The very first time Ushijima and Tendou had lunch together, they were still first years, fresh faced and utterly new to one another. It had been Ushijima’s idea, a way to thank Tendou for the invitation to watch movies together. Another step in the direction of a beautiful friendship.
Tendou had agreed immediately. And exuberantly.
Ushijima chose a small sandwich shop just around the corner from his house. He usually frequented it with his mother, and occasionally his grandmother, if she was available. The shop was quaint, run by an elderly couple who had lived in the area since they were in their twenties. They knew everyone who had ever lived nearby, and every tale of the people who passed through. They had also taken a liking to Ushijima ever since he was a young boy, always making the time to watch his televised volleyball matches. The couple was like an extra set of grandparents to Ushijima, and he couldn’t think of any better place to have lunch with his new friend.
Sharing the things you liked with your friends was a kind gesture, his mother had informed him when he’d told her about Tendou. And so Ushijima had made the plans, because Tendou had tried so hard with him, even though Ushijima had often been told he was unapproachable. He had to make some effort in return.
It was unusual for him to be thinking about something other than volleyball or his plants like this, but then, Tendou was unlike anyone he’d ever met before.
He was also late.
They had agreed to meet at half past twelve, but it was nearly quarter to one, and Ushijima was a little worried. He didn’t think Tendou was the type of person to stand someone up without warning – but then again, he didn’t really know the redhead yet. Not beyond his fear of scary movies and his absurdly terrifying blocks, that was.
Before Ushijima could have any more time to worry, however, there was the sudden sound of loud footfalls on the road outside, and the tall boy didn’t have to look at the door to know that it was Tendou. He looked anyway – a part of him wanting to watch his new friend crash through the doors of the shop like a redheaded tornado. Ushijima was certain the place had never seen such chaos before. A part of him thought that it was high time they did.
Tendou came to an almost comical halt in the doorway, his chest heaving, eyes scanning the shop until they found Ushijima – at his favourite table, tucked into the corner by the window. He liked being able to watch the quiet street outside, and maybe spot some dogs, if he was lucky. Once Tendou spotted him, his whole face lit up, like the first sun after a storm, and he raced over to Ushijima’s table, falling into the seat opposite him with a loud thump.
“Wakatoshi-kun! Is it still okay for me to call you Wakatoshi? I know it only started because of that movie – which I’m still having nightmares about, by the way! – and I can stop if you want me to? But sorry I’m late, I got lost on the way here, and then this old lady dropped her shopping so I helped her pick it up, but anyway, I made it! How are you?”
Ushijima blinked, his mind needing a moment longer to process the verbal whirlwind that Tendou had just unleashed upon him. He was steadily realising that Tendou did not seem to have an off switch of any kind, and when he talked, he really talked. It was unusual to Ushijima, who was used to much quieter, slower conversations, but not unwelcome.
“…Wakatoshi is fine,” Ushijima managed after a minute, once he’d dissected Tendou’s speech. “And it’s alright. I’m glad you made it.”
Tendou grinned, leaning on the table to watch Ushijima with his head propped up on his hands. “So am I! Couldn’t have you thinking I’d stand you up!” Ushijima debated telling him that the thought had crossed his mind, but decided against it. Tendou seemed happier believing he hadn’t, and he wanted his friend to be happy. “So,” Tendou continued. “Why did you pick this place for lunch?”
Ushijima smiled slightly, his gaze turning to the counter, where the elderly couple were serving a young girl with her mother. “My mother and I have been coming here since I was very young. Akimoto-san and his wife Sumiye-san have owned this shop for nearly fifty years. It’s always been one of my favourite places to eat.”
Tendou studied him for long enough that Ushijima began to think he may have said something wrong, but then a wide smile brightened his face. “That’s really sweet, Wakatoshi! We should come here more often, since you think so highly of it!”
“I’d like that.”
Tendou grinned once more before launching into a tirade about a manga he was reading – and Ushijima didn’t quite follow him, but he enjoyed listening to Tendou speak all the same. There was something about his voice that energised the whole room around him. It made Ushijima feel less…something. Alone, perhaps.
