It never starts with Kojirou dragging Kaoru to a new skateboarding spot or an ice cream shop, even though he recently got his license to legally drive a bike that will allow him to go anywhere he wants.
It always starts with Kaoru showing up at Kojirou’s house with a grander than life energy and never-ending excitement that transforms every one of his steps into a skip. He’s smiling and shining, like there’s nothing more valuable than taking the biggest breath of air and swallowing it whole to absorb the freedom summer is giving them.
“Let’s go,” Kaoru says, shoving his fist against Kojirou’s chest with a grin. “Take your board.”
It’s nine in the morning on a summer day of their last high school summer vacation, and Kojirou doesn’t even think about his homework or his cram school classes as he follows Kaoru’s extended hand, guiding him towards a world where nothing matters except the smell of fresh flowers and the sight of a back showing him the way.
They’re sweaty, exhausted and hungry but Kojirou finds himself grinning like a fool as he collapses on the stairs of his house porch, skateboard in hand. Kaoru follows suit, placing his hands on the cool stone of the stairs, and lets out a long sigh as he tips his head back, some of his hair falling out of the low bun as he does so. Kojirou glances at the curve of Kaoru’s exposed neck, then quickly averts his eyes.
“We should go back to that skatepark tomorrow,” Kojirou suggests, still high on adrenaline. “I’ve got classes until 3 pm, we’ll have enough time before my mom starts calling me to get home.”
Summer classes suck, and Kojirou would have gladly spent his days lazing around and eating junk food while watching shows on TV, or skateboarding until his legs couldn’t take it anymore, but university entrance exams aren’t going to be passed without extensive studying. Simply thinking about them is enough for Kojirou’s good mood to drop.
“We should,” Kaoru answers slowly.
Kaoru’s face is turned towards the reddening sky. Even though the sun is setting, drowning the white facade of the houses into warmer shades, it’s still hot and way too humid for Kojirou’s taste. All summer is going to be like this—uncomfortable, sticky and heavy, but nothing he isn’t used to. He’ll complain about the weather until Kaoru gets annoyed and complains about him, then they’ll buy a week’s worth of popsicles to eat in one afternoon as they do their homework and they’ll go skating at night, once they’re free from obligations and the crushing heat.
This is what summer is supposed to be like. The view from his porch, from his family’s army of bicycles near the gate to the neighbor’s wind chime hanging on the first floor’s window and to the cat wandering on the roofs, is familiar and reassuring in its immutability. Kojirou has spent countless hours sitting here with Kaoru until dinner time, until one of them starts fidgeting because the stairs are stiff and uncomfortable and really not the place to sit on for a prolonged period of time. Kaoru’s traditional house would be a much more logical choice to hang out at; but both of them know it wouldn’t be the same.
When Kojirou stares at Kaoru’s figure, still looking at the infinite stretch of sky and gaze seemingly lost somewhere that Kojirou is not allowed to enter, he realizes that this summer will be different.
“You’re staying for dinner?” Kojirou asks, scraping his shoe against a hole in their paved pathway leading to the stairs they’ve never bothered fixing. “For some reason as we grow older, my family gets more excited when you stay for dinner. Eisuke is even asking for you.”
Kaoru shifts and turns fully towards Kojirou, his face the slightest bit surprised before his lips are curled into a smirk. The light of the sunset makes the color of his hair and of his eyes even more vibrant, like he was meant to be seen at this time of the day, when the sun recedes and the stars arise, and Kojirou almost misses what Kaoru says.
“That’s because I’m way cooler than you,” Kaoru snickers. “I’m a better role model for Eisuke than you are, you’re a lame big brother.”
Kaoru’s laugh comes from within, resonating deep in the front yard, filling it with the image of a breeze strong enough to make people sway and stagger, knocked off their feet by how genuine it is. The weight pulling at the strings in Kojirou’s heart grows bigger and heavier with each passing day, but no more painful.
Kojirou shakes his head. “Excuse you, he doesn’t need to be taught how to be a delinquent at twelve years old. You’re not even half the delinquent you pretend to be!”
