People always have reasons, excuses. But in the end, Gakuto knows, it takes two to lose contact.
He never did give Yuushi his new address after he moved house, because Yuushi didn't seem to enjoy writing letters to him or reading his letters. The brief, distant replies said as much. Why force someone to do something he felt was obligatory because they were once best friends? People come and go, and friendships fade, it's a fact of life. Rather than clinging onto something unsalvageable, it's better to let it go. Besides, Yuushi can save the money it costs to post a letter to America. Saves him the time and effort as well.
Japan is a land now foreign yet still familiar. So much has changed within the few years he has gone, but the bakery where he used to grab his breakfast before school is still there, hiding at a corner of the train station. From there Gakuto traces the steps he used to take to get to Hyotei Gakuen, and then from the school to the local library, where Yuushi used to bury his face in romance novels and Gakuto flicked through magazine after magazine. Once he had asked the other boy why he didn't just buy the damn books and read them at home, and Yuushi answered that he liked the library. Whatever. It was just a place with chairs and loads and loads of books. Still, Oshitari went there at least three times a week and Gakuto always went with him.
The library has closed down. A notice stuck on the inside of the glass door says it is with regret that, due to the lack of funding, they have to shut down after serving the community for many years.
Gakuto sneers at the notice and turns back. What good is a library anyway? If he knows what he wants to read, he would go and buy the book, not spend days and days cruising the shelves looking for something that might be interesting and worthwhile and he might be able to fall in love with. That just isn't his style.
He studies his own shadow, stretched by the setting sun, as he makes his way back to the shopping district for the train back home. The crowds are thinning as those who have finish with their day out start to leave. Suddenly Gakuto doesn't want to go home quite yet. He has planned to spend a little while at the library just for old time's sake and now the plan's been sabotaged and he doesn't want to admit defeat by going back now. This makes sense because he says it does. So he heads towards the bookstore at the end of the street, determined to at least bring a magazine home.
There is a poster on the display window, drawing Gakuto's gaze towards it. The man on the poster is wearing a deep blue suit and has his head dipped so that most of his face is obscured by his long hair. But he looks as though he is chuckling. Gakuto walks closer and gapes.
Oshitari Yuushi will be here on 20th October for booksigning to commemorate the release of his 5th novel (title tbc)
Gakuto bites his lips when he finds a shelf in the store, right near the entrance, displaying all four of Oshitari Yuushi's published works, two of which have become bestsellers.
Right, so this is it.
Yuushi, his so-called best friend who wouldn't even spend a few minutes to write him a proper letter, has written four novels with the fifth one coming out.
He glares at the poster stuck above the shelves, and whispers under his breath. "You suck."
If he was still a child and if he was tall enough, he would reach up and rip the poster to shreds. But he isn't a kid anymore and he is still short, so he just takes a deep breath and leaves.
"Ah, I know everybody's been waiting for this. In fact, I say 90 of tonight's listeners are here for my guest and not me!" The host laughed. "A big welcome to tonight's special guest, romance novelist Oshitari Yuushi-sensei!"
"...Please don't add 'sensei' after my name, it sounds old."
"But... hm, how about 'Oshitari-kun'?"
"Yes that sounds good."
"You really think so?" A pause. "Indeed, you are very young, having entered the writing scene at the age of 19. In so few years you have written quite a few novels. And we can already expect your new novel on the shelves in three months' time?"
"About the new novel... it hasn't even reached the printing houses yet, so please don't get too excited about it..."
"You're a very modest person, Oshitari-kun."
"I think my manager will have my life for saying that just now."
"We do have special passages for guests to leave the station."
"That'd be excellent. I believe my manager's trained killers are on their way as we speak. He always threatens me this way."
"Oh, that's bad."
"Dead novelists sell better though?"
"Hahahaha... true... but we already have some of your fans waiting outside, so we don't want the numbers to increase further..."
"Nah, you won't see them from this window Oshitari-kun. But I think your loyal fans are all listening to this show as they wait?"
"The headphone goes like this. Here."
"Thank you." Oshitari laughs. "I still haven't learned how to work with the equipment here. This is terrible of me."
"Indeed, you're going to get troubles... which brings us to the point of inviting you to the show tonight doesn't it?"
"Hahaha yes... from next week onwards for twelve weeks, every Tuesday, I'll be on FM101.2 from 10:30pm to 11:30."
"A guest co-host to our most popular show."
"I am very honoured to be invited to do this. To be honest I'm very nervous."
"I look forward to your show very much..."
Gakuto knows the radio won't shut up just because it's being glared at, so he finally climbs out of bed to get the remote - who had the intelligence to put the remote right next to the machine? - and switches it off.
