Story 7: Early Summer Constellation
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Author’s Note: This is a moving-in story. I used the soup curry from a neighborhood shop of mine as the model for the curry that Ushio makes in the story. It’s incredibly delicious, but the shop rarely ever makes it available on the menu, and so I don’t know when I’ll be able to eat it again…
First published in 2016 in Animate’s gift-with-purchase booklet for “Where Home Is.”
Translator Note: This story takes place after Volume 3 of Yes, No, or Maybe Half? It is a direct epilogue to the end of the volume.
Ushio had been a little worried because it had rained the day before, but fortunately this morning, it was sunny and clear. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and there was no argument that this was beautiful weather.
In Kei’s personal opinion, as long as the sky was 20 to 80% cloudy, it fell within the realm of clear weather for him. When Ushio considered this very broad definition of good weather, he thought that it was cute to have such a positive outlook. Ushio liked cloudy and rainy weather just fine, but they were moving into their new place today, and rain would definitely put a damper on things. A bright, clear day would be the perfect backdrop for the new life that they were starting together today.
The moving truck arrived at 9 am. Everything was packed up and ready to go, and the professionals finished loading a single apartment’s worth of belongings in no time. Ushio loaded the miscellaneous items and valuables in the rental car and headed to the new apartment. There was no elevator to the fifth floor of the building, and so it took more effort to move everything in, but the movers were still able to finish around noon. Ushio tipped them extra to cover their lunches for the day and sent them on their way.
The new bed and sofa he bought had arrived a few days earlier, and now that there were appliances and moving boxes filling the space, it turned the room from a magazine photo into a space that felt much more lived in, and it made Ushio happy. However, he couldn’t just stand there looking happy and doing nothing, so he fired himself up to do the unpacking. He tore away the packing tape that sealed the moving boxes and put away the contents as indicated, following the labels written in marker such as Summer Clothes, Shoes, Dinnerware, and so on. Manga… He could deal with that later. Ushio had left the balcony door open and the air conditioner off while he unpacked, but he found himself covered in sweat after a while. He wiped off his sweat with a towel around his neck as he opened up boxes, repeating the process and collecting the boxes to breakdown and tie together with some string.
Ushio only had a few belongings of his own that he had moved into the apartment, and everything else he mostly had to buy anew. It was nice to have a fresh start, but it didn’t quite feel like he was starting a new life, and so this experience of unpacking felt like a rite or a ritual, and it helped him to feel calm. Ushio’s work was to express images that he had in his head in a way that other people could understand, and that was why he wanted to treasure the emotions that he physically experienced.
And so Ushio finished the general things that needed to be done that would allow them to go about their new life here without too much trouble. He stretched himself out with his arms above his head and then went to raise the hanging roller shade that hung flush against the wall. Behind the shade was the entryway that connected the room to Ushio’s room on the other side, but a bookcase blocked his path at the moment, and he could only see wood paneling. He had no choice but to put on his sandals and go through the front door instead. He unlocked the door and went inside, but the human-shaped lump on the bed didn’t budge a muscle.
“Oi~ I’m done unpacking for now.”
The rolypoly under the covers stirred in response when Ushio called out to him.
“After I shower, I’ll head out again to turn in your keys, so you should get out of bed, okay? Minagawa will be coming over in the evening.”
“Don’t wanna,” came the complaint from the throw blanket. “I told you not to invite him over…”
“He helped you out a lot, didn’t he? You should thank him for it, Senpai.”
“You were the damn cause for his help!”
“And that’s why I’ve spent these days atoning for everything.”
Kei had ordered, I’m deigning to move here because of you, so you can take care of everything yourself. Therefore, Ushio did all the packing, found a mover, got quotations, contacted the utility companies, and prepared the change of address forms at the post office. And with the power of attorney that he carried, he planned to finish the move-out procedures and file the move for him with the residential registry. Ushio could freely control the use of his time and he was happy to do everything for Kei, but he was still impressed at how shamelessly determined Kei was to sleep peacefully through everything, delegating all the work to Ushio. He didn’t care about how to arrange the furniture, just saying, “You do it for me.” For the packing, he didn’t even have anything that he didn’t want Ushio to see or touch. This openness between them was less that they were dating and shared everything with each other, but more like a preadolescent boy telling his mom to do everything for him. But well, Ushio decided to think of it as his own exclusive privilege to take care of this Prince.
