The Fabulous Kenta Kitagawa
Chapter 6: Take a Chance
Makino Residence, Shinjuku
"Kitagawa go do something about your boyfriend already," Ruki says grimly.
"He'll be fine," I tell her with a shrug. "Come on, it's a party."
"Yeah, Ruki," Ryou says with a big sloppy grin; he's sitting across the table from her with a freshly emptied shot glass. "Let him live a little."
"Oh I'll let him live alright, Akiyama," Ruki says, "unless he pukes in my koi pond."
Jen looks at me as he leans back against the kitchen counter. "You should at least make sure he's still wearing pants. Don't want him to freeze to death."
"Good point," I have to admit.
I can't help noticing a smirk appear on Ruki's mouth after she finishes her own shot. "Li, if that dumb-ass lost his pants in my house again, freezing to death will be the least of his worries."
"Well… maybe I should at least check in on him," I say. There are a lot of ways Hirokazu can get himself into trouble around this place. I get the feeling Ruki would not appreciate having to explain to her mother how something wound up broken. Something like Hirokazu's face.
"See if he needs a glass of water," Juri suggests; she's sitting on a stool not far from Jen. "I think that's supposed to help."
"I'll do that," I say as I step out onto the deck and close the door behind me. It's late, almost midnight and I can't see any stars overhead, but the moon and the yard lights are reflecting off the freshly fallen snow covering everything. I close my jacket tight around me and look around. He can't have gotten too far.
"Kenta!" Hirokazu waves at me from down at the far end of the house in front of Ruki's old room. He's sitting down looking out over the yard.
"You doing okay?" I ask as I approach.
"Never better!" Hirokazu shouts.
"Keep it down, alright?" I ask as I stop next to him. "The last thing we need is for the neighbors to call the police because you're making too much noise." Again.
"No, dude," he corrects me. "The last thing we need's you guys to be all stuck inside 'n stuff. C'mon! Let's make snow angels!"
I roll my eyes at that. "Hirokazu, you're drunk."
He grins up at me. "I know. Great, ain't it?"
I'm not about to deny it's entertaining, at least for now. When he gets sick or hung over, then it's not so much fun. "Just try not to do anything stupid, okay?"
"Who, me?" he asks. "Never happen."
"Never, huh? What about the time you wanted to go swimming? In the bay, no less."
"Hey, I'd've done that even if I wasn't drunk."
I groan. "Doesn't make it any less stupid. And then there was the first time you tried rum."
He looks a little sick all of a sudden. "I don't remember a whole lot about that night. Just lots of spinning. And I think when I woke up I was wearing nail polish."
"Yep, that was Juri," I remind him. "She tried to put your hair up in pigtails, too."
"Juri's weird," Hirokazu decides. "Whatever. So what if I do somethin' stupid? I got you there to watch my ass, right?"
"Of course," I say. "I only wish you wouldn't make my job so hard."
"Okay, okay," Hirokazu says with a smile. "I promise from now on to make it way easier for you to keep an eye on my ass."
"Thanks," I say a moment before I realize where this is leading. Hirokazu's unzipping his fly already. "Keep your pants on."
"Aww." He sounds disappointed. Why does Hirokazu have such an aversion to pants when he's been drinking?
"Ruki would kill you," I remind him. "And if you were dead I might not get invited back here for any more parties."
"Yeah right," Hirokazu says. "She loves havin' you here. She's gotta use her gay jokes on someone."
"You're right about that," I admit. "Gee, I guess I shouldn't have left Takato back there. Without me around to distract her he's got to be feeling the full force of her jokes by now."
Hirokazu shakes his head. "I've seen that before. Hell, I've been through that before. Not pretty."
"She's Ruki, that's for sure," I say with a smile. "Not even Ryou can avoid it." I still say those two make a weird pair. I'd call them a couple, but with the way things have shaken out, it's hard to know whether they're going out at any given time.
Hirokazu nods. "Yeah, she's Ruki. But c'mon, she's gotta be all into seein' two guys together. She jokes about it all the time, right?"
"Nah," I have to say. "I'm pretty sure she just likes seeing us squirm."
"Let's go make her squirm then," Hirokazu slurs. "C'mon, whaddya say?"
"And how exactly are we going to do that?" I ask.
"Let's go 'n make out in front of her!" he shouts with a triumphant gleam in his eye.
I crack up laughing of course. Hirokazu, you know how to lift my spirits.
"I'm serious," he says. "She'd totally flip out, dude!"
"One problem with that plan," I point out. "You're straight."
He waves his hand at me. "Details, Kenta. I could be gay if I wanted."
I smile and shake my head. "I'll have to remember you said that."
"It's true!" he says. "I could be gay as shit! Doesn't look so hard."
"Looks can be deceiving," I say with a little laugh as I take a seat on the deck a short distance from Hirokazu. "It takes years of hard work and discipline to be this fabulous."
"Bullshit," Hirokazu says. "Hell, Takato picked it up in no time! I could be SO much gayer than Takato." Why is there never a tape recorder or a video camera around when I really, really need one?
"Just out of curiosity, what exactly do you think you need to be gay?" I ask. This should be fun.
"I dunno," he grumbles. "Like, special clothes. Earrings 'n scarves 'n shit."
I laugh, choosing not to draw attention to the shell necklace Hirokazu's wearing. He still thinks I'm the one that bought it for him. "What else?"
"You gotta, um, be sassy 'n junk. I can totally do that… that… What do you call it? The finger snap thing."
Wow. If I could get him to do that on camera I would never, ever stop laughing. "Anything else?"
"Of course! I could dance to techno 'n sing show tunes! I could talk about cute guys! I don't even have to watch sports anymore!"
