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Where I belong

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It starts with an innocent question.

It’s spring and the cherry blossoms are in bloom, stray pink petals blowing playfully in the wind. All of the boys in their class are cramped along this particular classroom window, the only one with the perfect view of the scene unfolding below them. With the pretty girl bowing profusely, extending a pink envelope in Langa’s direction, the sun reflecting an angelical halo on striking blue hair, it looked like a ripe scene straight out of a shoujo manga.

Except, of course, Langa takes the envelope and rejects the girl with such cold sincerity that makes all the boys cringe audibly.

“It’s unfair,” one of his classmates is saying. The lovely breeze is not cold enough to justify how all of them are pressed together in the tight window-frame, but none of the boys can tear their eyes apart from the now awkward confession. “This is like, his third one this week?”

“And he rejects them all,” another one sighs in despair.

Reki can only laugh. They don’t get Langa at all. The guy is just oblivious and focused solely on skateboarding. He doesn’t have time to fool around with girls or gifts, just like Reki is.

But he would be lying if he said he wasn’t just a tiny, little bit jealous about the whole ordeal. Reki considers himself good-looking, he’s cool!, and yet it was true all the girls were focused on Langa at the moment. He couldn’t blame them, not really. Langa is Cool, and Reki understands the whole exchange-student appeal. After all, who wouldn’t like Langa?

“Hey Reki,” someone was nudging him with his elbow, dissipating all thoughts in his head. “What type of girls does Hasegawa like?”

The question itself was usual. His classmates, the girls, and boys, of other classes, and even his teachers sometimes asked him about some of Langa’s particularities. They were best friends, after all. Reki always knew were Langa’s head was resting, or what could be going on in his mind. This time, however, he found himself coming up short.

What is Langa’s type?

The question is obviously still nagging at Reki’s mind later that same day. They are sitting together as they always do, knees brushing, leaning so closely onto each other there’s no space left between them. Their spot on the roof is warm yet the breeze keeps them cool enough as they inspect each other’s lunches. Langa is carefully inspecting a wiener octopus, snatching it directly from Reki’s bento box. It has been weeks since Reki’s mom started packing two sets of chopsticks. And lately, Langa’s mom has been packing sandwiches with extra pickles, Reki’s favorites.

“Langa,” Reki starts, cutting the sandwich exactly in half. Langa gives him a distracted hm? As he holds the food octopus so close to his face his eyes cross. “What is your type of girl?”

Langa doesn’t answer immediately, instead inspecting the octopus with the concentration of a professional detective. He throws it in his mouth, chewing carefully. It’s an unholy amount of time before he answers.

“Dunno”.

In moments like these, Reki is tempted to throw the whole bento box to his face.

“What do you mean ‘dunno’?” At Langa’s  indifferent shrug, Reki feels like tugging his hair out. “You have to have a type.”

Langa mumbles a quiet ‘thanks’ when Reki gives him his share of the sandwich, taking an atrocious bite out of it, his cheeks puffing out as he noms on it. He has that blank expression on his face that Reki knows he gets when thinking of a particular hard subject. He sees it whenever they are working on a hard math problem, or when he sees Cherry pull a particular hard stunt on the skate. It’s his ‘how do I manage this’ face.

“I just don’t,” he settles, holding his sandwich on one hand, picking at the contents of the bento box with the other. “Why is it important?”

Reki frowns, fighting Lenga’s chopsticks for a generous portion of rice. He doesn’t really know why the question nags him so much. Some part of him argues that he just likes to know stuff, he likes to solve problems and knowing answers to riddles. That same part states that is why they are such good friends: Langa is a walking riddle, with his foreign mannerism and poor people skills.

Some other part though, struggles at the thought of there being some detail of Langa’s life that he doesn’t know. Of course, there are many things he doesn’t know now, but he is sure he will learn them eventually. Langa is just like that, giving up bits and pieces of information at random whenever he remembers to share.  This, however, makes that part of him tug at his heart strings and squeeze them furiously.

What if Langa simply doesn’t want to tell him?

“I’m just curios,” Reki decides, stuffing his mouth with sandwich before he can dwell too much on his own thoughts.

Langa nods, as if it was the most reasonable answer. They fall into their comfortable silence, Reki leaning his head onto Langa’s shoulder. He rests his arm on Langa’s knee so they can both watch the skating video Reki saved last night. Langa finishes both of their lunches, watching attentively.

“What is yours?” Langa asks unexpectedly, once the video ends. Reki hms? Distractedly, scrolling through his phone in search of another interesting one. “Reki, what is your type of girl?”

He should have expected the question, honestly, but in reality it just throws him off his balance. He sits properly, resting his head backwards against the wall, in return, Langa shifts closer to him. Reki is about to answer ‘dunno’ out of spite, and because he truly doesn’t have an answer, when he catches the look of judgement Langa was giving him. With a laugh, he does his best effort to think.