Even if it was only for a brief moment, Ushio still felt terrible that he had let go the hand of someone who trusted him this completely. But Kei had saved Ushio at a time when he had lost all hope, and Ushio would of course do the same for Kei if he ever needed it. They would probably continue to do so over and over again.
Ushio loaded the car with simple cleaning supplies and headed back to Kei’s old apartment. As a final farewell to the place, he wiped down and polished the empty apartment. It was something that he wasn’t able to do for his own house. As he stood in the space with nothing but walls, floors, and windows, strangely he was overcome with visions of the days that he had spent with Kei here up until this morning. He hadn’t come over to this apartment that frequently, but the afterimages of the times that he saw here were truly varied and distinct. The original tenant wasn’t even attached to this place that much, leaving the entire move-out process to Ushio, but perhaps he just had a stronger attachment to Ushio’s house that had been demolished. Kei never said anything about it, but Ushio clearly saw from time to time that Kei dearly missed that place that had been their home.
Kei sulked and cursed a lot, but his love was fundamentally very straightforward and honest. He loved what he loved and would surrender everything to them. Everything else was everything else, and they were essentially strangers to him. Ushio took up that sole spot inside of Kei’s heart, and Ushio was so grateful for it. He wanted to cherish Kei, giving him just as much love that Kei had given him, if not more.
“Wow, the apartment is in beautiful condition. I wish all of our tenants could treat their apartments this well.”
Of course, the flawless Kunieda-san would never carelessly leave a rented apartment in less than perfect condition. There wasn’t a single stain or nail on the walls, and the flooring was sparkling and shiny. Ushio signed the final inspection checklist without any trouble and returned the keys.
Ushio looked up at the apartment building as he left and once again felt a little sad. Even though a new life was waiting for him, when he thought about how he would never step inside here again, even if he passed by, it left a heavy feeling in his heart. He wasn’t moving very far and he could stroll by here if he was feeling nostalgic—but he was sure that he would never be back. He ever passed by in a taxi, he would place his forehead up to the window, but that was about it. This place was all that it would become for him.
Ushio returned the rental car and went back to his new home. He received a LINE message from Minagawa that said, I’m almost at the station.
“Hey, I’m going to meet Minagawa at the station. I’ll do the shopping for dinner tonight while I’m out. What do you want to eat?”
Ushio met up with Tatsuki, and they walked over to the supermarket.
“Did you bring something for us?” Ushio asked, commenting on the bag in Tatsuki’s hand.
“Yeah, a couple bottles of wine and soba, because you moved.”
“What kind of pairing is that?”
“I just happened to have a couple of unopened bottles at my place, so I brought them over. But I thought that maybe it wasn’t enough, so I bought the soba.”
Since there was soba, Ushio decided to make a soup curry for dinner. One with lots of spices and tang to it. He could fry up plenty of batterless summer vegetables, and it would be delicious. They could finish the meal with a curry soba by adding a soup base to the curry at the end and topping the soba with an egg.
Hmmm, but without any meat, he’ll probably complain… Maybe I’ll buy some beef for shabu-shabu and parboil it for the soup curry.
Ushio bought the ingredients that he needed along with some snacks and side dishes, and there was a beautiful sunset when they exited the store.
“Wow, the river is glittering~”
“Yeah, it’s nice.”
The canal was not what anyone in the right mind would call beautiful, but it took the light of the sunset and glistened across the water like a stream of sparkling honey. It was so bright that it made him squint his eyes. There were two supermarkets within walking distance in the area, but both of them were built within the last couple of years. This district couldn’t have been a great place for raising children, and Ushio wondered how his mother had lived when she was here.
