To Be With You

Chapter 1: To Hold Your Hand

August, 2007

Matsuda Bakery, Shinjuku

Looking good, Takato. Looking real good. Feeling good. Feeling clean. That nice hot bath was exactly what I needed. Still got plenty of time to get ready. Don't be nervous Takato. You shouldn't be. You look good. You look damn good. You could be in movies. Let's have a look at those muscles. Yeah, that's the stuff! Now how about the other arm? There we go.

The mirror's all fogged up, so I wipe it off with my towel. That's better. Not to brag or anything, but I do look good tonight. Okay, so it's not like I'm a bodybuilder or anything, but I don't think this is too shabby. I try to stay healthy. Eat right. Keep active. And you know what? Even my face is cooperating for once. Not a zit in sight. And my hair's even laying right! Oh yeah, you got this covered, Takato. Don't be nervous.

Why should I be nervous? It's a date. Just a date. I've been on tons of dates. Okay, maybe not tons, but a good number. A few. Enough that I don't have to be nervous. Now our first date, yeah. I was super nervous for that. Our first real date, I mean. At an actual restaurant, only the two of us. The whole night I kept thinking we were doing something bad and we were sure to be caught.

That was about three and a half months ago. I've gotten a lot calmer about it since then. I can even enjoy myself on a date sometimes! Weird, I know. Tonight is going to be one more date like all the others. Yep, nothing out of the ordinary. Not a thing. I like to know I look good is all. Speaking of which, I should probably shave to be on the safe side.

I turn on the sink and splash some water on my face. I've got to look my best! Not that I'm nervous or anything, because I'm not. Let's see, spread the shaving cream around like so… Good. Now for my razor. Wait, where is it? I could've sworn I left it in this drawer. Mom or dad probably moved it. Why do they always have to move my stuff around? Come on, it's not like I mess with their stuff when—oh wait, there it is.

Relax, Takato. It's just another date. Nothing out of the ordinary. We've been going out at least once a week. Sure, nobody knows about it, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it. No reason to be nervous. I can't help it though. Every time I get ready to head out on a date I get butterflies in my stomach. It's so exciting though! I can't wait to get there. We're going out for pizza and a movie. Now that's my kind of date. We're seeing a comedy; it's supposed to be good, but I have to admit I hope there are a few slow parts. You know: those parts of movies that are perfect for making out. I hope we can get a couple seats in the back of the—

Ow! Son of a bitch! I drop my razor and grab a towel to hold to my chin. I cut myself. I definitely cut myself. That'll teach me to pay closer attention. It's not too bad, is it? I take the towel away for a better look. Yeah, I nicked myself there, that's for sure. I get the towel wet and start to dab at it. Crap. I hope I don't need to bandage it. So much for my skin being on my side for once.

Okay, it's not bleeding too badly. It's a pretty shallow cut, so it should be fine. It's really noticeable though. Well, maybe it'll look a little better before I have to go. Still plenty of time, right? I should focus though and finish shaving. Carefully. The last thing I need is to look like I got in a knife fight on the way over.

There we go. Nice and smooth, except for that cut. The bleeding's stopped, at least. Got all the shaving cream washed off and my skin dried. There's a little blood on this towel though. Eh, I'm sure that'll come out. What next? Should I wear cologne? Aftershave? Both? Wait, what is aftershave, exactly? I know my dad has some, but I don't think he ever uses it. I've never use any. I think I saw it when I was looking for my razor. Aha, there it is. It's green. I wonder if I should give it a try. I want tonight to be special, after all.

Not that it has to be special! Nope! This is just another date!

Perfectly ordinary.

With Jen.

I unscrew the cap on dad's aftershave. I should at least give it a—gwaugh! Okay, no. No way! I quickly screw the cap back on and shove the bottle into the drawer. No aftershave for me tonight. That stuff is rank. If dad was wearing that stuff on his first date with mom… Well, it's a safe bet I wouldn't be here. I'll stick with cologne.

Wait, does Jen like cologne? I don't know. He's never said anything about it. Maybe that means he hates it and he's only being nice! Crap, I probably screwed up all those other dates without even realizing it. Wouldn't he have said something if he liked it? Maybe. Then again, Jen's pretty honest with me. If it bothered him he would have said something, right? He hasn't said a word either way. Did he not notice? How could he have missed it? I sprayed it right there on my neck and he… Let's say he's spent some time in that area. Screw it. I'll stick with deodorant.