“Still cooler than you are, stupid!” Kaoru retorts, and jumps to his feet. “I’m gonna eat everything in your fridge. Do you still have ice pops?”
Kaoru doesn’t even wait for his answer as he darts towards the door, easily sidestepping Kojirou and jumping over the last steps of the stairs in springy leaps. Kojirou, momentarily dazed, scrambles to get up but he’s not fast enough to stop Kaoru from turning the doorknob and dashing into the house like he owns the place. Shoes are carelessly thrown aside in the genkan while loud footsteps on the perfectly polished floor resound like an entire class of toddlers are raiding Kojirou’s home, which is not too far removed from the truth. Kaoru is laughing like a maniac.
“Don’t act like this is your house, you punk!” Kojirou shouts, making just as much noise as Kaoru in his chase, down to the kitchen. “Who said you could take the ice pops in the first place!”
“Your stuff is also my stuff!” Kaoru replies, almost hitting his face against the fridge when his steps screech to a halt in front of it.
“Stop stealing my food!”
“Hey, you have Papico ice cream too, nice!”
“I thought you didn’t like Papico—”
“Boys, play nice.”
Both of them jerk away from the fridge and swivel their heads to Kojirou’s mother, who is watching them with the kind of fond exasperation and amusement she adorns only when she thinks they won’t remember any of her words as soon as she leaves them be. Kojirou clears his throat and grabs Kaoru’s arm, pulling him along and shoving him to the front like a shield, ignoring Kaoru’s grunts.
“Kaoru was stealing our ice cream,” Kojirou says flatly.
“You’d let me starve?” Kaoru gasps.
“We’re going to eat dinner soon enough, you glutton!”
“You eat way more than I do! And after skating all afternoon we need snacks to help us cool down!”
Kojirou’s mother sighs, mutely shaking her head. She lifts her hand and points at the bathroom at the end of the corridor, tutting.
“No ice cream before dinner, go wash your hands, and help me set up the table. Kaoru-kun, don’t leave your bag in the front yard and bring it inside.”
“Yes,” Kojirou and Kaoru chorus.
Once they brush past Kojirou’s mother, they start kicking and pushing at each other to get first in the bathroom, then they flick water at the other’s eyes like it’s some sort of childish competition before they remember that Kojirou’s mother is waiting for them and probably expecting them to be on their best behavior (as behaved as they can be).
Kaoru goes to retrieve his bag and opts to drop it in the genkan beside his still carelessly thrown aside shoes. Were it someone else’s house, he most likely would have neatly put them away—but this is Kojirou’s house, always loud and welcoming and warm. Kaoru then bounds towards the kitchen to give a hand to Kojirou’s mother, moving with the confidence of someone knowing where the cracks on the pavement are and choosing to dance around them. He’s allowing himself to be extravagant in the company of people who are, at this point in his life, basically his relatives.
Kojirou watches the ease with which Kaoru reaches into cupboards and rummages through drawers under his mother’s orders, and he thinks it strange how natural Kaoru’s presence is in his house. Strange, but not unpleasant; Kaoru brings a warm gust of wind and slips into every rift left open for him to poke his head into. Kojirou sees the way his mother smiles and guides Kaoru like he has lived here all his life, waving a wooden spatula around and telling him to go fetch this and that, and Kaoru complies without a single complaint. It does something funny to Kojirou’s stomach, which he squashes down by breathing in deeply and rubbing his temples.
It’s fine. Kojirou is eighteen years old, and this is the last summer he can spend with Kaoru before responsibilities catch up to them. It won’t change anything.
Kojirou doesn’t ask why Kaoru wants to skate every day, despite their obvious amount of workload that barely diminishes as the long days of summer stretch into the end of August. It’s simply easier to pretend that everything pushing them around like they’re trapped in a train full of people, from the urgency to get grades above 80 points to the quiet expectation of finding a more socially acceptable hobby, doesn’t exist. For a few hours in the hot night of the city, Kojirou lets himself believe that this freedom of choosing will last for a while longer.
