Mild spoilers: Chapter 43 (volume 7).

Summary: Takemoto contemplates his stomach. His navel, not so much.

The Illusion of Hunger

The moment those nasty words flew out of Rokutaro's mouth, Takemoto's heart sank to his stomach. Suddenly, he remembered what he had been trying to forget:

The sound of his empty refrigerator, the ceaseless, frenetic humming that sent him running away.

In that instant, Takemoto remembered snatches of the past months and years, as if his life was told through a series of meals that was now flashing before his eyes -

Mayama buying him another piece of tempura, to make up for the feelings of sophomoric inadequacies that griped him -

The contented slurping sounds Hagu made, hunched over a chocolate custard as they sat in the university cafeteria -

The salty, protein-rich meals in Lohmeyer-sempai's room, and Morita's half-hearted bribe of curry croquettes -

The sputtering of battered fried food, freshly fished out of fryers all over the shrine festival grounds -

The delectable scent of tongue grilled to perfection by Hanamoto-sensei vis-a-vis the bland, watery vegetables served at the local hospital -

The burden and heft of three kilos of raw beef, weighing down his heart just as Morita weighed down his back -

and tea, always cool barley tea in a thermos, quenching his thirst on summer nights spent out-of-doors with his father as they watched fireflies and the sparse cityscape.

Those were good times.

Takemoto was never a greedy eater, although his appetite was always better when there was someone there who'd fight over the last piece of tendon with him.

Hunger was supposed to drive him, fuel his ambition and give him a reason to want more out of life.

But that was the whole problem, wasn't it? Takemoto thought ruefully. When he was on his own, he was never hungry enough to want to eat. And he had spent so much time of his senior year being isolated, running from job interviews to working on his final project, that he never noticed how many meals he missed.

His ulcer was not a sign of neglect, it was his insides crying out for some company.

The empty refrigerator in his mind didn't want to be filled with condiments and foodstuffs, all the things that money and success could buy. It wanted, desperately, for someone to open that door and peer inside.

It was then Takemoto knew whose hand he needed to grasp, if he wanted to fill the emptiness.

He didn't need Hagu to return his love. If she only made him a special sandwich - for once, something that was only for him - Takemoto knew his heart would be full forever.