“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”
“Who said that?”
Riku looks up from the book to glare at Sora, who lounges comfortably in the shade of the tree, squinting stupidly at the sun. Sora, who just confirmed Riku’s theory that his friend hasn’t been listening to a word he has been saying.
“The quote, Sora. Who said it?”
“Oh.” Sora rips a blade of grass from the earth, twisting it between his fingers. “I don’t know.”
“Take a guess. I’ll even give you a hint: it wasn’t Dr. Seuss.”
Sora worries his bottom lip between a row of perfectly white teeth that were nearly blinding in the sunlight, and hums. Riku waits patiently for him to answer, listening to the waves crash against the rocks on the beach some ways behind them, and the birds chirping and whistling as they swoop at each other in the air. However, after two minutes of Sora failing to answer, Riku sighs and kicks him to make sure the dumbass hasn’t fallen asleep again.
“Do you want me to repeat the line?”
“I would love nothing less.” Sora rubs his thigh where it met with Riku’s shoe, and pouts.
Riku glares, “Is that sarcasm?”
“Yes it was, and that was a rhetorical question.” Sora turns to grin at Riku, all shark. “See. I know things. Literary devices and shit.”
Riku raises an eyebrow. Sora’s snappy. He checks his watch. Half-one. They haven’t had lunch yet. Sora’s mother is at work, which means Riku will have to cook for them if he doesn’t want lettuce and tomato thrown nastily on a slice of bread. “Sarcasm isn’t a literary dev – okay.” Riku lets his pen fall onto the text book, the uncapped end bouncing and splattering a tiny amount of ink across the pages. He almost winces.
“Okay. Sora. The exam is in two weeks and you are going to fail.”
“First: harsh. Second: tests are a social construct.”
Riku blinks at his friend for a moment. “Are they.”
“Yes. So is determining our intelligence based on a ranking system of how many questions we get right. I am only as smart as I think I am.”
“Oh really?” Riku crosses his legs and rests his chin in his hand, staring at his friend with a bemused expression. A beam of light breaking through the gaps in the leaves casts an odd shadow on Sora’s head, making him look as if he has a stripe of golden hair. Riku lets himself get distracted by it for as long as he can, if it grants him a short recess from this conversation. But eventually he asks: “And how smart do you think you are?”
At this Sora sits up and swivels around to face Riku, who flinches back at the sudden excess of movement.
They compete in a trifling staring match. Riku looks away first because the stripe of sunlight is now on Sora’s throat and it gives the disturbing appearance of a scar.
“It was Oscar Wilde.”
He stands and heads back into Sora’s house. He’s craving a cheese sandwich with bacon bits.
“Hey, where’s Kairi?”
Is what Sora probably said. But through bites of cheese and bacon what tumbled out was something not of this world. Luckily after all these years of hanging around the little imp Riku could proudly say that he is a skilled master in Sora-speak.
Well, not proudly, but you know.
“She’s at Selphie’s working on their science project.”
Sora squinted. “She tell you that?”
Riku took a swig of orange juice. “No, but the other day they were both complaining about how far behind on it they were. So. Naturally.”
“Naturally.” He takes another bite and swallows. “How about Tidus?”
“On the beach with Wakka. Probably.”
“Do you know where everyone is on this island?” Sora asks.
“Where’s my mom?”
“She’s currently blowing Mr. Adair to get you a passing mark on this exam.”
Sora tries to throw his drink in Riku’s face before realizing the glass is empty, and settles for a good old fashion kick in the nether regions instead. All of this confusion, however, has given Riku ample time to jump a safe distance away.
“Well I’m not gonna do it.” Riku then bent to dodge the flying literacy book. Eyes shut tight he hears it crash into the cabinet of Sora’s kitchen.
Sora jabs an accusing finger at him. “You know what your issue is? You have zero faith in me.”
Riku rolles his eyes, leaning back against the counter. “Sora, I don’t think it’s my faith in you that’s the problem here.”
“So along with a freaky in built GPS system, you have to ability to read minds now too?”
Riku lets Sora’s eyes pierce his soul for half a minute. He’s still squinting slightly. Too much sun. There is also some redness in the corner of his left eye. Irritation. Probably from the grass he’d assaulted earlier.
“I want to drop out.”
“I know you do. Hell if it’s going to happen, though.”
Sora scoffs and tries to protest, but Riku beats him to it. “Sora, you are not dropping out four months before the end of senior year, it’s ridiculous! You do realize that is ridiculous, right?”
When Sora’s glance falls to his feet Riku steps closer, rounding the table until he is stood right in front of his friend. “Think of it this way; you’ve put up with that shit hole for years. A few more months of hell isn’t going to kill you.”
A lifetime passes as Riku once again allows himself be intensely stared at. At this proximity Riku can see the flush on Sora’s cheeks at the fault of the sun, or anger, or both, as well as a long black eyelash resting on his cheekbone. Riku almost moves to brush it away. Eventually Sora breaks eye contact and huffs. Riku doesn’t have time to decipher whether that sounded like a sob or not because his friend says, “So Oscar Wilde?”
Something must have switched inside Sora’s brain because for the next couple days they study non-stop until Sora mercilessly quotes The Picture of Dorian Grey at Riku so much he threatens to punch him in the face. Sora just giggles into his text book. They swap to psychology when Kairi comes over to join them and honestly, Riku’s a little thankful he doesn’t have to be alone anymore in the suffocating confines of Sora’s bedroom listening to him manically laugh every time he correctly connects the right author to a quote, or pisses Riku off with Shakespearean sonnets.
“Hey, you wanna be a psychologist, don’t you, Riku?”
Riku doesn’t look up from his laptop. “Sure.”
Kairi rolls on to her back, bright red hair a stark contrast with the soft, pale rug. “Really? I didn’t know that.”
Sora hums happily next to her. “It’s a new development. Kinda perfect too, right? He’s already got the whole judgmental thing down.”
Riku stops typing. “I am not judgmental!”
They ignore him.
“I can’t wait for college.” Kairi groans wistfully.
“I sure can.” Sora replies.
She brushes a strand of hair behind her ear and glares at Sora. “Let me rephrase then: I can’t wait to live somewhere bigger than this island. And the word I think you were looking for is observant.”
Sora snaps his fingers. “Yes! He does this weird thing with his eyes like Sherlock Holmes. Oh!” Sora bounces up and clears his throat, face going serious. "’The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes’. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 1902."
Kairi grins broadly and applauds. Riku snaps his laptop shut. “I’m going home.”
He goes home.
Sora rings him just as he is about to get into bed.
“Where do you think college is?” Riku frowns into the darkness of his room, wondering what that question was supposed to mean and how to answer it. Was Sora freaking out about college now? Great. Had he started sending out applications yet? Riku thinks back to a stack of papers jutting out under Sora’s desk and settles on no. He pinches his nose, thinking Kairi was right about his perception.
“Uh … the Mainland?” He settles with.
There’s silence over the line. Then, “OK. Thanks.” and Sora hangs up. Riku takes a deep breath and places his phone on the nightstand. As he climbs into bed he wishes he could have seen Sora’s expression during the silence.
They are walking home together after school one day when Sora asks, “Where’s the Mainland?” quite out of the blue and, Riku notes, like they were continuing a conversation. Sora’s eyes are focused on the road ahead when Riku turns to look at him. Though he is gnawing on the corner of his mouth nervously and his lips are chapped, he’s licking them too often. He doesn’t know what this means – noticing all of Sora’s new nervous habits. Just as well does he know what Sora developing new nervous habits means, either.
“Yeah, the Mainland.”
“It’s … where the Mainland is. Sora, I don’t –”
“No, I mean where is it? North, South, or East? We know the play island is West so it’s definitely not there.”
“What is this obsession with the Mainland now?” Riku stops walking and so does Sora, some paces in front. Slowly he turns to regard his friend, face unreadable. Riku sighs. He’s been doing a lot of that lately. “Sora, if this is about college … if you are worried about anything just tell me.”
“I’m not worried about college.” He says.
“You’re worried about something.” Riku thinks back to the application forms being used as paper weights in Sora’s bedroom. Eventually he decides, okay fine, and says. “It’s North.”
“North of here or north of the string of islands?”
“North of the Islands. It is about North-East from here.”
And then Riku visibly sees Sora relax in front of his eyes. It was as if some invisible force lifted itself from his friend’s shoulders, unlatched itself from his neck, arms, back. So much so that he half expected Sora to float away in the soft breeze. Sora’s face lights up with that familiar broad grin and they carry on walking, Sora chattering away about this and that and the weekend and a new promotion his mother was hoping for like nothing had happened.
Riku just goes with it.
Sora actually calms down over the next week. He studies on his own without making Riku come over, only texting or calling when he encounters a literary device he doesn’t understand or a word he doesn’t know the meaning of. Because for some reason, asking Riku directly and using his friend as his own personal combined dictionary and thesaurus is easier than looking it up on the internet like a normal person.
Friday night he breaks.
“I’m losing my mind.” Is the first thing Riku hears when answering the phone.
“Hello to you too.”
Over the line Sora clicks his tongue and Riku hears a faint rustling in the background. He can picture Sora on his back, limbs thrown across his bed with books and papers scattered haphazardly around his body, arm covering his eyes all dramatic.
“If I have to read one more line of Poe’s ramblings I will desecrate something, Riku.”
“Desecrate. Well done.”
“Shut up. You’re working at the hotel tomorrow, right?”
“Cool. I’m coming in to help out.”
Riku raises an eyebrow. “Whatever you want to do.”
They spend the next hour and a half talking about whatever happens to come to Sora’s strange little mind. Riku spends the first twenty minutes attempting to multitask, listening to Sora chatter and finish his psychology essay at the same time. When that proves too difficult he gives up, huffs once through his nose, pushes the laptop to the side, lays back against the pillows and closes his eyes, listening to the soft raspiness of Sora’s voice.
Stress melts away and exhaustion rolls in when Riku realizes he just laughed at some joke that Sora made. He’s not even sure what it was, but Sora’s voice cracked when he got to the punchline, like he was trying hard not to laugh at it himself. Riku wonders if Sora’s sorted out any of those application forms yet. Come to think of it he doesn’t even know which colleges Sora is planning on applying to. And for what? He makes a mental note to ask soon. In the back of Riku’s mind he thinks maybe something creative? Music or art? Riku will have to talk him out of it if it’s art history.
Riku calls bullshit on Sora’s I-hate-every-class-where-all-you-do-is-read-from-textbooks-and-listen-to-lectures-all-day because he obviously still thinks Riku hasn’t noticed how his friend’s eyes light up when the year of the discovery of Destiny’s Islands and the events which led to and occurred is mentioned. Sora loves history and he can deny it all he likes but the boy is a major nerd when it comes to that subject. It’s his best class, even. They sit next to each other, for God sakes, Riku has seen the A+ with credits written in fine red pen on the top of nearly every test their teacher gives them.
This may explain the constant talk about the Mainland, but he still finds it odd that Sora would be asking Riku all these questions about it. Like he doesn’t know. Like they hadn’t been over it more times than Riku can count in Geography.
He doses off and wakes to Sora shouting “Riku!” over the receiver. Riku sits up, a little fast and is left a tad dizzy, and Sora is saying, “I said we should go down to the beach.”