This station isn't the one he normally listens to. If Jirou hasn't called to tell him Yuushi's on radio he would be listening to some nice garage or pop right now.
Radio show. Next time Yuushi's going to get his own goddamn TV station.
So this is the life Yuushi has chosen. Nothing wrong about it, Gakuto always remembers his father once saying that as long as Gakuto isn't committing crime or hurting anyone, anything he does in life is fair game. The society needs people to sweep the streets, people to drive taxis, people to own hotels. As long as he's happy doing what he does and can feed anybody who's dependent on him, he's free to do what he wants to do. The world needs people like Yuushi too, people who write novels and create worlds for others to get lost in, people to become idols to others. Fine, nothing wrong with that. In fact, good for him, now Yuushi can write the novels he really wants to read.
But... if this is the reason the boy - man, dammit, man - hadn't written a proper letter to him for so long, if it's because he's too busy making money and pleasing fans to think about an old friend, well then, he sucks. And now that he's a sort-of-celebrity, there is no reason for him to want to reunite with the old friend he had abandoned.
Frowning isn't going to help, so Gakuto puts the remote down on the nightstand and flicks the lamp off. And frowns in the darkness.
He feels ridiculous in a suit and polished leather shoes. He can't seem to walk in them. Lifting his feet carefully, one after the other, Gakuto feels as though he is a child learning to walk for the first time. Don't scuffle, don't slouch... look like an adult, darn it.
How the hell is he going to do this everyday? Yanking off the tie as he had wanted to do even before the job interview just now, he stuffs it in his pocket, then proceeds to undo the buttons at his neck. He can barely breathe wearing all this. To think the shops all said that even the smallest collar size is too big for him because he has such a, well they put it nicely, slender neck. Basically he's got the build of a boy and he's trying to dress in adult's clothing, that's what they wanted to say. He's twenty-three and he looks like a sixteen year-old. Thanks to bad genes, he will never be tall, never have broad shoulders, never be able to wear a suit like he was born in it, the way Yuushi can.
It's as if he's still stuck in his school age whilst everybody else has grown up. He still has to stand on jump to get things from the top shelves in supermarkets (that's in Japan. In America he had to ask for help), still wears long tees and jeans, still likes to kick empty cans he finds on the streets. Right, Atobe doesn't count because Gakuto doubts Atobe ever had a childhood, but even Jirou looks like a man now; they'd met just yesterday for tea. If even Jirou can break the mould, why can't he? Nobody will ever show him any interest if he stays this way.
He doesn't have the face, or the build, or the voice. He's just Gakuto.
Thinking about it, he should tell Jirou not to bother with the party. What would it be like if everyone met up, looking older, taller, and Gakuto looking like he just came out from a time capsule? Atobe'd definitely have a word or two to say about it, and Yuushi would sing along. And he didn't want to see Yuushi. Not that Yuushi'd actually have the time for a reunion. But it was the principle of things that mattered.
Gakuto digs out his phone and makes a call to Jirou, telling him to hold the party plans. Why... he may have a new job soon and hasn't got any idea on his schedule yet. Yeah.
Well, that's done.
Really, Gakuto knows, he shouldn't be so bitter about all of this. The job thing will come - anyone who can speak anything that resembles good English gets hired quickly in Japan, that is a fact that has never changed. And the friends thing, well, Jirou's fun to hang out with and Yuushi's doing well and despite everything, Gakuto is still happy for him. As for the Gakuto thing, it isn't like he hasn't been stuck with the Gakuto thing for 23 years already and brooding about it now is just totally uncool. It's just easier and more comfortable to embrace what you have and use it to your best advantage. For Yuushi, that's his looks, his accent and his intelligence. For Gakuto... there must be something for Gakuto. "Just" Gakuto can't be so bad.
He stops. There's a book shop across the street.
Japan is really annoying. There isn't even an empty can on the ground for him to kick with his leather shoes. Gakuto glares at the ground, glares at his perfectly-polished shoes, and decides this means he needs some other form of entertainment. And getting one of Yuushi's books doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
"Mukahi! Sorry, could you come over here for a minute?"
Grumbling something under his breath about this being lunch time, Gakuto slips a bookmark between the pages, puts his book down and treads over to help a colleague with his frozen computer. Geez, some people just should not be allowed to touch technology.
A moment later, he drops back into his seat and picks up the book again.
"Oh! Are you reading Oshitari Yuushi's novel?"