So what next? Clean-shaven: check. Smelling good: check. Of course! Can't go on a date without fresh breath! I grab my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash. This should work. Wait, what about the pizza? Will there be garlic on it? If there is I'm done for. Alright, I'll brush my teeth now and worry about that later. I'll eat only bread if I have to. Nothing will go wrong.

Swish-swish, spit, rinse-rinse. Ah, feeling good. Fresh breath, good smile. Gleaming. Sparkling, even! Okay, maybe not sparkling, but my teeth should be good enough. Yeah, this is good. I'm looking good and feeling relaxed. I'm cool as a cucumber. We're going to have a lot of fun. Our dates are always fun, of course, but I want this to be extra fun.

Wait. Did that come out wrong? If so that's not how I meant it! Get your mind out of the gutter. We haven't even done that. Yet. Not that I'd mind. I mean, Jen is really great. He's sweet and nice and, well, he's cute. And I love making out with him.

And he did mention that his parents were visiting family in Hong Kong right now…

No. Never mind. I mean, Shiuchon's still there, right? And there's no way we could come back to my place. These walls are paper-thin and that is not my idea of a good way to come out to my parents. Probably better to freak them out with only one thing at a time. Not that I'm going to tell them anytime soon! I will eventually, but not yet. After I move out in a couple years, probably. Or sometime after that. I'm in no rush.

Don't think about that right now, stupid! You've got to finish getting ready. Alright, my hair looks pretty good… except for that. It's sticking out a little on the side. Here, I'll—no, that made it worse. Okay, let's try the comb. There, that's looking better. Stay… No. Maybe if I get it wet again. Crap. My hair hates me. Alright, hair, I didn't want to do this, but you've forced my hand! I'm getting the hair gel!

My hair's a real pain to deal with sometimes. It's not long or anything, but it's… full. I think it has a mind of its own. That or it naturally does weird things when I need to look good. If Jen didn't like it so much I think I'd cut it all off. He does though, and I like how it feels when he runs his hand through it. I like… no, I love everything about our time together. I wouldn't change a thing, and that includes my hair. So, hair, it looks like you and I are going to have to learn to get along.

Okay, that should be good enough. It looks… okay. Mostly. So long as I don't move my head at all this will work. Forget it; I need to get dressed. I'm gay enough as it is without being late for my date with my boyfriend because I had to fix my hair.

It's strange. A year ago I wouldn't have even been able to think that. I really hated it whenever someone (usually Ruki or Hirokazu) would make a gay joke about me but I didn't even know why. Or at least I couldn't admit why. Look at me now though! I'm out and proud! …To exactly one other person. That's progress, right? Jen helped me more than he'll ever know. I'd probably still be too scared to admit it if it weren't for him.

I wrap my towel around my waist and step out into the upstairs hallway. I can hear mom and dad downstairs still; sounds like they're making dinner. They know I'm going out with Jen tonight, and that we're getting pizza and seeing a movie. They might be under the impression that Hirokazu and Kenta will be there too though. At least that's what I told them. They don't know it's a date. That's how I like it.

I duck into my room and lock the door behind me. My blinds are closed but there's still a lot of sunlight coming in; it's not even six o'clock yet. I love how the blinds cast lines of sunlight over my walls and the pictures I have hanging up. I might actually have to try drawing an effect like that sometime. I've always loved to draw, but ever since Jen told me how much he likes my drawings I've been working on them all the time. That meant a lot to me. He's even modeled for a few: portraits, usually, though after we started going out I've done a couple full-body sketches. All perfectly tasteful.

The, uh, more "artistic" stuff I had to do with my own imagination. And it's not something I'm planning on showing off anytime soon. Although, if I did get him to act as a live model I wouldn't exactly mind.

All of those portraits have a story, but my favorite is definitely the one I never finished. It's almost a year old now and I don't think I'll ever finish it. It's right there in the front page of one of my sketchbooks. I was excited to break in a new book that day and I loved working with Jen. I'd tell myself it was because he was such a good subject, with a really interesting face, and we were such good friends. All that was true, but the real reason was because I wanted to be around him. Something about being able to sit with him for hours, staring at him, memorizing every subtle curve of his face without any of it seeming the least bit weird really appealed to me.

That particular sketch, though, I will never forget. Jen was quieter than usual that day. There was something a little sad in his eyes. I spent most of my time working on those eyes. I didn't want to ask him if anything was wrong for fear of spoiling the moment. So for about half an hour we were both completely quiet. He sat in my desk chair while I sat on the bed with my sketchpad. It was only a couple days before the summer break ended and I wanted to get in one last sketch with him before we had to worry about class again.

