you wore all day to bed.”
With another sigh, Langa peeled himself away from Reki and began to dig through Reki’s clothes until he found something suitable to sleep in. Langa slept over often enough that he could start leaving some of his own clothes in Reki’s drawers, but Reki wasn’t going to be the one to point it out; the way his clothes fit slightly too small on Langa made him feel sort of like a puddle of melted butter.
After shooting off a text to Mrs. Hasegawa, Reki changed into pajamas and crawled back into bed. Langa was already there, but this was standard practice; he’d only used the futon once or twice in Reki’s memory. Reki’s little sisters liked to tease him about it but he didn’t understand what the big deal was. Sleeping with Langa was comfortable and warm and the weight of Langa sprawled half on top of him was weirdly nice.
“Langa,” Reki whispered, suddenly worried, “do you think this is normal?” He wasn’t sure exactly what he meant: the way he and Langa spent most of their time together or the way Langa hated being touched but always welcomed it from Reki or the way Reki slept better with Langa wrapped around him like a particularly persistent octopus or any number of things, really. Reki didn’t remember doing any of it with his childhood friends.
Langa stared at him. His expression didn’t change, but Reki had come to understand that this meant he was thinking. Finally, he said, “I don’t think so. I don’t know what friends are supposed to do, though. I don’t really care.”
The sense of anxiety Reki hadn’t even noticed he was feeling dissipated. “Me neither.”
Reki was glad, sort of, that Langa seemed just as clueless as him. He supposed it probably would have been nice for Langa if he had more friends, but selfishly Reki liked they were so similar. No one else knew had ever been able to handle his single-minded passion for skating, let alone share it. Everyone before Langa found Reki weird or overexcitable.
All of these thoughts, though, were thrown out the window when Langa threw an arm around Reki’s waist and tangled their legs together. “Night,” he said, barely audible.
“Goodnight,” Reki said, and smiled into Langa’s shoulder.
“Where’s Langa?” Reki’s mother asked one day at dinner, a teasing smile on her face. “It feels like we’re missing someone when he’s not here.”
“His mom got home early from work today so he wanted to spend time with her,” Reki explained. “We’re hanging out tomorrow though.”
“Hanging out, hmm?”
Reki frowned. “What?”
His mother shook his head. “Why do you never go over to his house, Reki? Not that I’m not happy to have him here. He’s so polite.” Reki almost laughed at that. Langa wasn’t very polite; he was honest to a scathing degree. Reki supposed that his mother just hadn’t done anything to earn Langa’s ire.
Through a mouthful of food, he said, “I don’t know, I’ve never asked. I think he probably doesn’t want to bother his mom with another person because she works so long though. And here’s closer to Dope Sketch.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” scolded Tsukihi. “Don’t you have any friends other than Langa?”
Reki glared. “Don’t tell me what to do, you’re younger than me.” As he continued, he felt his hands begin to flutter in excitement in a way that usually only happened when he was talking about skating. “I know people at school, I guess. But Langa’s the only one who skates with me! And he’s way better than me even though he only started recently. He’s the best!”
Tsukihi laughed. “You only have one friend and he’s already better at skating than you?”
Inexplicably, Reki felt the tips of his ears go red; instantly, he stilled. He didn’t care that Langa was better at him than skating. He was proud of him and Reki loved skating with someone so talented. Still, his sister’s words stung. He didn’t like being treated like Langa’s sidekick. They were friends.
“Be nice to your brother,” their mother cut in before things could escalate. “Reki, make sure Langa knows he’s welcome here anytime.”
“Even though I’ve been finding his blue hair all over the house,” Tsukihi said.
Their mother sighed and nodded in agreement. “Even though we’ve been finding his blue hair all over the house.”
“You wish you had hair as cool as Langa’s, Tsukihi.”
“Mom, Reki spat food on me!”
“It was an accident—”
“You’re so short, Miya,” Reki said, laughing. “Two Miyas makes one Langa.” They’d come to the skatepark because Langa wanted Miya to teach him something, but one thing led to another and they were on their way to get dinner, no progress made.