What the - Gakuto looks up and find C-san hovering over his shoulder. (A really good company suddenly got a massive project and desperately needed good people with a good degree, and offered him good money and a good position, to start right away. Today is his second day at work. Work's been frantic and he hasn't had time to learn everyone's names yet, so for now they are A-chan, B-ko, C-san, D-kun...) "Ah... yeah."
"His books are excellent, I'm a big fan." C-san pulled over a nearby chair and invited herself to sit near Gakuto. "I've been telling all my male friends to read them, so that they can better understand how women think."
Gakuto nods hesitantly. He doesn't care. But she's being nice to someone who's just started working here, so "go away I'm trying to read" doesn't seem to be the response of choice right now.
"Oh! You're reading that, Mukahi? I love that book!" Suddenly A-chan appears from nowhere and joins in the conversation.
"Isn't it amazing the author just understands how women think?" C-san asks.
"Yes! And his stories are so good, so romantic!" A-chan gestures for Gakuto's book, so he hands it over and she flips it to the insider cover where there is a small photograph of the author. "And he's so good looking, too. How can anyone be so perfect?"
Gakuto wants to snatch his book back. He doesn't need to be told how good looking Yuushi is - he's spent his teenage years looking up at that face and watching girls grovel at his feet. But no, he isn't stupid enough to let people know he was best friends with Oshitari Yuushi back in school.
"I guess Mukahi-san likes Oshitari-sensei's writing too?"
Gakuto finds himself chatting with these strangers in this strange place, the discussion starting from the characters in the novel and stretching to the barbecue C-san is going to hold at her place next weekend, which Gakuto is now invited to.
Back in Hyotei, he used to blame Yuushi for everything from missing the train to dropping a cup at home - "Yuushi's fault" were some of the words he spoke the most often. Now, he can't help but think this is all Yuushi's "fault" too, that Yuushi is helping him settle into this alien environment and find new friends.
Yuushi's first co-hosting of a radio programme isn't particularly interesting. There is the obligatory self-introduction, some advertisement telling the listeners to preorder his book, and a lot of music. He hasn't said a lot, talking only briefly about novel writing, but that's because he's nervous. There is an experienced female host to partner him and she is helping a lot. Contrary to public belief, Yuushi does suffer from the butterflies-in-the-stomach. Back in school, it was usually up to Gakuto to calm him down before important tennis matches. Although extremely smart, Yuushi isn't very good at handling pressure.
Looking back, the way Yuushi got blamed for everything certainly didn't help. Everyone knew Gakuto just said it for the sake of saying it, but there were times Yuushi did get touchy and snapped back. Gakuto's solution to that was to storm off in a huff and wait for Yuushi to find him and apologise, which Yuushi always did whether it was his fault to begin with or not.
Gakuto was indeed rather spoiled back then.
But back to the point, Yuushi was extremely nervous on the radio; anyone who knows - or knew - him can tell. Gakuto imagines Yuushi fiddling and twitching and this makes him want to laugh. Who's the one to calm his nerves, now that Gakuto isn't by his side? Does Yuushi remember this one short redhead who used to poke him, pull faces, rant about their tennis captain and did everything he could under the sun to make him forget the pressure?
It'd be nice if he did remember, wouldn't it?
Suddenly Gakuto wants to write him a letter. Perhaps send it to the radio station like all other fan letters, asking "Oshitari-sensei" on how he deals with pressure. That might help joggle his memories and who knows, maybe Yuushi would even mention his friend from high school!
But what's the point?
Gakuto turns off the radio and goes to sleep.
If there are men who read porn publicly on trains - Japan indeed is a scary place - then there is nothing wrong with a guy reading a novel aimed at young women. It doesn't have to mean anything. And if it does mean, you know, then yeah whatever. So what.
Gakuto is on his second Oshitari Yuushi novel. The first one had a happy ending; he hopes this one will, too. This story has the cheesiest plot ever, but somehow Yuushi makes it so good and so real that Gakuto has to secretly wipe a tear when nobody is watching.
This is Yuushi's work. This is definitely his work. Gakuto can almost see Yuushi sitting down in his grandma's old reclining chair and writing this word by word in a note book. There were a couple of times, back in Hyotei, when Gakuto went to Yuushi's place and Yuushi read him his random bits of composition, probably hoping for an opinion of some sort. Gakuto never really had much to say, because he was more concentrating on the voice than the actual content. Because... you know... Yuushi being the biggest crush Gakuto had ever had... yeah. Not that Yuushi knew.