Instinctively Riku glances at the clock. “Now?”
Riku studies the slowly fading orange light shining on his bedroom walls and takes half a second to decide. He tells his dad where he is going and that he will be back in a couple hours, and to not worry about dinner for him. He meets Sora at a street lamp around the corner of his house. It’s colder than most evenings. Sora is wearing jeans, and he picks at a loose thread at his knee as he waits for Riku. His hair looks like deep caramel in the sunset, and Riku is suddenly hungry.
They stop to get take away before heading toward the beach. The streets are bustling with island goers tonight. They pass a little ice cream shop on the curb and Riku has to physically restrain Sora, reminding him of his still half-eaten sandwich and promising they’ll get some on the way back.
They rest on the sand, staring up at the sky. Riku digs his fingers into it, relishing the warmth. They don’t talk for several minutes and Riku closes his eyes, listening to the waves and Sora’s soft breathing beside him.
“Do you remember our big raft adventure?” Sora asks.
Riku peeks an eye open. “You mean the one that didn’t happen?”
“Of course I remember it. Good ol’ Lancelot.”
A beat passes. “Who’s Lancelot?” Sora asks, voice laced with confusion.
“The raft.” Riku says, obviously. “We named it Lancelot.”
Sora turns his head to look at Riku. His eyebrows are furrowed. “No. We called it Excalibur.”
Now it was Riku’s turn to frown. “I’m pretty sure it was Lancelot.”
“It was Excalibur, Riku, why the hell would you name a raft Lancelot?”
“Why would you name it Excalibur?”
Sora barks a laugh. “Because it sounds like a thousand times better than Lancelot. At least Excalibur’s a thing and not a person. It’s like – Hey! Let us sail this here vessel of thirty wooden planks and a dish towel into the great unknown! Sail upon the S.S. Lancelot. It’s facetious.”
Riku plans on congratulating Sora on that word use after they’d finished arguing. “How? Tonnes of ships are named after people.”
“Yeah but it’s usually women. Therefore, it couldn’t have been Lancelot. You can’t exactly sail on a ship named Lancelot and call it ‘she’, now can you?”
Riku shock his head. “If I just agree can we end this conversation?”
Sora rolls his eyes, but Riku sees the small victory. “Fine.”
The sun is set now, small twinkling stars peeking out beyond a soft gradient of blue. Some distance down the beach an elderly couple walks hand in hand, admiring the horizon. Some ways beyond them a young couple chases each other along the shore, occasionally stopping to splash water at the other, both shrieking at the temperature.
“Why did you bring it up, anyway? The raft.” Riku asks.
Sora does that thing again where he gnaws at the corner of his lip. “I’ve just been thinking about it lately.”
“Reminiscing. And wondering. Why we never went.”
“I’ll tell you why we never went – because we were fourteen years old and wouldn’t have made it half a mile without wanting to turn back.”
“You were fifteen.”
Sora groans loudly and sits up. Sand covers his back like a sheet. He kicks his feet once, twice, getting sand on Riku’s ankles and decides, “I wanna go swimming.”
“You’re supposed to wait half an hour after eating.”
Sora glares. “You’re not my mother.”
“Fine. Go and drown. See if I care.” Riku waves his hand in a shooing gesture and closes his eyes. He hears Sora leave and lays there peacefully for a good while, dozing off a little. Eventually he figures he should check to see if Sora is still alive, and opens his eyes to find Sora’s clothes dumped in a pile by his head. All of his clothes. Riku quickly scans the shoreline and sees Sora’s faint silhouette in the moonlight. Great. He’s going to freeze to death.
Riku’s pride permits him from accepting that he does actually sound like a mother.
He notices the beach is wholly deserted now and stands, brushes sand off his pants and shirt and makes his way over to his idiot friend. Sora’s just standing there, the water rippling around his abdomen gently, and Riku reckons it must be cold yet Sora doesn’t flinch. He looks paler in the moonlight, golden tan washing away for a much milkier tone. He sees his shoulders rise and fall, spikes of hair responding to the breeze and brushing lightly across the nape of his neck.
Enough time passes for Riku to realize he probably looks like a creep for standing there and staring, and he calls out. “Hey, Poseidon, it’s getting late.”
Sora makes no indication that he heard him, so Riku ventures closer and tries again. “Sora! Are you going to come back to shore soon or are you just going to stand there until you catch hyperthermia?”
At this his friend chuckles and turns, eyes gleaming. “Relax.” The water casts an odd reflection on Sora, ghostly blue ripples forming a pattern along his skin, and his eyes shine brighter than usual. He nods toward the beach. “Can you get my clothes?”
Riku barely has time to turn when Sora suddenly lunges into the air and dives under inky black water, nearly giving Riku an eyeful. He all but runs to the clothes. Riku keeps his eyes downcast when he returns to Sora, who shamelessly stands on the hard sand, tossing the pile in his general direction. Riku averts his eyes, glaring at a hole in the sand the size of Sora’s heel, feeling unusually angry.
“Have fun getting back into those jeans,” he says. Without another word or even giving Sora a chance to respond Riku starts back toward the road.
They don’t get ice cream.
Sora still shows up at the hotel the next day. He doesn’t look mad, despite Riku blatantly abandoning him last night. In fact he looks cheerier than usual, until Riku spots a touch of guilt laced in his greeting smile. Riku knew that Sora thought he’d overstepped a line, and was sorry about it.
Sora spots Riku’s dad in the foyer and calls out. The man waves them over to a counter next to the front desk. “OK, guys. You can start today by restacking these pamphlets. After that you can help resupply the rooms with clean towels and sheets. Cool?”
“Great!” Sora grins enthusiastically.
“Great.” Riku’s dad repeats, sending a pointed grin at his son’s neutral expression. Yes, alright. Happy service means happy customers. Fine, fine.
Riku knew that Sora absolutely loved his dad. He was a constant that had been there since he and Riku were young. And unlike Riku, the man was all big smiles and warm presence. His jokes were even funny. He and Sora got along better than Riku does with either of them sometimes.
They work quietly refilling the pamphlet racks. A woman approaches and asks Sora for directions to the nearest beach. Riku looks over. She’s tanned, with large sunglasses and a floral dress – typical tourist attire.
Sora gives her the directions happily, then gives her another. “It’s a little further away but this one’s a lot bigger and nicer.” The woman thanks Sora and before she leaves, Riku hears him ask where she’s visiting from, out of curiosity. Riku doesn’t hear the answer properly but Sora says “Hey, cool place!” wishes her a lovely stay, and returns to work.
“You’re a hell of a lot better at customer service than I am.” Riku comments. And it was true, he thought – Riku would have just answered her question, said goodbye and got back to work. Which, for some customers, he’s learnt, was the way to go, but this woman seemed friendly and appreciated the conversation. That was something Riku struggled with, when differentiating between the start-a-small-conversation and the keep-it-short-and-sweet. “Should work on that,” Riku continues, “since this hotel could be my future and everything.”
Sora looks up, carefully placing a sight-seeing brochure on the correct rack. “I thought your dad didn’t want you taking over the hotel?”
Riku nodded. “He doesn’t. But if college goes south I would have to, right?”
“College isn’t going to go south.” Sora pauses and adds, “For you.”
Riku quirks and eyebrow. He and his dad had had this conversation a million times. He didn’t want his son to feel like he has to take over “the family business” just because he himself was too lazy to try and make a future of his own, when he already had one laid out for him.
“Whatever.” How many application forms had he already sent out? Two? Three?
They finish stacking and move onto clean-up. They make a game of who can re-supply rooms with clean sheets and towels the fastest. The first floor was Riku. The second was Sora. By the time they reach the third they are both too bored to even bother. “Truth or Dare!” Sora suddenly calls.
Riku sighs exasperatedly, “Seriously?”
“Fine. Dare, I guess.”
Sora smirks. Riku sees devil horns. “I dare you to eat something out of one of the room’s snack bars.”
Riku just stares. “Sora. I’m not going to steal food. And whoever’s staying in that room will have to pay for it.”
“Well, it is your family’s hotel, so in a way it isn’t stealing. And we can replace it afterward.”
“I’m just saying.”
Sora sighs dramatically and makes a show of pulling a stack of towels out of the cart. “Fine. Truth or Truth then.” They stick together, re-supplying all the rooms one by one. Sora on sheets, Riku on towels. The work gets done slower but at least they’re not bored.
“Riku, have you ever unsuccessfully hid a hangover from your dad?”
Riku pauses to think. “Ah. Once, yeah. Do you remember Selphie’s seventeenth? Not the actual party but afterward when we all went down to the beach? I think it was Wakka who brought a keg. We thought it was just plain old beer but he had mixed it with something and. Yeah. I was too sick the next day to even try and play it off as just a stomach bug.”
Sora barks a laugh, cringing. “Oh, God, yeah. I remember.”
“Alight – your turn. What is the most awkward thing that’s happened to you publicly?”
Sora hums for a moment, thinking. Riku stacks the final towel on the shelf and they move on to the next room. Sora says, “That time in middle school where a few of us were playing Spin The Bottle when a sub didn’t show up to class, and I had to kiss Tidus.”
Riku stops mid stacking, and nearly drops the whole pile. “What?”
“Yeah,” Sora shouts from the bedroom. “You don’t remember that?”
“Huh.” His head pokes around the corner. “You must not have been in that day. Anyway, we did. But someone had left an empty coke can on the floor, and Tidus kneeled on it when he was leaning over. So he kinda fell forward,” Sora paused to flip a bed sheet, “onto me and, like, half punched me in the kidney, so he mostly ended up kissing my chin and me his nose.”
Riku hears Sora laugh while fluffing the pillows, and he hangs the last towel up, a little crocked. “So yeah! It was very uncomfortable for everyone. We don’t talk about it.”
They leave the room and Riku says, “Wow. Memorable first kiss.”
Sora makes a face as he unlocks the final room of the floor. “Nah. I don’t believe in ‘first kisses’. You kiss someone and then you kiss someone else, maybe, and that’s just as good a first kiss as the first first one. And it goes on with each new person you meet.”
“I guess.” Riku shrugs. He follows his friend into the room. They nearly collide when Sora stops suddenly, and they’re standing in front of a suspiciously unmade bed. Sora stares at it in disgust, and Riku thinks he spots underwear peeking out from behind one of the legs.
“Not my job.” Riku smirks, fleeing to the bathroom. He hears Sora groan “Ew” behind him. There are many complaints as Riku re-stocks the cabinets, and hangs towels on hocks. He hears the sound of something large sailing through the air and turns his head just in time to see a large pile of bed linen hit the cart. Riku laughs quietly to himself at Sora’s shout of triumph. He decides he may as well help make the bed this time and moves to meet Sora in the bedroom.
“Whose turn is it?” Riku asks, ripping a pillow out of its case.
“Mmn. Yours. Okay, Riku –” Sora thinks for a moment, grabbing a new mattress protector out of the cart. “Have you ever been to the Mainland?”
Riku nearly laughs. “I was wondering how long it would take you to break.”
“What does that mean?”