“Tall,” he concludes, all focused eyes and pursed lips.

“Tall?” Langa repeats, incredulous.

“Taller than me,” Reki nods, picking absentmindedly at some loose threads on Langa’s uniform pants. He feels his leg twitch under the prodding, and finds it pleasantly distracting from his jumbled thoughts.

“You are pretty tall,” Langa points out after a moment of silence.

Reki shrugs. He supposes Langa is right, being one of the few classmates that was taller than him.

“I think I’d like those hugs,” he muses, his face suddenly hot. The fact that this was the very first conversation they have about girls is not lost to him. “You know, a nice, warm hug? My face on her chest.... Ah, not like that!” He feels himself blush furiously, Langa’s eyes narrowing accusatory. “Just, I think it’ll feel safe”.

How the conversation was turned onto him he doesn’t know. He waves his hands impatiently, trying to get Langa to stop staring at him that way.

“Either way! It’s not like is going to happen any time soon, with you winning over all the girls in school,” he says, not being able to swallow the jealousy he felt in its entirety. If Langa notices, he doesn’t comment on it.

“I don’t know why they do it,” Langa mumbles, almost to himself. He seems distracted, very in character of him, picking at the band-aid currently around Reki’s index finger, product of yesterday’s incident at the workshop. Reki, on his part, can only snort.

“It’s because you are pretty, you airhead,” he says, flicking his free fingers on Langa’s forehead, earning a whine out of his friend. His pout makes Reki smile.

“You are pretty too,” Langa says nonetheless, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand, and Reki smiles wider.  

The question keeps nagging at him on a Friday afternoon. Reki is sitting by the shade of the skate park, dutifully filming Miya as he performs some tricks and moves for his social media. It’s just the two of them, since Langa was out shopping with his mom. He lets himself be distracted by Miya’s rare and contagious smile, a sign he was truly having fun.

After a while, the kid comes to sit besides him, sipping on his fancy-and-extremely-expensive-brand milk, one hand idly selecting the best videos to post. Reki barely knows what he’s saying before the words are out of his mouth.

“What do you think Langa’s type is?”

Miya stops with the carton halfway to his lips. He shots him a sideways glance full of disbelief.

“As in... food?” He asks, his tone slow as if he were talking to a kid. Sometimes Reki forgets he is a kid.

“No, as in girls.” Reki explains, dragging out the sentence.

Miya stares at him blankly for a full five seconds before turning back to his cellphone, ignoring the question entirely.

“Hey!” Reki complains.

“You cannot be serious,” Miya says, his eyes not leaving the screen. He takes a long sip of his milk. “You truly are more stupid than I thought. My expectations were low, and yet you continue to astound me.”

Reki hardly knows how offended he should be, but the answer is probably a lot. He frowns, taking the phone from Miya’s hands, earning an offended ‘hey!’ from the boy. However, Reki’s face must have reflected his inner turmoil, because Miya took one long look at him and sighed. Those mannerisms made him seem as if he were thirty rather than thirteen.

“I am serious,” Reki says earnestly, holding onto Miya’s phone. “Why? Do you know what his type is?”

“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Miya stares deadpan at him. Reki wants to shout.

“Why do you know and I don’t?”

Somehow, he honestly believes Miya could strangle him then and there. As a peace offering, to what Reki doesn’t quite know, he gives back the cellphone. Miya pockets it and downs his milk in one go.

“I know because I am observant,” Miya explains, and Reki feels his stomach twist.

Does that mean that Miya has seen Langa actively check girls out? When? At S? At the park? The idea of this happening while the two were skating sends Reki into a spiral of doom. Was he too much of an idiot not to notice? His despair must be quite obvious, for Miya delivers a clean slap to his arm. Reki yelps.

“Stop freaking out,” Miya commands, and Reki mumbles incoherently while rubbing his now sore spot. “I just noticed a... pattern.”

“What does that even mean?”

Miya gives him one of his signature glares that can only be matched by cats. Reki holds his palms up in what he hopes is a placating gesture. The kid just sighs and shakes his head.

“You are hopeless,” He mumbles, turning his attention to the bag between them, fishing for a snack. “Redheads. Langa likes redheads.”

The declaration hits him like a skateboard to the face. Langa likes redheads? There weren’t any redheads in their classroom, so if he had been checking out someone it was probably at S, where Miya would have seen him. Of course, the kid could be messing with him altogether, but Reki still swallows this little piece of information like a particular tasty piece of candy.

“Thank you Miya,” He says, beaming smile thanks to the new piece of the puzzle. Then, out of curiosity, he asks. “What is your type of girl?”

Miya just stares.

“I’m thirteen.”

“Ah.”

Furious typing. A high-chimed ding.

=^Miyau^= : Reki is a stupid, oblivious moron.