Reading his books now makes Gakuto feel like he is slumped on Yuushi's sofa again, listening to him reading, only this time Gakuto is paying more attention to the actual content as well. This feeling is kind of nice. It's like being wrapped in an old blanket that smells familiar and feels warm. Now, if only he could have a cup of tea, English style with milk and a lot of sugar, everything would be perfect. Yuushi used to make those for him.
Gakuto makes himself a cup of tea and curls up in bed again, novel in hand. Now, is the protagonist ever going to find the love of her life? This story better not make him cry like the last one did. Gakuto likes a good cry but he doesn't like the idea that Yuushi has made him cry. That had happened on occasions, but it was years ago and it was because Yuushi, despite all his intelligence, could be a total idiot.
The next day, Gakuto goes to work with slightly red eyes. When people ask him why, he almost tells them it's all Yuushi's fault, but he catches himself just in time and mumbles something about a late night.
If his dad is right about people being born to do certain things, then Yuushi has definitely found what he is meant to do. Now, having read two of the novels, Gakuto can almost forgive him for not writing letters and writing stories instead. "Almost" being the operative word, of course. He is not going to forgive Yuushi. He doesn't like the idea of forgiving Yuushi unless, say, if Yuushi writes a novel for him. A whole 50,000 word novel, because Yuushi owes him at least that many words in unwritten letters.
Well, that itself would be a cheesy plotline for a love story.
It's the tail end of the summer, just the right temperature for barbecues. Juice from grilled sweetcorn threatens to land on the page of the book in Gakuto's lap. He shields it and continues reading. He isn't being very sociable in a social situation, but he is near the ending now and he can't stop. C-san and A-chan just laugh understandingly and wait until he closes the book and heaves a satisfied sigh, then they grab hold of him, one on each side, taking him to a quiet corner. Gakuto yelps; they are almost lifting him off the ground.
"Listen, Mukahi," A-chan's eyes are lit with a strange light. "Oshitari-sama's going to be at the Kinokuniya at Shinjuku next Saturday. Do you want to go with us?"
"What?" Gakuto blinks at the rapid-fired words, then it all clicks together and the first response he has is YES! followed by HELL NO! "Oh, thanks, but... not interested."
"Are you sure? He's going to read from one of his books."
"No, really. I just like his books."
A-chan and C-san exchange a look, but finally decide to leave Gakuto alone.
No, Gakuto would rather be dead than be seen sitting amongst Yuushi's fans. If he wants to see Yuushi, he can always arrange a reunion. Hell, he still has Yuushi's home address and phone number. Listening to him read is very tempting, but it wouldn't be like the old times and Jesus, he isn't a fanboy. He is happy with reading the novels and listening to the radio show every week.
Jesus. He is a fan.
He runs back to the barbecue and rescues his book before someone sits on it.
Now that Gakuto has settled into his new job, Jirou is insisting on a reunion. He seems excited about it, the way he used to be when he met someone particularly strong in tennis, but now the level of excitement is constant, as if all the energy he had stored up sleeping through his high school years is bursting out from him. Gakuto watches the way Jirou bounces in his seat and almost knocks over both their drinks, and thinks perhaps his initial assessment was wrong and Jirou hasn't grown up that much after all.
"Atobe, Kabaji, Oshitari, Shishido, Ohtori, Hiyoshi. How about Taki?"
Gakuto shrugs. "Sure, why not."
Jirou adds the name to the list. "We can probably go to one of Atobe's restaurants!"
"Let's do that." Gakuto isn't one to say no to good food, especially if it's free. "Hey, don't tell them I'm back. Let's make it a surprise."
Jirou nods enthusiastically and digs out his phone to make the calls. Getting hold of everyone isn't difficult. Atobe, being the busy, busy man, is in America right now (the irony, Gakuto thinks) and isn't coming back until a few weeks later. Ore-sama will, though, make sure he is available on the first weekend back in Japan. Everyone else is happy with the date, although Oshitari, still half asleep in bed, says he'll have to double-check with his manager.
Gakuto rubs his knuckles and chews on a straw as he listens to the conversation.
"You've got to come! That's the day everyone can make. Yeah, even Atobe!" Jirou's huge eyes turn to Gakuto, and he points at the phone. Gakuto shakes his head furiously. Jirou shoves the phone at Gakuto anyway, gesturing for him to listen.
It's really Yuushi. His voice throaty and half asleep, he is mumbling something about a deadline in a few days and talking again when he is more awake.
Gakuto pushes the phone back to Jirou, his face bright red. Finally, Jirou manages to extract a half promise from Oshitari before hanging up.
"If he knew you're back I think he would've said yes right away." Jirou takes a look at Gakuto, noticing the change. "What's with you guys? Have you had a fight?"