Riku shakes his head. “No, I have not. Pretty sure Kairi went once, on a holiday with her parents. A couple years back, maybe?”
Sora considers this for a moment. Riku helps him with the mattress protector and the under-sheets before either of them talks again. Sora is buttoning up the quilt when he says, “So you’ve really never been?”
“Me neither. My mom has, for work. Wonder what’s there …”
“We know what’s there.” Riku straightens the quilt out. “Civilization.” But Sora doesn’t appear to be listening, placing the pillows on the bed in a trance.
“Well, at least she said she’s been there. But her memory must be going whack because I don’t once remember her ever having to go to another island for work.” Sora then falls back onto the bed, immediately messing it up again. Riku glares and tugs at a corner.
“You’ve harassed your mom with this, too?”
“Alright. My turn now. Sora, what is with this obsession with the Mainland?”
Sora doesn’t speak for a minute. He stares at the ceiling with a faraway look in his eyes. “Have you ever been to the other islands?”
“Uh uh. You need to answer my question, Sora, that’s the rules of Truth or Truth.”
“I will, I promise. But have you ever been to the other islands?”
Riku thinks, the answer forming on his lips within seconds. “No, I don’t think so. Dad’s always busy with this crap hole so we never went, not even when I was younger. Now. Answer. Please.”
Sora takes a deep breath, moving further up the bed. “I’ve never been to the other islands or the Mainland, either. Only the play island. That’s my obsession. All I know is this little floating veggie pizza, and nothing else. And when you, me and Kairi were going to know more, we didn’t. You’ve never been there. I’ve never been there. You say Kairi’s been there but I’ve never heard her talk about it. But you know,” he looks at Riku standing awkwardly against the wall. “You know she’s been. And maybe I just never remembered to ask but I swear I never knew she’d been. You think I would know if she’s been.”
Sora talks in this off whispery tone, and when his eyes met Riku’s they were as serious as he is ever seen them.
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
Sora bounces his whole body half an inch off the bed, resembling like a star fish, and for some reason Riku’s mind goes on a field trip to last night.
“Look,” Sora says, “don’t worry about it now. This room is a sauna and I’m starving. Let’s go get lunch.”
Riku exhales once through his nose and pushes off the wall with more force than necessary. “Fine. Yeah. Lets.”
He doesn’t hear Sora move and when he turns back he sees him sitting on the edge of the bed, playing with his fingers, his expression sheepish. When he speaks his voice was small. “Are you mad at me?”
Riku studies his best friend. “No. Are you mad at me?”
Sora shakes his head, and Riku smiles once, genuinely. There are cotton fibres caught floating in the light shining through the window Riku sees bounce and brush off the tip of Sora’s nose, and he blinks them off his eyelashes when he returns Riku’s smile. Then he jumps up and all but skips out the room. Riku’s hands are clammy as he straightens the quilt out.
They get lunch. And then ice cream.
“Where’s … Mr. Kozawa?”
“Well his shop’s closed so he’s probably out fishing again.”
“OK. How about Ms. Green who lives next door to me? The one that always invites mom over for lunch?”
“I’m going to guess the park, with her son.”
“Alright. That kid who always smells like cucumber that lives opposite Kairi?”
“Now this is a shot in the dark but I have to go with torturing some poor defenseless insect with a magnifying glass.”
Sora makes a sound. “No! Don’t say that, God!” he pauses, and then, “Where am I?”
“You are right in front of me.”
“Am I? Am I really, Riku? How can you be totally sure?”
With that Riku lets his leg swing forward and lands a kick to Sora’s calf. “That’s how.”
Riku watches Sora bounce in a circle, clutching his leg. “You walked into that, really, what do you want me to say?” He waits for him to calm down and asks, “Is reality a social construct now, too?”
Sora smirks at him. “Maybe.”
“What if we go back?”
“Can I ever just enjoy my slop of meat in peace?”
It’s Monday and Riku is once again stuck listening to Sora’s conspiracy theories. They are in the cafeteria during lunch. Riku is poking at what the cooks call meatloaf in disdain, glaring at Sora’s salad sandwich longingly and wishing he’d brought his own lunch from home.
“Go where?” They look up to see Kairi appear at the table.
As she rests her own meatloaf surprise down and slides in next to Sora, Riku explains, “The end of high school is making your friend feel nostalgic and he wants to continue our great rafting adventure we abandoned years ago.”
Kairi gasps, turning to Sora. “Oh yeah! Damn, I forgot all about that.”
“Exactly, it’s a –”
“I think we should.”
“What?” Riku looks at Kairi, feeling betrayed. Next to her Sora sends him the smuggest of smug grins he has ever seen and ever wants to see in his life.
Kairi nods, popping a piece of meatloaf in her mouth and immediately making a face. “Oh. Wow. Um, yeah. We totally should. Take a weekend off and relax before the Finals.”
Riku blinks at them, both of them, slowly, feeling like he was the only sane person left in the world. “You. You want to sail off into the ocean a week before Finals?”
Now Kairi looks at Riku like he’s the crazy one. “What? No – God, no. I was thinking more along the lines of a road trip.”
Sora surprisingly appears all for that, who would have guessed. “Yeah! A road trip. Just the three of us, that’ll be great!”
“You people realize we live on an island, right? That fact kind of makes a road trip impossible.”
“Yes, of course, I was using that term loosely. Obviously we’d take a car and ferry to the other islands.”
“We could go to the Mainland, even.”
Kairi’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree. “Yeah! That’d be awesome. Stay some place there and just sight-see.”
“Hey, Kairi.” Sora’s fingers drum on the table. “Riku said you went there once. For, like, a vacation or something?”
Kairi nods. “My dad had a conference. Me and mom decided to tag along and relax while he sat through boring meetings and speeches. It was fun.”
Sora seems satisfied with the answer. Then Kairi said, “Hey, we all have a free this afternoon, right?” The boys nod. “Why don’t we go back to the play island, just for a bit? For old time’s sake.”
Riku considers this. It doesn’t sound like too bad an idea, he has to admit. “I think Sora’s nostalgia is contagious. But, yeah, sure. Why not.”
Sora grins eagerly.
“I’d love see The Marionette again. Where do you think we even left that thing?”
Sora and Riku go quiet simultaneously. They stare at Kairi, and then each other, and back at Kairi.
“The what?” Sora asked.
“The raft.” Kairi says, obviously. “We named it The Marionette.”
“We called it Excalibur.” Sora corrects.
“We called it Lancelot.” Riku does, too, at the same time.
Kairi frowns at them.
“No, I’m pretty sure we didn’t.”
Riku finds himself on the beach that afternoon, rowing off to a small little island he hasn’t stepped foot on in years. He listens to Sora and Kairi chatter on like sparrows over in their respective boats, keeping silent himself and focusing on moving the paddles through the crystal waters. By half way he is already sweating, and Riku wonders why this seemed so much easier when they were young.
It pays off, though. He reaches the island faster than his friends, who are both breathless and exhausted from the grilling task of rowing while holding a conversation. Riku takes a moment to breathe in the air while Sora and Kairi tie up their vessels.
“Wow.” Sora whispers, he and Kairi finally joining Riku.
“Yeah. Wow.” Riku agrees. They all stand there for a moment, just looking, gazing, studying. Remembering.
And then Sora has to go and disturb the peace by saying, “Last one to the Paopu tree has to pull out the raft.” before taking off down the beach. Kairi squeals in mild outrage and chases him. Riku groans and sets off also. He takes his time, not really caring. It’ll be him ripping the raft free of its inevitable ivy confines, in result of being abandoned on a tropical island for four years, anyway, regardless of who wins.
When he reaches the tree he is met with Sora and Kairi in a brawl about who reached it first. Riku rolls his eyes when the shoving starts and says, loudly, “It’ll be a group effort then. Oh no! What a shame.”
It is in no way a group effort. When they finally do locate the cluster of wood and dishtowels (behind some inconspicuous rock and a few small palm trees) Kairi is lounging in the sun, Sora fanning her with a fallen palm leaf. Riku gazes at their raft. It’s a tiny thing, but then, he reckons, they were smaller back then. Just as he thought, the entirety of it is clutched in the unyielding grasp of the vegetation.
Riku cocks his head and calls back, “Either of you by any chance bring a knife?” Because, honestly. He’s a little pissed he didn’t think of it himself earlier.
It’s Kairi in the end who pipes, “Oh!”. Reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small, but better than nothing, pocket knife, she tosses it to Riku. He turns from the two roleplaying Cabana Boy and gets to work, hacking away at the vines. Eventually his friends get too excited, or something, and decide to help Riku with the extraction. They grab the strongest sticks they can find, pulling at and snapping the vines as best as they can.
Twenty minutes later they finally break enough to be able to pull the raft free without too much trouble. Riku grabs, lifts, heaves and pulls on the raft, Sora and Kairi pushing round the front. They collapse on the warm sand along with the raft, sweating and exhausted. They remain like that for a little, catching their breath, and Kairi remarks how she wishes they could go into the cave. But the entrance would be too much of a tight squeeze for them now, and Riku very much doubts it won’t also be completely submerged in green.
The raft had lost the harsh battle with nature, is wood chipped and withered in some areas, damp in others. The dishtowel sail is sun bleached. Whatever kind of steering device they were planning on using is nowhere in sight. The way the three of them are surrounding the raft Riku feels as if they are about to join hands and give some kind of memorial service for the old and tired vessel.
Then Sora half-screams, “The name!”
Riku is sure they wrote it somewhere, but it is most likely the sun has bleached that, too. The three argue their respective titles for the raft, until Sora eventually locates some kind of scribble on the left side. They crowd around. The letters are faint, but Riku could just make out
“The S.S. SRK.”
They stare. Dumbfounded.
“Mine sounded so much cooler.”
Riku returns home that night feeling dejected. He and his dad watch some TV through dinner, and Riku retires to his room for more studying. The English Literature exam is in less than a week, and after that they have an entire month before Finals begin.
For some reason Riku expects Sora to call. He does not.
The next time he sees Sora is during lunch the next day. Sora unceremoniously plops himself down opposite Riku, who pauses mid bite.
“Hey,” He swallows, “you weren’t in Bio this morning?”
Sora clicks his tongue. “I overslept.” Riku notices there is restlessness in Sora’s eyes, dim circles below them. “I, uh.” Sora fidgets with his backpack. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“OK.” Riku waits for Sora to elaborate, if he decides, but he figures he can guess pretty well what this is about.
“I just – That was too weird yesterday. On the play island? I mean, we were all so sure it was named – ”
Riku nods. “This place is screwing with our memory.”
Sora’s breathe stops short, and Riku goes cold. “You what?”
“I just meant. With. With – we’re all getting tired. With all these exams.” He stutters because awesome. Great. Riku had to go and put things into Sora’s head, didn’t he?
Sora’s eyes are boring into the back of his skull once again. Riku fights not to look away. Seriously, someone needs to tell Sora that he shouldn’t do that to people. His eyes are too – They’re too –
“Right. Yeah, I get what you mean.” Sora places his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes. He takes a deep breath and it comes out all shaky. “Holy shit, yeah. I’m tired.” He looks up and gives Riku a stiff smile, cheek resting in his palm. “What’s our next class?”