"Well that's not fair," I say. "I love soccer and you know it."
"Loving the sport 'n loving the players are totally different, Kenta," he reminds me.
I laugh. "Okay, okay. Fair enough. So tell me, Mr. gayer-than-thou, could you sleep with a guy?"
Hirokazu frowns. "…Crap. I forgot about that part."
I shrug. "Hate to tell you, Hirokazu, but you can't fix straight."
"Well maybe I can be bi then," he says.
"I think you're going to run into the same problem there," I tell him.
"Really?" he asks. "Shit. How come you guys get to have all the fun, huh?"
"To make up for the years of depression and loneliness," I tell him with a big grin on my face.
"If it makes you feel any better, at least most people think you're gay," I tell him.
"Yeah, I know," he says. "I get some weird looks from the girls I ask out."
"Sorry about that," I try reassuring him. "I'm pretty sure it's because we're best friends and all."
Hirokazu gives me a big, sloppy smile. "Aww. You're my best friend too, Kenta. Now gimme a kiss."
"See, this is one of those 'stupid things' I warned you about doing."
"C'mon," he insists. "I know you wanna. You like guys, I am a guy, it's a match made in heaven."
"For me, maybe, but you're still straight," I remind him. I know it might not always look that way and plenty of people assume he's really, really deep in the closet, but trust me. Hirokazu is hopelessly, irredeemably straight beyond any shadow of a doubt. How do I know this? Let's simply say that he borrows my laptop all the time and he never clears the browsing history. I have seen things that no gay man should set eyes upon.
"What if I'm not though?" he asks. "We're always together 'n stuff."
"Afraid you caught the gay from me?" I ask.
He shrugs. "Just sayin' s'all."
"Hirokazu, you're straight. Believe me."
"So you shouldn't have any problem givin' me a kiss, right?" he asks.
I groan. "I don't think that's how it's supposed to work."
"What's the matter?" he asks with a dopey smirk. "Afraid you might like it?"
I let out a tired sigh. "I don't want to have to watch you freak out tomorrow, telling me how it never happened."
"Oh I get it," he says. "You don't wanna 'cause you like someone."
I roll my eyes. "Yeah, sure. You hit the nail on the head there."
"So who is he?" Hirokazu asks, his smile only getting bigger. "Someone I know?"
I shake my head. "Hirokazu, I'm not—"
"It is someone I know!" he says. "It's all over your face!"
"Just because I don't want to make out with you doesn't mean I like someone," I say matter-of-factly. Not that that's likely to win an argument with Hirokazu.
"Wait, lemme guess. It's Takato, right? I so called that!"
I frown. "Don't be an idiot," I tell him. Hirokazu says really stupid things sometimes. Most of those times involve drinking.
"C'mon, dude. You can tell me. I even promise not to say anything!"
"Hirokazu, you do remember what Takato did to me, right?" It's been four months since he came out and I still haven't forgiven him. I don't know that I ever can.
"So what?" he asks. "Get over it."
"Hirokazu, I can't just 'get over it' after all that."
"Why not?' he asks.
"It's complicated," I say, hoping that should be enough for him for now.
"Bullshit," he says.
"We've been over this before," I remind him. "I can't even forgive Takato for what happened. There's no way in hell I could like him."
"Bullshit," Hirokazu says again.
"Bull. Shit." Hirokazu glances at me for a long second before turning his head to look out at the courtyard. "You like him."
He cuts me off. "You like guys. He likes guys. You're both guys. Figure it out."
"Brilliant reasoning," I say sarcastically. "Since we're going with that, you must like Juri, right? Why don't you ask her out? You two would make a great couple."
He shuts his eyes. "Totally. She's cute."
"I was kidding, Hirokazu. You two have nothing in common."
"Sure we do; just not as much as she and Takato had," Hirokazu points out.
I snicker to myself. "Yeah, they've got a lot in common, that's for sure. Right down to the fact they both like guys."
Hirokazu grins. "So much for Takato bein' Mr. big-shot-look-at-me-I've-got-a-girlfriend from high school, huh?"
"Easy now," I say. "He's still had more dates than you."
"That stuff with Juri doesn't count as dating!" Hirokazu insists. "There's gotta be, y'know, a shot at somethin' for it to be a date."
"Well if we're going by those rules you've had even fewer dates than I thought."
"Hey! I had a shot with every one of those ladies."
"Really?" I ask. "Even the ones that thought you were gay and wanted to hang out with you as friends?"
Hirokazu rubs his left cheek. "Those slaps were totally undeserved."
"Or there's my personal favorite," I say with a love-struck sigh. "When your 'new friend' on the baseball team invited you over for pizza."
Hirokazu covers his eyes with his hands. "Ugh. Don't remind me."
"I forget did he get to second base that night?" I ask.
Hirokazu coughs. "You know damn well I tagged him out after he rounded first."
I shake my head. "Hirokazu, you're a true gentleman. Too bad things didn't work out though; that guy was hot."
"That was a fluke!"
"It's not a fluke if guys keep asking you out," I point out.
"Just proves I'm too sexy for my own good."
"And yet the women somehow still manage not to throw themselves in your path," I say with a snicker.
"You gotta see me work my magic, dude," Hirokazu says confidently. "C'mon. I'll try it out on Juri."
"Hirokazu, as your best friend, I can't let you do that," I let him know. "Not even you could live that one down."
"Alright, alright," he concedes. "So Juri 'n I don't have a shot. It's not like we've got as much in common as you 'n Takato anyway."
I sigh. "I keep telling you, I don't like Takato that way."
"Why not?" he asks. "You two have, like, everything in common."