"No," Gakuto says as innocently as he can and pushes his chair back. "I need to piss."
At the toilets, Gakuto stares at himself in the mirror for a moment before turning the tap on and splashing cold water onto his face.
That voice! Gakuto can see it - Yuushi still in bed, not awake and without his glasses, his face half buried in a pile of pillows. Not that Gakuto has ever really seen Yuushi in bed, but he had been to Yuushi's room and knew the guy liked pillows, and he had seen Yuushi falling asleep in the chair. It only takes a little imagination to put an image together.
Water dripping from his face, Gakuto stares at the mirror again. He looks normal, the way he has always been. He hasn't changed a bit after all this years. Not his appearance, nor his feelings.
Damn that guy.
For the reunion, Gakuto arrives "fashionably" late, partly because he has spent too much time deciding on what to wear. Luckily the restaurant is easy to find, being on the top floor of a well-known skyscraper owned by the Atobe Group.
He finds the lift. As the doors close, someone puts his hands between the doors, making them pull back. "Ah, sorry," a voice says.
Gakuto had imagined, last night, that something like this could happen. He would be in the lift and then Yuushi would board in the last second. There would be an awkward silence, his heart would try to beat its way out of his chest, and then all the lights would suddenly go off and they would be stuck in the lift together.
After a while, they would start talking, first about their predicament, about how someone was going to be sacked by Atobe, then they would really talk. They would ask each other how they had been in the past few years, and finally, Yuushi would apologise for not contacting. Gakuto would forgive him, and everything would be all right again.
Yuushi's fault, making him read all those cheesy romantic novels.
A fantasy as cheesy as Yuushi's stories should not happen in real life. But there he is, Oshitari Yuushi, standing at the door.
"Well are you going to get in or not?" Somehow Gakuto manages to say, and mentally gives himself a pat on the shoulder for it.
The doors close. He is in a lift with Oshitari Yuushi. Yuushi, who is tall, good looking and wearing a casual suit that seems he has just randomly pulled out of the wardrobe and still looks cool. Damn the man.
The lift is quite fast. Gakuto fixes his eyes on the flashing number panel above, wishing it would go faster, or break down like it did in his fantasy. It doesn't do either.
When they reach the 19th floor, Oshitari speaks.
"When did you come back?"
"Two months ago."
"Jirou didn't tell me you'd be here."
"What difference does it make?"
60th floor. The doors open after a chime, Gakuto strolls out and ignores the man behind him. He can't explain why he is doing this. Some time ago he has already decided that things are cool now. He hasn't forgiven Yuushi but he isn't going to let this become a grudge or let it dictate how he would treat Yuushi. Yet here he is, obviously acting cold towards the man. So childish, yet he just can't help it; it's like a natural reaction.
He tries to be friendlier the rest of the night. The drinks are probably helping, and the company too. It's good to see everyone again, even though Gakuto feel intimidated by them. They have all grown. He hasn't. He still looks like a boy, sometimes he looks in the mirror and thinks he even looks like a girl, but he tries not to think about that. He manages some conversations with Yuushi, about life in America and his new job. Ohtori mentions then that Oshitari is now a novelist, and asks if Gakuto knows.
"I've seen posters and stuff." Gakuto says as casually as he can.
"I suppose you haven't read any of them?" Yuushi asks, sipping his cocktail.
Gakuto thinks about the novels piled up on his nightstand. And the box of tissues. "You know I don't read novels."
"Yeah, I remember."
It may be the alcohol making him see things, but Yuushi seems a bit disappointed. Or perhaps it's relief, who knows? It doesn't matter. As the night rolls on, Gakuto feels more relaxed and he congratulates Yuushi on doing what he has always wanted to do. They chat about inconsequential things, and Gakuto, somehow, is happy. This is going better than he thought it would. He can do this. It's the feeling of finally being able to come to terms with something. Maybe.
At the end of the night, when everyone squish into the lift to go down, Gakuto pulls out his phone to look at the picture he has taken with Yuushi: their heads are together, to fit themselves into the picture and Yuushi holds the phone because he has longer arms. One of Gakuto's hands is on Yuushi's shoulder, the other doing the classic v sign. If not for the difference in clothing and Yuushi's slightly more mature face, this can be a picture from their high school days.
He sets it as his wallpaper and sends it to Yuushi's phone by bluetooth. Yuushi looks at it and chuckles. "You still look exactly the same."
Gakuto can't stop staring at the way the outer corner of Yuushi's eyes tighten and crinkle up when the man laughs. He forces himself to turn away. "Yeah."