“Hm. We should go to that.”
Riku’s mouth feels dry. “We should.”
Sora continues to look. Just look. At Riku. Riku let’s himself be looked at. If fact, he looks back. Sora blinks, smile slowly becoming less stiff and Riku’s mind flashes without his approval. To another time, Sora looking at him just like this, features milky, water reflecting and moving across his skin like liquid crystal. And then another time. Hot afternoon sun, Sora with a beam of gold hair. Cranky. Sarcasm. Teeth white and grin like a shark’s. Dangerous. Consuming.
Like his eyes.
Riku feels his lips forming “Please stop that” before his brain even gets any indication of it, but Sora is saying, “Do we have to?”
And Riku is saying, “No.”
And Sora is saying, “Really?”
“We can study out by the oval.”
“We shouldn’t do that.”
“We can just go to my house?”
“We shouldn’t so that, either.”
“Do you want to sit in that room and listen to Mr. Adair lecture you about everything you already know?”
“Are you sure?”
Riku isn’t sure about a lot of things.
They don’t go to class. They don’t stay in school. They don’t study. They don’t do anything, really.
They lay in Sora’s back yard, under the shade of the tree, shoes off, ties off, pants rolled up. Riku rests his palms flat of the grass, eyes closed, listening to Sora’s breathing and the waves on the beach. Four elements to keep him grounded. Riku doesn’t know how long they stay there, but eventually he hears a faint bell ring from up the hill, and he realizes it’s 3 o’clock.
“I wanna leave,” Sora says. “Like on that road trip. But not. I don’t want to just go on some weekend party bender before Finals, I want to go.”
Riku moves, places his arms on his stomach, taps at his elbow softly.
“Riku?” Sora’s voice sounds small again, so small. “Riku?” He sniffs. Riku turns. “I think there is something wrong. I think there is something wrong with this Island.”
Riku’s arms tighten around himself. “How do you know?”
“I don’t know how I know, I just know. I can feel it. There is something happening here.” Sora looks near tears. Riku’s chest hurts. “Something really bad. It makes me not want to think about it, but then I start to panic when I stop thinking about it. Like.” Sniff. “An invisible force. Pushing down. On me. And it’s suffocating. And it’s really fucking terrifying, Riku.”
Riku honestly doesn’t know what to say, so for a minute he is silent, just a grounding, calming force until Sora stops sniffling. He hears a car in Sora’s driveway. Sora’s breathing is ragged and short. There is the sound of his mom’s heels clicking up the driveway. He hears her opening the door. His hearing stops then, as she enters the house.
Riku honestly doesn’t know how to answer that.
Then Sora’s mom is peeking her head out of the back door, saying hi to Riku and her son. Her son, who doesn’t answer. Riku does, before she gets curious and approaches, and sees Sora falling to pieces an inch away from Riku. He tells her their day has been good, no they are not hungry, but thank you for the offer.
The second she goes back inside Sora hisses, “You really think that?”
Riku unclenches his fist and lefts his arm fall back to the grass. Slowly, Riku moves one finger so that it just traces over the bone of Sora’s wrist, softly, then another, and another, and another, until his thumb circles around to the pulse point and he grips.
“I think you’ll be okay.”
Sora laughs. It’s a little breathy and hysterical, and in the end sounds like a sob, but it is a laugh. Riku keeps his hand around Sora’s wrist. “You will be.”
Sora rolls on his side to face Riku, eyes not meeting, and he feels a brush of one of Sora’s toes on his ankle, feather light and ticklish. When he does look up Riku almost immediately turns his gaze back to the sky, hating himself.
The sadness and smallness drains from Sora’s voice, yet he keeps it low, talking into Riku’s ear. “I, um, I haven’t asked my mom about the road trip yet, and I don’t think Kairi has either. Her dad’s holding that lunch thing this Saturday, I think that’d be a good time. We can break it to my mom, too, then. After a few glasses.” He chuckles, but it sounds flat. Riku feels his breath on his neck and focuses hard on the shape of the clouds. Sora nudges at his ankle, his heel, dips his toes and slips under.
“You … still wanna go, right?”
Riku nods, not trusting his voice to not sound like a sob.
He thinks Sora is smiling but he can’t know for sure, because fluffy white clouds.
“Do you think I’m crazy?”
“No, I don’t.” Riku answers without hesitating. “Never.”
“I just want to know where we go.” Sora whispers. “College. Where do we go?”
“The Mainland. That’s where all the colleges are.”
Sora snorts quietly, fiddling with the fabric of Riku’s sleeve. “The Mainland. What an island, huh?” Sora shifts then and rolls his shoulders, and it’s this that breaks Riku out of his trance, brings him back to reality. Away from the dreamy land of blue skies and Sora’s voice in his ear, breath on his neck, ankle under his, and pretty fluffy clouds.
“My back’s getting a little.”
Riku moves, too, feeling the stiffness of his shoulders and the slight kink in his neck. “Yep.” He releases Sora’s wrist, lifts his leg and sits up, Sora following.
He is about to stand up when he hears, “Riku.”
If he couldn’t feel Sora’s hand fisting the back of his shirt he would have thought he’d imagined it when Sora leans forward, lightning fast, kissing the spot on Riku’s jaw just before his ear. “Thank you. Just. Thanks.”
Riku doesn’t look anywhere now. “No problem.”
They attend classes like normal for the rest of the week, and they study hard. When Saturday rolls by Sora and Riku and their respective parents attend Kairi’s dad’s lunch. Riku’s not even sure what this thing is about, but he is sure that Sora is predominantly here for the food. He, Kairi and Sora sit on a hanging bench, squished together, plates of food on their laps. Riku is painfully aware of Sora’s thigh against his thigh, and Sora’s shoulder against his shoulder.
The weather is extra humid and the sun extra scorching today, causing Riku to tug, bothered, at his “smart casual” attire he was forced to wear for the occasion. Speeches are made, for whatever reason, Riku still hasn’t bothered paying attention, lunch is well into, and the adults flounce around and laugh a little louder than they normally would at jokes they probably wouldn’t have found as funny three hours ago. Riku dumps his plate on the grass beside the swing, as beside him Sora and Kairi currently play a game of who-can-stack-the-tallest-pile-of-leaves-with-just-their-foot. Riku tries not to stare at Sora’s leg, which is donned in a pair of tight fitting black jeans Riku silently wonders how he can tolerate.
He really, really tries, because two hours earlier Kairi mixed a bit of the “grown-up punch” into each of their cups of soft drink.
Kairi suddenly announces that they should break the news about the pre-Finals road trip now. When the two scamper along Riku lounges back, given room to breathe, grateful for being eighteen. Well, so is Kairi, but her folks are as strict as Riku’s ever seen and Sora’s still technically a “baby”. It’s not long when Riku hears his name excitedly called over and over in a single breath, and he knows their little adventure is set in stone.
Kairi chooses the grass over the swing and Sora all but jumps in his lap. Loose and bubbly over the grown-up punch, Riku receives a lap full of Sora’s legs as his friend lounges back against the arm rest. He’s rolled the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows and Riku feels irritated. They’re too tipsy and hot to do anything even remotely productive, so the three laze around in the shade, Sora and Kairi occasionally jumping to their feet to dance – they manage to rope Riku into one – and wait patiently for the event to be over.
It finally conclusions around six o’clock, everyone far too full to even consider dinner. Sora and Riku’s parents are the last ones to leave, typically, too busy still wrapped in some deep conversation or another to walk out the god damned door. Kairi has already said her goodbyes to her best friends and retired to the bathroom to shower the sun and humidity away.
“Still can’t believe she actually said yes. “ Sora comments, invading Riku’s personal space to whisper low. His cheeks are flushed, hair and mess, and lips pink, and Riku is reminded of that afternoon, Sora’s breath tickling his cheek and then his lips, too soft and too quick on his jaw. Riku wonders what would have happened if he’d turned his head in that moment.
Wonders what would happen if he were to lean forward now. How would Sora react? Would the adults even notice?
“Me neither. She’s still, like, got you on one of those baby-leashes parents use to stop their kids from running into traffic, right?”
Sora chokes on a laugh and lightly shoves Riku, but his hand lingers and he traces the fabric of Riku’s shirt all the way down to his hip, where Sora curls two fingers around a belt loop. The height difference between them isn’t as dramatic as it was a couple years ago, and Riku can look straight into Sora’s eyes without straining his neck too hard.
Riku can tell that he is thinking about that afternoon, too, though more focused on the mental breakdown performance art he’d exhibited.
“Hey,” Riku flicked Sora’s forehead. “Stop thinking about it.”
“M’not.” Sora stares at his feet like he’d never seen them before, and tightens his grip on Riku’s belt loop.
“You are. Stop. It.” He pronounces every word with another flick until Sora’s hissing and rubbing between his eyes.
“Bully.” He pouts.
“Dork.” Riku counters, cocking his head and smirking.
Sora frowns, “Don’t call me a dork, asshole.”
“Don’t call me an asshole, dickhead.”
“Oh!” Riku flinches back mockingly, “Now you’ve gone and stepped over the line.”
This breaks Sora’s frown. “Sorry.” He says, grinning and not entirely sincere.
“Nope, you’ve done it now. My poor heart is in pieces, Sora, I hope you are happy.”
“You’d had to have a heart in the first place for me to shatter it, Riku.”
Riku shoots him a look of genuine offence, but it only lasts a second because apparently Sora finds his expression of betrayal amusing and bursts into a fit of giggles over it. His laughter echoes around the room beautifully and Riku hears himself join in. It takes them both a moment to realize everyone had gone quiet. Conversation ceased, they’ve all turned to find what was so funny, only to see Sora’s shoulders quaking, his head pressed to Riku’s chest and hand on his hip, repeating “sorry” between giggles. Riku smiles down at him with a grin brighter than the sun.
Nobody appeared to think anything of it, but out of the corner of his eye Riku could see his dad looking at them with some sort of expression he couldn’t place.
He breaks away first, grumpy countenance back in place. When Sora’s mom announces they should get going Riku nearly collapses from relief. Then Sora shouts, “Oh! Mr. and Mrs. Amaya,” and flounces toward Kairi’s parents. Riku knows what’s coming before Sora even opens his mouth.
“Thanks so much for letting us kidnap Kairi for a weekend.” Sora jokes, immediately earning a chuckle from both of them, the charmer. Riku watches him and Kairi’s father talk and secretly wonders if the man still thought Sora was going to marry his daughter someday. He moves to stand by his own, who gives him this kind of furtive smirk Riku pretends not to see.
And then Sora mentions the Mainland.
“I heard you’d had to go to there for some business trip, once?”
Some light of recognition shines in the man’s eyes. “Oh, yes, I would have. Shame it got cancelled last minute, something about a double booking. Would have been nice to get away for a little. Well,” he said, “nice for the girls. Not me, bored in a conference room all day.”
The laughter that follows implies that he was waiting for Sora to join in. But he just stands, cold. Riku can almost see the blood drain from his face.