"Sure you do," Hirokazu says like it's the most obvious thin in the universe. "You're both gay, after all."
"Gee, what an odd coincidence. I'd never thought of it like that." Even on his best days Hirokazu doesn't always think out the things he says ahead of time.
"Okay, well, you were both tamers," he adds. "Not to mention best friends since, like, forever."
"Regular friends," I tell him. "You were always my best friend."
"Nah, I'm your bester friend or somethin'. Takato was your regular best friend."
Some best friend. He stopped talking to me for three years. "Whatever."
"Neither one of you has any brothers or sisters," Hirokazu adds. "You both suck at card games. You've both gone to the same school from kindergarten to now. Oh, and you both sing really sappy songs when we go out for karaoke."
"All that describes you, too," I remind him. "By that reasoning, you could go out with him."
"Nah, I prefer blondes," Hirokazu says before continuing. "You both cry at sad movies. You love to make jokes 'n he's got a great laugh. You go nuts for fresh bread 'n his family runs a bakery. You like nice scenery, mountains 'n sunsets 'n shit, 'n Takato's one hell of an artist, so he could, like paint that stuff for you. You—"
"Okay, I get it," I say to cut him off. "So Takato and I have a few things in common. That doesn't change anything."
"Why not?" he asks.
"It just doesn't."
"Forget about it. I can't like him that way, Hirokazu." I can't. Not after everything that happened.
"What, not cute enough for you?" Hirokazu asks.
"You know why—"
"You prefer tall guys?"
"C'mon, Takato's great. Artistic. Makes the best bread. Nicest guy in the world. Not to mention…" He gives me an impish grin.
"Not to mention what?"
"Well think about it. We were all in the same gym class back in high school. You can't tell me you never noticed."
I'm sure Hirokazu can tell how well I remember that from the blush on my face. "Yes, well…"
"All I'm sayin' is Takato's not a bad guy," Hirokazu explains. "Sure he's screwed up some things 'n all that, but there's a lotta good stuff, too."
"More bad things than good," I point out.
"Only 'cause you can't let go of the bad stuff, stupid."
"And you could?" I ask.
"Of course," Hirokazu says with a shrug. "Sure I'd be mad for a while, but you can't hang onto this kinda thing forever."
I groan. "He turned his back on me," I say. "You remember how depressed I was. That's not something I can forgive so easily."
"Yeah, I remember," Hirokazu says. "I was there every day."
"How could I forgive him after that?" I ask.
"How could you not?" Hirokazu shoots back. "Dude, you were miserable without him. You kept sayin' how you wished he'd talk to you again 'n stuff."
I nod. "Yeah."
"And now he does," Hirokazu goes on. "You should be thrilled!"
"Keep your voice down," I remind him. "And yeah, I know I wished he'd talk to me again, but that was three years ago. After a while I was just plain mad at him." I'm still mad at him. Even after he tried to explain, I can't stop being mad. I don't want to stop being mad.
Hirokazu sighs. "He's always tryin' to make it up to you, man. Bringin' you bread 'n stuff from his folks; payin' for lunch; anythin' you want, he'll get it for you."
"He feels bad is all." He should.
"Maybe," Hirokazu concedes. "Maybe he likes you back."
"I don't like him," I say as clearly as I can. "And he doesn't like me either."
"He SO does," Hirokazu says with a little laugh. "Remember how he used to act around Juri when we were kids? All shy 'n stuff? Totally does that around you."
"Maybe he's shy because he feels guilty," I point out.
"Can't it be both?" he asks.
"I really have no idea why you're trying to play matchmaker," I say. "I thought I was supposed to be the one who was all into romance."
"Dude, I'm, like, the KING of romance." Another thing I'll wish I had a recording of for later. "Y'know how I strike out a lot? And I mean a LOT."
"I'm familiar with your track record," I say.
"Well that's 'cause I ask out a lot of girls," Hirokazu explains. "Most aren't interested, but whatever. I'm happy 'cause I never let one get away. I never miss a chance. I don't want you to miss a chance either."
I fold my arms in front of me. "Well believe me: I've got no 'chance' with Takato."
"Because Takato's an ass," I spit out. After all this time that answer is like a reflex.
"Dude, he was scared. You know what that's like."
"Yeah, I do," I admit. "But I also never turned my back on any of my friends because I was scared. I never stopped talking to anyone over it."
"Sure you did," Hirokazu says quietly.
"Takato stopped talking to me first," I point out.
"I don't mean Takato," Hirokazu goes on. "I mean all of us."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You remember that trip to Okinawa?" he asks.
Vividly. "Of course. We had a lot of fun."
"Well, that was when I figured out you liked guys," Hirokazu says. "I mean, it was pretty obvious."
"Not helping, Hirokazu."
"Afterwards I was kinda freaked out, y'know? You were, like, my best friend in the whole world and when I realized…" He pauses to collect his thoughts, looking out at the courtyard. "I was sorta worried for a while, but you didn't seem any different. I got used to the idea. You never talked about it though. Not even after Taizou started screwin' with you. That's when I got really worried."
Of course I wasn't going to talk about it with Hirokazu back then. I couldn't talk to anyone about it. I couldn't even handle knowing the truth myself; the idea of anyone else finding out scared the hell out of me. I know now that things would have been mostly fine if I did come out sooner, but at the time there was no way I could have handled it.
"Any time it came up you pretended to like girls," Hirokazu goes on. "It's like you were lyin' to us."
I sigh. "Yeah, but I had to. I was in denial for a long time." Whenever I think about how I was back then, I try to say I was "in denial about who I was." That's one way to say it. Another way is to say I was lying. I was lying to my friends, to my family, and even to myself. I was at my worst on Okinawa I think. It should have been so obvious to me; apparently it was more than obvious to everyone else. But I fought it as hard as I could. I kept fighting even though part of me knew I'd already lost.