Wasn’t it hard without an elevator? Didn’t she have to go far to do the shopping? Did she push a stroller as she walked down this very street? There were no answers to these questions to be found, but it didn’t pain him to think about them as he watched the scenery in front of him that he might have watched as a toddler.
“So you spent all day moving Kunieda-san’s stuff for him? But geez, it’s tiring enough just moving your own stuff! I gotta say that Kunieda-san’s pretty incredible though that he can leave it all to you. You really gotta trust someone a lot to do that!”
“I think so too.”
“Then again, he doesn’t have anyone else but you to spoil him, Tsuzuki-san~”
“But didn’t he ask you for a number of favors?”
“No way~ He was just using me as he saw fit! He called me a pawn to my face!”
“Those are just his usual insults. He calls me that too, but he doesn’t mean it.”
“Anyway, I still don’t know why you suddenly disappeared without a word, Tsuzuki-san.”
“Oh, sorry. I feel bad about it.”
Tatsuki didn’t actually sound serious, and so Ushio replied with a casual apology himself.
“Heyyy, that sounds kinda cold… I don’t know what happened, but it seemed like something really bad from what I could tell. I could see that it totally shook Kunieda-san to the core.”
Kei hadn’t talked about the time when Ushio was gone. He would berate Ushio all the time for giving him trouble and acting out of turn, yes, but he never talked about how pained, worried, or lonely he was. Kei probably thought that Ushio already knew all these things without having to say it.
“But it only lasted a short moment though. I was like, ‘Oh, is he upset about something?’ but then he was back to normal… Well, maybe it wasn’t normal, but like a third personality was born? Something like that. He even said that he wanted to eat at a ramen shop.”
Ushio had thought something similar. The Kei that had argued brilliantly at his father’s house was neither the polished and upright Kunieda-san nor the crude and acerbic Kei that unleashed profanity and contempt. He was a mix of both.
That was probably why even though his stomach had been twisted into knots in his stress and agitation, he could sit there and watch Kei, accepting his fate as he thought, There’s no helping it, I’m just going to fall in love with him over and over again, aren’t I? As if he could stand to let anyone else fall in love with this Prince.
“Well, it’s all okay I suppose,” Tatsuki concluded roughly. “I was really worried that you two might run away together and leave everything behind, but it’s fine as long as things are back to the way they were.”
He sure is sharp.
Ushio had thought about doing just that so many times in his head. But he knew that Kei would unconditionally say okay and do it for him, and that was why Ushio couldn’t bear to go through with it.
The rays from the sunset no longer blinded them, and it sank, all picturesque, a round and ripened red beyond the horizon.
Ushio saw a few of his father’s old paintings on the Internet. His grandmother had given him his father’s artist name, and when he searched for it, he was able to get a couple of hits. They were still lifes, so quiet that they felt stifling. The scenes weren’t anything special, but it made him think that no people would ever appear there, like the ocean or the grasses themselves were rejecting the presence of humans somewhere. Frankly speaking, Ushio didn’t care for the paintings in the slightest and that made him feel relieved.
But Ushio had found a blog post about how someone had bought one of the paintings a long time ago at an art gallery. They had heard nothing about the artist’s further works or whereabouts, and though it probably wouldn’t increase in value, they still kept it hanging in their collection. It made Ushio a little happy to read that. He didn’t think that genetics had made him choose the same field as his father, but it didn’t make him angry to hear that it could be a possibility.
“Oh, there’s a nice breeze now. It feels great~”
The surface of the river twinkled with the glow of the sweet dusk of evening, shimmering back and forth as if sifting through countless beads of light. The daytime had already felt like summer, but once the sun started to hide away, a light, cool breeze decided to make its appearance. Ushio even looked forward to the sticky, humid nights here. He didn’t particularly fuss about the seasons, but when he thought how summer would soon be here, he felt more excited about it than the spring, winter, or fall.
When they arrived at Ushio’s side of the apartment, Kei was stretched out on the sofa, and he complained, “I’m starving.” There were remnants of cup ramen in the kitchen.
