The sun's rays were filtering through the window curtains, hitting over his head and cutting across the walls of his bedroom. Toge shifted uncomfortably on his tiny bed as he pulled up his blanket to cover his face from the sun's glare. Seconds later, he pushed it away when his skin was beginning to drench in sweat.
It was the first day of summer.
And unlike any other kids in their small town who travel across to different countries, do crazy adventures, and have fun while the sun is still up and freedom is in the palm of their hands—Toge stays at home with his family.
Ever since he was born, his summer activities have been relatively the same. He has programmed himself to do a set of things purely made out of habit. The list goes something like this: He wakes up at precisely 7:00 in the morning to prepare himself for the day. Then, he eats his breakfast along with his parents, and when they're done, they start doing their tasks at the farm. Toge is assigned to feed the animals at the back of their house, and he has no qualms with his work since this was better than cleaning the pig's den or harvesting goods under the scorching blaze of the sun.
Afterward, he either spends his afternoons locked up inside his room while learning sign language, or he goes to the river where he would place a mat on the riverbank and lie there just to pass the time until it gets dark, and he has to go home for dinner.
His first day of summer was supposed to be just like any summer he had spent. However, he was momentarily thrown off while feeding the chickens when a ball bounced its way over their fence and into their backyard. He stared at it for a little while, unsure of what to do.
Out of the blue, there was a boy, probably around his age, peeking behind their fence. "Hello, I'm sorry for disturbing you, but can I please have my ball back?"
Toge just nodded, picking the ball on the ground and giving it back to his neighbor. "Thanks!" The boy exclaimed, struggling to grip on the fence for leverage.
Toge once again nodded and proceeded to get back to feed the animals. He expected the boy to be gone after that, but Toge was utterly shocked to see him still behind their fence, watching him.
"My name is Yuuta Okkotsu." The boy introduced himself. "This is my first time spending the entire summer here in my grandparents' house, and I don't know anyone. Do you want to play ball with me?"
Toge always has an answer to this one, and it's to decline such offers. He shook his head and turned his back, ignoring the pout on the boy's lips. Befriending people was hard, especially if the person cannot speak and relies heavily on flimsy sign language and writing on notebooks.
"Why do you only answer using your head? Don't you know how to talk?" The boy, Yuuta, was utterly curious, and Toge knew that his question didn't mean any harm, so he just breathed out before facing him again.
Toge brought his right hand down to stroke his left index finger, sticking out of his closed fist. Can't. Next, he made a "four" hand shape with his right hand, which he moved backward twice, tapping his index finger below his bottom lip each time. Talk.
Yuuta looked genuinely confused, his head tilting to the side with his eyebrows furrowed. "I don't get it."
No one really does. Toge thought to himself before he shrugged in response. However, Yuuta threw the ball over their fence again, but this time, it was intentional. The ball bounced and slowly rolled on the ground, stopping right exactly at Toge's feet.
"I'll leave my ball here in case you change your mind and if you want to play with me, just give it back to me!" Yuuta beamed, seemingly excited as if he wasn't rejected earlier. "See you!"
And he was out of Toge's sight in an instant. He eyed the ball for a few minutes, contemplating whether to take the ball with him inside or leave it as it is. Yet, he didn't want to be held responsible if Yuuta's ball got lost or damaged, so he picked it up and brought it inside his bedroom and placed it on top of his desk.
From his bedroom, he could hear the boisterous laughter of his neighbor, and when he peeked through his windows, he could see Yuuta playing with his dog in their backyard.
He reckoned today would be as uneventful as it was yesterday, but when he arrived at their backyard, Yuuta was already standing behind their fence. He must have stood on a ladder or chair to be elevated that high. When he spotted Toge carrying a basket of chicken feeds, he waved his hand enthusiastically.
"Good morning!" Yuuta greeted. He was exceptionally cheerful in the morning; Toge could never relate. "You know, I asked my grandfather about you, and he told me you were mute. Which means you cannot talk."