"Takato?" he asked so suddenly that I actually jumped.

"Yeah, Jen?"

"Do you like anyone?"

The question was really unexpected; I didn't even know what he meant at first. It didn't help that I was distracted at the time, trying to get a slight curl in one of his hairs just right. There was a long silence before I responded, but I finally did.

"Not really." It was my usual answer when anyone asked, like my parents. "Do you?"

Jen shook his head a little. I waited for a few seconds and assumed that was the end of it, so I got back to drawing. The angle of his head changed slightly, but I could adjust. My sketch was coming along really well. About five minutes later he spoke up again.

"If you did like someone, who would it be?"

Like with the gay jokes, those kinds of questions always made me a little uncomfortable and I didn't know why. I didn't want him to think I was weird or anything, though, so I threw out the name of a girl I knew from the previous school year. She only came to mind because we'd been teamed up to work on a project together, and she was actually pretty nice. I wasn't actually interested in her like that, but I figured it was what Jen would want to hear. Of course after I answered, I asked Jen the same question.

"Do you really want to know?"

"Sure Jen. That's why I asked."

"You're not just being nice?"

"I'm not going to make fun of you or anything." I laughed at that. Jen didn't. That was when I started to notice that there was something a little off about him that day. He wasn't his normal self. His eyes weren't merely serious, they were sad. Something was on his mind. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah."

"You seem a little out of it."

He tried to put my mind at ease, saying he was tired. It didn't really work, but I humored him. If there was something on his mind he didn't want to talk about I knew there was no way I could get it out of him. Jen's always been like that. I thought that was the end of it, right up until a minute later when he spoke again.

"Kazuo."

"Hm?"

"From class."

"Oh, yeah. What about him?"

"If I liked someone…"

He didn't finish that sentence. It took me a moment to understand. It took me even longer to believe it. Jen was coming out to me. I never once suspected him. I handled it as best as I could.

"Jen, do you mean you're…?"

"Yeah."

"Are you sure?"

"Definitely."

For some reason I wasn't in the mood to do any more drawing. We took things really slow, talking about what he was going through. He told me that he couldn't hold it in any longer; he had to tell someone, and that someone was me. Even now I'm the only one he's told. I know how hard it was on him to come out like that. I wanted to be there for him though. And eight months later he wanted to be there for me. Even knowing he'd support me, it wasn't easy. I owe Jen; his coming out was what first got me to think about myself like that without being afraid.

The day I finally came out to him, I had more than one thing to reveal. We were alone at his place. I asked something stupid, like if he'd seen any cute guys lately. He rolled his eyes at me until I shared a cute guy sighting of my own. He was so great about it. He gave me a hug and kept going on and on about how happy he was not to be alone anymore. He wanted to know everything.

"How did you figure it out?"

"I realized I liked someone."

"You did? Who?"

"Well, if you really want to know…"

It was Jen, of course, and after a little prodding I managed to say so. I remember being really embarrassed and Jen says he's never seen me blush like that. As it turned out, Jen wasn't all that into Kazuo. He didn't want to tell me that he liked me, his supposedly straight best friend, "that way" because he was afraid things would be awkward. That was the day I had my first kiss, and a few days later I had my first date.

I admit I like having this secret between us. It's like back when we were kids and kept our digimon secret. We've even used some of the same old places to sneak around; I'm sure Guilmon wouldn't mind that I'm using his old hiding spot to make out with Jen.

Speaking of which, I'd better hurry if I want to get to it. I go to my dresser and pull open the top drawer. Let's see, what underwear should I be wearing tonight? Maybe Terriermon boxers—I bet Jen would get a kick out of that. Or maybe the… Wait a minute. What am I doing? It's underwear! It's not like Jen's going to even see them!

…Probably.

You're losing your mind, Takato. Pick something and go. Not every last detail has to be perfect. Especially not the details he'll never see. I'm nervous is all. Why am I so nervous? Nothing's going to happen. At least nothing more than usual. We'll probably do a little kissing but that will be it. Doing more would be… really nice, I admit. But for now it's not happening.

I grab a pair of underwear and close the top drawer. Should I go with shorts? It's been a warm day, so that should be fine. I could go with slacks if I want to dress up a little. Maybe jeans in case it gets cold after the movie. What kind of look should I go for? Casual? Dressy? …Sexy? Yeah right. I don't think I even own anything I'd call "sexy."