“You’re shorter than him, too,” Miya pointed out. “Anyway, I’m better at skating than you. Langa, too.”
Reki shrugged. “So? I could still pick you up with one hand. With one finger, I bet, you’re so tiny.”
Miya tried to hit him, but Reki moved out of the way. An undignified squawk left his mouth. “See if I order for you now,” Reki taunted, narrowing his eyes. Miya was arrogant and fearless when it came to skating but didn’t like phone calls or ordering food, and Reki was prepared to use it against him. “Unless you say sorry.”
“I’d never apologize to a slime like you,” Miya muttered, glaring.
“I’ll order for you, Miya,” Langa said.
“Langa! You’re supposed to be on my side.” Reki slung his arm around Langa’s shoulder. “I thought you were my best friend.”
Langa thought for a moment. “Well, I guess Miya didn’t teach me—”
“It’s not my fault you two like to mess around instead of getting better,” Miya spat.
Reki laughed. “Kitty has claws! Protect me, Langa.”
“Anyway,” Miya continued as if Reki hadn’t spoken, “you two are awfully close for best friends.”
Reki shrugged. “Maybe Miya’s just jealous.”
“I am not—”
Later, on their way back to Reki’s house, Langa asked, “Does it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
Langa looked down at the ground. He never liked eye contact, but this time it felt like a deliberate avoidance. “What Miya said. That I’m better than you.”
Reki paused to think. “No. I don’t like it when anyone says I’m bad at skating, I guess, but I don’t care that you’re better than me. I love skating with you! I loved it when you didn’t know how to turn corners and now it’s even better.”
Langa was still looking down, but Reki thought he could see a smile behind his blue hair. “I like skating with you, too.”
Reki didn’t like the hospital. The monitors beeped two loudly and the doctor told him that his arm would take two weeks to get better. He could still watch Langa skate, he supposed, but that was only if Langa didn’t get hurt by Adam, too.
“You look bad,” Langa said bluntly. They were eating lunch on the roof of the school. More accurately, Langa was eating lunch. Reki was half asleep on Langa’s shoulder, uninjured hand flapping anxiously in his lap.
“Langa is so mean to me,” Reki cried, though his heart wasn’t in it. He was tired.
Langa poked him in the stomach. “You should eat.”
The thought of putting food in his mouth sort of made Reki want to claw his stomach out, so he shook his head. “Not hungry.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“My arm hurts,” Reki replied. He hated how the sling felt on his skin and it was only adding onto his misery.
“You’re lying,” Langa said, blue eyes narrowed.
“Let me sleep,” Reki said. “I’ll tell you after school.”
With a sigh, Langa relented. “Lie down then.”
Langa nodded. “I’ll wake you up when we have to leave for class.”
Sleeping was awkward with an injured arm, and the unforgiving concrete of the school’s roof didn’t help. Still, having his head pillowed on Langa’s thigh was nice. He didn’t expect to fall asleep, not really, but he was so tired after his dreams kept him up all night—
“Reki?” Reki heard Langa’s voice ask, which didn’t make sense; he was in the hospital, and Langa wasn’t with him. Someone was tugging on his hair and he was cold, but—
“Reki, wake up.”
Reki sat up suddenly, jostling his bad arm. “Langa?”
Langa frowned. “You were having a bad dream.”
“Why were you pulling on my hair?”
“You wouldn’t wake up otherwise. Why are you having nightmares?” Langa grabbed the hem of Reki’s shirt, pulling him forward to inspect his face. “Is that why you’re so tired?”
Reki shoved him away, perhaps more forcefully than the situation deserved. “They’re always about Adam, or being in the hospital,” Reki admitted. “They won’t stop.”
Though Reki knew Langa liked how tactile Reki was with him, he was rarely the one to initiate. That was why it was so surprising when Langa laced his fingers through Reki’s hair, tilting his head toward him. “Reki…”
“I don’t understand how you want to skate against him,” Reki said, batting Langa’s hand away. “You promised me, Langa.”
