Story 4: Other Short Stories – Part 3
Weather Forecaster Boyfriend
“The weather today is a complete reversal from yesterday. You can really feel the bite of the winter cold.”
“They do say that the start of spring cycles between three cold days and four warm days. The weather has truly seen some wild fluctuations.”
“Very true. This is the period where seasons come and go depending on the clash between the winter and spring pressure fronts. Kunieda-san, were you caught out in the cold with a spring coat?”
“Oh, I am quite all right. I wore my winter coat today.”
“To all our viewers out there, please be sure to follow Kunieda-san’s example and check the weather forecast frequently. Here we have tomorrow’s forecast for the Kantou region…”
Well, yeah, he watched the weather forecasts. He had to be aware of the weather—after all, it was part of his job. He had to come up with 2 or 3 lines of chatter to exchange with the weather announcer every day as a segue into the weather forecast, and it was actually quite difficult. There was the possibility of saying something incorrect unless he took the time to prepare some small talk; for example, The wind was strong today, but you could feel the warmth of spring in the air, or For a few hours I didn’t see a single cloud in the sky around the Asahi TV building, etcetera, etcetera. However, the decisions related to Kunieda-san’s attire weren’t made using the guidance of the weather forecasts.
“I don’t think you’ll need a scarf today.”
Kei had woken up and around the time he ate his breakfast, Ushio made a comment, and Kei had given a half-hearted grunt in reply. He hadn’t paid attention to what Ushio said; he just followed what he suggested. And Ushio hadn’t been wrong.
“I think you should be okay with a light coat.”
“You should protect against the cold more.”
Pretty much like this. Kei figured that Ushio had listened to the weather forecast as he stood in the kitchen preparing breakfast (in other words, while Kei was still sleeping).
But then one day, there was a rain shower when Kei was outside on assignment. The temperatures had been fluctuating up and down, but the weather itself had been nice and clear for a while. And then they had an unexpected rainfall.
“Did the weather forecast say anything about rain today?” the director grumbled from the shelter of an underground shopping center. It was an early morning schedule that had required Kei to head directly to the location from home, but he had been too busy to check the news. He had thought that it would be fine because Ushio hadn’t said anything. When Kei returned home that night, he complained at him.
“Oi! Tell me if it’s going to rain!”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“The weather for the day.”
“How am I supposed to know? I never check the weather.”
“Because I work from home.”
Yeah, Kei knew that. But still.
“Haven’t you been telling me when I need to dress warmer or when I don’t…?”
But it was true that Ushio’s advice for Kei’s clothing was mainly related to the temperature and not the rainfall. So had it simply been because of the consecutive clear days?
“Oh, that,” Ushio answered lightly. “I wasn’t doing the weather forecast. You were.”
Was he saying that Kei gave him the forecast while he was barely awake and mumbling? He didn’t remember gaining any superpowers.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ll tell you if you can say very cutely, ‘Please tell me♥’”
“Why the hell should I act cute for you when I didn’t ask you to look for it!?”
“So hurry up and tell me,” Kei said impatiently.
Ushio laughed and replied, “It’s not really a forecast. Maybe more like a divination? It’s closer to fortune telling.”
“I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Yeah, they’re just things that I noticed. When I wake up and see Kunieda-san’s sleeping positions.”
“Even with the air conditioner running, there are still little things that make a difference. For example, when you’re a rolypoly bundled under the blankets and covers, the temperature won’t rise much over the day. When it’s just the blanket, it’ll be a little warmer. When you fling them all off, it’s a nice spring day. If you only have your feet sticking out, you won’t need a scarf. I never really checked if I was right or not, but you would follow what I said, so I figured I wasn’t too far off.”
So it turned out that it wasn’t much of anything. …No wait, it was freaking embarrassing. Especially when he thought about how he was being observed in such a defenseless state. But it wasn’t like Ushio had done anything in particular to Kei, which made it harder to complain at him. Plus it was out of the question to wake up earlier to get ready for work.
“See, I thought you’d get embarrassed, so that’s why I didn’t say anything.”
“Shut up. Don’t patronize me.”
“You’re so cute~”
“Shut up. I want dinner.”
“I just told you what you wanted to know~”
“S-h-u-t- -y-o-u-r- -m-o-u-t-h!!”
And so what would the Kunieda forecast be for tomorrow?
(First published in a blog post as a short story for spring in March 2018.)
At the end of April, Kei suddenly handed him a pedometer. A pedometer, completely ordinary in every way; no matter how he looked at it, it was a plain old pedometer.
“What’s this?” Ushio naturally asked.