[JOE]: I’ll see what I can do.

It’s late that very same day. They have just come back from S, having had a spectacular night. Langa had raced Joe like the wind, Reki staring from the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of that wonderful smile he sometimes got whenever he jumped higher, skated faster or did a particular deadly trick. It had been close, but Langa had won and now Joe owed them both a free dinner at his restaurant tomorrow night.

As their little ritual after S nights, they sneak into Reki’s room. They munch leftovers sitting side by side on the bed, recounting the highlights of the night and checking out the videos and pictures on Reki’s phone. He whispers excitedly about the stunts Langa had managed to pull, and Langa tries his best to put into words how he had felt during the race.

By four in the morning both pair of eyes are closing, Langa’s head drooping lazily from where its resting against Reki’s shoulder. Reki yawns loudly and hears a whine of complain from his friend.

“Come on,” Reki mumbles, sliding down until he is laying down properly. Langa drifts alongside him, plopping unceremoniously by his side.

Reki cannot recall how this particular situation started. After so many times in which they were too tired and could not be bothered to go their separate ways, they just started falling asleep together as a silent agreement. The first night had been awkward, yes, but Langa hadn’t seem to mind and Reki definitely did not mind.

“Reki,” Langa mumbles, his voice heavy with sleep, Reki only grunts as a response. “Headband. Your head will hurt.”

Reki mumbles an incoherent amount of nonsense and believes that is the end of it when he doesn’t hear any more from Langa. He jolts, startled, when he feels Langa’s fingers tugging insistently at the band across his head. After a momentary struggle he manages to pull it free, Reki’s mop of red hair falling messily over his face and the pillow. He winces slightly, his head complaining as it did when he wore it for far too long or way too tight.

He didn’t have to suffer for long, however, for he quickly felt Langa’s fingers run lazily through his hair, brushing lose strands aside, the gentle pressure soothing the discomfort in his scalp. Reki hums in appreciation, leaning instinctively into the touch.  The fingers run astray, brushing gently over his temple, brow, cheekbone and down to trace the shape of his jaw. The touch incredibly relaxing, Reki can’t help but melt into those sweet caresses.

“Langa?” He mumbles, because he can’t help it, more asleep than awake.

“Mhm...?” Comes the answer, and Reki idly wonders if Langa is not as asleep as he thought.

“Do you like redheads..?” He manages to make out, and he swears he can almost feel Langa tense up beneath him.

Whatever his answer is, Reki doesn’t hear. He falls asleep, warm between Langa’s arms, the smell of sweat and his citrus shampoo lulling him to sweet dreams.

That Saturday morning comes too fast.

Langa is, for the first time ever, awake before Reki. His question from last night haunted him well into morning, and as a result he is restless and grumpy.

Seeing Reki, however, warmed him all over. Reki is like a small dog high on caffeine twenty-four-seven, all energy and jumping all over the place. Not only physically, since Langa can almost see the brain waves below all that messy hair jumping from one thought to another at any point during the day. Right now, however, is the very first time he can catch a glimpse of a resting Reki: His eyes closed, snuggling closely against Langa’s body, red strands of hair framing that lovely face of his. Langa’s eyes drift down the shape of his nose, ending in his pretty pink lips, parting in a relaxed ‘O’, and he can’t help but wonder, not for the first time, how would they taste.

He yanks his mind away from that trail of thought, one he has gone under more times that he cared to admit. Yes, he has a crush on Reki. Yes, he likes Reki. He likes him so much his chest hurts and his heart aches and his hand trembles when they accidentally brush against Reki’s fingers. He likes him so much that the thought of him going and dating some girl threatens to shatter his entire soul.

Do you like redheads? His voice had been barely a whisper, but it had shaken Langa awake with the force of a tornado.

There was only one person who could have planted that idea on his head.

Langa stretches the arm that isn’t firmly yet warmly pinned under Reki’s head towards the night-stand where his cellphone mocks him by being just out of reach. He shifts slightly, stretching his fingers to no avail. With a huff of determination, and a sense of dread, he leans even closer into Reki’s space, feeling their thighs press together in a painfully sweet way. He shakes his head free of thoughts only a seventeen year old teenager can muster, and, victory!, he grasps his cellphone firmly in his hand.

Well, half a victory: Apparently his sleeping friend is all too reluctant to roll away. The result? One of Reki’s legs is resting comfortably between his own, applying all sorts of pressures that send jolts right into his belly. Reki is sleeping peacefully, if ever, with his head nuzzled closely against Langa’s neck, his steady breath sending goosebumps down his spine.

Langa musters the force of a thousand Joe’s and sets his mind to the task at hand: Miya.

Langa: Why did you tell Reki I like redheads?