Shorts. I'll go with shorts. It shouldn't be too cold out tonight, and we'll be indoors for most of it. Plus it's more fun to play footsy with bare legs. Sorry, but it's true. I'm not ashamed to say that I really, really, really enjoy everything I do with my boyfriend. At least I'm not ashamed to say that in my own head. Saying it out loud with anyone else in the room is another story.

So what if Jen and I have our fun? He's sure not complaining about it. Doesn't make us perverts. I see other couples doing a lot worse all the time. Just because we're both guys shouldn't make it weird. That's how most people seem to see it though. We know that, so we try not to be obvious, especially anywhere we could run into someone we know. There aren't a whole lot of places we can act like a couple.

Let's see, what shirt should I wear? My closet is… more than a little messy. I admit I'm not exactly tidy. It doesn't help that I've got way too much crap stuffed in a closet that's way too small. Still, I'm better than Hirokazu. His whole room is a disaster area; my parents would never let me get away with that. Hey, this blue polo shirt should work.

I check the small mirror on the inside of my closet door. Looking good. You've got this handled, Takato. Don't be nervous. You look great. You're going to have a great time. Now hurry up because Jen's waiting. Maybe if you're early there'll be time for a little making out before dinner! Now that's what I call an appetizer.

Right, sorry, that was wrong. I can't help myself sometimes though. It's kind of embarrassing, even when it's only Jen and I. Especially when it's only Jen and I. I really like him; I have for a long time. I don't want to do anything stupid in front of him. But the truth is he's really fun to be with. I'm always looking forward to the next time I can kiss him, but somehow he's usually the one that ends up having to make the first move. I sort of like it that way, to tell the truth.

I can imagine the jokes Ruki would tell if she knew that. I am not the girl here! Crap. I can't even escape her jokes in my own head now. I must hang out with her too much. That or the jokes are getting more obvious. Wait, would that mean I'm more "obvious?" I didn't even want to think about that. I've gotten comfortable with the idea of being gay, but I didn't think that would somehow make me act gay. Have I been different lately?

Well, I've been a lot happier, that's for sure. Though I think that's mostly because I've been with Jen. I guess being happier means I've been more fun with my friends and I've been getting along better with my mom and dad. I don't even mind helping out in the bakery as much as I used to. Other than that I don't really think I've changed any, so it's probably all in my head.

Well good. As long as it stays in my head I should be safe. Not that I want to keep it hidden forever or anything, but for now I don't want anyone to know the truth. Jen knowing is more than enough for me. I do have to watch what I say a little more than I used to. Not only so I don't say anything that would tip off anyone, but since I started going out with Jen I've had to check myself. It's been hard. I remember after our first date I really, really wanted to talk to someone—anyone—about how it went. I wanted to talk about the details and share how happy I was, but I couldn't. I couldn't even let on to anyone that I was seeing someone. I had to pretend that I wasn't the happiest I've ever been.

It's okay though. I've got a lot of practice hiding how I feel.

Crap, look at the time. I finish getting ready as fast as I can, checking myself out in the mirror one last time. My hair still isn't great and that cut on my chin is pretty visible, but there isn't a whole lot I can do about that now, so I turn off the lights and head downstairs.

"Bye mom! Bye dad! Be back later!" I call out as I head for the side exit through the kitchen.

"Hang on a minute," mom calls back from the dining room. She appears a couple seconds later as I wait by the door. "What time will you be back?"

"Shouldn't be too late," I say. "Depends on when the movie gets out."

"I don't want you wandering the streets in the middle of the night," she says. "Check in with us, okay?"

"I will, mom." Please let that be all.

"And be sure to—"

"Got it," I say quickly.

"Relax, honey," dad says appearing behind mom. When he sees me he lets out a short whistle. "Looking good, kiddo. Special plans?"

Damn it, damn it, damn it! "P-plans? No! Just, y'know, hanging out with the guys." Please don't ask me anything else. Please! Don't make me beg!

Dad nods after an impossibly long pause, or maybe it seemed longer because I was holding my breath the whole time. "Alright, have fun. Try not to be back too late."

"You got it!" I say as I rush outside and close the door behind me.

Yeah. No problem. I've got this under control. I am the master of stealth.


"It's open!" Jen shouts from the other side of the door.

I test the knob and, sure enough, it's unlocked. I step inside Jen's apartment and take my shoes off by the door. He's nowhere to be seen and the whole place is quiet. I love coming here; I swear this apartment is bigger than our whole bakery. It's a lot roomier, too. Hardwood floors, huge windows, giant TV, and easily the most comfortable couch I've ever sat on. The very best thing of all about Jen's apartment though? It has Jen.