“Yeah. A real shame. We’ll tell it you say hello. Can we get going now?” Riku groans at his dad, loud and impatient, trying to snap Sora out of his hypnotic stupor and succeeding. Sora immediately latches himself to his swaying mother’s hip. She throws her arms around his neck, and he quickly buries his hand in her bag to remove her set of car keys. They bid the hosts good evening and leave, Riku taking the initiative to steal his dad’s keys, also, being the less intoxicated of the two.
Behind him Sora’s mom is chattering away about something. Then he hears, “What’s wrong, baby? Are you okay?” but not Sora’s quiet response.
Riku feels Sora trying to catch his gaze as he climbs into the driver’s seat. He starts the engine without giving in, and once his dad his firmly buckled into the passenger’s side and Riku’s sure he’s not going to slip out into traffic he takes off toward home. He catches sight of Sora’s car in the rearview mirror and doesn’t look away until it’s no longer in sight.
He grips the steering wheel a little tighter than necessary when he makes a turn. His dad doesn’t speak until they’re parked in the driveway and Riku is nearly tearing the seatbelt from the buckle trying to get out.
“You good, kid?”
Riku stops. Counts to five. He takes a deep breath and unclips his seatbelt.
“Fine.” He jumps out of the car before his dad could say another word, fighting himself to stop from running to the house.
Riku lies in bed, staring up at his phone until his eyes sting. The screen displays Sora’s number and caller ID. With the picture of Sora smiling down at him Riku contemplates, as he has been for the past twenty minutes or so, calling him.
Five minutes later Riku sighs and throws his phone across the room. He hears it thump on the carpet and rolls on his side.
Two nights later Sora calls.
“Where’s my dad?”
Riku’s heart shrinks. “I don’t know.”
To Riku’s honest surprise Sora acts like that conversation never happened. However, he notices Sora watching Kairi more carefully now, watching her back with a kind of hyper protective posture. It’s almost like he’s worried something is going to jump out of the shadows and grab her, and Sora has to be on constant guard.
They all study together for the literature test this coming Monday, and by the time the day actually appears Riku seems more nervous than Sora is. His friend had been texting literature devises and paragraph structures and quotes at him for the past four nights. Riku had begun to predict the messages down to the minute.
The next day they receive their results and Riku hammers his fingers on his desk, staring at Sora’s. He doesn’t know why he’s so anxious for him, but he is, and the moment the result paper lands in front of Sora, Riku could swear that his heart stops.
They pass, all three of them, Kairi with flying colours, Riku close behind, and Sora is over the moon with his 89%.
This was their last exam before Finals, and the three celebrate by gunning it down to the beach as soon as the commencing bell rings. They skip, run and parade across the sand like eight-year-olds. Sora runs into the ocean with his clothes on, only stopping to kick off his shoes. He and Kairi splash at each other until they’re both drenched, and then turn on Riku, who takes off down the beach as soon as he sees that familiar evil glint in their eyes. Kairi gives up after half a minute, all the adrenaline evaporating from her form and she all but collapses on the warm sand and settles for watching Sora and Riku’s game of cat and mouse until they have disappeared from sight.
Five minutes later Riku still hasn’t let up. Sora pants obnoxiously and cries for him to stop.
“I give up, you win!” Sora groans, staring up at Riku with a kind of surrender. Riku approaches, panting also, and Sora waits until he can see the whites of his eyes before pouncing quick, too quick for Riku to dodge, and they fall from the ground.
They struggle but Riku wrestles his way out from under Sora’s bounds and flips them over. Sora is completely and utterly drenched but Riku is so far from caring because Sora is also laughing, loud and open mouthed, the sound pulled from deep in his core as he wraps his arms around Riku’s shoulders, trapping him in place.
Because Riku thinks this is the first time in truly ages Sora hasn’t sounded like he’s trying desperately not to burst into tears.
Riku rests his forehead on the sand above Sora’s shoulder. He knows he’ll get a rash later but is too exhausted to care. Sora hiccups between giggles, his shirt cool against Riku’s flushed skin, and Riku lets himself simply lie there. He feels Sora’s arms tighten around his shoulders, feels an ankle under his own, and Sora is just so comfortable and perfect half-under him he can hardly believe it.
A second, minute or years pass when Riku suddenly feels two fingers taping at the nape of his neck, just above the vertebra. Sora’s nose is pressed to his temple, his moth to his cheek. “Riku.” He says in a certain tone, like Riku isn’t getting something so completely obvious he feels a little exasperated.
“Riku.” He says again, a little more forcefully, and his ankle slips over and up Riku’s calf. He tugs Riku over with almost his entire body and Riku lifts up and looks at him. Sora snorts and brushes sand off his forehead. Riku stares down at his best friend, feeling terrified of him. He digs his fingers into the sand beside Sora’s head. His cheeks are flushed and hot, too hot, and he’s so beautiful lying there with his bright blue eyes and red lips, so unaware that on the inside Riku is falling apart at the seams.
Riku gets this kind of anxious feeling like he is missing the biggest joke in the universe when Sora gives him this impatient glare. Then he sighs and tugs on Riku’s shoulders, lifts himself up and presses his mouth over Riku’s, and Riku goes boneless, falling against the sand as he kisses Sora back like he has never heard of oxygen, and was discovering it right this second. His brain completely short-circuits when Sora locks his feet around Riku’s thighs, makes this noise that causes Riku to press down onto him and Sora makes it again, and again, and again.
Riku lets his head drop down to Sora’s shoulder, panting. They stay like that for who cares how long, Riku certainly doesn’t, and by the way Sora was trapping him between his thighs Riku can hazard and good guess that neither does he. Riku counts the beads of sand and tries to calm down. He wants to kiss Sora again, to stay there all night, but then Sora turns his head toward the sky and says, “We should be getting back.”
And, yeah, okay. Riku kind of agrees with that. Kairi will get worried and suspicious if they’re gone too long.
The amount of effort it takes for Riku to lift up is astounding, when Sora untangles himself from his body. For a moment they stand there staring at each other, stupidly, not knowing what to do with their hands, until Sora glances down and smirks.
Riku follows his gaze and – ah. Yes. Right.
Sora glances to the water and back and Riku sighs. It would look strange if he strolls back into town just wet in a particularly suspicious area. Without further ado, Riku unceremoniously walks into the ocean, stands there seething in self-deprecation for a bit then walks back out, finding Sora looking far too smug and proud of himself.
“The fuck are you smiling about? This is your fault.”
Sora raises an eyebrow. “Right.”
“Yeah it is.” He drawls, crossing his arms. Riku shakes his head. It was kind of ridiculous, them standing there and bickering like they hadn’t just.
Like they hadn’t just.
When they set off back down the beach in silence, Riku allows himself a moment of panic to think that all that was just a caught-in-the-moment, one-time thing. But then Sora walks a little closer to Riku than usual, which is saying something, and Riku feels like an idiot. So many signs he’d missed over the past couple months, all the flirting he wrote off as nothing.
“I can hear you beating on yourself up there.” Sora says.
Riku scoffs. “You read minds now, too?”
When they reach Kairi she is no longer lying down, lazily drawing shapes with her finger.
“You guys fall into a pit, or something?” Kairi says when she sees them approach, sees Riku drenched from the waist down and Sora gracefully drying. She gives them this knowing glance and, God – between her and his dad the whole island might as well fucking know. Riku feels irrationally angry again, as he thinks everyone except the man who is convinced he is getting Sora as a son-in-law.
He mutters something about going home.
“Hey, Riku, where’s that one substitute teacher we had in middle school, on a Tuesday?” Sora and Kairi snicker on either side of him.
“In your ass.”
This just pours fuel on the fire. Riku stomps ahead.
They say goodbye to Kairi on a street corner. She hugs both of them, apparently still giddy about today. She whispers in Sora’s ear, and jogs down the road to her house. Sora waits until she disappears behind a tree to say, “Wanna go back to my house and make out for a bit?”
Riku nearly chokes on air. He recovers fast, though. Sora’s mother wouldn’t be home until late, working herself to the bone for that promotion. He pretends to consider his options.
“Hm. I don’t know.”
“Oh, my God.” Sora rolls his eyes and walks away, toward his house. Riku shakes his head and follows.
Sora is shameless, if that show on the beach some nights ago is anything to go by, because as soon as they’re up in his bedroom Riku barely has the door locked before Sora strips out of his damp clothes to nearly nothing – which is a pair of bright yellow boxers with black sailboats Riku tries very hard not to laugh at.
Sora refuses to kiss him for about three minutes.
It feels like a dream when it’s almost 8:30pm and they hear his mom pull into the drive way.
They abandoned making out for talking for a little while, came to the joint conclusion that they have talked to each other enough in their lifetimes, and promptly resumed the making out. Sora sits cross-legged between Riku’s, his knees resting gently on Sora’s upper thighs. Sora put on a shirt and sweatpants when the air cooled, and Riku looks up at his ruffled hair and bitten lips with haughtiness.
Sora chews on his lip and locks eyes with Riku. “That, er. Happened.”
“It did, indeed.”
Silence falls. “I, erm.” Sora stutters. “We. We should. Uh.”
“All those articulate sentences dissipate from your brain the second that test finished?” Sora glares at him and his well-constructed sentence.
“No,” Sora does not pout, nope. “I just, um. What I am trying to say, you dick, is that I don’t think that this is just –”
Riku raises an eyebrow and waits for Sora to continue, his heart drumming against his ribcage.
“I don’t – Riku, this.” He notions to the two of them. “I have been thinking about for a while.” He is still gnawing at his mouth, the skin there almost breaking. Riku decides to put him out of his misery.
An eye-roll. “Don’t tell me what to do.”
Sora has a slightly terrified look in his eye, like he’s waiting for the punchline to be delivered. Riku is all too familiar with that. He lifts up to Sora’s level. There are nearly invisible sun-freckles sprinkled across his nose, lashes dark against a tan complexion and eyes wide and watching, on alert. Riku taps his chin up with one finger and presses their lips together. Sora makes this kind of surprised whimper that makes Riku feel tickly.
When they pull back Sora seems better and Riku is slightly breathless. There is rustling in the kitchen.
“We should – I mean, you should –”
Sora groans like a single word has never offended him more in his entire life. Something swells in Riku’s chest. Downstairs Sora’s mother calls out to let him know she’s home. She sounds exhausted, Riku notes with pity. They paused their endeavours for an hour so Sora could cook some stir-fry, they could eat it, and leave her half for when she returned.
“Yeah, you should go.” He manages to cough up.
Riku’s dad is probably wondering where he is.
Neither of them move.
“Same time next week?” Riku jokes, earning a glare. He pulls Sora down to him, kissing his lips, cheek, jaw, then lips again, licking into his mouth until Sora firmly pushes away before they can lose their breath again.
Sora’s mom is surprised to see him when they stride down the stairs, but Riku smiles politely, asks about her day, and leaves.
If he looks a little happier than usual when he gets home his dad doesn’t say anything.
Some moron decided as a pre-Finals celebration it would be a good idea to fill all the cubicles in the boy’s bathroom with bubble-bombs. It floods most of the second floor, and some of the first. All classes are cancelled until further notice for clean-up. The student body pretends to be disappointed when the Principal announces an emergency assembly Thursday morning, suggesting that “Seniors use this time off wisely to study for their upcoming exams”.