Langa looks at the hour: six thirty in the morning. He considers that Miya might still be asleep, but almost immediately his cellphone dings audibly and makes Reki shift and mumble in his sleep. Langa feels Reki’s lips move against the skin of his neck and silences his phone with shaking fingers.

=^Miyau^=: Because you do?

Langa huffs, and it sends some stray red hairs flying all over.

Langa: You didn’t have to tell him that.

Some part of his mind wonders why is Miya awake at this hour on a Saturday morning. His thoughts are interrupted by three messages in quick succession.

=^Miyau^=: He asked me what type of girls you like.

=^Miyau^=: Like, seriously?

=^Miyau^=: How can’t he see you very much don’t like girls?

Langa: I could like girls.

He can almost see Miya rolling his eyes before that incredibly stubborn text. Fine, maybe he couldn’t like girls. Maybe he never really did. Maybe he was very, oh so very gay. And for his best friend. His very best friend who was cuddling against him, sleeping peacefully between his arms in a very non-gay way.

Langa fights the urge to throw his phone across the room.

Reki is the first one to arrive to Joe’s restaurant that afternoon.

It’s packed with customers, but thankfully Joe spots him fiddling by the entrance and waves him over. Reki cannot grow accustomed to seeing him, well, dressed. He is all charming smiles and gentle demeanor as he signals a stool by the bar for him to sit in. Reki feels oddly out of place in such a fancy place, but he couldn’t care less as Joe places a glass of juice and a basket of bread and butter in front of him.

“Do not fill yourself with those,” He warns him, waving a finger on his face for emphasis. “I have a table set out for you two, it should clear in about twenty minutes.”

Reki, already gulping down a slice of bread slathered with butter, nods enthusiastically. He lets his mind wander as he waits for Langa to show up, a bit worried. That morning he looked grumpy and restless, so he had spent the day at the house with his mom. They were planning on catching a ride with Joe to S after dinner, but he failed to see how if Langa was as tired as he had been this morning.

Ten minutes waiting and the place seemed to quiet down. Reki was busying himself  by looking at the type of people that came to Joe’s restaurant. There were a lot of important looking people, men in suits, women with fancy dresses, and the ocasional couple. He catches sight of two women, both looking amazing, sitting side by side in a booth by the farthest wall, and his mind wanders back to Langa.

“Joe?” He asks out-loud. Joe is absentmindedly wiping down the bar next to him, and gives him a distracted hum as an answer. One of the women, blonde, long hair, is leaning closer to her companion, a cute woman with dark hair and a bob-cut. She whispers something into her ear and they both laugh. “What type of girls do you think Langa likes?”

The blonde woman drapes her arm around the shoulders of her companion, running her fingers through her neck in what looked to be a sweetly gesture. Reki blinks and turns to Joe, who is looking at him as if he had grown another head altogether.

“What?” Reki demands, suddenly defensive.

Joe only chuckles, and raises his palms in a placating gesture when Reki almost jumps from his seat.

“I cannot say I know,” Joe says, taking the basket of bread from Reki, much to his dismay. “Why do you ask?”

Reki shrugs, struggling to put his thoughts in order. He wanted to try though, as for some reason he always seemed inclined to talk to Joe. It must be his excellent customer service.

“He doesn’t tell me,” Reki puffs his cheek out, pouting. “He says he doesn’t  know, but everyone has a type, right? You have a type.”

To this, Joe flings the rag he was using over his shoulder. His mouth twists in a particular way that Reki can only interpret as daring.

“Do I?” He asks, and the amusement is clear on his voice. “What is my type then?”

Reki, never one to back down from a challenge, frowns in concentration. It is true that Joe was always hanging out with lots of women, but they are always different. Looking for inspiration, he scans the restaurant, ignoring Joe’s chuckle behind the bar. Amber eyes settle on what he considers to be an objectively beautiful woman: She has long, wavy hair, and a wine-coloured dress with a neck so low Reki can see the shape of her--

He feels himself blush furiously. Joe follows his gaze and has to clamp a hand over his mouth to stifle his laugh.

“Fair enough, I suppose I do like women like her,” Joe chuckles, and Reki fixes his gaze on the wooden surface of the bar. “Do you?”

Reki’s embarrassment dissipates upon the question. He tilts his head, looking up at Joe.

“What type of women do you like?” Joe repeats slowly.

“Tall,” Reki answers almost immediately. Joe is surprised but, thankfully, doesn’t laugh, only nods thoughtfully.

“What else?” He prods. “What type of woman do you imagine yourself dating?”

Who said anything about dating? He wants to ask, but under Joe’s serious look he wilts. He traces one finger across the pattern etched into the wood of the bar, trying his hardest to come up with an answer. The truth is he doesn’t have one. He has never been interested in girls like that before, and he isn’t now. He was one of the few from his class who has never, not even once, received chocolates on valentine’s day, or an envelope sporting a confession. It hurts, yes, but mostly for the fact of being ignored, excluded even. But girls do not like him, they do not like him when he talks about skating, or the different kinds of boards he spends his whole waking moment making and repairing. They just don’t get it.