Langa looked at the ground. “I know, but… it’s Adam. I don’t know.”
Reki sighed. “That’s what I thought. Come on, we should get to class.”
“Reki, wait. I’m sorry about your dreams.” He grabbed Reki’s wrist, forcing him to look at him. “Can I come over tonight? You always sleep better when I’m there.”
Reki opened his mouth to protest, but he realized it was true. How had Langa noticed before him?
“No, it’s okay. I’m really behind on the homework so I’ll be busy. Thanks, though.”
The lie was transparent, but luckily Langa didn’t call him on it. “Okay.”
“You can carry all my stuff to class because my arm is shattered,” Reki continued, putting on a fake grin. “If you’re so desperate to help me.”
“Your arm is not shattered,” Langa muttered, but he picked up Reki’s bag without a word.
There are a lot of things Reki misses about Langa after they part ways. Still, he doesn’t regret it.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen Langa,” said Reki’s mother, sitting on the edge of Reki’s bed. “No more blue hair in our laundry.” It was dark outside; moonlight filtered in through the window, casting an odd light over the room.
Reki sighed. He’d been dreading this conversation. “He probably won’t be coming around anymore.”
Wringing his hands together, Reki leaned his head on her shoulder. He couldn’t tell his mom about S or Adam or any of it, really. “We don’t fit anymore,” is all that he decided to say. “It wasn’t good for us to be friends. He has plenty of other people.”
His mother frowned. “Did Langa tell you that? Or did you decide all on your own?”
Reki sat up, glaring. “It’s not just that. He promised me something, but he keeps breaking it.”
“That doesn’t sound like Langa,” she said. “He went out of his way to carry your bag home every day when you hurt your arm. I don’t think he would do anything to hurt you on purpose.”
Embarrassingly, Reki felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes. “It doesn’t have to be on purpose for it to hurt.”
“Oh, Reki.” She wrapped her arms around Reki, pulling him snug against her side. Reki felt like a kid again. “You’re right, and I’m sorry he hurt you, but it’s not like you to give up so easily.” She dropped a kiss on the top of his head and, with a mischievous lilt, continued, “I think you and Langa had something special. Maybe you should talk to him.”
Reki shook his head. “Langa doesn’t need me anymore.”
“I think you should ask Langa if he needs you.” Reki's mother ruffled his hair and smiled. “Besides, it doesn't matter if he needs you. He might still want you.”
Suddenly, a knock sounded at Reki’s bedroom door. It was soft; too soft to be any of his sisters.
“Mom, you should probably go,” Reki said, standing up to open the door.
She patted his shoulder. “Good luck.”
Reki’s mother slipped out as Langa walked in. Reki sat on his bed and Langa followed, still silent.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Reki demanded.
Langa stared at the floor. “Your mom asked me to come over.”
“You didn’t want to come on your own?” Reki’s voice cracked and he focused his eyes on the bed, refusing to look at Langa’s face.
“I didn’t think your family would let me in, if you were mad at me.”
“Please just tell me why you’re here.”
This time, Langa looked straight at him; Reki felt like he was caught in Langa’s web, unwilling to look at him but unable to look away from his sharp blue eyes. “I needed to talk to you.”
With a scoff, Reki snapped, “What’s there to talk about?”
“I miss you,” said Langa.
Langa’s words stripped Reki bare of any false bravado or resentment. The tears he held back in front of his mother finally spilled and he wiped at his face furiously. “You broke your promise, Langa. I still dream, every night—”
“I’m sorry he hurt you, Reki, but that’s why I have to beat him.”
“I don’t dream about my injury, Langa,” Reki spat. “All I can see is you getting hurt, every night. What if something happens to you because of him?”
Langa shrugged. “Then I’ll get better and keep skating.”
“It’s not that easy!”
“It is for me. I like skating enough to risk it. That’s all.”