“Yes, yes, I’ll go make it now.”
“Whoa~ You’ve already worked Tsuzuki-san like a dog all day, and that’s what you say to him? Don’t complain when it’s over~”
“Shut up! Dammit, why the hell did you come over? Get a clue, okay?”
“I was very kindly invited over.”
“Like I said, you can join in on the picture-in-picture.”
“But that’s not joining in on anything… Oh! Is this the secret passage you were talking about? Whoa! This is amazing~ The bookshelf really moves. It’s like a real ninja house! Tsuzuki-san, please make one for my place too!”
“Sure~ Just cover the cost of materials and treat me to barbecue two times, and I’ll do it.”
“Actually, I’m just gonna live here.”
“What the hell? Drop dead.”
While Ushio prepared their first dinner in their new home, Kei and Tatsuki watched the news on other stations and made comments about them.
“…Who the hell decided to cut the clip there? It needed 3 more seconds to be able to read the sign… The composition’s terrible. What the hell’s with the script. Ugh, I hate everything about it. Hasn’t this lady been announcing for three years now? When is she ever gonna correct her god awful delivery? She’s freaking horrible.”
“Oh, I heard that she’s having an affair with someone in their department. You know the sports news anchor, Hojou? Apparently they were kissing at work.”
“You really pick up nothing but stupid gossip everywhere.”
“I didn’t ask! People just tell me these things when I talk to them.”
“You probably met them through your worthless singles meetups anyway.”
“I meet people all over the place~ With all my personal connections, I can probably reach Miranda Kerr within 10 people.”
“Oh, I’ve heard about that,” Ushio said as he chopped vegetables. “Apparently you can draw a connection to almost anyone in the world within six degrees of separation.”
“No way, you’re kidding!”
“So your 10 people isn’t all that impressive,” Kei laughed scornfully.
To which Tatsuki weirdly insisted, “No, I can probably reach her in 5 people! Anyway, 6 people seems a little low for anyone in the world.”
“I don’t know all the details, but I do feel like it can be a small world sometimes.”
“Yeah, that’s true. It’s a crazy surprise when you find out that people you know already know each other.”
Speaking of which, before Kei and Ushio had met, they shared a common connection through Shitara. It was a small world that connected them through a surprisingly short string, but still, in order to bridge the number of people that separated them, it was a huge distance to close in order for the two of them to actually meet. And with their single meeting, it gave rise to more new strings—for example, between Kei and Ushio’s father and between Kei and his grandmother. They couldn’t choose where the ends of the strings connected, but ultimately, Ushio wished that the strings would wrap just the two of them together into a cocoon.
“Oooh~ I smell curry! Can I help with anything?”
“I’m almost done with the cooking, and now you ask?” Ushio chuckled wryly. “It’s nice and cool out, so how about we eat outside?” he suggested.
“On the balcony? Do you have enough room out there?” Tatsuki asked.
Ushio picked out a key from his stash of keys hanging on the wall. There was one that he hadn’t used yet.
“There’s the roof.”
Ushio unlocked the door that led to the rooftop of the building and hurried to carry a folding table, chairs, dinnerware, and their food up. He felt like this was all that he had been doing all day. Kei complained unhappily, “What a pain in the ass,” but once the night breeze hit him, his mood improved a little.
“All right! Congratulations on your new home! Cheers!”
“Why the hell are you leading the toast?”
“Now, now, now, now~ Thanks for the food~ Mmmh, this amazing! …Kunieda-san, you should eat all the eggplant, it’s good for you~”
“You just hate eggplant yourself.”
“I don’t really hate it. I just don’t see the appeal.”
“That means that you hate it!”
It was early in the night out in the city. They weren’t very high up, but if they looked closely, they could probably see stars here and there. Ushio tried it out, fixing his gaze on the dark navy sky, and soon he saw a few tiny pinholes of light. If he could thread some string to connect them, they would become constellations. But not the ones that someone else had decided—he would connect his own stars as he felt like and create his own picture. And then he would give it a name and a story of its own.