You know who does? Langa. That’s why they are best friends.

He’s about to say Joe that much when, lo and behold, Langa appears at the door, all lean and gentle smile. There’s the tell-tale spark in his eyes that possess him every time he’s about to have a particularly delicious meal, and Reki cannot help but smile from ear to ear. He misses the fond look of exasperation that Joe is giving him before directing them to their table.

[JOE]: We need an intervention for the baby gays.

Cherry: Delete my number.

Reki races Shadow in a friendly beef. Or, at least, as friendly as it can be between the two of them. When he wins, he’s leaping into Langa’s arms in a very similar fashion as he had done after his beef against Adam. Hey, everybody has their arch-nemesis, right? Langa had a borderline psychotic millionaire, Reki had a skater with a passion for florar arrangements.

The point is, Reki’s arms are around Langa’s neck and he’s twirling around, his hands firmly holding Reki’s waist. From the blur of faces he can almost distinguish Joe and Cherry, their heads together, whispering conspiratorially. But that was not important now, because he won and Langa’s arms felt so nice wrapped around him and Reki was so happy he could kiss him.

In a very friendly way.

Those thoughts surprised him sometimes. But it meant nothing! Every dude sometimes thought of kissing his best friend out of happiness, right? Right.

And every dude lingers onto the hug for a second too long, wishing he could just stay in this moment, drunk on victory and the distinct smell of citrus shampoo.

But then Langa lets him go and his momentary solitude is shattered below Langa’s beaming smile. Reki smiles back, and gives himself a moment or two to enjoy the cheers of victory.

“Congratulations,” Cherry is saying, clapping an arm onto his shoulder. “What were the stakes?”

“If he won he would get all his repairs for free at the shop,” Reki explains, omitting the unimportant detail that Manager Oka was very much not into the stakes of the bet. “Me winning means I get free flower arrangements!”

One of Cherry’s perfect eyebrows arches skeptically.

“I was under a lot of pressure, okay?” Reki groans. He knows he should have asked for something better. Oh well, his mom will love them.

He swears he can see Cherry sigh behind his mask. They get momentarily distracted when a group of girls scream Cherry’s name at the top of their lungs and Reki almost goes deaf. He looks around for Langa, and finds him with a group of girls of his own.

There’s three of them. Two have their arms wrapped lazily against each other and laugh at something inaudible to Reki. The other one is slightly bent over, listening to whatever Langa may be saying at the moment, Reki doesn’t doubt is the most interesting thing in the world. She runs a lazy finger over the wheels of his skate, making it spin. Her hair falls in curls around her shoulder, giving her a fiery halo.

Red. Her hair is immaculately red.

Reki feels the floor give under his feet, and suddenly he finds himself in Cherry’s arms. He half-hears one of the girls sigh (‘how strong!’) before Cherry’s voice is against his ear.

“Are you alright?”

Is he? He is. He very much is not. He sees everything double, double men and women having fun. Double skateboards flying past with amazing figures laughing in the air. He hears the music loudly in his ears but he cannot make out the rhythm. He knows Cherry is behind him and at the same time he cannot be bothered to care. And he sees Langa, Langa, Langa everywhere engulfed by a sea of red.

Cherry is tugging him along and Reki just cannot breathe. He wants to run away but his legs do not seem to be working properly. He looks down with blurry eyes and wonders why is his eyesight so poor. Does he need glasses? He has always had perfect vision, what happened now? Too many hits to the head? Cherry’s voice is floating distractedly to his brain, but he cannot understand the shape of the letters. He sees pale hands take his arms but they are numb and there’s nothing to feel there, nothing, nothing...

“Reki,” Cherry’s voice somehow finds him. “Look at me.”

Reki blinks once, twice and looks up from the floor.

Cherry’s face is close to him, but in a weird angle. Some part of his mind recognizes that Cherry is kneeling on the floor. His golden eyes are pinning him down, ever so serious.

“Take a deep breath,” he instructs. Reki feels his chest fill up begrudgingly. “Good. Hold it, and let it go slowly. Slowly. Good. In. Out.”

Under Cherry’s clear instructions, Reki remembers how to breathe. With every single breath the world comes into focus again. He notes that they have somehow left the track, the entrance doors are somewhere behind them. It’s just him and Cherry and the swishing of the trees dancing in the wind. There’s no music, no screams, no giggles, no nothing.

The realization brings tears to Reki’s eyes before he can stop them.

“Hush, sit,” Cherry is saying, surprisingly soothing. He tugs Reki gently onto a rock hidden between sturdy trees. They are hidden from the light of the lamps, and that is even more comforting.