Toge froze; the chicken pellet-sized feeds on his hand created a crushing sound when he absentmindedly clenched his fist. He was already preparing for the worst, for any possibly rude comments that would come his way, but instead, he heard something far from what he was expecting.
"I'm sorry." Yuuta sincerely apologized. "I was mean to you yesterday, right? I remembered asking why you kept using your head instead of just talking. That was very mean of me. I'm sorry."
Stunned, Toge just nodded, and Yuuta may have expected that kind of response from him, so he added, "Also, I have something for you." Toge raised his eyebrow as Yuuta fished something out of his pocket—a small notepad and pen.
"Is this okay? I don't know anything about the things you do with your hands, and my Grandma told me it was sign language." He sounded unsure, so Toge nodded once again. And when Yuuta saw the small gesture of acknowledgment from Toge, he continued. "But I promise, if we become friends, I will learn it for you."
Toge's right hand touched his forehead, and then as he brought it forward, he clenched his right fist while his thumb and pinky finger were both up, keeping his palm facing his face. Why?
"Is that supposed to be letter Y? Oh, you mean 'why'?" For a kid who has no idea about sign language, he was pretty quick at picking up small details, and it somehow made Toge amused.
But, if they were going to continue conversing, and while Toge may find sign language as an easier way of communicating, writing seemed more convenient at the moment. He dropped the feeds on his palm to the ground, then he walked towards the fence, grabbing the notepad and pen from Yuuta.
y do u want 2 b friends?
He wrote quickly and then showed it to Yuuta. "Why not? Am I not allowed to be friends with you?"
Toge surely did not see that question coming.
no but i cant talk it will b hard for u
"I know that," Yuuta answered nonchalantly as if he wasn't bothered about the fact that the person he wanted to be friends with was mute. "That's why I'll learn sign language. My Grandma said if I want to be friends and play with you, I should make the effort of learning it. But, for now, the notepad and pen will help us."
wait i also have something for u
He gave the notepad and pen back to Yuuta before rushing inside their house and into his bedroom to get the ball on the floor. He ran back towards their backyard, where he caught Yuuta scribbling something on the notepad. Toge gave the ball back to him, and in exchange, Yuuta gave him the notepad and pen.
"So, does it mean we're friends now and we can play together?" Yuuta asked, voice lilting in excitement and eagerness. Toge nodded with a timid smile on his face. "Cool! Can I come over to your house right now? I want to pet your chickens. Is that okay?"
Toge couldn't help the broad smile on his face when it was evident in Yuuta's eyes how enthralled he was with the chickens pecking on the ground. So, he nodded, and Yuuta practically leaped from whatever he was standing on, running outside their house. While he was at it, Toge decided to open the notepad to read what Yuuta wrote earlier.
And this was what Toge found right below his reply: what's your name? i forgot to ask
Toge's lips broke out into a wide grin. It was probably the first time someone was keen enough to be friends with him that they forgot to ask his name first. When he opened their gate after Yuuta had knocked on it three times, Toge was facing a kid who has the same height as him, and it just dawned to him how similar their spiky hairstyle was.
"Hello!" Yuuta cheerfully said, his hand waving ecstatically. However, he stopped when he asked, "What's your name?"
Toge gave him the notepad and showed the latter his name right beside the question he wrote. Toge Inumaki.
"Toge?" Yuuta uttered his name, unsure if he was pronouncing it correctly, but when Toge had his thumb up, Yuuta repeated it. "Toge."
It felt weird, honestly. Hearing someone call his name with no ounce of harshness, mockery, or pity lacing in their tone—Yuuta uttered his name like they were friends who haven't seen each other for years. And yes, it may have felt weird, but it also felt nice. And it actually has been a long time since Toge felt nice.
“Hello, Toge! My name is Yuuta and I hope we can be great friends starting from now on!”
Toge should have known that from the moment he returned the ball, his summer would be different. And it was all because of a black-haired boy with kind eyes and a warm smile named Yuuta Okkotsu.