Speaking of whom, where is he? "Hello?" I call out.

"Be right there!" he calls back from the bathroom.

Heh heh. He must still be getting ready. I hope I didn't get here too early for him. Not that'd I'd mind all that much if he was only wearing a towel when he came out of the bathroom. No! Bad Takato! Ugh. Why is this on my mind so much lately? Not that I never think about it (I'm still a guy, after all) but this is more than usual.

You know what it is? It must be the fact that it's summer. The heat, the vacation from school, all the time I'm spending with Jen, and the fact that this is the first time all of those things have happened while I've had a boyfriend. It's a perfect storm. Well get a grip, Takato. You don't want to lose your cool now. You've got a date and you don't want to screw it up.

The bathroom door opens and Jen steps out. Thankfully he's fully dressed and he looks fantastic. He's wearing a pair of tan slacks with a belt and a dark gray, collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair is perfect. His skin immaculate. Why is he dating me again? "Sorry to keep you waiting," he says with a big smile.

"No problem," I say, feeling the goofy grin on my face. Damn it; don't act like such a goon! "Hope I'm not early."

He laughs. "No, no. You're right on time." I love that laugh. I love everything about him.

"So, how's your day?" I ask nonchalantly.

"Getting better," he says shyly.

Crap. I'm blushing. I can tell I'm blushing. He's way too good at making me do that. My voice cracks as I get out a quick, "That's good."

He walks over to me and before I can object he leans forward and gives me a quick kiss on the lips. Not that I would object, but that sure doesn't help me stop blushing. After he leans back and smiles at me I find my voice again. "W-what about your, uh, sister?"

"She's staying over at a friend's place tonight."

I feel my eyes go wide. "So, we have your place all to ourselves?"

His face turns pink and he looks away. "Oh, uh… Yeah, I guess. I mean, it worked out that way. Weird, huh?" He lets out a nervous laugh and keeps avoiding eye contact.

I swallow. "Y-yeah. Weird." Crap. We're alone in Jen's apartment. All alone. His sister is gone for the night and his parents won't be back for days. This can't be good.

"Not that we'll be here anyway!" Jen adds quickly. "We're going out for dinner and a movie, right?"

I nod to him. "Right!"

"It just means it's okay to kiss you right now," he says.

Yeah, that's all. I like hearing that from him; it relaxes me enough that I can give him another smile. "So it's okay if I do this then?" I crane my neck up slightly and kiss him gently on the cheek. He smells really good, like shampoo and soap and… is that cologne? Crap. So he does like cologne. I knew I should have worn some.

"Very okay," he says with a smile. He takes my hand in his without breaking eye contact. I give his hand a gentle squeeze. This feels way too good. His skin is so soft and I love seeing the way it makes him grin.

Damn. This is stupid. "We should probably go," I blurt out.

"Y-yeah," he says, letting go and blushing more.

Although… "Unless you wanted to order in instead," I add. Damn it. I cannot keep my mouth shut, can I?

"We could," he agrees.

We both go quiet. I look out the window; it's still bright and sunny outside. I can't believe I said that. Great, now he probably thinks I'm weird. Or horny. Or both. And you know what? He'd be right! Crap, not even five minutes into our date and I've ruined it. Use your brain for once, Takato! Maybe there's some way to make this less awkward. "On second thought, we should go out," I say.

We catch each others' eyes again. "Hm?" he asks, sounding a little surprised.

"It's… such a nice day!" I say. There we go, that should do it. "I'd hate to miss out on it, wouldn't you?"

He smiles and gives me an enthusiastic nod. "Uh-huh!"

"So what are we waiting for?" I ask.

"After you," he says with a slight bow.

I head for the door and he's right behind me. We put our shoes on quietly and it looks like things are back on track. Of course right when I'm about to open the door Jen wraps his arms around me from behind and kisses me on the cheek. I think it shows incredible restraint on my part that I don't take that opportunity to tackle him and start tearing off his shirt and running my hands through that perfect hair of his right there on the hardwood floor, or maybe on the comfy couch. Instead I smile and ask when the movie starts. We've got plenty of time for dinner.

By the time we're down on the sidewalk I've already managed to relax. Being alone with Jen up there was getting to me; this is much better. It's a long walk to get to the place we have in mind; it sort of has to be. We don't want to risk running into anyone we know. Not that it would be obvious that we were even on a date, I don't think, but I like having a chance to let my guard down. We both do. We can be a couple without looking over our shoulders every other minute or asking for the darkest, most secluded table in the restaurant.