His own smile must have dropped, because Yuushi leans down towards him the next moment - the man being so much taller and him only a midget - and asks, "is everything okay?"
Gakuto leans back a bit. "Huh? Yeah." Eyes shifted, looking away; he has never been a good liar, but at least now he won't succumb to that concerned look and pour everything out.
Finally, Yuushi pulls away. "My fault, isn't it," he says with a sigh, drawing a roar of laughter from their former team mates, and Gakuto wonders if Yuushi knows something or if this is just a joke. For the first time, he wishes to be smaller, so small that nobody can see him.
When they make it to the ground floor, they give each other that hug between men - hands slapping each other's back, gently or with all of one's might, because just holding one another is too feminine a thing. Atobe's hug has two firm slaps, encouraging, and he actually goes as far as to saying "it's good to see you again."
Hiyoshi's embrace is firm but his pat almost gentle, "welcome back to Japan, Mukahi-san," he says. Gakuto doesn't find him so creepy anymore.
Yuushi's hug isn't tight, but he strokes Gakuto's back rather than slap it, fingers gripping Gakuto's shirt for a moment. He doesn't say anything and Gakuto lets go first because he feels like he is clinging; Yuushi has to bend down a lot for him.
"Where do you live now, Gakuto?"
"I'm renting... not far from my old home..." Suddenly Gakuto realises he is following Yuushi. Or probably not. The station is in this direction too. But when Yuushi stops, he does, too.
"I can give you a lift." Yuushi takes out some keys. Apparently they are standing next to his car.
Yuushi's car. Getting into Yuushi's car. Somehow the thought makes Gakuto's face heat up all over again and he wants to kick himself for being so much like a girl.
"N-nah, you don't have to. I can just take the subway."
"I haven't drunk so much that I can't drive. And I pass by your area anyway."
It would look weird if Gakuto still says no, now. With as casual a thank you as he can manage, he opens the door. There is a large stack of paper, filled with handwriting, on the seat. Yuushi takes it away and puts it on his lap. "Sorry."
Yuushi nods. "Trying to finish it."
"I heard from Jirou that the deadline's soon?"
"There's no problem with the deadline," Yuushi says. Gakuto hits himself mentally for saying something so stupid. Of course, Yuushi always does everything perfectly and on time. "I'm just putting off writing the ending," the man chuckles, his voice humourless.
"Oh." Gakuto doesn't know what to say to that, so the conversation ends there. He eyes the script, dying to read it, not believing he is actually in Yuushi's car, having just had a party together, being driven home.
Nothing is ever going to come out of this, of course, but at least it's proving that they can still be friends.
The car stops outside the block of flats Gakuto is living in.
He's going to ask to come in for a coffee... Gakuto freezes, his hand on the door handle and one leg out of the car. "Yeah?"
"Let's meet up again? Are you free next weekend?"
"Er, yeah, maybe. I don't know. Sometimes I suddenly have to work late and stuff..." Gakuto stumbles out of the car. His self-defence, eased down at the party earlier, rises rapidly again. "Anyway, thanks for the ride, 'night!"
He slams the door shut so fast he barely hears Yuushi's "goodnight," and flees into the building.
At work, Gakuto wants to tell A-chan and C-san what happened at the weekend. He can't, of course - he hasn't told them before that he knows Oshitari Yuushi, he can't tell them now. Besides, if he told them, they would annoy him to no end with their questions, yell at him for not agreeing to meet up again, and skin him alive - not necessarily in that order.
Though, now that Gakuto's mind is clear instead of swimming in alcohol and glee, he knows he has made a very big, possibly the biggest mistake in his life. He behaved like a shy girl in front of someone who was trying to make amends and be friends with him again. So uncool.
He ploughs through the rest of Yuushi's novels and then starts from the first one again. Yuushi really does write well. Gakuto knows nothing about literature, but he knows when he is enjoying something. Why hadn't he noticed this in the past?
Perhaps, if they ever meet again, Gakuto can tell him that he actually does read his novels and he thinks they are brilliant. But after that shameful exit last time, maybe they won't be meeting again.
"Do I ever get nervous and how do I deal with it?
"Of course I do. I'm nervous about my new book - which has gone to the print houses now. Ah, sorry for the little plug. But yes, of course I do, just like everyone else.
"A week ago I attended the reunion for my high school tennis team. I was extremely scared. They are a bunch of friends who I'd been very close to for many years, although not many of us stayed in regular contact after graduation. I spent a long time - a very long time - just to pick out something to wear.
"Worrying about clothes is not something exclusive to the girls.
"Then once there, I tried to act cool, but not too cool. It was very very hard indeed. And in the end, I think I didn't do very well at all."
