In Odaiba, on sunny days, Koushirou charged his battery and took his computer to the park, where he set himself up on a bench with the computer on his lap, because it was a laptop.
At first, he found the position awkward. The keyboard felt abnormally low resting on his legs. If he sat in the sun, the light glared on the screen, but in the shade it was too dark to see properly. Even more irksome was the cheap battery that had come with the PC, which flickered and died after less than two hours of use. Then Koushirou had to trudge all the way back to his apartment and face his mother, who was always so concerned that he got enough sunlight, as if he were a flower that would shrivel in the shade.
"Some flowers don't do well in the sun," he told her one day. "Some flowers wilt if they get too much light."
"Little boys are definitely the kind of flowers that need sunlight," she said, leaving no room for argument.
Most days, when he came in with his laptop strapped to his back and not a single grass stain on the knobs of his knees, she would heave a sigh of long-suffering and wave him off to the air-conditioned sanctity of his room. He would plug in all the cables and get the battery charging for tomorrow when his mother's resolve would return and she'd kick him outside again.
Koushirou didn't entirely understand why his mother wanted him to spend more time outside. She didn't even want him to take the computer at first, but after watching him idle outside their apartment complex kicking rocks around day after day, she finally caved. He could have the computer, but he had to be outside.
"Why does it matter? What difference does it make where I am while I'm by myself?" He wanted to ask. But he never did. He already knew what she would say.
One Sunday after one of his ventures into the great outdoors, Koushirou tried to sneak inside quietly by shuffling down the hall in his socks, never lifting a foot off the ground. It came as a surprise when his mother called out from the kitchen:
"What on earth happened to you?"
Her arms were drenched in soapy water up to the elbows. She clutched a yellow sponge in her left hand. Koushirou fixed his eyes on the sponge as he turned around with his arms clasped behind his back.
"Koushi – my goodness! You're bleeding!"
"It's nothing," he mumbled, but she had already tossed the sponge in the sink and snatched a towel. Wiping down her arms, she ushered him into the bathroom and had him sit on the toilet while she rummaged for disinfectant.
Koushirou glowed bright red up to his ears. He'd skinned his palms and his left knee. Other than that, he was just dirty. His mother cleaned his wounds and covered them tenderly with Band-Aids. Koushirou hated the Band-Aids. They had pictures of cartoon dinosaurs and round purple things that were supposed to be rocks. Band-Aids for babies.
"All better," Koushirou's mother said with a smile. His blush deepened; she even talked to him like he was a baby. "Now, tell Kaasan what happened?"
He didn't want to tell her. He bit his lip and looked at the PC balanced near the sink, hoping it wouldn't get wet. It was in its case, so it would probably be fine, but he wanted to make sure it hadn't been jostled too badly earlier…
"Koushirou. Tell Kaasan what happened."
"I fell down." That was telling her enough. He wasn't even lying. He had fallen.
But she either didn't believe him, or she sensed he wasn't giving her the full story. For a moment he thought she was going to interrogate him further, but instead she stood up and started replacing the items she'd taken from the medicine cabinet.
"All right. Don't tell me if you don't want to. But I don't like that you're lying to me, Koushirou."
"I'm not lying…"
"Hiding part of the truth is deceit – that's the same thing as a lie."
He sulked on the toilet until she'd left the room. He waited there a few seconds longer until he was sure she'd returned to the kitchen to finish the dishes she'd left unwashed. Then he tucked his computer under his arm and headed to his room.
His palms stung too much to type.
The next day, Koushirou decided to look for a different spot in the park. He shot a longing look at his usual bench as he passed it, and had to remind himself firmly that inanimate objects couldn't feel emotions like hurt or betrayal. Even so, as his shadow flickered over the polished wood boards, he felt a deep pang of reproach in his chest.
He selected a plot of grass obscured by a maple tree and sat down. It had rained the night before. The seat of his pants and the bottoms of his sneakers were already smeared with mud. He carefully positioned his computer on his outstretched legs. It wobbled, but not too much, so he squinted at the screen and decided to just make the best of it.
It was September. In October, she would stop forcing him to go outside.
Twenty minutes passed, and Koushirou was deeply involved in a new bit of html code when his screen began to darken. A minute later the computer had completely shut down. Koushirou stared, horrified, and remembered how he'd forgotten to recharge the battery last night while he'd been watching Jaws with his dad.