We talk about the usual things: our days, families, the weather, friends. It's a good thing Jen is so good at coming up with conversation though because I keep getting distracted and looking over at him. Is that a new watch? It's nice. It looks a little heavy, hanging around his wrist like that. Just above his hand. Man, I really want to hold his hand. I know it's stupid. I know people would stare. I know it would screw things up if anyone we know saw. I know Jen might think I'm being sappy. All of that's why I won't do it. But I can dream. I don't want to sound girly but I like romantic stuff, at least when it's with Jen.

"Takato?" he asks.

I look up. "Huh?"

"Nothing," he says with a little laugh. "You seem distracted is all. Are you feeling alright?"

"Yeah, I'm doing good! I'm, uh… I'm glad we're together."

His expression softens and he looks forward again. "So am I."

I turn my head forward, but my eyes linger a few more seconds. I can't help it; I want to stare at him for hours on end. He looks really good tonight. Even better than normal. I wish I had a pencil and a sketchpad. Or a camera. Or anything. I want to remember how he looks right now forever.

There's so much more, though. I could listen to him talk about nothing and never get bored. Or we could spend our time together without a word and I'd be grateful for every second. I could listen to his heartbeat, his breathing, and I'd love it more than any song I've ever heard in my life.

Any of that would be enough, but that's not why I love him. He means so much to me. He's been my best friend since we were only ten. He's been there for me any time I've needed him. He protected me from danger more times than I can count. He was there for me after I lost Guilmon. He's the one that gave me the courage to deal with my feelings and to face who I am. There's no way I can do as much for him as he's done for me. I want to do as much as I can though.

What was-? His hand… it brushed against mine. Did he mean to do that? Was it an accident? Either way, the feeling's still lingering there. It brings a smile to my face. Even the lightest touch and my heart beats faster. I wish I could hold his hand right now. I won't though. He's happier this way. He doesn't want anyone to know. I'm okay with that. Of course I'm not happy about it, but I'll survive. I'd be happy if we could hold hands without caring. I'll have to make up for it later. I'll give him the biggest hug I can. I know he likes it when I do that; it always makes him smile so much that he can't stop.

I take a deep breath and look up ahead. This is going to be a long night if I keep going around in circles in my own head. This date is going to be about Jen, not me. Okay, brain? Let's try focusing on Jen for a change. And while we're at it, let's hope his hand brushes up against mine a few more times on our walk to the restaurant.


This restaurant isn't all that great. It's small, the pizza's a little greasy, the prices are a bit much and it's kind of shabby to be honest. But at the same time it's perfect for what we need. It's small enough that most people don't even know it's here. There's so few customers that we don't have to worry about anyone seeing us. It's far enough away that I doubt we'd ever run into anyone we know out here.

This is our second date here and it's almost over. The pizza is mostly eaten, our sodas are empty and we've both paid. I guess on dates the guy is supposed to pay, but that doesn't really apply here. Jen has tried to pay before, but of course Ruki's voice was right there in the back of my head again with a joke ready to go, so I had to insist we split the check.

I'm glad we got a booth in the corner; we can sit next to one another and hold hands under the table without anyone knowing. It's a good thing you can eat pizza one-handed. I can't believe I let myself eat that; now I know my breath is going to be anything but fresh all night long. So much for making out during the movie.

"You full?" Jen asks.

I nod at him. "Yep. It was good, though."

"Yeah, this place is alright."

"Though the service was a little slow," I point out quietly.

"Not like we were in a rush or anything," Jen says with a little shrug.

"Yeah, that's true." I rub the back of his hand with my thumb and he gently squeezes my fingers.

"Having a good time?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say enthusiastically. "What about you?"

He gives me a big smile. "I am."

"Glad to hear it." I can't get enough of seeing him smile.

He looks around, then back at me and quietly asks, "So how many dates is this now?"

"I'm not sure," I have to admit. "I guess I lost count."

He lets out an almost relieved-sounding sigh. "Finally."

"Finally?" I ask. What, he didn't like how I kept track of how many times we'd been out?

He chuckles at me. "Not that it bothered me. Honest. I was just thinking it would be weird when we on our two hundred and twelfth official date."

"Two hundred and twelve, huh?" I ask. "Someone sure thinks highly of our chances."

"Well of course!" he says. "Don't tell me you think we won't make it that far."

"Well I, uh…" Crap. This is no time for insecurities, Takato! Tell him what he wants to hear! "Of course we'll make it that far. There's not a doubt in my mind."

His smile returns. "Glad to hear it. You had me worried there for a second."