“For you,” Kei briefly answered.
“For me? Uh, but why?”
“A birthday present?”
“Uh, it’s not my birthday.”
It was clear that from the questioning tone of voice that it was nothing but an excuse that Kei had made up on the spot.
“It’s good for your health.”
“I never thought I’d hear those words come out of Kunieda-san’s mouth.”
“My health results are all A’s,” Kunieda-san bragged, congratulating himself. “If a grade of S existed above an A, naturally it would be all S’s.”
“Even though you’re pretty much an M.”
“Ugh, I freaking hate your stupid dirty jokes like that! Whatever, just carry it with you wherever you go. Your task is to get 8,000 steps per day, got it?”
If he were given an Apple Watch, that would be one thing, but this was just a cheaply made device with no gimmicks, a rarity in these times. Even if it was a gift from his boyfriend, to be honest, he couldn’t bring himself to be enthused about it.
“What? You don’t look happy.”
“It’s not that I’m unhappy, I just don’t get it? I mean, it’s not like I can catch Pokemon on it. There’re no bumps, it doesn’t vibrate, and there’s no remote either.”
“I told you to quit with the dirty jokes, dammit!!”
“Awww, I was just saying that it’d be nice if it had a massage function, that’s all. What were you thinking about, Kunieda-san?”
“You’re so freaking transparent!” With his face beet red, Kei slapped the table and issued Ushio an order. “Anyway, you better walk. Even if it rains, even if it’s windy out, even if it’s so humid that your hair gets out of control. 8,000 steps per day is your minimum target.”
What was with this “task” and “target” stuff? Sure, he had heard that people should walk 8,000 steps per day to maintain their health, but every year Ushio would see the doctor for his annual checkups, and he hadn’t had any problems.
Ushio wasn’t satisfied by the explanation, but he started to take walks with the pedometer on him anyway. His work fundamentally kept him at home at a desk, and so he already knew that he had to consciously make an effort to get up and move his body. He liked to exercise, and when he felt like it, he would go jogging and such, but during the last spurts before his deadlines, most days he would barely make it out to the nearest supermarket or convenience store (because he couldn’t skip out on his duties taking care of the prince).
That was why Ushio figured that it was fine to set a rule for himself and continue this new daily routine, but as he walked the promenade along the canal, he did think, What the hell is he thinking? Ushio saw a red light up ahead and relaxed his pace, and for no particular reason, he looked over at the water. The reflection of the sky and buildings flickered on the surface, the colors dull and tepid.
Suddenly a thought entered his head, and Ushio immediately grabbed the handrail and bent over to look down into the water. The action was so abrupt that it startled the people and dogs passing by on the street, but Ushio didn’t pay any attention to them.
Did I gain weight or something?
Uh, but it wasn’t like his clothes fit tighter. And he hadn’t needed to change the hole he used on his belt. Yeah, he had nothing. However, just like how there were things about Kei that Ushio knew better than him, there were naturally things about Ushio that Kei knew better than Ushio. Maybe Kei had noticed a change (something that he wasn’t happy about), but he couldn’t say it directly to him, so he decided to give him the pedometer? No way, Ushio immediately told himself. That would never happen. If Kei was unhappy about something, he would clearly say it. However, from Ushio’s point of view, sometimes Kei could have a strange shyness or delicate side to him… With some slight doubts in his heart, Ushio faithfully continued his 8,000-step daily routine. Setting aside the issue of body image, he did it simply because it felt good to get out for exercise. Even if it pained him to step away from work sometimes, after spending an hour walking outside, getting some sun, feeling the breeze, and working up a sweat, any useless thoughts in his head would be cleared out, and he felt refreshed. Maybe because of the fresh starts between his head and body, he felt like his concentration had improved, and by the time he settled into his walking routine, Ushio was no longer concerned if Kei had any motives or not behind all of this.
And then it was August. Kei came home with a large gift bag looking proud of himself.
“Hey, don’t touch it.”
Kei placed the bag on the table and pulled out a box from it. The wrapping paper had the words Congratulations, Goals Accomplished, and Asahi TV HR Department on it. Goals? As in ratings? But from the HR Department? That was a bit strange… But Kei ignored Ushio’s questioning looks and tore into the paper without hesitation to lift the lid off of the box. Inside was a large beautiful muskmelon.
“Oi, what’s the congratulations for?”
“For accomplishing health goals.”
“Racked up 8,000 steps a day for 3 months.”
Ushio finally figured out Kei’s motivations behind the pedometer.
“So you used me, huh?”
