20 years later
It had been quite a lengthy time since Nowaki had given some thought to his past life at the Kusama Orphanage. Such a time was so long ago that bits and pieces of his brain would have to struggle to remember certain details, like the way that the floorboards always squeaked beneath his feet, or how the sunlight filtered in through his bedroom at precisely three o' five every afternoon. Those memories would always remain precious to him in a certain way that no one other than himself would really be able to understand. Not even Hiroki, who was still awaiting an answer to his question.
"Why do you want to know about the orphanage, Hiro-san?" Nowaki asked with a gentle smile. He rested his cheek into the palm of his hand, his index finger delicately stroking the rim of his coffee mug. It made Nowaki so happy when Hiroki was interested in things about his life.
As of late, it had become quite a rarity where the two could speak so casually. That was exactly the reason why Nowaki had suggested they go out for coffee together, when he had heard they were both blessed with having the same day off.
Sipping at his own mug of coffee to hide his rising blush of exasperation, Hiroki scoffed and said something along the fleeting lines of, "Shouldn't I know more about your childhood? All I know is that you were raised in an orphanage for the better half of your childhood years, before being adopted."
Noticing the distinct features of his lover's embarrassment, Nowaki asked, "What would you like to know? I can tell you anything you want to hear about."
After some thought, Hiroki decided that he wanted to hear about how Nowaki was found. He had heard from the elders in the park that Nowaki was discovered as an infant during a dangerous typhoon, the typhoon for which he was named, but he wanted to hear the story from Nowaki himself. "Start from the beginning. We have all day, don't we?"
Nowaki nodded and crossed his legs beneath the table. The action had caused for his foot to brush against Hiroki's, yet another stimulant to his lover's blushing visage. "Well," Nowaki said, "I guess the best place to start would be for me to talk about the typhoon."
Pausing for a moment to take a sip from his mug, Nowaki laced his fingers through the handle and began his story. "As everyone was rushing to board up the orphanage to prevent it from getting damaged by the storm, I was found, crying and muddied, lying on the doorstep."
Hiroki cringed at the deeper thought of Nowaki's abandonment. It made him wonder how some people could even call themselves human beings. Regardless, he knew it still wasn't the time for him to display his input and he continued to listen.
"Because the orphanage had been so full of children at the time, the director didn't want to take me in. I can only imagine how much of a burden it would have been to care for an infant, when none of the means for taking care of one were readily available. Still, Naomi-san fought for me."
"Naomi-san?" Hiroki said in question.
Nowaki breathed a gentle, "Mhm," and answered, "She was one of the orphanage's caretakers. If I'm entirely honest, I still consider her to be my true mother. She took care of me like no one else."
Hiroki enjoyed seeing the distant look that came about Nowaki's eyes, when he spoke of her. Curiosity getting the better of him, Hiroki asked, "What happened to her? Where is she now?"
"When I was still a fairly young child, she was laid off from her job at the orphanage. It's almost miraculous to say it, but we bumped into each other recently. I would say, maybe four or five years ago. After exchanging contact information, she told me that she was only in Japan to visit a few family members and that she had moved to America and gotten a degree in teaching."
That had sparked Hiroki's interest, him being a teacher himself. "Oh yeah?"
With a nod, Nowaki said, "She's a kindergarten teacher back in the states. I think she may have said that her school is in the Los Angeles region of California." Taking another sip of his coffee, Nowaki added, "She married now, as well, and has two children; a boy and a girl." He did the quick Math in his head. "By now, they must be fifteen and seventeen years-old."
"You said you exchanged contact information, right?" Hiroki questioned, chestnut-hued eyes cast down toward his coffee mug. He awaited Nowaki's answer, but when none came, he looked back up. "Nowaki?"
The man's attention was elsewhere. How could it not be, when sitting just across the way were two very open partners, holding hands and exchanging words of endearment to one another? Nowaki observed them, watching in wonder with how oddly familiar those two looked to him. Wait a minute…
"I love you so much," one of them sighed, nipping at his partner's ear.
"Takeiyo, save that kind of stuff for the bedroom," the other chuckled, pushing his lover away.