Kaoru starts to skate differently; he brings a notebook with him and scrawls remarks and numbers of his performance, comparing the different results of complicated tricks, and asks Kojirou to evaluate how accurate his predictions are. He looks so focused and sure of himself, unravelling this perfectionist side he’s kept under layers of piercings and aggressive language. Kojirou has never understood why Kaoru was so adamant on accomplishing things that contradict other, more established achievements of himself—like that time he said he wasn’t aiming at a better computer science university outside of Okinawa, despite his excellent grades and hunger for learning all he can; or the obvious question of why he keeps doing calligraphy with such dedication when the love he has for this art is nowhere near the amount of love he’s pouring into artificial intelligence.
“You know, I’m not a computer,” Kojirou sighs, trying to make sense of Kaoru’s instructions. “I can’t calculate all these things as fast, and I don’t even understand what you’re trying to do.”
“That’s because you skate without finesse,” Kaoru answers, an argument he’s repeated multiple times these past weeks. “You can turn anything into art, or something graceful and technical if you put effort into it.”
“Huh. Sounds like a lot of unnecessary trouble.”
Kaoru glares at him but keeps skating, going up and down the spine, jumping at the last second to flip his board and landing smoothly without making his wheels cry in agony. Kojirou doesn’t think it’s as satisfying as hearing the screech of the wheels against the asphalt—hearing how close the board is to the ground makes his performance even more spectacular and boisterous, like fireworks bursting into colors.
It’s past dinner time. They both warned their families they wouldn’t make it home on time—Kojirou received a message from his mother telling him to be careful, and Kaoru was asked to get back not too late. The skatepark is empty save for the both of them and two kids accompanied by their father at the funbox, all of them foolish enough to continue sweating after hours spent under the scorching sun. Kojirou is sitting at the top of the half-pipe, elbow propped up on his knee and chin resting in his hand, observing Kaoru. There is tension in Kaoru’s shoulders that wasn’t there before, slowing him down and making his skating stiffer, stilted, like some sort of insurmountable obstacle stopping his progress.
“Hey,” Kojirou calls, tone softer than usual. “Still no signs of Adam?”
Kaoru comes back at his side, gives him a single glance, and shrugs.
“Probably stuck at home or something. We can go a few days without him.”
And he goes down again, this time even faster and correcting his trajectory. Kojirou rolls his eyes and resists the urge to call on Kaoru’s bullshit, because it’s so infuriatingly obvious how upset he is at not being able to skate with Adam. Kojirou doubts it’s the sole reason for Kaoru’s bad mood, but it is definitely a factor and he doesn’t wish to ponder on it longer than necessary, lest he starts having ugly, intrusive thoughts.
“Hurry up, I’m hungry!” Kojirou says. “We’re getting ramen and you’re paying!”
“Why am I the one paying—”
Kojirou doesn’t ask why Kaoru is skating like his life depends on it, why it looks like this is the last time he will touch a skateboard. He waits, like he always has, until Kaoru is ready to tell him what’s been bothering him.
Cicadas are screaming and making a nuisance of themselves, even if the patch of grass and trees is two blocks over Kojirou’s house. He listens to them as he eats the popsicle he’s legitimately won by beating Kaoru at janken, idly thinking that maybe it’s counterproductive to sit on the porch when they have an electric fan in the living room to fight against the heat. Kaoru, leaning all his body weight against Kojirou because he likes being insufferable, is cradling his can of cola in one hand and playing some game on his smartphone in the other, looking deep in thoughts. Kojirou specifically does not think about their proximity and the warm point of contact between them.
“You’re heavy,” Kojirou mumbles.
“That will help you build muscle,” Kaoru says flatly, not budging at all.
It’s too hot to continue arguing, especially since Kojirou’s brain feels fried and unavailable for the next twenty-four hours. This is probably one of the hottest summers they’ve had, blinded by rays of sunlight and reduced to mush by the heavy air, dragging their feet from one point to another and doing at most three tasks a day, including attending classes and doing homework. Which doesn’t leave enough brain space for mundane activities like deep thinking.