When Tendou eventually paused for breath long enough for the pair to order their sandwiches, Ushijima marvelled quietly at how easily his friend won over Akimoto and Sumiye. His boundless enthusiasm and endless questions about their shop pleased them greatly, and Sumiye handed them their food with a fond smile, saying how glad she was that Ushijima had such a nice friend. Ushijima expected Tendou to thank her loudly, as he was wont to do, but was surprised by the soft flush that graced his cheeks, the almost shy way he accepted her praise. Ushijima supposed he was embarrassed by something, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what it could be.
After all, they were friends. Ushijima and Tendou.
After the first lunch meeting, many more followed. It didn’t take long for their fellow first years to find out about it, though Ushijima suspected that had something to do with Tendou’s inability to keep anything from Semi for more than five minutes.
And so, occasional lunch meetings became monthly meetings, and then fortnightly, and then weekly. Sometimes, the others would join them, and the five of them would crowd Akimoto’s shop, discussing volleyball and high school and the potential new freshmen they would receive the following year. Other times, it would just be Ushijima and Tendou, a much more intimate gathering, although it was not quieter. Tendou would tell Ushijima about his favourite manga, their anime equivalents, and the actresses he thought were the cutest. In turn, Ushijima slowly began to tell Tendou more about himself, the plants he tended in his room, and his favourite international volleyball players.
Over the course of their first year at Shiratorizawa, Ushijima and Tendou grew closer and closer, both on the court and off of it, at the quiet corner table of a small sandwich shop in Miyagi.
And that was why neither boy was surprised when Tendou fell into the seat opposite Ushijima one day, red hair dishevelled as though he had run his hands through it several times, and confessed that he liked him.
And it was why neither boy was surprised when Ushijima took Tendou’s hand, and confessed that he liked him back.
Had they been less engrossed in one another, they may have seen Sumiye and Akimoto share a fond smile behind the counter, seeing themselves replicated in the two young boys from Shiratorizawa. But they only had eyes for each other.
After their relationship shifted, their lunch dates became more adventurous. They tried dessert-specific restaurants, a book teashop, and even once – at Tendou’s insistent request – a cat café. Yet, no matter where they went, they always found their way back to Akimoto’s small sandwich shop, just around the corner from Ushijima’s house. Even as they reached various relationship milestones: their first anniversary, with a picnic by the lake; their first kiss, in the pouring rain outside Tendou’s front door; their first time, in the warmth of Ushijima’s bedroom after practice – their lunch date shop remained constant. Even as Tendou became Satori and Wakatoshi stopped being merely a form of praise on the court, Akimoto and Sumiye stayed with the boys, a constant presence in the background of their lives.
And so when university took the pair far away from Miyagi, and Akimoto and Sumiye watched them having their last lunch date in their small little shop, they couldn’t help but feel that something was going to be missing.
Ten years had gone by before Wakatoshi and Satori found their way back to Akimoto’s sandwich shop. Sumiye had passed away since, and the counter seemed lonelier with just Akimoto behind it. Wakatoshi thought he seemed frailer, as he watched the old man who had seen him grow hobble back and forth. It made him feel sad.
Satori, just like their first date, was running late. But his boyfriend had said he had something important to talk about, and he had been adamant that it had to happen here, despite the fact that they had been living together for nearly five years. So Wakatoshi took his lunch break from work early, and waited for Satori as he had all those years ago in high school.
Both Wakatoshi and Akimoto looked at the door when thunderous footsteps sounded on the road outside, knowing that they could only belong to one person. Sure enough, the door swung open to reveal Satori, his chest heaving. He waved at Akimoto – scanned around as though expecting Sumiye to be there too – and then smiled sadly when he remembered. Akimoto returned the wave slowly, his joints not what they used to be. But it almost made him feel young again, seeing Satori’s limitless energy.
And when Satori got on one knee before Wakatoshi, holding out a glimmering ring with a soft proposal on his lips, Akimoto could almost feel Sumiye beside him again.
And when Wakatoshi nodded his head, the two men falling into each other’s embrace, Akimoto was certain that she was smiling just as widely as he was.