He would have cursed, if he'd known any. It was too early to go back home. His mother would only throw him out again. He had to sit in this mud with a computer that didn't work and stare at the sky for another hour at least. With a groan of unutterable distress, Koushirou collapsed on his back and clenched his eyes shut tight.
He was so engrossed in his self-pity that he didn't hear the footsteps coming up to him from behind.
"Are you cloud-watching?"
Koushirou shot up so fast that if he'd been a jet-propelled rocket, he would have been blown sky-high.
"But, I've never seen anyone do it with their eyes closed. So maybe you were sleeping?"
He scrambled to his feet, hugging his PC to his chest. He thought that if he moved backwards very slowly, maybe he could dart away without being noticed.
"So? Were you sleeping?"
It was too late – there was a face only inches from his, and wide brown eyes peering at his nose with a greedy sort of look, like he was about to bite it off. Koushirou decided then and there that he liked his nose the way it was, and he didn't want anyone to bite him.
"W-w-wasn't – sl-sl-sleep-"
The other, a boy of normal height and wearing a blue shirt, smirked at him and laughed a little. "You talk funny," he said. His hungry eyes flickered to the computer clutched protectively in Koushirou's arms. "Why do you have a computer?"
Koushirou scrapped his old plan and didn't bother hiding it as he walked backwards towards the gate. The other boy followed without ever losing his lopsided grin, as if he normally had conversations with people who were walking backwards.
"You don't say much, do you? Maybe you can't talk? But you said something before, even though I don't know what, but that means you can talk, right? So what, you just don't like to? Is that why you have a computer? So you don't need to talk to anyone?"
Koushirou thought he didn't need to talk at all since the other boy seemed able to hold an entire conversation by himself, but he didn't say so. He didn't want to get knocked down again.
"Hey, look," said the other, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning back with an easy air of nonchalance, "I was trying to find you to say sorry about yesterday. You were so quiet, I didn't even see you when the ball went flying your way, and I just chased after it, you know? That's what I was supposed to do. If I hadn't, and it had gone past the plum tree, it would have been a goal for the other guys. I don't usually play defense, really. I guess I got carried away. So, I'm sorry I knocked you over like that, okay?"
Koushirou stared. The boy cocked his head, then stretched out his hand.
"I'm Yagami Taichi."
If he didn't shake his hand, Yagami-san would probably get mad and knock him over again. Koushirou stared at the dinosaur Band-Aids on his hands and knee. Yagami-san had bandages all over his legs too, and one on his forehead where he'd scraped it when the two of them had tumbled across the grass and into the fence. Koushirou noticed Yagami-san's Band-Aids didn't have cartoon dinosaurs and weird rocks on them. No, they were printed with a Hello Kitty design.
Koushirou couldn't take his eyes off the smiling decapitated cat heads bouncing around in a pink sky as he pressed his hand weakly against Yagami-san's palm.
"Izumi Koushirou," he told the cat on Yagami-san's left knee.
"Nice to meet you, Koushirou! I was going to call you Tumbleweed Kid, but now that I know your name, I'll call you that, okay? Is it okay for me to call you Koushirou?"
Koushirou couldn't think of anything to say, and so he didn't say anything.
Yagami-san must have decided he meant to say "yes" and just forgot, because he said, "Then, Koushirou, want to get some ice cream with me? I owe you for running into you like that yesterday."
Wondering to where his common sense had fled, Koushirou found himself nodding.
Yagami Taichi had three Most Striking Features. Koushirou emphasized these three in particular, but there were actually many more striking things about his self-appointed new friend. He had a plethora of personality quirks that Koushirou couldn't begin to figure out, but these Three made the deepest impression on him that first day.
The first of these Three was the feature no one could help but notice about Yagami-san, even from afar: he had the most amazing, gravity-defying hair Koushirou had ever seen. He even claimed it was natural, but he might have been exaggerating. It seemed to grow straight up from his scalp and bent as if swept by a constant wind. The goggles Yagami-san always wore around his forehead might have helped support it a bit, but in the end Koushirou could only attribute Yagami-san's hair to his own innate Taichi-ness.