Reki weeps for an embarrassing amount of time. Cherry keeps a steady hand on his shoulder, and Reki feels is the only thing keeping him from collapsing and curling onto the floor. He doesn’t know where he’s taking them from, but Cherry is giving him tissues for him to blow his nose and clean his face.

“I- I don’t know what is wrong,” Reki manages to splutter, hiccups interrupting his words.

“I do,” Cherry says in a confident tone. When Reki looks up, he finds that his mask is off, and his expression is the softest he has ever seen. In any other situation, it would have felt creepy. Now, it was comforting. “A panic attack. Don’t worry, you are fine.”

“Fine?” Reki manages to choke out a laugh. He looks at his hands and finds he cannot stop them from shaking. “I feel... I feel...” The words are stuck in his throat, and he can only bend forward.

“You feel, that is good.” Cherry’s words almost make sense, but they don’t.

They don’t make him feel better. He feels like he has been punched in the gut, reached into his insides, and someone is pulling his organs along and along until he is just a hollow, empty carcass of--

“I used to have piercings”.

That sentence alone makes Reki feel sucker-punched into the moon. He looks up so fast he’s sure he’s pulled a muscle. His eyes bulge out of his head as he looks, incredulous, at Cherry. Poised, stern Cherry, with neat handwriting and perfect posture. Reki narrows his puffed eyes.

“No way”

The man is stifling a chuckle as he fishes around his outfit for his phone. Reki doesn’t know where he keeps it, and they are in silence for a moment until Cherry shows him the screen: In it, a boy in high school uniform is smiling broadly at the camera: The pink hair is shorter, and frames his face differently. The sun reflects on a shiny lip piercing, and three more on the boy’s, Cherry’s, ear.

Reki gapes at the picture, and back to Cherry, present Cherry, who’s looking at him with an amused expression on his face. He leans a bit closer and tugs his hair behind his ear. Reki can distinguish the piercing holes that never quite closed.

“No way!” Reki repeats, taking another good look at the picture. “Cherry, you were so badass!”

Were?” Cherry spits, but the malicious intent is lost in his fondness.

“Did it hurt?” Reki asks, wiping his face. He felt stuffy and vulnerable, but his hands were slowly becoming steady.

Cherry shrugs in response. “Not quite,” a sweet, uncharacteristic smile tugs at his otherwise stern lips. “Joe went with me every time. The first time I broke two of his fingers, I held his hand too tightly.”

Reki hiccups a laugh. The image of Joe and Cherry as high-schoolers, getting in trouble and getting piercings was such a foreign concept to his head. They were adults, they didn’t do this kind of silly things.

“When I got the lip one it bled a lot. Joe almost faints.” He swipes on the phone and selects another picture (right from the gallery, Reki notices). In it, a laughing Cherry is sitting on what looks to be a tattoo parlor, holding his puffy mouth. Besides him, a skinny teenager that can only be Joe holds an ice pack to his head.

Reki laughs with delight and swipes for the rest of the pictures. He inspects them with child-like curiosity as he listens Cherry tell him the story behind each one. He doesn’t know how much time they spent like this, but by the moment he realizes, Reki’s hands no longer shake, and his chest no longer aches.

“Cherry?” Reki mumbles, looking at a particular picture of Cherry and Joe, a selfie. Cherry is smiling brightly at the camera, Joe has his eyes fixed on him. There’s a feeling there that Reki cannot quite comprehend.

Cherry waits for an unspoken question, but Reki cannot find his words again. His thoughts feel jumbled and wrong.

“Joe says you were asking him a question before, at his restaurant,” Cherry says patiently. “He said your mind was occupied with it. Care to share?”

Reki bites his lip, cursing Joe for telling Cherry this in the first place. Somehow, sharing those thoughts with Joe felt alright. With Cherry it was downright embarrassing, it somehow made it real. Whatever that thing may be, that thing gnawing at his mind, not letting him think properly, or sleep, or awakening whenever he thinks of Langa with a girl. Taking another glance at the teenager smiling him from the little telephone screen gave him a bit more courage.

“Cherry,” he starts, letting his breath even. “What do you think Langa’s type of girl is?”

To his dismay, Cherry arches a perfectly stern eyebrow and stares him down with his perfectly stern face. Reki feels like a perfect failure, somehow. However, Cherry only shakes his head.

“Wrong question,” he declares.

“Wha- how can it be wrong?” Reki protests, “it’s my question!”

Cherry offers up his palm and Reki reluctantly gives the phone back. He sees the man glance down at the picture, and his expression softens.

“Why girl?” Cherry asks, and Reki just stares. When he doesn’t get an answer, he repeats slower, as if he were talking to a particularly dense client. “Why does it have to be a girl?”

And Reki... Reki doesn’t have a good answer.