A sly smile pulled at Nowaki's lips. 'Well, I'll be…' he thought silently, folding his arms and leaning forward in expectation. Sitting just three tables down sat the much older, much in love, dueling-duo from Nowaki's childhood: Takeiyo and Miko.
It amused Nowaki how the two hadn't changed one bit. Their appearances and features had matured, of course, but it had taken Nowaki no more than ten seconds to recognize them.
By now, Hiroki was growing a tad impatient. 'What is he looking at?' he wondered, trying to glance back at the tables behind them without coming across as too obvious. With a bit of a struggle, he could see two men that looked to be about in their mid-thirties pecking at each other's cheekbones. It was so overly romantic that it made Hiroki's stomach churn. But, was that why Nowaki was staring? Was it because the two of them never did lovey-dovey things like that? They were in public, though…
With the swallow of his stone-hard dignity, Hiroki reached across the table and pressed the most tender of kisses to Nowaki's forehead, instantly reclaiming the other male's attention in no time flat.
"I'm sorry, Hiro-san," Nowaki apologized, opting to rub his foot sympathetically against Hiroki's beneath the table. "I thought I just saw a few old friends." It tasted bitter to refer to Takeiyo and Miko as "friends," but it felt a bit derogatory to say, "Oh, I was just watching how my two worst, childhood enemies are now very openly dating and sitting right over there."
"You were talking about Naomi-san…?" Hiroki drew out in question, choosing not to look Nowaki in the eye at the moment. Such a blatant public display of affection had made him feel awkward.
"Oh, that's right. Yes, we did exchange contact information. In fact, we mostly keep in touch through e-mails. She sends me pictures of her children and students, while I send her a few pictures of my patients and of you."
Hiroki had been taking a sip of his coffee at the time that Nowaki had said that, forcing him to almost choke. "You what?"
"Well, of course I'm going to show her pictures of you. You're all I talk about in my e-mails," Nowaki admitted, a guilty smile adoring his face.
"What do you say about me?" Hiroki asked gingerly. He could only hope that Nowaki kept some things private.
"Well, I've told her about how we met. She agreed with that story, almost as if she completely understood it," Nowaki laughed lightly. "I've also talked to her about the year when I studied in America and how hard it was to be away from you."
Hiroki bit his lip at Nowaki's mention of America, but he remained his composure. That was three years ago now, and he had to learn to leave the past in the past.
"Oh, and I also told her that you're an associate professor in Mitsuhashi's Literature Department. She thought that was very impressive."
With a confident grin, Hiroki declared, "Of course, it's impressive. I worked my tail off to get that spot!"
"I know you did," Nowaki smiled, "and I'm so proud of you. Hiro-san really is incredible."
Hiroki began to scratch at the back of his head uncomfortably. "I'm not that incredible, I mean, anyone can climb their way to the top with hard work and dedication."
"True," Nowaki agreed, "but it's one thing to say something and then another thing to actually do it. That's what makes you incredible. You actually succeeded in getting what you wanted."
"You're hopeless…" Hiroki sighed.
"Hopelessly in love with Hiro-san," Nowaki corrected.
Thinking fast, Hiroki decided to change the subject, before he ignited a flame from blushing so much (if that were even at all possible). "You said earlier that Naomi-san got laid off from the orphanage. Why was that?"
Playing with a packet of artificial sugar, Nowaki responded, "We talked about that somewhat recently, actually. She said something about how the times were rough back then and that the orphanage was really struggling to make ends meet. I was young at the time, so I really didn't see the effects of it. The older kids did, though. I can vaguely remember them complaining about not having enough hot water for their baths and how their lunch portions were consistently diminishing."
"That's too bad," Hiroki said, rubbing at his arm.
"It was. In fact, I was so devastated when I heard that Naomi-san was leaving that I ran away." Nowaki tactfully left out the small detail that Naomi had offered to adopt him before everything went downhill. It was one of the memories that he sorrowfully wished to forget.
"You did?" Hiroki was stunned. His Nowaki actually ran away?
Nowaki nodded. "But you know, a kind boy found me and told me some really nice things. We also made a bet."