"Still, you didn't tell me," Hirokazu says. "Not for a long time after even you knew. I thought we were closer than that."
"We are close," I try to reassure him.
"How do you think it felt?" he asks me. "Every time I knew you were lying or didn't wanna talk about it… I knew you were hiding from me 'n I didn't like it."
"But it's not like I stopped talking to you altogether," I point out.
"You're still doing it though," Hirokazu says. "You're still lying."
"No I'm not," I say firmly.
"Yeah you are, man. Stop tryin' to act so tough 'n admit you like him."
I groan. "Takato's an ass," I say once again. "I don't like him." I mean it. Why can't Hirokazu believe me?
"It's okay to be happy, y'know," he whispers. "I'm not gonna think you're stupid for liking him."
How many times do I have to say it? I don't like Takato! I can't forgive him. I shouldn't even want to talk to him. I'm too nice to tell him to his face. And I don't care what Hirokazu or Takato or anyone else thinks about me. I'm comfortable in my own skin. I am Kenta Kitagawa, damn it! I'm here, I'm queer, and I know damn well how I feel about things!
It's not like I hate Takato or anything. I couldn't do that to him. He's still my friend. Or rather he was. I can't really call him a friend these days, even though we do hang out all the time. Mostly that's Hirokazu's idea (which, by the way, really isn't helping his case for heterosexuality.) But I can't forgive Takato. I won't. I shouldn't. Maybe I'm being stupid, but what I went through because of him really hurt. If I forgave him and something like that happened again I'd look like the world's biggest sucker. I'd hate myself even more than I did before.
"Why do you want me to like him so much?" I ask.
"You DO like him," he says confidently.
I sigh. "I don't like anyone that way right now."
"So then why won't you gimme a kiss, huh?" We're back to this again? This is weird, even for Hirokazu.
"Why do you care so much about some stupid kiss?" I ask.
He winks. "Gimme some sugar 'n I'll tell you."
I'm not playing this game," I say impatiently.
"C'mon…" he pleads as he crawls over to me on his hands and knees. "You scared or somethin'?"
"Hirokazu, you're drunk," I say as he kneels beside me.
"I've only had a couple beers," I remind him. "Compared to you that's nothing."
"Well yeah, but you're a total lightweight," he says. "Kiss me."
"Stop bein' such a wuss!" He leans a little closer. "What, I'm not your type?"
"Hirokazu, I like you," I say. "You're my best friend in the whole world, but you're straight. Sorry to tell you, but it's true."
"For all you know I could be totally gay!" he insists.
"Hirokazu, you've had too much to drink," I say. "When you sober up I don't want you to be mad at me."
"I won't though!"
"I don't want to risk our friendship for some stupid drunken thrill," I say firmly.
He rolls his eyes at me. "Kenta, we're, like, the best friends EVER. Nothing you could do could ever make me not want to be your friend."
I look away. "I thought the same thing about Takato."
He cranes his neck down to look me in the eye. "Kenta, this is me talkin' here. You know damn well the gay stuff doesn't weird me out."
That much is true. It's never seemed to bother him as far as I could see. He was happy for me when I came out. Really happy. If anything he and I only got closer since then. It doesn't bother him that everyone thinks he's gay. Hell, even Ruki's jokes barely leave a scratch. I've wondered, sometimes, but then I'm always brought back to reality: Hirokazu is straight. I'm as sure of that as anything. And he's sure of it too. "Are you certain it won't bother you?" I ask.
He places a hand over his heart and stares into my eyes unblinkingly. "I swear on my footlocker full of girlie mags."
"Yeesh, you are serious," I say with a little smirk. "Okay, you win. Just one." I might be a little tipsier than I thought if I'm even considering this.
He smiles at me and leans in really close, placing his forehead on mine. I can smell the scotch wafting off his breath; it's very strong. His eyes are focused on mine though, anticipating what comes next. He licks his lips and waits for me to make my move. May as well get it over with. I close my eyes, tilt my head up, and roll my lips onto his.
It doesn't last long, a second maybe. Hirokazu's lips are a little chapped from the cold weather. Our lips stay closed the whole time, and after it ends he leans back and looks away dejectedly.
"Gay yet?" I have to ask.
He sulks. "Sorry. I tried."
I smile. "Better luck next time I guess."
"Really," he says. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," I tell him. "Worry about the day when I stop by to tell your future grandchildren about how grandpa Hirokazu once tried to make out with me."
A slight smile creeps back onto his face. "Yeah, that'll be the day."
"So do you want to tell me what all that was about now?" I ask.
"I thought I'd, uh…" He swallows. "…I'd give it a shot, y'know? See if maybe I could like you that way."
"That's insane," I tell him. Admirable, but definitely insane. "Why would you even want to be gay?"
"'Cause it's you," he says tenderly. "I want you to be happy, dude."
"I am happy, Hirokazu," I try telling him. "How could I not be happy with friends like you guys?"
"Don't you wanna be with someone though?" he asks.
"Of course I do, but everyone wants that," I say. "I'm not in a rush."
"But dude, you're…" He stops and looks away.
"I'm what?" I eventually have to ask.
"You're great 'n stuff. I know that," he goes on. "I think you'd make some guy really happy, but you're… you're gay."
"What gave me away?" I ask sarcastically.
"What I mean is…" Hirokazu takes a deep breath. "Me, I got a lot of shots. There's girls all over the place. I know I'll make it happen. But you're kinda shy in the first place, 'n there's not all that many gay guys out there for you."