The second feature was his eyes. They were brown – not hazel, not brown-black – just brown, like the mud congealing around the base of a tree after the rain. But Koushirou noticed, as they sat across from each other in the ice cream parlor, both with three lavender scoops of taro root ice cream each, that Yagami-san's eyes were uniquely shaped. His lashes bristled most at the far corners, then sloped downward, giving him a slapdash look of self-confidence. Even if the shape of his eyes hadn't helped out, the way the drab mud color warmed with a roguish glimmer was enough to make him look as though nothing in the world worried him in the least.
The third and most intimidating feature was Yagami-san's smile. Koushirou was both intrigued and scared out of his wits by that smile. It was too broad, as if Yagami-san had smiled so much and so hard in his life that his mouth had stretched out too far to ever retract, and arrayed with uneven baby and grown-up teeth. And it never came off. Koushirou noticed that right way. Not a single time while they sat together in that ice cream parlor did Yagami-san's smile disappear for a even a moment. It was a Perma-Smile that promised mischief and adventure and many other frightening possibilities.
Koushirou picked at his ice cream and waited, his body on high alert in case Yagami-san decided to delve into any of these possibilities and he needed to make a quick escape. He'd already pinpointed each of the exits (sadly, there were only two) and he was hoping the sour-faced waiter with the hairy arms who had taken their order would be enough to ward off any thoughts of devilry.
Koushirou could tell. He'd only known Yagami-san a short while, but he could tell that this boy was exactly the type to cause trouble.
"Do you like this stuff?" Yagami-san said with his mouth full of purple ice cream. "It's better than vanilla, but I think I like chocolate more."
"Then why didn't you order chocolate?" Koushirou asked.
Yagami-san raised both eyebrows, which only made his grinning, confident expression seem even more daunting. "Because I'd never tried taro root ice cream before!"
"I've tried it before," Koushirou said. Taro root wasn't an uncommon flavor in Tokyo.
"Do you like it?"
"Why do you lug that computer around all the time?" Yagami-san stared at his PC with those predatory eyes. Koushirou's fingers curled around it more tightly.
"I take it with me everywhere," he said. "Why are you always kicking that soccer ball around?"
"Computers are dull," Yagami-san complained. "At least playing soccer gets me moving, running around. If you don't, you get bad circulation. Hey," he said, licking the last of his ice cream off his spoon, "maybe you can learn to play on the computer while kicking a soccer ball at the same time!"
That was absurd, Koushirou thought. "No one can do that. They'd break something – either the computer or themselves," he demurred. "And I'm not 'playing' on the computer. I'm working on learning html code right now. It's very important for building websites."
"Oh, that's boring. I thought you were playing a MMORPG or something. Like World of Warcraft. I played that once. But there was this jerk who kept mouthing off to me, and so I was trying to get him to shut up, but my mom came in and saw what I was writing, so now I'm not allowed to use the computer for more than an hour at a time."
Koushirou was torn between horror at the thought of being unable to touch his computer for twenty-three hours at a time and curiosity about what it was Yagami-san had been typing which had so upset his mother. While he fingered the strap on his computer case, Yagami-san leaned over and stuck his spoon in Koushirou's ice cream bowl.
"Ah –" but it was too late.
"Mmm, your ice cream tastes better than mine, Koushirou."
Yagami-san rolled his eyes. "Quit being so formal, will you? Yagami-san is my dad. I'm just Taichi."
Koushirou opened his mouth, then clamped it shut. "But, we've just met, Yagami-"
"So? We're friends, aren't we?" Koushirou was shocked to see Yagami-san's grin spread itself even wider. "So just Taichi is okay."
We're friends? It was possible to make friends with someone in just a few minutes? He supposed the manner of their introduction had been odd. When Koushirou had friends in the past, he'd met them because they'd worked together on a school project, or they'd played together while their mothers chatted. Meeting someone after that someone bowls you into a fence probably wasn't a typical friendly greeting.
"… Okay, Taichi-san."
Taichi sighed. "Well, that's a little better." He ran his tongue along the dip of the spoon. Koushirou couldn't imagine what traces of ice cream could possibly still be left. "So, Koushirou, now that we're friends…"
"See, I just realized I left my wallet at home…"
A/N: Reviews much appreciated! More to come very soon.