He could connect the edge of the heavens from far, far away to all the other things found in the outer edges. As Ushio let his mind wander among these thoughts, he realized that he wanted to make something. He didn’t know what it was yet exactly, but the ground water inside of him was slowly but surely welling up. He would always get a strange feeling whenever it reached his chest, as if a rush or an urge gave him this suffocating feeling or if something was coming that made him feel anxious and excited.
Kei had said, You wouldn’t be you if you don’t create things. Ushio felt like he could finally believe those words.
Tatsuki was filled with plenty of food and alcohol to fuel his upward trending energy. Even after cleaning up, putting all the things away, and locking up, his energy didn’t wane. He clung to the sofa where Kei had set up camp earlier in the day and begged, “Man, I feel great~ Please let me stay over for the night~!”
But before Kei could say, Fuck off, Ushio intervened and said, “Sorry, nope. You’ll probably have chances to stay over some other time, but for tonight, you’re going to have to go.”
“Ohhh~” Tatsuki suddenly got up and pointed between the two of them. “You’re gonna christen the place~ It’s your first night here, so you’re totally gonna christen the place~!”
“Yeah, we’re gonna christen it,” Ushio smiled easily and admitted. “What’s wrong with a couple christening their new home?”
“Oh, I see~”
Tatsuki seemed satisfied as he suddenly nodded obediently. And then for some reason he gave them a salute.
“It’s a sound argument, sir!”
“Good, good. Should I call you a taxi?”
“I’ll hail one on the street, sir!”
But since the building doors were locked, Ushio went with Tatsuki downstairs, hustled him into a taxi, and saw him off.
When Ushio returned to the apartment, Kei was standing there, completely red in the face. His cheeks and ears were flushed, and his mouth gaped open from the interruption to his cursing.
“Looks like there’s still half a bottle of wine left. Go put it in the fridge on your side, okay?”
Ushio tried to talk to him normally, but Kei gave him a hard smack on the shoulder.
“Ow. What was that for?”
“What was that for? You… Y-You totally startled me!” Kei protested, covering his mouth with a hand as he mumbled.
“What did I do?”
“You just suddenly said something like that.”
“He already knew everything, so I stated the obvious. Why are you so surprised?”
Is this reaction a mad one? Or is he not as mad as he seems? Probably a bit of both, Ushio concluded.
“I thought you were going to let him stay,” Kei whispered, dropping his forehead on top of Ushio’s shoulder. “You’re always soft on him. And you never give a hint of anything like that when it’s the three of us together…”
“Hmm, well, I was trying to be considerate, you know.”
But there were times when Ushio would think, Why am I trying to be considerate to the both of you? Can’t you two act a little more uneasy and awkward around each other?
“But it’s not all the time. I have my own priorities that I’m thinking about… Did you want to let him stay over?”
Kei’s bangs rustled against his shoulder as it rubbed back and forth and answered, No.
“Should we christen the place?”
This time the bangs moved up and down, tickling Ushio’s shoulder and his heart in reply.
After they christened their new home to their hearts’ content, they soaked in the bathtub together. They were terrible adults, bringing the leftover white wine with them to sip on in the warm bath. Ushio had cut the wine with soda water in a tumbler topped with ice, enjoying the chilled pops of bubbles inside his mouth. Kei was leaned back against Ushio, sitting between his legs, and when Ushio pressed the carbonated bubbles still popping on his tongue to the back of Kei’s neck, Kei let out a shriek in a weird voice.
“Stop that, stupid!”
Two pairs of legs tangled together at one end of the bathtub. A warm body rested inside his arms. Water droplets dangled from the earlobe in front of him. These sights were everything that he knew well, and everything that he was seeing for the first time.
It would all start today, from this place. A new home, a new place to return to.
They finished their bath and stood side by side on the balcony, cooling off in the night breeze. Ushio leaned against the railing and looked up at the sky. He found a number of stars, planets; he traced them in the air and connected them freely with his fingertip.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.