Reki laughed hollowly. “You’re crazy.”
Langa’s shoulders dropped. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I lost in the tournament.”
Argument forgotten, Reki’s eyes widened. “You lost? Against who?” It seemed impossible to him that Langa could lose. Logically, he knew that Langa was a relatively new skater and his technical skill was still lacking in many areas. Still, he realized he’d been caught up in the idea that Langa was invincible.
“I would have thought you could beat him,” Reki said. “I didn’t realize he was that good.”
Langa crossed his legs on the bed and leaned back against the wall. His hair fell in a curtain in front of his face, blocking Reki from seeing his expression. “I probably could have beat him, but my heart wasn’t in it. I couldn’t think clearly.”
“Your heart wasn’t in it?” Langa rarely talked about his feelings beyond his pressing need to skate. It wasn’t that he was private; he just didn’t seem to care or think them important. Reki was shocked to hear the admission from him.
Langa nodded. “It was like with snowboarding.”
Feeling as though a gaping hole had opened in his chest where his heart was supposed to be, Reki replied slowly, “You don’t want to skate anymore?” This wasn't the direction he wanted this conversation to go in. The thought of Langa giving up skating just like he gave up snowboarding was more painful than Reki could describe.
Langa shook his head. “That’s not it. I just don’t want to skate without you.”
Reki glared. “I don’t know what that means, Langa. You’re better than me, and so is Miya and everyone else, so I don’t see what you need me for. Everyone says I’m just your sidekick.”
“I don’t care how good you are,” Langa said. “Isn’t that what you said to me? And you’re still a good skater, you’re not my sidekick. Whatever anyone else says doesn’t matter. I just like skating with you. I got to the finish line and you weren’t there and...”
“I thought you were going to leave me behind,” Reki admitted. “Compared to Adam and everyone else, I’m nothing. It was easier.”
Langa’s eyes widened. “I wouldn’t leave you behind. Everyone else is fine, I guess, but I like you the most.” Hesitantly, he shifted on the bed toward Reki. Reki threw his arms around Langa’s shoulders, hoping Langa wouldn’t care about getting tears on his shirt. “I won’t go anywhere you can’t follow,” Langa whispered.
Reki’s momentary relief was ruined by the memory of the tournament. “I’m still worried about you. You’re still reckless.”
“I can’t just stop,” Langa said, deflating at Reki’s abrupt change in subject. The hands around Reki’s waist tightened. “But I’ll be more careful. I will.”
“Okay,” Reki breathed. “Okay. I won’t run away anymore, Langa.”
Leaning back so Reki could see his face, Langa smiled. “Okay.”
Like it was the most natural thing in the world, Langa took Reki’s face in his hands and kissed him, the touch so light it was barely there. A warm, fizzy feeling bubbled up in Reki’s chest and he felt himself laughing until his breath was short and his lungs ached.
Langa, a furious blush contrasting his flat expression, cocked his head. “What?”
Reki grinned. “Langa likes me.”
Reki pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “I guess this isn’t what friends do.”
Langa froze. After a few seconds, though, the panicked look melted off of his face in favour of a small smile. Reki took the opportunity to kiss him again, running his fingers through Langa’s fine hair.
“Maybe we should go to sleep. It's getting late,” Langa whispered. His breath was warm against Reki's lips and it made him dizzy after kissing for what felt like both an infinitely long time and much too short.
“I am wide awake, Langa, we just kissed,” Reki replied, voice ragged. “I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again. I just kissed a boy. Oh my god.”
“We have school tomorrow,” Langa pointed out. “My mom already said I can stay here.”
“No fun,” Reki groused, but he complied, letting his anxiety seep away under Langa's gentle touch. Things were starting to make sense: the way his eyes dragged on Langa’s tall frame in Reki’s too-small clothes and the way he didn’t like any of his friends the way he liked Langa.
After brushing his teeth, Reki crawled into bed, burrowing under Langa’s waiting arm. “Good night, Langa. Don’t crush me in your sleep.”