And yet Kaoru still has that troubled look on his face that Kojirou wants to douse with cold water. Long strands of pink hair are falling over Kojirou’s shoulder—he can smell the stupid floral scent of his shampoo that drives him insane, the one they’ve chosen after spending thirty minutes comparing a dozen different brands at the store. He lifts a hand with the intention of touching them before remembering himself, and withdrawing just as quickly. How simple a gesture it is, and how easy a shift it would bring in their relationship.
“We’re not going to drift apart once we graduate, right?”
Neither of them is going to leave Okinawa, for the time being. Their universities, if they get into the one they want, will be in opposite parts of the island. They can text and call each other, and they will most likely come visit their parents during breaks—it’s not like they are leaving for another country.
It dawns on Kojirou, then, that he and Kaoru have never spent a prolonged period of time apart since they met in middle school. The thought gnaws at him and wraps a tight hand around his chest; he chances a look at Kaoru, and finds golden eyes staring at him with incredulity and faint amusement in equal measures.
“I think it would take something bigger for us to stop talking,” Kaoru says. “Your flip phone looks ugly but at least it’s working.”
“Not everyone can get a smartphone of the latest technology,” Kojirou grumbles, though his entire posture relaxes. “I’ll detail in my emails the ingredients of my delicious meals while you’re eating instant ramen or sandwiches bought at the convenient store. I’ll even send you pics!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, maybe your meals will look pretty but they won’t be tasty.”
“I’ve never heard you complain about my food before.”
“There’s a first to everything, you naive idiot.”
Kaoru presses himself closer to Kojirou and almost manages to tip him over the porch, but Kojirou simply laughs and grips Kaoru’s shoulder to steady the both of them. Perhaps this is why they choose the porch and not the crowded space of Kojirou’s living room; a moment shared between the two of them, listening to the cacophony of nature and suffering the heat solely for the opportunity to exist together.
Kaoru doesn’t say anything else, returning his attention to his game and Kojirou thinks that maybe, as long as he lets himself believe it, this is the peace they will always carry within themselves.
Their bikes were left abandoned on the sideroad, out of the way for people to circulate freely but still parked in a haphazard manner that would have made their parents yell. It’s not Kojirou’s biggest concern though, and this is hardly the most unforgivable inconvenience they’ve perpetrated.
The sun is hanging low in the sky, kissing the edge of the sea and covering the entire beach in warm tones. The elevated highway running across the water sounds just as noisy as usual, bringing some sort of twisted rhythm to their footsteps on the soft sand. It’s quiet; not many people are agglutinated on the shore, and even less are taking a walk alongside the waves.
Kojirou’s bare feet are crunching the sand and the pebbles in slow and measured steps, following Kaoru’s trail in front of him. They left their shoes somewhere near their bikes, throwing aside what was in the end a dead weight they would have had to carry. They don’t come to the beach nearly enough—it’s a place where nothing seems to matter, all worries drowned by the steady sound of the waves and by the tickling breeze caressing their hair. Kojirou walks and lets his mind rest.
Kaoru is walking backwards, tracing a path he’s the only one visualizing one step at a time, carefully and gently. He doesn’t exude his usual fiery energy that burns everything around him; he’s calm, but not in a worrying way. Kojirou’s eyes never stray away from Kaoru’s figure.
“You’re going to trip,” Kojirou says.
“There is less risk of tripping in walking backwards than in skating,” Kaoru replies with a snort. “And even if I do, the sand’s not going to hurt me.”
“I would catch you anyway.”
Kaoru looks up from his feet. For one short, miraculous second, Kojirou thinks that there is hope in Kaoru’s eyes, but it vanishes in a blink and he’s left with a crooked grin.
“Maybe, if you’re fast enough,” Kaoru teases.
Kojirou’s shoulders lift in an overt, deliberate shrug. “I’m as fast as Adam.”
It’s half-petty, half-true, but Kaoru doesn’t pick up on the obvious disdain in Kojirou’s words and chooses to burst out laughing. His voice carries high and far, as clear and limpid as water, and his face breaks into an expression of pure joy that lights up his eyes. Kojirou stares, mesmerized and feeling stupid for still being caught off guard by all the alluring facets Kaoru is willing to leave open to be scrutinized.
“You’re trying to show off?” Kaoru asks, mirth in his eyes.