"Ah, this isn't a very good answer and doesn't make me look very good, does it... but I'm very glad I went. That's the most important thing..."
For a moment, Gakuto almost believes Yuushi really was as nervous at the reunion as he says he was on radio. But then he remembers it's only a radio show.
The book stores are taking preorders for Oshitari Yuushi's next novel. Gakuto places an order and hands in the form for a day's leave from work on the release day. This is as far as he is going to go. He will not join A-chan in her overnight camp outside the shop the night before.
Then, from nowhere ("a source from the publishers," writes a magazine) comes the rumour that this is going to be Oshitari's last novel. The publisher refuses to comment but Oshitari eventually mentions it in his radio show: he's just taking a break, not stopping.
Suddenly Gakuto remembers Yuushi saying he was putting off writing the ending of his last book, and wonders if that has got anything to do with it.
He could give Yuushi a call. He could just ask, "hey, how's everything going?" and let things go from there. He doesn't get much further than just thinking about it, though. So they have met recently, but it'd be reckless for Gakuto to just assume Yuushi is burnt out and needs a pat on the shoulder. It would even be rude; who would ask an author if he's tired of writing?
But the thought remains. He could go and get a haircut first, something short and spiky so that he looks less feminine. That would help erase that lame image of him from last time. But he would also need to think about what to wear, first, so that he wouldn't end up with nothing nice to dress in if he does meet up with Yuushi. This way, Yuushi wouldn't be able to laugh at him for looking "exactly the same", too. There is nothing he can do about his height - or lack thereof - but he could just hit Yuushi hard if the guy ever mentions it.
Yes, this plan is perfect. Now he just needs to give Yuushi a call.
A week later, Yuushi says on the radio that he has received a flood of encouraging letters for which he is extremely thankful.
Gakuto cancels his appointment with the hairdresser.
There are people in the library. Gakuto presses his face against the glass, using his hands to block off the light reflections, and he can see piles of building material being moved around, books being packed into boxes and tables and chairs being carried out of the far door.
He stands back and looks up. The sign that used to bear the name of the library has already been removed, leaving behind a rectangular patch of white against a somewhat grey wall, like an imprint of furniture on old carpet.
There are no notices anywhere to tell Gakuto what the building is being transformed into. He tries knocking on the glass door but no one pays him any attention, but eventually someone taps him on the shoulder, points at the "construction site - authorised persons only" sign and escorts him away.
On his way home, Gakuto buys a bun at the bakery in the train station whilst wishing death upon whoever has bought the library. How come things can't just stay the way they are? Not changing, sometimes, isn't a bad thing.
When he gets home, he sits down, chews on the bun and looks at the photo of him and Yuushi on the phone. They look just like the way they were years ago.
Sometimes, staying the same isn't so bad.
When the phone suddenly starts ringing and vibrating, Gakuto nearly drops it. Yuushi's name blinks on the screen.
"Gakuto, do you want to come out for dinner?"
"I am quite near your place now."
Oh God. "I..." Gakuto stood up. He would need a shower first and - wait. What the hell? They're old friends; stop getting nervous about such stupid things. "Yeah, sure. Where are you?"
He goes out in exactly the same clothes as he went out in earlier: jeans, shirt, and untailored jacket, nothing different from how he used to dress when he was younger, just something more tasteful and expensive. If Yuushi wants to laugh at him then go ahead; staying the same isn't necessarily a bad thing. Yes, he's just Gakuto, but so what?
The dinner passes in a blur; Gakuto handles things better this time and feels slightly more at ease. Yuushi seems the same, if not a tiny bit subdued, but Yuushi doesn't talk about it and Gakuto doesn't ask. They really aren't as close as before and there is no need to make the fact more obvious.
Afterwards, just before they make their separate ways home, Yuushi says something that makes Gakuto pause.
"I know I've been a really bad person," Yuushi says, hands shoved in the pockets of his coat, "and I know you're mad at me. You have every right to be and there's no point in me saying this now, but for what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Gakuto just stays still. Yuushi never talks like that.
It takes for a while for Gakuto to realise he's expected to give a reply. He copies Yuushi and puts his hands in his pockets, fingers pulling the lining material. "Forget it. It's not like I didn't know it's always your fault." It would be easier to look up and smile if he doesn't fancy this man in front of him so much, but Gakuto fixes his stare at the tips of his shoes instead. "Don't worry about it."
"But you will not forgive me."