Friday night everyone receives an email stating that clean-up is nearly over and that all students are expected back in their classes 8:30 sharp on Monday morning. There isn’t much of the school term left before Final Exams.
Riku spends most of Saturday with Sora on his bedroom floor. He invites himself over to Riku’s house with a quick I’m comin over text, jokes with his dad for less time than he normally would and practically jogs up the stairs, before planting himself in Riku’s lap like it’s his new favourite seat. They kiss until time no long has any meaning. When Riku’s dad shouts that he is heading off to the hotel, Sora practically hurls him up on to the bed, and Riku just about has an aneurism when Sora slides down his legs.
They don’t go back to the hotel for work. Not on the same days, anyway. Riku doesn’t trust them enough.
And, God, who wants to slave away changing sheets and towels in a badly ventilated hotel room when Riku now forever holds in his mind the image of Sora with his shirt bunched under his arms, head thrown back, long neck exposed, while the bright afternoon sun streaks across his body though the blinds above Riku’s bed.
They are careful and quiet and pseudo keep it in their pants when the parents are in the house. Except for one time when they didn’t, and Riku should have put up guard the moment he saw the figurative devil horns sprout from Sora’s ridiculous head. Riku truly, honestly, considered killing him. Sora is still smug about it four days later. Kairi rolls her eyes at them.
“I was thinking.”
“Do you remember when we were kids?”
“My memory is raft-naming good.”
Sora half-groans, half-sighs and rolls onto his back, staring at the stars. It’s a cloudy night tonight, the offensive grey loaves of cotton obscuring most of their view. They lie like they usually do, the only difference is Sora has his leg lazily strewn over Riku’s.
“Do you remember half the shit I used to say when I was, like, seven?”
“You are a pretty weird kid.”
“I was a pretty weird kid?”
“No.” This earns Riku a jab to the ribs. He winces, then laughs. “Yes, Sora. I remember.”
Sora used to tell Riku and Kairi that he can see little creatures hidden in the shadows of the market street. He also used to say that sometimes people walk over the ocean and don’t come back. One day he told his mother this and she took him to the doctor. Sora never said anything after that.
“It was pretty, like. Dark, for a kid to say.” Sora says. “I don’t know. What does your psychology brain have to say about that?”
“My psychology brain has to say that there’s this massive on-going study about children and their strange little heads. Four out of five kids will have had imaginary friends, and more often than not those kids can describe said imaginary friends in life-like detail. And then there’s this whole deal with how a percentage of those ‘friends’ are evil, and shit, and that some kids say they were told to hurt people and all that.”
“Oh, well that’s, er.”
“Yeah. Anyway, where I was going with that is that kids are weird. You were one of those weird kids. But it happens all the time so there’s no reason to flip out.”
Sora glances at Riku with an incredulous look. “So those creepy little shadow demons with the yellow eyes were my imaginary friends?”
Riku narrows his eyes. “No.” He says. “They were probably just your brain trying to figure the world out. Kids are really susceptible at that age – they have a hyper-realistic view of everything. One scary bedtime story and suddenly there’s sea monsters living in your kitchen sink.”
Crickets chirp in the bushes and bats battle in the next yard over. They have been lying still for enough time so the automatic light on Riku’s back porch is off. Sora carefully manoeuvres himself to Riku’s hip, buries his face against his ribcage. He hums softly, and in that moment Riku realizes he in inexplicably tired, eyelids heavy.
It isn’t that late, but it has been an eventful two weeks.
“Until Finals. And the road trip.” He feels Sora go stiff in his arms. His heartbeat is a flutter against his side.
“The Mainland.” Sora traces the pattern of Riku’s shirt with the tip of his finger. Tension emits off his back like an invisible gas, causing Riku’s stomach to churn until he slowly, soothingly, rubs his palm along the length of Sora’s spine. The unease seeps in through each finger vertebra by vertebra. “I think I’m going crazy.”
Sora scrunches his shirt in a fist and Riku buries his face in his hair. “I feel like I’m going crazy. This place is making me crazy.”
“Because you’re anxious.”
He lets go and leaps off Riku so suddenly that the motion light switches on, bathing the garden in bright yellow light. It blinds Riku until Sora moves to block it, sitting further away.
“This is not some average anxiety shit, Riku!”
“I’m not saying that! I am saying that you’re jumping to these insane conclusions. You think the island is eating people?”
“I think that I wake up every morning wanting to throw up because the trees are upside-down, the grass is black and the sky looks like blood!”
They stare at each other, breathing heavily. The crickets chirp on.
“That sound normal to you?” Sora stands up and walks out the side gate, leaving Riku stunned.
“I don’t think you’re going crazy.” Is what Riku tells Sora the next day. Sora still looks mad, with tired, red rimmed eyes and chapped lips. He sucks on the bottom one and stares at Riku, seemingly caught in an internal debate on whether or not to yell at him again.
Finally, he sighs, leans forward and hugs Riku, who counts to three before letting go. Kairi affectionately calls it their first lover’s spat.
Riku tears himself apart with what Sora said to him last night.
The days following Riku finds uneventful. His best friends chat his ear off about preparations for next week. They manage to convince Kairi’s mother to let them borrow her car, whilst listening to a list of strict instructions and lectures about road safety and alcoholic activities, and decide that Riku will be the one driving it.
They figure they will sort out sleeping arrangements once they get to the Mainland, which entailed driving around looking for motels and picking the one cheapest. Sora offers that he doesn’t mind camping and sleeping in tents if it came to that. Riku comments on all three of them sharing one just to see their – mainly Sora’s – expressions.
It wasn’t disappointing.
They decide to bring tents anyway.
Riku’ life from then on to next Thursday night is bland, filled with mind numbing study, tedious work, Sora and occasionally Kairi. He is sat at the dinner table with his dad, the television serving as background noise though neither of them has watched it for the entire afternoon. Riku knows his dad has this quirk against silence; he can’t sit in a quiet room for more than five minutes. Yet another thing he and Sora have in common.
“So, kid. How’s the studying going?” Is what he opens with. Riku could have buried his face in the spaghetti.
“Don’t ask me that.”
He laughs, lasting all of a second. Loud and cheerful. Quirk number two. “It’ll be okay.” Riku thinks he has heard that line more times in the last month than he ever thought he would in his lifetime, though never directed at him until now. The word “okay” grips him strangely, turning in his brain like a merry-go-round.
Like, Mainland okay?
Like Sora slowly loosing himself and Riku not knowing how to hold on to him, okay?
“Yeah. It will be okay.”
“I can’t remember the difference between male and female sex organs in plants, but other than that everything’s pretty good.”
The man raises an eyebrow, “Plants?”
“Yeah. It’s heartbreaking. I’ll never be a botanist.” Riku watches his dad grin affectionately at him over the dinner table. They make small talk until Riku’s foot is tapping against the hardwood and the clinking of cutlery suddenly feels too loud. He doesn’t really know why he’s asking but he is.
“Dad.” Riku waits until he is looking at him to continue. “Have you ever been to the Mainland?”
His dad makes a little noise of surprise through a mouthful of spaghetti. “Oh, yeah. I have.”
Riku is taken aback. “You have?”
“Of course. You have, too.” His dad looks at him funny.
Goosebumps surface on Riku’s skin. “I have?”
“Yes. We stayed in a resort for about two weeks. It was the year before your mom and I …”
When he trails off purposefully Riku nods, uncaring. His dad still acts like his parents’ divorce is a sensitive subject.
“You weren’t that young, you really don’t remember?” When Riku shakes his head, feeling numb, his dad hums.
Riku is staring blankly at the laptop screen in front of him when Sora shows up on his doorstep hysterical. It was late when he texted Riku that he was coming over. Just that, no explanation, and Riku couldn’t place what exactly felt off about it until right this second. His eyes are wide and red, tears streaming down his pale face. Before Sora can get a word out Riku takes his hand, quietly shuts the door and ushers him to the little park across the street.
The streetlight casts an eerie glow over the playground. Riku feels Sora’s knees buckle against him, and sets him down on a swing.
Sora clutches at Riku’s fingers like a lifeline. “My mom accepted a job on the Mainland.”
“Okay.” Riku says, waiting for him to continue, and Sora glares at him like he isn’t getting it.
“A permanent job, Riku. Like, she would have to live there permanently.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.”
Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Sora lets go of Riku’s hand and stands up so fast it almost sends him flying back. Sora’s chest is heaving and Riku rises to his feet. He feels dizzy and sick, a churning sensation in his stomach, because Sora is looking at him like he’s never seen him before in his life.
“Not too bad?” His voice rises. The broken tremble from before dissipates and he sounds livid. Riku almost flinches. When Sora is angry he looks like a hurricane, chaotic and mesmerizing. “Do you even have any idea what this means?”
“Calm down.” Again, the wrong thing to say.
“Don’t – !” Sora breaks off, his shout echoing around the quiet street. He exhales, broken huffs of air, and buries his face in his hands. “Unbelievable,” he says. “This is unbelievable.”
“The one person I thought would actually believe me, and you think I’m insane.”
“Please, just.” He doesn’t know how to finish that sentence.
“Just?” Sora is crying again, the only difference is now he looks about a hundred times worse. Hurt and betrayal swim around him like an aura. Riku wonders how things got so screwed up.
So he offers the only thing his jumbled brain can think of, “Have you talked to her?”
Sora laughs bitterly, smudging his face with his sleeve. “Yes, Riku. I talked to her. For the last three hours. I talked. She talked. I yelled. She yelled. It was war. We’ll be receiving the neighbours’ written complaints in the mail tomorrow morning.”
He keeps a distance away, and whenever Riku gives the impression that he is going to step closer he moves back. Riku keeps his feet planted to the ground, imagining them rooted there. He imagines Sora walking away and he still stuck in place, unable to follow.
“I asked about dad.”
Whatever kind of response Riku was going to give dies in his throat, “What?”
Sora sniffles. “Yep. I did.” He nods. “I actually did. Took me about twelve years bit I did it.” Riku didn’t think it would be possible for Sora to crumble even further, but there you go. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked her where he was. And she just – Just looked. At me. I could see it in her eyes that this is what she’s been waiting for, for years. Confirmation that I’d finally lost it.”
“He’s dead.” He says it so simply. “He is dead, honey, he died years ago.” Sora is repeating what his mother’s words, staring off into space. “You were six years old.” When he looks at Riku again his eyes are blank and lost. Riku fights to stay still.
“I was at the funeral. Only lasted about ten minutes before having a complete meltdown in front of everyone. Aunt Kira had to take me behind a tree and sing lullabies before I calmed down enough to re-join the service.”
Sora shakes his head incredulously at the swing set, angrily wiping some newly fallen tears away. He doesn’t step back this time when Riku ventures closer.
“I don’t remember that.” He says to Riku. “Uh-uh. Not one bit. I just remember him being there one day, and then gone the next. I don’t remember a funeral, I don’t remember the lullabies, I don’t remember him fucking dying!”
Words have lost all meaning to Riku at this point as he stands there listening. He reaches out and places his hands on Sora’s shoulders, feeling the tension absorb into him like a sponge.