He sees Cherry smile as if he were enjoying a private joke, one Reki was just beginning to understand. With a wave of his hand, they stand up and walk slowly and comfortably back. Reki only realizes how long have they been out by themselves when he sees the S track virtually deserted, the last strays going home in pairs. Cherry tosses him a helmet and announces he’s taking him home. Apparently, Joe has made sure Langa arrived safely at his.

They ride in silence, and its very different from his rides with Langa. Cherry’s bike is all end-tech and incredibly fast. Holding onto him feels comforting and yet Reki can only think how much he misses resting his cheek against Langa’s back, feeling it rise and fall with every tired breath on their way home.

“Thank you Cherry,” Reki bows once he’s safely deposited in front of his house. When he looks up, Cherry is giving him a rare, small smile.

“You are very welcome,” Reki is about to leave when Cherry calls his attention. His usual serious face is back on place, fixing Reki on the spot with his signature dead-stare. “Not a word of this to anyone.”

“Yes, sir!” Reki says because he feels like its the right thing to say, somehow.

Sneaking onto his bed, he reads the hundredth texts Langa has sent to his phone. They vary from concern to downright desperate, and down to monosyllables when he says Joe is taking him home. A tinge of guilt spreads over Reki’s chest; he should have texted him earlier.

o¯\ReKi/¯o: Hey, I’m home. I’m okay. Got caught up talking with Cherry.

He sees Langa read his text almost immediately. It’s four thirty in the morning, and Reki knows Langa would be long asleep by this time.

o¯\ReKi/¯o: I’m sorry.

He adds, because he feels he should.

Langa: It’s fine. I just got worried.

The text brings a smile to his face, but it’s not nearly enough to make it better. He feels the tension from miles away, and he doesn’t know how to breach it.

o¯\ReKi/¯o: Did you know Cherry used to have piercings?

Langa: No way.

A comfortable warmth spreads through his chest as he sees his screen pop up with a call from Langa. He re-tells the whole story in hushed excitement. He only feels a tad guilty for it; after all, Cherry should know by now that whatever Reki knows Langa knows, so it doesn’t really count if he tells him. Reki thinks this to himself as he dozes off later, Langa’s steady breathing on the line calming his jumbled mind.

[JOE]: How’s our son?

Cherry: Be quiet.

Cherry: He will be just fine.

Langa yawns and stretches his arms over his head when class finishes that Wednesday. Thankfully, Reki has not brought up that silly question about what his type is. From the corner of his eyes he sees him gathering his notebook, he got distracted sketching on it again, and smile at his friends. He seems fine, but they haven’t yet talked about his disappearance at the S track last Saturday.

According to Joe, he was just feeling overwhelmed and had to step out with Cherry, who made sure he was alright. Langa hadn’t heard anything about this, not on Saturday, not on Sunday, not ever. He continuously berates himself for not asking about it, but every time he opened his mouth Reki seemed to read his mind, and he would look at him like a dear in head-lights, so he had always changed his mind into more light-hearted topics.

His tiredness dissipates with every step to the exit, Reki mumbling excitedly next to him. The plans for the day are to go skating through the parking lot, right up the mall, go pass the park and reach the underside of the bridge by the river. Last one to reach it pays for the snacks, obviously.

Langa is fetching his shoes, inspecting the sky. It’s cloudy, and looks like it may rain soon. He turns to Reki to tell him so, they have to hurry!, and thus has a perfect view of the lovely pink envelope slipping from Reki’s locker as he opens it.

Both of them watch it float down in an arc, coming to rest on the floor between them, side up. Langa can see the beautiful handwriting, written in a glitter, sparkly pen, such neat and perfect strokes that would probable make Cherry hum in appreciation. The phrase To Kyan Reki stares at them with dooming finality.

Langa sees with mournful inevitability as Reki picks the envelope, his fingers imbued with reverential caress. His eyes are open wide, staring incredulous at the little envelope as if it were a gold mine.

So, Langa thinks, ignoring the way his heart squeezes. He gets his shoes and skate in hand. They finally noticed.

The skate route is not fun. Reki is distracted, eyes on the floor and Langa just knows he has the little envelope clutched in his hands. Langa is distracted as well, obviously, glancing constantly at Reki. The characteristic laugh is missing from their race, and so Reki wins effortlessly. Langa doesn’t even stop by the bridge, instead rolling quietly straight to the store.

When he comes back, some random raindrops are already falling, wetting the pavement. Reki is sitting on the underside of the bridge, his knees close to his chest, the stupid pink envelope in his hands. He’s inspecting the outside with unblinking eyes, as if he wanted to sear the Kyan Reki into his brain. Langa ignores the effect this has on his heart and sits down besides him, leaving the board as a barrier between the both of them.

Reki glances sideways at him when Langa offers him the soda and snacks he bought. He accepts them with a muffled thanks and goes back to inspecting the envelope.

Langa waits a whole five minutes.