“I don’t want to hear it from mister I’ll-steal-your-thunder-anytime,” Kojirou snorts. “I’m not showing off if it’s true.”
“Then prove it.”
Kojirou raises an eyebrow, momentarily confused. Kaoru is still grinning as he splays his arms wide, something wild glinting in his golden irises. It’s only when Kaoru starts tipping backwards that Kojirou understands what kind of crazy shit he’s come up with and he leaps into action, his left foot kicking the sand and his right arm shooting forward. One or ten curses fly out of his mouth as he forcefully grabs Kaoru’s arm in one hand and grips his shoulder in the other, then yanks him towards himself.
For a few seconds, this moment floats in the air and remains suspended. Kojirou’s feet are half-buried in the sand in his rush to catch Kaoru, covered in an odd veil of warmth that somehow feels comforting, making him take root in this spot. He’s completely drunk on the sight of Kaoru, face too close and illuminated by the faint light of the setting sun, hair out of his eyes and piercings gleaming, his lips curled into a satisfied and lazy smirk. The sound of the waves is but a distant noise to Kojirou over the hammering of his heartbeat and the ringing in his ears. And for a few seconds, he wants nothing more than to lean down and kiss Kaoru.
The spell shatters and breaks when Kaoru lifts his hand and flicks Kojirou’s forehead, tearing a long groan out of him.
“That hurts, you know!” Kojirou grumbles.
“That’s only a tickle, you big baby,” Kaoru says, rolling his eyes. “Well, I guess you prove you’re not completely useless.”
Kaoru wrenches his arm back and straightens up, making a show of dusting off his shirt and smoothing the wrinkles. Kojirou silently lets his arms fall at his sides, fingers still burning from the contact.
The wind is picking up. Kaoru turns his face towards the sky, and this—Kaoru’s profile, shining bright against the orange hue of the beach and the sky, devoid of worry and looking serene, is what matters the most to Kojirou.
“Summer’s ending,” Kaoru sighs, closing his eyes. “We still have a few months left together. And then it’s another kind of life entirely.”
“We’ve already established we’re not going to stop being friends,” Kojirou points out as he extracts his feet from the sand, tracing formless shapes in it instead. “Or are you already forgetting things from like, two days ago?”
“I was just making sure you remembered it, bastard.” Kaoru pauses; the sudden silence finally leaves space for the muffled noises of the water running on the sand. When he speaks again, his voice comes from the deepest well of his resolve. “You’ll become a cook and I’ll become the next renown calligrapher of Sakurayashiki studio. That’s how we’ve decided to grow up.”
Long days of unconcealed frustration, helpless screams about not being able to pursue a more profitable career and disappointment at his own inability to fully let go of something that has been transplanted in him since birth, leading to defeat simmered in rage—these memories come back in Kojirou’s mind unbidden and leave a bitter taste in his mouth. The puzzle pieces of Kaoru’s mood scattered across all summer move into place. But Kaoru is smiling and determined not to show weakness, even if the lines of his eyes are still angry, and who is Kojirou to not fall a little bit more in love with this flawed yet beautiful person that is Sakurayashiki Kaoru?
“We’ll grow up and become boring adults, but we’ll still be the same people,” Kojirou says with a smile of his own.
Kaoru slowly opens his eyes and looks over. Kojirou lifts his closed fist, expectant, and Kaoru obligingly bumps it with his own. A silly, mechanical gesture that accompanied them for years, like a sign of their bond that does nothing but strengthen and bloom with each passing day.
They are both sporting a grin as if they’ve just completed the best races of their lives. For once, Kojirou lets himself wholly acknowledge the pleasant fire that travels from his stomach to his chest, spreading a tingling sensation all over his body that makes him feel like he’s skateboarding at the highest speed with the certainty of victory under his wheels. He could get addicted to this quiet storm with the scent of spring brewing in his heart.
“Boring adults with boring friends,” Kaoru adds.
“That’s only natural,” Kojirou laughs.
The sun is dipping farther into the sea now—the colors are changing, gradually engulfing the beach in colder shades, but no less stunning.
Summer is ending, and new resolutions are starting.