Gakuto opens his mouth, wanting to deny Yuushi's quiet words, but he can't. He likes this man but he can't forgive him. Why didn't he write or call? Where was he when Gakuto was in a foreign land filled with people with a different skin colour, speaking a language he could barely understand? Where was he when Gakuto was scared and lonely and needing a friend?
"I said don't worry about it. Everything's cool." Gakuto says, even though he knows Yuushi wouldn't believe him. What is it worth to Yuushi now, anyway? "So, good luck with the new book. I'll see you some other time."
Some things change, and some things stay the same. Unfortunately, Gakuto learns, he doesn't get to choose what changes and what does not.
Oshitari Yuushi's new book is about a little girl, who doesn't get a name in the story. She was shy but quite clever and good at sports. When her family moved into the city from their out-of-town home, the girl joined a new school, one of the best schools in the area.
Being a transferred student wasn't easy, and even harder for someone too tall for her age, too clever, and who spoke with an accent. She stuck out like a sore thumb and the other children made sure she knew this. She hated the new school and was upset everyday, but she didn't tell anyone.
One day, she met a boy in school, who asked her if she played basketball. She definitely had the height advantage, the boy said. He was very short himself, but he could jump higher than everyone. He wished he was tall like her, though.
They became an unlikely pair of friends. The boy asked the girl a lot of questions: why did she speak in such a funny way? He thought her accent was rather cool, but she began to sound retarded in her efforts to speak like a city girl. Why did she wear her hair this way? If it was giving her trouble she could grow it longer; the boy had the same problem with his hair so he knew what it was like. Why did she slouch so much; wasn't she proud of the fact that she was taller than everyone else? Had she ever thought about wearing some kind of accessory? Silver seemed to be her colour.
It was this boy, and the friends he introduced her to, that changed her life. Her confidence grew, she became popular in school and most importantly, she was happy. Instead of trying to pretend to be someone she was not, she believed in herself and embraced who she was. She spoke with her accent and held her head up high and somehow, suddenly, everyone loved her.
The years passed, from junior school to high school, and all the way through, the boy was there, her best friend and support. He wasn't always perfect or always nice, but it was no different from everyone else who got mood swings and bad days, and she liked that about him, too. He was important and she would do anything for him, but she never understood what this feeling was. It didn't seem to matter then; things were just going to carry on as they were.
But before the end of high school, the boy dropped the bomb - he was leaving. Just as the girl's family relocated to the city years ago, the boy's family was moving abroad and he was going with them. On the inside, she fell apart. On the outside, she wished him well and waved goodbye.
It was after the boy left that she understood what those emotions meant, that she loved him since the day they met but was now powerless to do anything about it.
His letters were frequent, talking about his new life across the ocean and they made her so happy, but when she tried to write back, she didn't know what to say. That she didn't do anything exciting because she didn't want to do things alone? That she was lonely without him? That she was scared he'd change, now that he was far, far away? That she loved him? She didn't dare tell him, because he was too important to her.
In the end, she rarely wrote back.
In the last few letters the boy sent her, his words were angry and disappointed because she obviously didn't care about him anymore. She penned letter after letter but each one only half written and never sent, and the boy gave up writing to her.
The girl resorted to finding out from friends how the boy was doing. A lot of the time she imagined the boy coming back and things would be just like before, he would still be the same boy and they would sit down and talk about anything and everything. But in reality she knew she could not, and had not talked to him for so long that being friends again was already too much to hope for.
One day, years later, the boy came back and they met again. He hadn't changed at all. But although he acted amiably, she could see he wasn't forgiving her and she could blame no one but herself. She only wished the boy would always stay the way he was, be the boy she knew, and no one else.
Gakuto hides the bag with the bakery's logo inside his jacket as he enters the building. The place smells of new paint and furniture, but also of old books as well; the refurbishment has made the library a lot brighter but books will always smell like books. At the reception is a sign board displaying a poster proudly announcing the reopening of the library, thanks to the donation of an anonymous benefactor. Gakuto ignores it and navigates himself to the far corner on the second floor, where a small enclave of chairs hide behind several bookshelves. He finds his favourite chair - lucky it hasn't been thrown away - and sits down cross-legged, opposite of the only other person there. He takes out his bag of bread then and makes a lot of noise opening the packet and eating it whilst he reads the book in his lap.
The man opposite lowers his book to see who has disturbed his peace.
"I really didn't know what you liked about these cheesy love stories," says Gakuto, voice muffled by a cream bun, "but now I'm addicted to them. This is totally your fault."
Yuushi puts his book down. "Gakuto..."
Gakuto finishes eating. He closes his book and leans forward a bit in his chair, towards Yuushi.
"Want to give your story a new ending?"