“Are you going to open it or not?” He snaps, louder than intended.

Reki startles in his place, and his gives him a pained look.

“I’m...sorry,” Langa sighs, nudging him gently with his elbow. He hopes the pain is inaudible, but he can never really tell what Reki may hear in his words. “You are just driving me crazy. That is meant to be read.”

Reki nods and turns the envelope around. The little heart sticker stares at Langa’s face, mockingly.

“I can’t!” Reki moans after a painfully long moment. His face is blazing red, and he buries it in the palm of his left hand. Langa would think it cute if it weren’t for the circumstances. He is presented with the envelope in question himself, extended in his direction. “You do it!”

“Me?” Langa sighs out, his blood freezing. “It’s your letter.”

Reki shakes his head, pressing his palm with the letter onto Langa’s chest, who can feel the five fingers seared onto his skin where they extend over his shirt. Reki is mumbling incoherently, and Langa can see him coiling more and more into himself.

Langa takes the hand pressed onto his chest between his own, plucking the envelope from shaking fingers.

“Reki?” He mumbles, leaning closer.  He curses himself for leaving the board between them and softly kicks it away.

Reki shakes his head but doesn’t pull away when Langa presses his body even closer. He leans over, trying to peek between the red strands of hairs covering his face. He sees his friend’s chest raise and fall between sporadic breaths.

“I’ll read it, okay?” He whispers against every ounce of common sense, and he realizes he would do anything and everything to keep Reki from looking like this in his entire life, even if it meant breaking his heart in the process. He intertwines his fingers with Reki’s shaking ones, holding it close to his chest. “I’ll read it just... tell me what’s wrong.”

After two more breaths, Reki looks at him through slanted eyes. Langa sees the pain in them and wants to scream.

“What if they’re mocking me?” Reki whispers, voice soft. “What if it’s just a joke?”

Langa almost breaks down right then. He almost holds Reki’s face and kisses him all over. He almost hugs him fiercely enough to break bones. He wishes so so hard he was a person who could actually say what he feels. He wants to grab him and scream to his face do you want to know what my type is? He wants to kiss his cheeks and his lips and his face and make it all better. He wants to hold him and whisper you, you, you, over and over until Reki believes him.

But he can’t. So, his heart breaking in two, he just tugs at his hand playfully, a hint of a smile dancing in his lips when Reki stares at him.

“Mocking you? Reki,” He hopes his sincerity is as clear in his voice as he feels. “You are amazing.”

Reki’s blush deepens up until it reaches the top of his ears, and Langa has the luxury of smiling even broader. He rests his body back against the wall, pulling Reki’s hand along. Reki decides to snuggle against him, his legs curled up against his chest, his face find burrowing onto a comfortable spot on his shoulder. Langa can make out the shape of Reki’s perfect little nose resting against the crook where necks meet shoulder. He feels Reki’s eyelashes flutter close against his skin and the roar in his ears matches the rumbling of the rain against the bridge.

Reki seems reluctant to let go of his hand, so Langa has to manage with his only free one  to peel of the heart sticker. He really wants to break it into a million little pieces, but realizes it will probably be in bad taste.

The smell of perfume hits his nose as soon as he opens the envelope. Its a sweet mix over the smell of the rain and Reki’s jasmine shampoo. He notices that the inside of the envelope has loose cherry petals. He tugs the letter free, folded neatly in two, and leaves the envelope back on his lap.

Her handwriting is neat and lovely. Langa somehow expected to find a poem, or a cheesy line from a romantic book that neither he or Reki would ever read in their lives. That would have been simple, naive, empty. But no, this letter was personal, and with every word Langa’s heart sank more and more into his gut.

He doesn’t know who the girl is, but again, he doesn’t know who most of the students at school are. Whoever this one is, has seen Reki everywhere. She recognizes him from the shop, and from S and admits to being a fairly new skater herself. She talks about her board and how she has gotten hers tuned up at the shop by Reki himself. She compliments him on his drawings, and asks if they could get together and practice on the weekends.

“She sounds sincere,” Langa mutters in one shaky breath. He feels Reki tense up, and every inch of his body hurts with ache. He tries to offer the letter to Reki, but he just nuzzles his face more closely to his neck.

“Read it to me?” He hears Reki whisper, and Langa wants to scream.

He nods however, because he’s a fool and he’s in love. He hopes that Reki assumes his stuttering is because of his poor understanding of written Japanese, and not because  he’s hopelessly, desperately in love with his best friend.

He reads it slowly, dragging out the pain in his body for the sake of Reki. He feels Reki’s breath hitch and when he exhales it sends goosebumps through his entire body. It’s painful, oh so painful, but sweet all at once.

“Forever yours,” Langa mumbles, and Reki’s hand clasp his tighter. Langa closes his eyes to the feeling, whispering the name of the girl that has shattered his perfect little world.