“Oh! And that’s not all. Your parents were there, too. Of course they would be, I mean, your dad and mine were best friends, for god’s sake! Which means that by default you would have been there, too.” He tries to inch away, but Riku keeps his hold. Sora searches his face for a moment. “Yeah? Do you remember a funeral?”
“I …” His mouth feels dry. “Maybe.”
Riku honestly doesn’t know what to think anymore.
“No, just. Maybe you repressed it, if you were that young –”
“Oh my God.” Sora groans, and again, “Oh my God!” He shoves Riku away, hard. “Why can’t you just say it? Why can’t you just say, no, you don’t remember? I saw the look on your face when I told you he was dead, Riku, you had no idea!”
He is an octave away from all out screaming now. Riku thinks he sees a light turn on in one of the houses and tries to tell Sora to quiet down.
“That’s because I didn’t have any idea. Maybe I wasn’t at the funeral, I don’t know!”
Sora barks a laugh. “You don’t know. Oh, wow. Gee, how the tables have turned. The great and all-knowing Riku doesn’t know something.”
“Okay, now you’re being a dick.”
“Great!” Sora throws his hands in the air. “Fantastic. Thank fucking God!”
Riku looks around nervously. “Would you shut the hell up.”
“Oh? About what, exactly? About the Mainland? About this whole island? Stop telling you things you don’t want to hear?” Surprisingly enough he actually lowers his voice, stepping closer. “Because why do you think that is? Why do you think you get so irritable and want to end the conversation the second I mention it?”
“Because you annoy the shit out of me, that’s why!”
“No. Because your brain knows that something is wrong but your stubborn ass doesn’t want to admit it.”
Riku scoffs. He shakes his head, stuttering, trying desperately to think of a response but coming up dry.
“Come on, Riku, seriously? The raft. We all had our own memories of what we named that stupid thing, and were all so adamant that ours was the one. Kairi’s dad said that he never went on that business trip, but Kairi did.”
Sora starts checking things off on his fingers, “She remembers what hotel they stayed at, how her and her mom went on hikes, this little old style gazebo they got this weird salty ice cream from. She described all of that in vivid detail.”
Riku stares, speechless. He rubs at his forehead. Kairi had in fact said all of that one time when Sora bombarded her with questions. Confidently. He breathes slowly, just wanting to go to bed.
Then Sora says, “Your mom.” And Riku abruptly wants to punch him. “She lives on the Mainland, right? Have you even been to visit her?”
“No.” He spits. “I have not. She always comes here.”
“I can’t listen to this anymore.”
“See!” Sora jabs him on the chest. “Right there. That feeling you have right now. The one that makes you want to turn tail and run? That is this place telling you to walk away.”
“Oh, something’s making me want to walk away and it’s not the Island.”
Sora laughs then and sniffles, though all of his tears have stopped. “I get it, too. That feeling? It’s dizzying, and your head hurts. Kinda like you’re always dehydrated. Always tired. I get snappy and I act weird.”
Riku snorts at that.
“OK. Really weird.” He says. “But look, Riku, you just need to stop listening to it. You need to believe me. I need you to believe me. I –” A deep breath. “I need you.”
Right then Riku sees his future, sees what is going to inevitably end up killing him, and he is standing right there. Reaching out he drags Sora over to him by his shirt, but it is not until Riku has his face buried in the crook of Sora’s neck that he nods, lets him feel it instead.
Riku wakes up Friday morning with Sora tangled around him like an octopus, his drool seeping through the fabric of Riku’s pyjama top. The morning sun paints Riku’s bedroom walls a warm peachy orange, and the ocean breeze through the open window fills it with a pleasant salty sent. He wriggles experimentally – mainly because he can’t feel his arm under where Sora constricts around it. Sora hums a little, but does not wake up.
The skin on his cheek is still flushed and splotchy from last night. Riku traces it with his finger, gently, and it occurs to him that today is Road Trip day. He taps Sora’s nose to wake him up. When he does it is gracefully, eyes blinking open into the soft light. Confusion flashes in them for a brief moment, only to be replaced with recognition in an instant.
The whites of his eyes are pink with exhaustion, lips chapped and red. Riku looks up at him with admiration, thoughts running like a current, because he looks as stunning as ever. Enough so that for a mad moment Riku wants to stay there all day, and not get him out of the house before his dad realizes that Sora was even here in the first place.
Riku buries his nose in Sora’s hair before reluctantly rising up off the mattress and ushering his still half-asleep body to the bathroom. Behind, Sora cocoons himself under the covers and curls into a ball. He brushes his teeth and splashes cold water onto his face, glancing up at his reflection in the mirror. He looks tired in a kind of restlessly endearing way. Riku ties his hair back and tip toes across to his room.
Outside the door he hears murmurs, and it takes him a confused moment to realize that Sora’s on his phone.
“No I – I’m at Riku’s. Yes. Yes, I know. I know I should have called, I’m so sorry. No, I – I didn’t get your calls, either. Sorry. No, it’s – Hey, it’s okay. Stop.”
Sora is crouched cross-legged on the edge of his bed, and Riku raises an eyebrow in a silent question. Sora reaches out a hand toward him, beckoning. Riku sits down to let Sora crawl into his lap.
“Please stop. It’s not your fault, I over –” He clears his throat, “Overreacted.” Riku drops his head onto Sora’s shoulder, kissing it lightly. “Listen, I’ll be home soon. Okay? Yep. Of course. I love you, too.”
Sora dresses quick but stops to kiss Riku if he gets to close, and soon enough they’re at the front door, Riku is sticking an apple in his mouth and pecking his forehead, before pushing him out the door.
They meet at Kairi’s that afternoon. Riku’s dad leans up against the door frame while his son packs a duffle bag.
“So, you’re just going to see what happens when you get there.”
“That’s the plan.” Riku adds a couple extra shirts, pants, and swimming trunks before jogging to the bathroom to grab his toothbrush. When he returns his dad is staring at nothing, lips curled worryingly. Riku purposely bumps shoulders with him as he brushes past.
“Stop it,” he says, throwing the toiletries into the bag. “You’ll give yourself an ulcer.”
The man rolls his eyes. “I’m a single dad – worrying about everything and nothing is what I’m good at.”
“I’ll be fine.” Riku zips up the duffle, and pauses. “And so will you.”
His dad shoots him an offended glare. “You think I can’t handle being alone for three days?”
“Four. And yes, of course you can. Just remember that the oven has the door and the stove is the one with the little round plates. Don’t touch those.”
“Ha ha.” Riku slings the bag over his shoulder. “Off?”
His watch tells him it is 4:52 pm. “Yeah.” They head down stairs together. Riku declines his dad’s offer to drive him to Kairi’s house. When he arrives the garage doors are open, and from the driveway he can see Sora and Kairi bustling around, starting to load up a well-kept old station wagon. Sora has both tents heaved up on his shoulders and nearly knocks Kairi’s head off when he sees Riku. She whacks him, shakes her head and waves to Riku before going back inside to retrieve the rest.
He catches Sora’s eyes, silently questioning. When Sora returns it with a small, reassuring smile Riku relaxes.
Riku leans down and swings his bag into the back. Sora slyly kisses his neck, teeth scraping, at the exact moment Kairi’s father blinks into existence in the garage and Riku just about has a heart attack. He joyfully helps Sora with the last of their “travel necessities”, one hand clapped on his shoulder, back to Riku, while he leans against the car and tries to restrain the ferocity. Finally he turns and tells him hello. Riku’s smile is wolfish and sarcastic when he says it back, causing the man to awkwardly clear his throat and scamper back inside.
“I don’t think he likes me.” Riku says after a moment of silence.
“Kairi says he’s intimidated by you.”
Riku snorts. “How does that make any sense?”
Sora makes a “Oh, you know” noise and shuts the trunk. Riku raises an eyebrow when Sora doesn’t elaborate, who gives him a pained look in return. It makes them all uncomfortable to think about it, so they pretend Kairi’s father hasn’t had his paws locked on to Sora since they were infants.
“And besides, it doesn’t matter. I like you.”
Whilst Riku’s head says “Thank God” his mouth says, “Really? Hadn’t noticed.”
Sora grins and pushes Riku against the car, tugging at his hoddie. Riku tangles his fingers through Sora’s hair and it is the first time he actually wants someone to see them. Other than Kairi.
“Okay, we are going to have to set up some ground rules. Because if you do this the entire time I will not be responsible for my actions. Cute has limits.” Kairi hip-bumps them to the side and throws her duffle bag up and over the back seat. “So help me if you two losers start going at it in front of me ...”
Sora snickers into Riku’s collarbone, who asks, “Ready?”
“Totally. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Sora takes shot-gun while Kairi has the whole back seat to herself, and Riku sets off down the direction of the highway. It takes them thirty odd minutes to reach the point where houses become sparse, turning left on to a tree bordered road that travels for miles. They all argue over the radio for a while. Each time Riku or Kairi settles on a station Sora will flick it up or down, “just to see if there’s anything new”, but mostly finding static.
Soon they approach a sign stating they are now leaving their town, with a little painting of a palm tree overlooking a sunny horizon. Sora and Kairi cheer when Riku speeds past it.
“How far to the Port?” Riku asks.
Kairi consults the map for a moment. “According to this we have another … hour or so of highway til we get to the town. After that we just have to navigate a few winding roads.”
“The town?” Sora asks.
“Does it have a name?”
Kairi goes quiet for a whole minute. Then she says. “It should be about two hours total to get to the Port. Huh. Who knew the Island was so big.”
Riku frowns. Sora gives him a look out of the corner of his eye. He keeps his eyes focused on the road, gripping the steering wheel tight. The sun sets. Riku and Sora chat quietly over the only station that they are able to pick up this far out. Kairi had tossed Sora the map and told them to wake her up when they reach the Port. She lies across the backseat, using Riku’s duffle bag as a pillow, fast asleep.
Riku waits for Sora to say something about before, but he never does. They drive on and on down the gradually winding road. Their surroundings are nearly pitch-black now and Riku mechanically switches from high to low beams, despite having not seen a car for miles.
An hour passes by. Twenty minutes of squinting into the darkness later Sora scans the map, using his phone as a light. He bites his lip and traces the light over the lines on the page over and over before groaning.
“I don’t get it. Did you miss an exit somewhere?”
“No.” Riku hisses, feeling frustrated.
“We should have been there by now.”
“There has not been a single break in the trees since we started on this fucking road.”
Sora sits back, breathing deeply. He says “Something’s wrong” at the exact same time Riku says, “How can you get lost on a road that only goes in one direction?”
“Did we read the map wrong?”
“How could we have read it wrong?” Riku groans, eyes stinging with fatigue. “It’s been ages, Sora. There is no way an island this size has a highway that travels on for two-plus hours.”
“It’s probably right around the corner. We’re just being paranoid.”
Riku nods, massaging his neck.
An hour passes.
Still no breaks in the trees.
Riku subconsciously drops speed and glares at the road ahead.
“This can’t be real.” He says.
Sora drops his head against the seat rest, wincing.
“What is it?”
He presses his fists to his eyes, swearing. “My head is pounding.”
Riku nearly stops the car in worry. “There should be some aspirin in the glove –”
Sora is staring at something through the windscreen, face white. Riku turns, sees it too, and his blood runs cold. “Stop the car.” Riku pulls over onto the side, shakily puts the car into park. About ten meters in front of them is a sign.