"Well don't worry about it," I assure him. "After all it took for us to get together there's nothing in the world than can keep us apart."

He squeezes my hand again. "I'm really glad to hear you say that. To be honest I've worried."

"About what?" I ask.

"That we might not… you know…"

"…Work?"

He clears his throat. "I know I really want to be with you."

"And I really want to be with you too," I quickly point out.

He nods. "I'm glad. It's just that I don't know if our families…"

"I worry about that too," I admit. "I wish I knew how they'd take this."

"So do I." He looks down at the table.

So much for a good date. If we don't fix it soon it's going to get depressing. "I hope they don't try to keep us apart, Jen. But even if they do, I'll always choose to be with you no matter what."

That seems to lift his spirits a little, or at least enough that he looks at me again. "I'll always choose to be with you too."

I bow my head slightly. "Thank you." I needed to hear that, and I didn't realize how much until now. Jen wants to be with me. He doesn't care if I embarrass myself. He doesn't care about a bad date. Greasy pizza, a bad hair day, fresh breath, none of that is important. I don't have to impress him. I do want to make him happy though. I don't know how to do that, but whatever it takes I will make it happen.

"We've still got a little while before the movie, right?" he asks.

"Yeah. I guess we finished a little earlier than I expected," I tell him. "We can see if there's an earlier showing if you want."

"No, that's okay," he says. "I was thinking maybe we could do something until then."

"Like what?" I ask.

"I don't know," he says with a shrug. "Maybe visit an arcade or, uh, go for a walk in the park?"

That second suggestion sounds a lot better. "A walk would be great," I say with a smile.

"So should we go then?"

I nod excitedly. "Let's!"

We both get up, forcing me to let go of his hand for pretty much the first time since we sat down. I already miss it. Yes, Ruki, I can hear you loud and clear. I can't help myself though. My boyfriend is the best. I like holding my boyfriend's hand. I like it when my boyfriend says sweet things to me. And in case it wasn't already obvious I love being able to think the words "my boyfriend." It picks my mood up reminding myself that I, Takato Matsuda, have a boyfriend.

The sun is still up but it's definitely starting to sink a little lower in the sky. The street is getting a little less busy and there are fewer people walking along the sidewalk. The theater we go to is pretty close to Jen's place, so we're going to have a long walk back. Still, there should be plenty of time to enjoy the park. I like that park. It's got a bit of a reputation as a place for romantic liaisons. But so long as Jen and I aren't caught doing anything too incriminating our friends would think we're hanging out like usual. It's perfect for us.

About halfway there we're waiting at a crosswalk along with a few other people when I feel Jen's hand next to mine. The expression on his face doesn't change in the least but he carefully threads his left pinkie finger around my right one. It feels like my heart could stop and my breath catches in my throat. I turn my head to him a little faster than I intended, but don't say anything. I look at him and he looks back with a shy smile. That's all the reassurance I need. We're not holding hands, true, but it's like we almost are. I'm amazed he's being this bold. Not that I'm about to complain, even if I can feel my cheeks getting a little warm. No one else seems to notice.

We walk like that the whole rest of the way to the park. No one stares. No one whispers. I don't think anyone even notices. True, he isn't holding my hand, but it's still something, right? Yeah. It's more than something. It's everything. Even this is more than I could have dreamed of a year ago. Even before I knew why I knew I was so miserable. I felt so alone at times. I hated myself for how I felt about Jen. Even though it made me depressed thinking about it I never wanted to stop being around Jen. I was always happy to see him. It wasn't until I was alone again that I started feeling guilty.

I wished I understood why he made me feel the way I did. None of it made any sense. I knew I felt different about him than I did anyone else. I knew I felt different about guys than I did about girls. But I pushed it out of my mind. I never wanted to ask myself what it meant or why I felt that way. I was too afraid of the answers I would get. On some level I think I knew even then what the truth was. That's the reason I refused to ask myself why.

And then Jen came out to me. He had no idea how many nights I'd spent wishing I could understand what was wrong with me. Jen made that wish come true without ever knowing what it was. When he came out to me I finally considered the possibility that I simply wasn't into girls. That was when I started to have hope that something could actually happen between us. Slowly those fears I had started to disappear. The fear that he'd hate me for being this way. The fear that I'd be all alone. The fear that there was something wrong with me. Talking to him like we always had, knowing he was doing alright, my hope grew. Being gay didn't change who he was. It wasn't something to be afraid of. It wasn't wrong. And if I was the same way, then there wouldn't be anything wrong with that.