That's actually sweet. Silly, but sweet. "Hirokazu, there are thirteen million people in this city. Half of them are men and they can't all be straight. There are plenty of guys out there for me to make a fool of myself with."
He nods. "Yeah, I guess, but still… I want you to be with somebody you really like."
"I will. Only a matter of time."
"How d'you know though?" he asks. "It's not like there's a gay version of me walkin' around somewhere."
"Let's hope not," I say. "If there was, there'd be a straight version of me right next to him."
Hirokazu's eyes bug out. "A straight Kenta Kitagawa…"
I shake my head. "I know. Horrifying, isn't it?"
He laughs. "I can't even picture it."
"Yeah, it's hard to imagine," I admit. "I do know one thing about him though. He'd be gay-Hirokazu's best friend no matter what."
Hirokazu smiles at me and stretches his legs out again. "Thanks."
"Thank you," I echo back to him. "Really. There aren't a whole lot of guys out there who'd go as far as you for a friend. Heh. Trying to go gay for me. That's some dedication there."
He shrugs. "I figured it was at least worth a shot."
"Hirokazu, I know you mean well, but I think you're in denial about being straight," I say jokingly. "Only seems fair that I get to know that. You knew I was gay before I did, so now I get to know you're straight before you do."
"Alright, so I'm straight. No need to rub it in." He laughs it off. "So now that I'm definitely straight, could you at least give Takato a shot?"
I groan. "Not this again."
"Look, I know how it sounds but hear me out. Takato's a good guy, you know that. He'd be really great for you. He'd be there for you in that one way I can't. When he came out to me at that party, I knew there was finally someone out there that could actually be, y'know, your 'someone special.'"
I look away from him and hug myself for warmth. "I know you want me to be happy," I say, "but it's not going to happen. I can't like him." I won't.
It was December, a little over a year after I first realized I was gay. It had been another week of Takato not eating lunch with us, not wanting to meet up after class, not even looking at me. At first I didn't think much of it. I believed him when he said he had homework or had to help out at the bakery. After all, he told me he accepted me. Why wouldn't I believe him? He was my friend. But after two months of him doing everything he could to avoid me, there was no ignoring the pattern.
I felt sick. I knew something was up. I didn't want to believe he was avoiding me for being gay, but what else could I think? Nothing else had changed. Everyone else at school made a big deal over it for like a week, but pretty soon they were all onto the next news of the day. I was finally starting to feel normal again. Everything was the same as ever, except Takato hardly spoke to me.
I spent all day working up the nerve to call him and to try confronting him. I had to know what was up. I had to know if he was mad at me. I could deal with it if he was, but the silent treatment was torture. Finally I forced myself to dial the bakery. It was 10 o'clock at night by then.
"Hi Takato, it's Kenta."
"Oh, uh… hi, Kenta."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Can I call you right back? I've got to, uh, take out the trash real quick."
I waited for that call. Ten minutes. Half an hour. An hour. Around midnight I had to admit to myself that he wasn't going to call back. I kept saying he probably got distracted, but I knew that was a lie. I thought I'd try calling him again, or confronting him at school, but I knew there was no point. I had my answer. It was the answer I didn't want, the one I was most afraid of. I didn't get much sleep that night.
The next day I gave up and stopped trying to talk to him. I still saw him at school, but we never said so much as "hi" to each other. Our friends caught on pretty quick I think. Hirokazu especially after he saw how I was crying. He was so pissed at Takato. I told myself I was better off putting it behind me. If Takato wasn't going to try anymore, why should I? Afterwards I got really depressed. I'm glad Hirokazu was there to try and help.
Thanks, Hirokazu. Even if you can be a pain sometimes you were there for me back then. You've always been there for me. I'll always be there for you too. We need each other. You don't have to try liking me that way; having you as a friend is more than enough. Don't try to change yourself for me, Hirokazu. It doesn't work. Even if it did you wouldn't be the same Hirokazu you are now. I never want you to change.
I jump and look back at him. "Yeah?"
Hirokazu shakes his head. "Nothin'. Just wanna make sure you're still there."
"I'm not going anywhere," I tell him. "Promise." I'll always be there for him, like he was there for me.
"Glad to hear it." Suddenly he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my chest in a hug.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"I'm cold," he whines.
"I should go find your jacket then," I say.
He shakes his head and squeezes me. "I'm not goin' anywhere."
I have to admit, this does help me feel a little warmer. "Maybe we should go back inside," I suggest. "I'm sure everyone misses us by now."
"Nuh-uh," he says, shaking his head again.
"Why not?" I ask.
"You like this stuff, right?" he asks. "Fresh snow, moon, everythin' all nice 'n peaceful. I don't wanna ruin it."
I give a little laugh. "You'll freeze out here."
He smiles and squeezes me. "Worth it." He looks out at Ruki's yard, and I join him. It really is beautiful. I wish I wasn't hurting Hirokazu to enjoy it. That's how it always seems to work out, though. To have something I really want means someone else gets hurt. That's how it was when I came out. It hurt the people around me. Not that I wish I wasn't gay. Not anymore, at least. I did a lot when I was dealing with it at first, but I'm better about that now. It's part of me. I wouldn't change myself any more than I'd change Hirokazu. I like who I am.
Still, I know I've had an impact on the people I care about. I hate to think that my happiness hurt them. Hirokazu, for one. I know my coming out didn't do him much good. Ever since then he's been 'the gay one' regardless of all evidence to the contrary. That he denies it only makes people think he's in the closet. He doesn't let it bother him at least, but I don't want this to be because of me. If Hirokazu strikes out with the ladies I want to know it's his doing and not mine. Hirokazu has a hard enough time without my little contribution.
And then there are my parents. They never saw it coming. Looking back I don't know how they missed it, but they say they'd never even considered it. It wasn't something they really thought about all that much. Homosexuality was something that happened "out there" as far as they were concerned. They did their best to try to understand, but it's been so long and they're still afraid to ask questions. I'm still afraid to tell them more than I think they want or need to hear. They trust me, but I know they worry.
Most of all I'm sorry for what this has done to their plans. They were always thinking about the future, looking forward to grandkids. They wanted to be grandparents. They wanted to enjoy the things they were too tired to appreciate when I was little. I took that away from them. I was so certain that being honest was the right thing. Now I'm not so sure.
"By the way, just so you know, you DO like Takato," Hirokazu says suddenly.
"Sorry, but I really don't," I reply.
"Sure you do." He sounds strangely serene for Hirokazu. "You smile a lot whenever we see him. You're always helpin' him out with this bein' gay thing. You got him to come out to the others."
"I'm still mad at him." And at myself, too. Takato, I hurt you worse than anyone.
"You don't act like it."
I couldn't have known at the time, but when I came out Takato couldn't handle it. He's told me that back then he wanted to talk to me about it, but he couldn't face it himself. He couldn't accept that he was gay and I was a walking, talking reminder of what he was going through. If I'd only tried harder with him, maybe I could have helped. Maybe he could have faced it if I wasn't so quick to give up on him. At the very least he wouldn't have lost all his friends over me.
I know that things are getting better now, Takato. I know you hang out with all of us again. But you lost three years. Three years is a long time, especially when you need someone to talk to. I can't even imagine what it would have been like for me without Hirokazu, Jen, Ruki and Juri. I don't know if I could have done it.
The worst part is that even with how sorry I am, even with how much we hang out these days, I still can't put the past behind me. That's why I can't forgive him. And my not forgiving him is the worst thing I could do to him now. I thought Takato hated me, that he never wanted to see me again. At first it made me so sad that I could barely get out of bed. But with time and a lot of work I forgot all about the part of him that was my friend. I made myself forget. The only thing left was the guy who hated me for being gay. And so I began to hate him.
I know I was wrong. He didn't hate me, but I hated him. You can't fix something like that overnight. It's not that I don't sometimes wish we could be friends again. I wish I could wipe away the last three years. Early on I would have forgiven him in a heartbeat if he would have only talked to me again. Now though? No. I can't. I won't do that. I'd have to be an idiot to like him after everything he put me through. I am not going to look like an idiot over him again.
When I came out to my parents I thought everything would change, but it didn't. True, things were a little awkward for a while, but my life wasn't suddenly different. I still went to school like before. We still talked and ate together like before. It didn't bring me any closer to them or push them away. Takato came out to us and I know things have gotten better for him because of it, but it didn't change things as much as he thought it would. He didn't even come out to the others until weeks after we all started hanging out together again. When the news finally dropped it all made sense to them, but it didn't change things. Not between him and them. Not between him and me. Even if we do talk now there's still this thing in the way.
He wants for me to understand and accept him. I wanted the same thing from my parents when I came out. They told me they'd always support me and that they loved me, and that's true. I'm not sure they understand though. With Takato… I understand; I do. I've been there. But forgiving him is out of my reach.
Not that I want him to feel bad anymore. I'm not going to turn my back on him like he did to me. That's why we hang out so much, not because I like him or anything. Takato needs someone to talk to, someone to show him the ropes. I'm happy to do that. I know how much it would have helped me, having someone to answer my questions, to talk to, to share fears with. Takato needs that and I'm not going to say no. But I'm not doing this because he's Takato. If anything it's in spite of that. I can't help it; I'm too nice. It makes me feel good when I can be a shoulder for him to cry on. I like making him laugh when he needs it. I love seeing his face light up.
But… that's all. Really. I don't like him. It's only because he was my friend a long time ago. Takato's still an ass for what he put me through. I mean, sure, I'd like it if we were friends again. What's wrong with that? It's great having more friends! Even Takato. Especially Takato. Takato's a great friend; he's fun, he's nice, and when he doesn't refuse to talk to you for three years he's actually very supportive. Plus all the other stuff Hirokazu mentioned. And dare I say, he's even cute, too.
I know what I said. Shut up. I can think a guy's cute even if he IS an ass. My ex-boyfriend is proof of that. That's what Takato is. He's an ass. I will not forgive him for abandoning me. I will not be the one that winds up looking like an idiot.
"It's obvious you like him," Hirokazu says. "Just like you liked Kai back in Okinawa."
"You're drunk," I remind him, "and possibly insane."
He shrugs. "Maybe a little. Don't gotta be sane or sober to see it though."
"But I can't!" he whines. "You like him. He likes you. Go out, damn it!"
"I can't like him," I say firmly. "Yeah, maybe I could've back when we were friends. But we're not friends anymore. Not after… after all that! He made me feel like shit, Hirokazu. He screwed me up for a long time."
…But I still miss my friend. I know I shouldn't. I should hate him. I shouldn't ever want to see him again. But I miss him. I was actually happy to hang out with him again. I enjoy being with him. That can't be right, can it? After what he did to me? How screwed up am I? I can't help the way I feel though. I try to deny it, but I like that he talks to me again.
Shit. I have been denying it. That's exactly what I've been doing. How do I keep falling into that trap? This is like back before I could admit to myself that I was gay. I like being around Takato. What if Hirokazu's right and I like him? How stupid could I possibly be? I know there's no way this could go well. He wouldn't like me back. Even if he did, how could I live with myself? I'd feel guilty forgiving him. And I'd feel guilty about what he went through because of me. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Damn it. I really thought I knew myself for once. I thought I had it all figured out. After I came out I was so sure I had all the answers. Like suddenly I wasn't going to kid myself anymore. I knew who I was and everything there was to know about that, like I was some expert on Kenta Kitagawa. I've given Takato advice as if I've got all the answers on being gay, like when he wanted to know how to tell his parents. He hasn't come out to them yet, but he's thought about it. I'm supposed to be the comfortable one, the experienced one, the expert on everything that goes through my head. How did I miss this? Am I that dense? Am I that deep in denial? Well so much for the fabulous Kenta Kitagawa: the great gay oracle.
"I want you to be happy, dude," Hirokazu says sullenly. "Doesn't have to be with Takato, but with somebody."
"I know," I say with a nod.
"You don't gotta like him," he goes on. "I think you do, but if not at least don't mess with him, okay? I know he hurt you 'n all, but you don't gotta hurt him back."
"I'm not going to hurt him," I say. Certainly not after what I've just realized.
"Good," Hirokazu says resolutely. "Now go make out with him."
I groan. "Hirokazu, I'm not going to do that."
"Oh c'mon already!" he says impatiently. "What's takin' so long? Shit, the night I sent him to the room I figured you'd have to put a sock on the doorknob!"
"Hirokazu, not everyone's that desperate," I say.
He laughs. "Bullshit."
He squeezes me tight and whispers in my ear: "Bull…"
"Okay, okay. I get your point." I mean it's not like I never think about it. I haven't had a lot of chances though. And I sure wasn't in any kind of mood to do THAT with TAKATO.
"I can see why you're so popular with girls," I say with a little laugh.
"Girls are different," he points out. "They gotta be romanced 'n shit. Guys? Guys 'get it', y'know?"
"What, you don't think I like a little romance?" I ask.
He shrugs. "I dunno. You're different."
"Or how about Ruki?" I point out. "She's a girl but there's no way she's the 'romantic' type."
"Okay, fine, but it's not like she's all that girly," Hirokazu points out.
"And I am?" I ask.
"I didn't mean it like that dude! All I'm sayin' is you got it lucky."
"I've been called a lot of things, but lucky isn't one of them," I say.
"But you are!" he defends his claim. "With guys it's like, y'know, they make sense. Girls are crazy though."
"Maybe a little," I admit, "but it's not like guys are a whole lot better. Girls might be insane but guys are lying bastards."
Hirokazu frowns. "Ouch."
"Okay, maybe not all guys," I concede. "Only the ones I date."
"Well Takato's not like that," Hirokazu says.
"Do you really think he likes me?" I ask.
I never know what to think about Hirokazu's "insight." Sometimes it's like he's not even living on the same planet as everyone else, but other times it's scary how much he seems to know. Only one way to be sure. "We should go back in," I say. "Everyone probably misses us by now and it's getting cold."
"Do you like him?" he asks, holding me down until I answer.
"I don't hate him," I say.
"Not good enough," he says fiendishly.
"Okay, fine, he's my friend again. Happy now?"
"C'mon," he pleads. "You gotta say it."
I smile and shake my head. "You are such a squealing fangirl."
"Dude, I told you I'm the king of romance," he reminds me. "I gotta know!"
I chuckle. "Alright, alright. Just for that, yeah. I think I might. Maybe. A little."
"And what?" I ask.
"And you're gonna tell him, right?" That grin of his is hard to ignore.
"Do I have a choice?"
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way," he says playfully.
"Something tells me it wouldn't mean as much if you had me in a headlock at the time," I tell him.
"So you're gonna to tell him?" Hirokazu asks, a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
I sigh. "Looks like it."
He grins at me. "That's the spirit!"
"Don't get your hopes up," I tell him. "I don't 'love' him or anything like that. I don't even know if we'll be any good together. I want to find out, though. Just to see what happens."
"C'mon, go do it!" he says, hoisting me up onto my feet. "I wanna know how it goes."
It's still weird that Hirokazu, of all people, is more excited about this than I am. He always gets giddy when I have a date or anything, but I haven't heard this much enthusiasm from him since the day I came out. "Try not to get too excited," I warn him. "If it doesn't work out I don't want you to get all moody again."
"Since when do I get moody?" he asks as he pushes me along ahead of him back toward the kitchen.
"Remember when I broke up with Jiro?" I ask. "I had to bring you ice cream, video games and movies for three days to get you out of your funk."
Hirokazu shrugs. "Yeah, but I did the same thing for you, remember?"
Yeah. I remember: it was after I gave up on Takato. He was there every day for months. The few times he couldn't be around he made sure Jen or Ruki or Juri would come over. He's always looked out for me like that. I've always looked out for him, too. He needs it. Hirokazu's had a self-destructive streak for as long as I know him. Most of the time he's lucky enough not to get in any serious trouble over it. The rest of the time I'm there to pick him up when he falls. I'm used to cheering him up, bandaging his scrapes and gluing his ego back together.
Since day one he's done the same for me. Sure, he can get a little wrapped up in himself sometimes, maybe forget I exist, but when I need him he's always been there. When I came out, when I thought Takato hated me, even now, he looks out for me. He takes a little too much glee in it, sometimes, but that's the way he is. He's the unstoppable Hirokazu Shiota, the best friend a guy could hope for. I've got a lot of friends like that. I don't deserve friends like the ones I've got. I can't believe I ever thought one of them could hate me. I'm sorry I thought that, Takato.
I nod. "Let me do this my way, okay?"
He places a hand on the door to the kitchen and pauses a moment. "Alright, but can you please do it fast? I don't think I can take the suspense!"
"Have another drink," I suggest. "That should calm you down." Anyone who ever said scotch is supposed to take the edge off has not met Hirokazu. I haven't seen him this wired in a long time. It's cute.
"I've got my eye on you," he whispers as he pushes the door open and steps inside.
I follow him in. Ruki's yelling at Ryou. Ryou's sitting there smiling back at her. Juri's laughing at the both of them and Jen's grabbing a towel to wipe up a spilled drink. Takato's sitting alone, away from everyone else with his usual can of soda. Yeah, he's our reliable designated driver. At least he would be if he had a car. Or knew how to drive. So I guess he's our designated sober guy. His idea, I'm sure; Takato knows he and alcohol don't mix.
I can't believe I'm going to do this. Whenever I'm honest, the people around me tend to pay for it. But for some reason it's important to be honest, like I was with my mom and dad. I'm still amazed I actually managed to tell them. They had to know. I owed them that much, but it still took a lot more guts than I ever thought I had in me. Even if it hurt I wanted to tell them the truth. I had to be the one to tell them.
Takato took a long time to say it, but finally he told me the truth too. I could tell how scared he was, but he did it. Things are better for him. He has his friends again. I miss my friend, and all I have to do to get him back is to be as honest with him as he was with me. The first step was being honest with myself.
"Takato?" I ask, keeping my voice quiet.
He looks up at me, like he didn't even realize I was there. "Hm?"
"Can we talk for a minute?" I nod toward the yard.
He stands up and heads for the exit; I quickly follow and shut the door behind me. I don't think anyone noticed us leaving other than Hirokazu, but if they did, well… whatever. I can't be thinking of them right now. I've got to focus. What am I even going to say? Crap, I don't even have a plan. Okay, deep breath. Turn and look.
He's standing on the deck looking out at the courtyard and bundling his jacket around him to keep the cold out. "Hey look," he practically whispers. "It's snowing."
He's right. There are a few flakes falling now, adding on more to the fresh snow that's covering everything. "I hope Ruki doesn't mind if we all have to crash here for the night," I say with a little chuckle.
"So what's up?" he asks.
I can feel a blush creeping onto my cheeks. Hopefully it's too dark for him to see. Or if he does, maybe he'll think it's from the cold. I can't look him in the eye for this. "I have to tell you something."
He nods but keeps quiet.
I start by clearing my throat. "Takato, when you stopped talking to me…" I hesitate. This isn't easy. From what I've said so far though, Takato already looks upset. "I know you didn't mean to hurt me," I say, "but you did. You really did."
"Kenta, I… I know. I screwed up." He looks down at the ground.
"Takato, I'm not mad anymore," I say quickly. "I… I was for a while, but I… I have to…"
He hugs himself. "Kenta, I know. I hurt you a lot and I wish I could take it back. I'd do anything to take it back. Please, tell me what I—"
"I'm sorry," I blurt out. "I'm so sorry, Takato."
He's stunned, unable to say anything for a few seconds. "S-sorry?" he sputters. "Why? After what I did…"
"I'm sorry I took so long," I try to explain. "Sorry I didn't say this before now. Takato, I… I forgive you. For everything." I hang my head. My whole body feels heavy.
And then he's on top of me, wrapping me up in both arms and squeezing me like he's never going to let go. He's not saying anything, but he laughs to himself. I can hear his breathing in my ear, and it sounds like he could cry any second.
"I want to be your friend again," I say as I put my arms around him.
"Thank you," Takato whispers in my ear with a sniffle.
I keep hugging him. I can't believe I thought I hated him. I can't believe I tried to keep up my thick-skinned approach. I can't believe I was so afraid of this. This feels good. This is what it feels like to have my friend back. That's right, Takato is my friend. I don't care if I look like an idiot. I don't care about the past anymore. I missed him. I need my friends, and he's one of them.
Maybe it could work. Maybe he could be more than a friend. I don't know, but it's worth a try. I do like him. I hope Hirokazu's right and he likes me too. Please let him like me. Please don't let me chicken out. Please, please, please.
"Takato?" I ask quietly.
"Yeah?" he whispers in my ear again.
"Do you want to…?" Crap, I can't think of the words. What do I say?
I take a deep breath. "Are you… free?"
He pulls back for a second and gives me a weird look. "What do you mean?"
I clear my throat. "Sorry, but… would you like to… go out sometime?" I give him a weak smile.
His whole face lights up. "I'd love to!"
And with that the weight of the world drops from me. I'm smiling and I don't think I could stop for anything. He'd love to. Those words mean so much to me. He accepts me. He finally accepts me. I'm not alone. I don't have to be afraid. I don't have to hide my feelings anymore. I need only be honest and hope things will work out. They have to work out. Please, let this go well. I need this to go well. I don't want to lose him again. This feels too good.
There's a shout from the kitchen behind me. "Hurry up and kiss him, damn it!" Hirokazu yells.
"Shush!" Juri scolds him.
"Don't mind us," Jen says apologetically.
I don't mind. I felt Takato's whole body go tense when Hirokazu yelled, but I don't mind. I lean in and give him a kiss on the cheek. I don't mind, Hirokazu. Thank you for this. Thank you for helping me be this happy.
After you look at where you've come from
And before you ask where the road ahead ends
Ask yourself where you are
And who you count as your friends.
[Thank you all for reading this far. I really appreciate the comments I got and I hope you enjoyed it. I need to apologize for the long delay in getting out chapter 6. When I put up chapter 1 chapter 6 was almost complete, but after finishing chapter 5 I realized just how badly the original draft of this chapter needed to be rewritten and so I began again from scratch. I'd hoped to have the entire thing finished in June, but I couldn't quite manage that. I believe it was well worth the delay though, and it wound up as a stronger story for the delay. Thanks again for your patience, your support, and your comments.