Sora unclips his seatbelt and wordlessly climbs out, Riku following, shutting the door quietly. Sora has started running. The headlights provide all the luminescence they need when he steps next to Sora, the words Welcome to Destiny’s Island shooting him through the chest, the painting of a palm tree and horizon bleached by the high beams, giving it a menacing personality.
Riku stares at the sign mindlessly, vaguely aware of a car horn sounding down the road, back to their home. He feels unbalanced and sick, glances to the sky, the trees, the car, Sora. He leans forward and laces his fingers through Sora’s, anchoring himself, feeling like he might float away.
Sora’s voice is raspy and low, his tone dipped in apathy. “You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but some part of me really hoped I was wrong.”
Riku blinks. “I really hoped you were wrong, too.” Something tingles under his skin, every inch of him from head to toe, the back of his neck breaking out into a sweat. It is right then Sora makes a pained noise and clutches his head, breaking Riku out of whatever stupor he was in. He’d never actually given Sora the aspirin.
Sora fights against him when Riku tries to pull him back to the car, pointing at the sign with his free hand. “What does that say?”
“What?” Riku asks, his head beginning to sting, too.
“Look, there! The sign. What does it say?”
Riku doesn’t even glance at it. “It says Welcome to Destiny’s Island.”
Sora gives him a startled look. “Not Entering?”
“What?” He repeats.
“Look at it properly, Riku.” Sora yanks him forward, forcing him to face the sign.
Riku blinks, staring at the four words. He blinks again and nearly passes out on the spot. The words have shifted to Now Entering Destiny’s Island. Another blink and they read Entering Welcome To. By the fifth blink the world is spinning and the sign says nothing at all.
Riku grasps his skull, now aching, and swears. Sora spins him around. “Okay, that’s enough. Careful.” The world spins, unyielding. “Stop thinking about it!”
“Just – Here. Come back to the car.”
Sora drags Riku away from the sign and sits him down on a boulder. “Think about something else. Think – hey, Riku, look at me.” Sora grabs his chin, tilting, and forcing eye contact. “Just keep looking at me. It’ll die down.”
When Riku groans Sora sighs and crashes their lips together, grabbing at his hair where it’s tied and pulling. Hard. He doesn’t let go or let up until Riku’s lungs are burning and he moans into his mouth, until the pain in his head dispels. There is a wetness between their faces, and Riku honestly isn’t sure which of them is crying. Sora pulls away, stares into Riku’s eyes, his own scorching and swimming with far too many emotions to count. Riku feels hot, and cold, and hot again, so relieved when Sora slides into the driver’s seat before he can.
Riku leans his head against the dashboard, feels Sora shift into drive and peel off back down the road. They were on the complete opposite side of the island from where they started, going in the same direction. Riku’s temple shoots a sharp bolt of pain and he whimpers. Sora places his hand on his thigh and leaves it there, the pressure and warmth helping keep Riku grounded.
Once Riku felt like he could move without throwing up, he rests his head against the window, watching the stars above the tops of the trees as they drive. He hardly registers Sora when he speaks.
“There was an accident at the Port. The lighthouse blew out last night, causing a boat to crash into land.” He stares at the road as he talks. “Two whole docks were damaged, one of which was the Mainland dock. It’s closed until they can get it fixed, so no boats in or out for a while.”
When Sora turns to look at Riku his face is too serious. Riku hates it. “That’s what we tell Kairi. Okay?”
A body shifts in the back seat, moaning, and Riku starts, forgetting she was there. “Mn. Tell me what?”
Sora recites the exact same story he just told Riku. Kairi groans, letting her head fall back down. “Are you serious?”
“Of all the timing in the world.”
Sora turns the radio back on, low, it eventually lulling Kairi back to sleep. Riku shifts in his seat to pull the light blanket tangled around her feet up to her shoulders, vibrant hair fanned out around her head. The two hours back to their home passes in absolute silence, neither of them able to summon an ounce of energy to talk.
Riku never thought he’d be so disappointed to see such familiar surroundings.
They drop Kairi home first, helping her to the door. “Well. That was an amazing adventure.” She says, her voice oozing with bitter sarcasm. “Will totally be telling that one to the grandkids around the fire.”
Sora grins stiffly. “Sleep well.” Riku doesn’t think she picked up on the hidden “be safe”. They bid her goodnight, Sora kissing the top of her head, and leave. Riku keeps the car, deciding Kairi’s mother will not be missing it for the night. He drops Sora off next. They stand on his front porch for a bit, Riku’s hands in Sora’s pockets, Sora’s curled around his belt loops, their foreheads pressed together. Breathing. Just breathing.
Then Sora steps into his house and Riku is alone. The waves crash on the beach behind the row of houses, and as he steps into the car he thinks they might sound angry.
Like a tap bursting, Riku’s resolve crashes and burns once he enters though his front door. His vision blurs and he sees stars. The car keys drop on the small table, their loud chime ringing around the house. He hears the TV in the next room and calls out, “Dad?” hating the shaky hysteria in his voice. His father appears in the threshold moments later, shock and surprise quickly morphing to chronic concern when he takes in his son leaning against the door, about the pass out.
He leads Riku into the lounge, sitting him down on the couch before rushing out and rushing back in with a glass of water. Something drips into the glass after Riku takes a sip from it, and it takes him an embarrassingly long time to realize it was a tear. His dad places the cup on the table and kneels down in front of him, in which time Riku has pulled his hair out, put it back up, and then pulled it out again, unable to sit still.
“Riku, what happened?” Riku sees his fingers twitch toward the phone, knowing he is tossing back and forth on whether or not to call an ambulance.
Riku shakes his head and explains, through an annoying hiccup here and there, the story about the Port, managing to get through it without throwing up. His dad listens to him talk before nodding and rising up to sit down next to him.
“That really sucks. But you’re this shaken up over a dock closing?” When his dad gives him this look, Riku rubs at his eyes and mumbles something along the lines of “I might have had a fight with Sora.” Knowing he’ll believe that.
It seems to work. He gives his son a sympathetic smile and rubs his back. “I’ve also been feeling sick these past couple weeks.” Riku adds, actually not a lie. “All the. The stress with Finals and shit at school and …”
“Hey,” His dad pats him on the knee. “It will be okay, remember what I told you.”
The back of Riku’s eyes sting and his throat wells up, and before he can completely lose it again he tell his had how exhausted he is and that he just wants to sleep. He is helped up to his room, protests ignored – “I need closure you’re not going to collapse up here” – and Riku sighs, lets himself be manhandled, before finally falling into his bed, face first, clutching the covers in his fists.
He might have imagined his father’s hand run through his hair, his isn’t sure.
Riku doesn’t feel any better some time later, and unable to fall asleep. His stomach churns as he teeters along the line of awake and unconscious, never quite tipping over the edge. He can smell Sora on his sheets and his heart pounds. He wants him. He never should have left. In this limbo state he sees Sora and his mom, laughing one second and crying the next. Clothes fly across the room as she tries to pack a suitcase and Sora won’t let her. He sees Kairi and her parents, her father making lewd, half-drunk comments when Kairi pulls Sora into the next room, leaving Riku seething.
He sees his parents, far too young and far too happy, dancing together under a canopy of fairy lights. Their joyful laughter chimes through the air like a gentle breeze.
He sees Sora waist deep in water, eyes electric, smile radioactive. The water reflects off his skin like crystals. Sora turns and walks off into the ocean. Soon his head disappears under, but he does not resurface.
Ironically it is when Riku is considering climbing out his window to climb in through Sora’s that he falls asleep.
Finals pass in a blur of stress, study, more stress and a fuckload of energy drinks. Sora would spontaneously appear at Riku’s house and throw himself at him if he decided he couldn’t stand staring at a book one second longer. The morning of their last exam Riku spends in Sora’s backyard, lounging in the shade and starring at the clouds. Sora lies next to him, head resting on his hands, feet crossed at the ankles. A stripe of sunlight bleaches the collar of his shirt.
Their last exam is Geography. Riku can’t even imagine how this will go.
“In conclusion there is no Mainland, no string of islands and everything we know is a lie. The end.”
Riku shakes his head. “No, there definitely is another island. Just not the Mainland that we all know.”
“Yeah, some magical place that makes people think it’s something else.” Sora hums thoughtfully and looks to Riku. “How’s the head?”
“Significantly better. Gets easier every day.”
It really does. Riku’s head doesn’t pound nearly as much as it did that first night, at the sign, whenever he thinks about it. He told Sora one day that all the headaches, nausea and irritability were just their brains trying to make sense of what they’re seeing, or not seeing. “The brain is built to create solutions for things it doesn’t understand, without you realizing.” He said. “So it’s easy to play along, but the moment you are aware of it it gets harder.”
“Tell me about it.” Sora snorted, resting his head on Riku’s chest. He’d come over one day to tell Riku that his mom was still taking the job on the –
Taking the job.
Sora pokes Riku’s collar bone with his nose. “She’s so excited, though, you should see her.” He smiles fondly. “And we’ll be off at college next year so it really don’t matter that much anyway. But she doesn’t want to sell the house, she says. Wants to have a place to come back to. I told her that’s insane. That we can’t afford both her apartment and my dorm and keep the house, but she doesn’t want to hear it.”
Sora sighs, Riku trails his thumb up and down his spine. “I suggested we share an apartment, but she says her work is too far away from the colleges.”
Riku kisses his temple. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
“I’ve been told once or twice.” Then he snickers into Riku’s neck. “Or, like, seventeen.”
This earns him a kick to the shin.
“Now what?” Sora asks Riku a few days before graduation, walking along the sand.
“Now,” Riku kicks a pebble. “Now we wait and see.”
Sora nods. They will be getting their results in the mail and then letters back from applied colleges and then … they wait. What to see what happens. See where they go from here.
Sora grips his hand tight. It’s the middle of the day, but Riku decides he really doesn’t care. “I’m still fucking terrified, though.”
“So am I.”
“What if nothing happens? What if we hallucinate college?”
“This isn’t a mass illusion, Sora. It’s just …”
He groans. “Alright fine.” Then, “Race you down the beach,” before taking off without warning. Riku rolls his eyes and follows, because even after all that they have been through these past two months, after all the trauma and tears and laughter, that too, some things never change. Like Sora, for instance, never in a million years being able to beat Riku in a race if he has anything to say about it.
Riku tries to imagine what the next few months will entail, but his brain falls short the moment it leaves the square miles of the only thing he has even known in his entire existence. What he is sure about is that it will be different, and unordinary. He wonders what this “Mainland” will look like to him and Sora, knowing the truth, wonders if it will be as real as this island.
Riku pushes his thoughts aside for another day, focusing on now. The sky is cloudless, and a cool ocean breeze moves across his skin like satin while the waves crash onto the sand.
He runs as fast as his legs will allow, meeting Sora just before their imaginary finishing line, and scooping hip up in the air. He cries out in surprised anguish at first, though that slowly dissolves into that laughter from deep in his core that Riku loves so much, as he spins them out to the waves, clothes and all.
If Riku sees two little yellow orbs under the shade of a palm, he guesses he imagined it.