Of course it took me eight months to realize all that. It's not like I sat down one day and tried to figure it all out. For most of the time my mind was on other things. I tried not to think about it, but little by little it dawned on me. I'm sorry it took so long. If I knew it back when he first came out, we could be about to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We could have had so many more dates behind us. So many happy memories that we missed out on.

I'm happy knowing who I am. I'm happy being with Jen. I wouldn't give that up even if it meant I'd be normal like everyone else. I still worry, of course. I worry about the day that someone else finds out. I worry about what my family might think. I worry about people that might hate me for this. But after what Jen said in the restaurant, I won't worry about losing him.

"Something on your mind?" Jen asks suddenly.

"Just thinking," I say without looking his way. We're on one of the paths through the park now. Everything is tinted slightly orange by the sinking sun. I don't see anyone else around.

Jen notices it too and uncurls his pinkie finger from mine long enough to take my whole hand in his. "Want to sit?" he asks.

"Nah," I whisper. "Let's stand."

He nods and we stop there. It's quiet aside from a few birds nearby and the sound of traffic wafting over from the street. I look up at the sky: not a cloud in sight. I love days like this. "Takato?"

"Yeah, Jen?"

"I, uh…" He looks around again one more time to make sure we're really alone. "I love you."

I smile at him. Even though he's always the one who's willing to go for a kiss first, he still gets so nervous saying those three little words. "I love you too." To make my point I give him a quick kiss on the cheek.

Jen tries to hide it, but it's hard to miss that blush of his, framing a big, goofy grin. He doesn't say anything, but he does squeeze my hand. I squeeze back. I know it isn't much, but even this contact is more than I ever thought I'd have. I wish we could have more, and I wish we didn't have to hide. But for now, neither one of those is possible.

"You know…" Jen begins before quickly tapering off.

"What is it?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says. "Forget I said anything."

He's still blushing. Maybe even more than before. "Come on," I insist.

He sighs. "Well, I was thinking that… maybe…"

I wait for him to go on for a few seconds before I have to ask, "Maybe what?"

"Maybe we could watch a movie at my place instead," he suggests. He's looking well away from me, but by leaning a bit I can see his whole face is bright red. "I mean, since it's more comfortable," he adds. "Cheaper. Better food. Not to mention more, uh…"

"Romantic?" I ask quietly.

"Y-yeah. That." I hear him swallow. I don't think I've ever seen Jen this nervous. He shouldn't be. Sure, it'll be the two of us. Alone. In his apartment. But it's not like we've never watched a movie with only the two of us before. Of course we weren't dating at the time.

What am I thinking? Nothing's going to happen! It's a movie. That's all. At most we'll hold hands. Or kiss. Even going that far is being optimistic; although his family won't be around I'd be too nervous to do anything more than kiss him a little. It's stupid, I'm sure, but I'd be worried they could tell somehow. Plus I can't be out all night; mom and dad are expecting me back after the movie gets out. That's not enough time for anything to happen. I'm safe.

"Sounds like fun," I say after a few seconds. I sound more excited at the prospect than I probably should. It's only a movie, after all. Nothing more. Absolutely, positively nothing is going to happen.

No matter how much I might want it to.

"Great!" he says. "So should we, uh, go?"

"That's the plan," I say, smiling back.

He gives my hand one last squeeze before letting go. We turn toward his apartment and start walking. It's not the evening I had planned, but I think I like this one even better. There's something magical about—

Holy shit.

Okay, keep it together. Keep walking. Keep breathing. Don't let him see you sweat. Pretend it's not there. But how can I not? He's not even trying to hide it. This is not like when he brushed his hand against mine. Jen's hand is definitely right there on my butt and it is not going anywhere.

Jen's hand is on my butt. His hand's on my butt. Hand on my butt. What do I do? Holy shit. Holy shit. Keep walking. One foot in front of the other. This is really happening and it feels damn good. Jen's hand is on my butt and we're going to watch a movie in his empty apartment. This is stupid. This has to be stupid.

So what if it is stupid? I don't want to stop. I can't. Not now. Who knows when this chance might come again? It feels like I'll explode if I don't do something! So what do I do right now? I want Jen to know I'm good with this, right? Right. Well two can play at this game.

I feel Jen tense up beside me the very instant I place my hand on his hip. Neither of us stays like that for long, since soon enough we can see other people coming up the path. We separate, a little more than usual. My whole face feels like it's on fire, but a glance out of the corner of my eye tells me that he's every bit as bad.

I guess wishes do come true sometimes.