“It’s all self-reported, so there were people who completely made up their numbers, but I reported all my results correctly every day. And now my hard work has come to fruition.”
Uh, but my feet were the ones that racked up the numbers though?
“But you used a proxy.”
“It’s their own mistake for using such a faulty system in the first place. But next year they’re switching to an app.”
Kei could probably walk the 8,000 steps per day normally between his commute to work and the assignments for his job. However, he holed up at home on the weekends, which meant he couldn’t clear the “every day” requirement, so he had made Ushio go out and walk, and then he secretly checked the pedometer every day to get the numbers.
What the hell, here I was worrying about what was wrong with me.
“You little bastard.” Ushio pinched both of Kei’s cheeks.
“Ow! What? Of course, I’ll split it with you, okay? You can have the seeds.”
“Split it with me? Why are you acting like you’re doing me a favor? Should I go out and buy you something bumpy that vibrates?”
Well, Ushio had learned to enjoy his walks, and he wasn’t seriously mad at Kei, but he made sure to collect on Kei’s debt with his body. When he woke up the next morning—well, the next afternoon—it was Saturday, and Ushio decided to make a luxurious adult version of melon cream sodas while the sun was still overhead.
He cut the melon in half and used a spoon to scrape out the portion with the seeds that the prince had generously bestowed him. He filtered it through a strainer and collected the juice from the richest part of the melon attached to the seeds. He mixed the melon juice with club soda and whiskey and topped it off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Of course, they would eat the rest of the melon sliced.
Yeah, that looks delicious.
It was a transparent amber color with a soft hint of green.
However, Ushio did feel that it lacked a little something. He missed the cream sodas from the old-style coffee shops that were a bright electric green with a Maraschino cherry on top. Despite the artificial color, it sparkled with an undeniable charm no matter how much he wanted to resist it. It kind of reminded him of Kunieda Kei, actually.
“Oiiii, I prepared snacks.”
Ushio called out towards the bed. He knew that Kei would refuse to go, but tonight, he would try inviting him out for a walk together. The ice inside the glass rocked, almost as if laughing.
(First published in Shousetsu Dear Plus Autumn 2018 issue 20th Anniversary Extra Short Story Fair in September 2018.)
Expectations for the Near Future
(Note: This short story contains references and spoilers for Volume 2 of “Side Profiles and Irises.”)
“I heard that China’s implementing AI announcers. You better watch out, Kunieda-san.”
“Why the hell would my job be taken from me by the likes of AI? It can’t even come close to my looks.”
“I don’t know, I feel like looks are something you can actually improve upon.”
“Plus AI won’t ever trip over its words~”
“I don’t trip over my words either. Why are you even trying to say to me, you bastard?”
“Nothing much~ Just that you tripped a little over ‘Department of Defense’ the other day. I heard you start to say ‘Department of Da Fence.’ Right, Nacchan?”
“Huh? Uh, I-I dunno…”
“Oi, Kitarou, what are you hemming and hawing for?”
“I’m sorry, you didn’t trip over it. You really, really didn’t.”
“Anyway, I’m the one always saving this idiot’s ass from his stupid gaffes just a breath away from causing a broadcast incident. Just the other day…”
“We’re taking a point of personal privilege here, but today we have results for a survey topic I’d like to introduce. The topic is: Announcers who would like –blank- for Christmas. …Minagawa-san, what do you think the survey question is?”
“Hmm, maybe genetic material?”
“We are not speaking of a ghost town. All right, let’s reveal the answers.”
“But how was I supposed to guess ‘Announcers who like surprises for Christmas’? What kind of survey question is that~?”
“Congratulations on first place, Announcer Minagawa.”
“Oh, thank you~”
“Yeah, I’d say you create surprises every day. Or maybe more like accidents? Scandals?”
“Ugh, you don’t have to make your blunders in front of me! Oh, I know, we should switch you out for an AI.”
“Wha? But wouldn’t that eliminate the meaning of your existence then, Senpai?”
“I don’t go on TV just to save your damn ass!”
“Seriously, if they ever expand the AI announcer concept, I think they should broadcast exchanges like this one.”
“Oh, yeah, it does feel very human, doesn’t it…”
“Oh, right. With an AI Kunieda-san, there’s no need to fix any bed hair or wipe away any drool.”
“Are you still on that? Give it a rest already.”
“But an AI Kunieda-san won’t act all cute, trying to hide his wool underwear and stomach warmer from me~”
“AI doesn’t even wear wool underwear!”
There was no need for underwear to begin with.
(First published as a blog post celebrating additional printings of “Yes, No, or Maybe Half~” in November 2018.)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.