"Oh yeah? What did that bet entail?"
"He said that if we went back to the orphanage and everyone was looking for me that he would give me a piece of candy. If not, I owed him a piece of candy."
"He did," Nowaki chuckled, "but you know, he let me have a piece of candy anyways. I really do wish I could have gotten his name, though. Everything was just happening so fast that before I knew it, he was already gone."
Hiroki shrugged. "Maybe it's for the best that you didn't find out."
"Why do you say that?" Nowaki asked.
"Sometimes it's better to have that mysterious illusion in your mind, you know? He was like your childhood hero. 'He who remains unnamed.' Something like that," Hiroki replied, finishing off the last of his coffee.
"I guess you're right. Whoever he was, I wish I could thank him again."
Gently kicking Nowaki under the table, Hiroki scolded, "Live in the present. You're the idiot who's always telling me that."
"And again, you're right," Nowaki laughed. "That's why I love you."
Hiroki was caught off guard by Nowaki's sudden confession and ducked his head low. "Idiot, don't say things like that while we're in public," he chided.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry," Nowaki continued to speak, leaning across the table. "I would scream my love for you on the top of the tallest mountain, if I could."
"I don't doubt that for a second, but I would kill you, if you did."
"I know," Nowaki breathed, sliding back into a proper sitting position. "That's why confessing to you in public is the next best thing."
A few weeks had passed, and in light of the fact that Hiroki and Nowaki again shared another of the same day off, the two decided that their apartment could use a little spring cleaning…in the middle of October.
Hiroki had assigned for Nowaki to tidy up the living and the kitchen, whereas he would spruce up their bedroom. While he was tackling their closet, however, something very distinct, very peculiar caught his eye.
"Hey, Nowaki? What's this?" he called out.
"What's what, Hiro-san?" Nowaki asked; walking into their bedroom with a feather duster still equipped in his left hand.
Holding it out for Nowaki to see, Hiroki said, "It's some sort of…ragdoll?"
With wide eyes and a sharp inhale, Nowaki gasped, "No way! It's Chiri!"
"I forgot to mention her, when wehad that talk about my childhood in the coffee shoppe," Nowaki informed. "She was a ragdoll that Naomi-san and I had found. I loved her so much that I was allowed to keep her. Man, I thought she had gotten lost during one of our moves. I can't believe you found her, Hiro-san."
Hiroki could tell that Nowaki was very passionate about this doll and suggested, "Maybe we should keep her somewhere safer than at the top of our closet this time. With a gentle washing and maybe a few threading repairs, she'll be presentable enough to display on one of our bookcases."
"I like that idea," Nowaki smiled. "I like that idea a lot."
"Good. Now, go back to doing what you were doing, okay? I want to finish cleaning before lunchtime."
"Okay, but one more thing."
Confused, Hiroki asked, "And what is that?"
Without a word, Nowaki cupped both sides of Hiroki's cheeks and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "Thank you, Hiro-san."
"It was nothing," Hiroki muttered, attempting to hide his blushing face.
"Not just for that, but for loving me," Nowaki smiled.
It was a short while before a response was elicited from him, but Hiroki soon said, "That…I should be thanking you for that, too."
Nowaki eyes brightened immensely as he chanted, "Oh, Hiro-san! You've just made me so happy!" He wrapped his arms around him and added another, "so happy" to his glee-filled cheer.
"Enough with that already," Hiroki complained, but Nowaki knew that he needn't worry. Hiroki loved him and he loved Hiroki. It was a means so plain, yet so complex. However, in the simplest of terms, one could define Nowaki as the child who no one wanted, but the man that Hiroki have come to love.
And with that, we have come full circle.
On December 13th, 2010, I began writing this story with the high hopes of improving my writing skills. Now, two years later to the day, here we are.
I honestly cannot thank each and every one of my readers and reviewers enough for their continued support. Honestly, you guys were my motivators, and this story is yours just as much as it is mine.
As bittersweet as it is to check this piece off as completed, it also opens new paths for me in writing, as well.
So from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much for reading and reviewing. It has meant the world to me; it always does, and it always will. (: