Story 7: Love Don’t Come Easy
Author’s Note: This is the sequel to “JUST LIKE HONEY.” I was finally able to write about their second time together. It was fun and refreshing to write about a Kei who hadn’t started thinking that the two of them would live together. I felt all over again how I would love to write about all the different times that these two will have together from now on.
“Because you’re kind to everyone, Kunieda-kun.”
A voice said.
“And I can’t possibly be a good match for you.”
He wasn’t sure if he mumbled something to make her feel better, like That’s not true or Don’t say that, or if he just said nothing.
“…Besides, it’s not like you even truly need me.”
He didn’t wake up very well. He had been in a faint, hazy dreamworld up until a moment ago, and when he recognized the alarm from his cell phone, he released a low, rumbling groan that sounded like a hungover bear. He had only recently been released from his nightmares where he screwed up on air, but now he had to dream of something gloomy again. He turned off his alarm and checked his email and Yahoo News while lying in bed. No major news stories had happened that would jolt him awake from his lingering drowsiness. He stared blearily at the headline about a shocking celebrity wedding that was marked as new and thought about the dream that he just had. Was the dream merely just a dream? Or was it based on something that had happened in the past? He wasn’t quite sure. He felt like he might have had such a conversation with someone he had dated before… Or rather, that was the pattern of most of his breakups. The last time was when he was in college—so a ridiculously long time ago.
Well, whatever. He crawled out of bed, but instead of heading towards the bathroom, he headed for the living room instead. He turned on the laptop that he had left on his coffee table and replayed the DVD inside, skipping through the beginning until he reached the part with the blackboard. It was a few minute video that drew out in chalk a sketch of a TV, followed by the passing of the four seasons. Ushio had made this video as a sendoff for Announcer Kunieda. He watched it again. This time in slow motion. And again. He paused on any shot that made him curious, which made the few minute video stretch on for something longer. Before he realized it, quite a bit of time had passed. He thought, I have to get ready, I have to go to work, and he replayed the video one more time for the nth time that he insisted would be the last. It was starting to become a daily routine. He wanted to loosen his facial muscles, but for some reason he couldn’t, and his mouth kept twitching. No one was here to see him, but maybe the reason he couldn’t express his happiness was because he wasn’t used to showing his emotions as they were.
…Ah, it ended again. He hadn’t gotten tired of it, but it wasn’t enough. Was there a director’s cut of this? Or even the raw footage before it was edited together? Oh, what about the storyboards? Did pencil sketches on the back of a daily pad calendar exist somewhere? That Ushio had drawn by hand? With a concentration and seriousness that gently rejected any and all interference like that night before the premiere of The News? When Kei imagined this, he wanted to turn into a pinwheel firework and spin all around the place. It wasn’t just positive emotions either, but little by little, confusion, embarrassment, and shock lurked underneath, and as a result, he turned into a curry that had been over-complicated and now it just tasted weird, but neither in a good or a bad way. His body wanted to act out, but he used his rationalization to restrain himself as he closed his laptop.
If he were to ask for the raw footage or the storyboards, how would Ushio answer him back? He would probably smirk and tease him with a What? You really like it that much? He would probably put on an act and go I wonder what I should do~ Yeah, it was impossible, he could never say it. But even if Kei was frustrated with the Ushio in his head, he wasn’t seriously angry about it.
It was strange. He had lived all this time without knowing that he had all these complex folds and shadows and hues inside of him. Love and hate—none of it had mattered. That was all that Kei had thought of the world, but then in the blink of an eye, the lines had increased, and he felt like he had suddenly become three dimensional. Like the flowers that had bloomed on the blackboard. Like the ocean that had expanded and spread. The development of such things was still too much for him to handle right now, but would he get used to it?
He finished getting ready for the morning, and just before he left for work, his cell phone notified him of a new message. That it came from his personal cell phone was enough to make his heart pound out of his chest. He couldn’t leave it alone and immediately opened it. He found a short message that said, Tonight is Hamburg steak. He muttered without thinking, “Are you my mom again?” Or maybe his wife? No, no, no, no, hell no… at least it should have been so. He clapped at his face a few times, not hard enough to cause any redness, then reined in his facial muscles before he replied to the message, With a fried egg on top.
The mid-April night breeze had both a chill and a warmth as it fluttered through his half-dried hair. He felt like he hadn’t seen any cherry blossoms in person this year. But he had to have seen them, since the trees were planted everywhere that there was space, but Kei was probably too preoccupied to have noticed them. He had only seen the cherry blossoms on the blackboard this spring, and that felt pretty nice to him too. He checked to see that no one was around and shifted his facemask to take a very deep breath. The midnight air had a bit of sloppy sweetness to it.
“Welcome back. You got in pretty late.”
“I stopped by my place first.”
“I’ll go cook them up now. How many do you want?”
Kei stared at the ground meat patties lined up on the tray. They were a neat oval shape with a slight depression pressed in the center. They were on the larger size, but they would shrink when they were cooked. But two seemed too much. But hmm…
“How about I cook three, and we share half of one?”
Kei turned his face to accept the suggestion that was floated next to him, and his gaze encountered a smile.
“…What?” Kei grumbled.
“Nothing. It’s just funny how serious you got thinking about Hamburg steak.”
“It’s not like there’s a problem with it. Quit staring at me.”
“There’s no problem with it at all. It makes me happy. But let me look at your face some more.”
Ushio grabbed Kei’s chin as he tried to look away and pulled it back into position. His tone of voice was nonchalant, but there was a firm strength in his hand, and it scared Kei a little. However, it didn’t piss him off, and the sudden touch didn’t make him disgusted either. He couldn’t believe that it didn’t make him angry to have someone touching him this casually.
“I haven’t seen your true face all that much yet.”
“I’m not a damn spectacle.”
He felt filled with shame, like Ushio could remove his clothes with just his eyes, and Kei grabbed the facemask and glasses from the pocket of his tracksuit and put them back on. He felt safe and calm again with his armor equipped.
“What the, hey!”
Kei left the kitchen and sat down on a chair at the small dining table. It was fine to wait here, right? Ushio didn’t try to detain him. He just shrugged his shoulders lightly and went back to his cooking. But he did complain, “What are you getting embarrassed for after all this time?” It wasn’t a lot of time at all. Not even close. He wasn’t even used to coming up to the second floor here. Kei looked around restlessly, and as usual, Ushio called out to him with a timing like he had eyes at the back of his head.
“If you want to watch TV like last time, feel free to turn it on,” he said. “But in return, don’t look around the place too closely. I’ve been a bit busy, and I’ve only done some quick cleaning.”
Kei thought that it looked fine. The place wasn’t sparkling clean, but it was tidy, and that feeling was so very Ushio that it made Kei feel reassured. He took Ushio up on his offer and picked up the TV remote for now, flipping through the channels.
“Do you have Sky Perfect or WOWOW here?”1
“I don’t have that kind of luxury.”
The sound of sizzling meat overlapped Ushio’s voice.
“Do you have something you want to watch?”
It would be a better distraction if he had more options, that was all. In the end, he picked a studio talk show that was fairly bland and innocuous. He listened to the sound, his head propped up on an elbow, and thought how weird it was. Kei couldn’t relax like this unless they were alone together. This was what he had wanted, but he didn’t know what to do with himself if there was nothing playing in the background. No, it was more like his nerves wouldn’t last. And while his mind wandered around, unexpectedly his five senses seemed to be in perfect condition—he reacted to the sounds and smells coming from the kitchen, and his stomach stood on standby. Now that he thought about it, maybe he should do something to help? Kei gazed steadily at Ushio’s back as he bustled at the stove. Ushio recognized that Kei didn’t care for people who read too much into his actions, but maybe Ushio felt different from what he let on? Maybe he was thinking, Don’t just sit there…?
No way, he’s not me. If he wanted something from me, he’d just say it.
Ushio had called out at him with perfect timing, and Kei shouted out in surprise. His name. Ushio just used his first name, and it flustered him. Because it was only the second time that Ushio used it.
“Is it really that surprising? The food’s almost done, so take out the beer from the fridge for me. If you want a cold glass for it, I have some in the freezer.”
“Oh, okay, got it.”
While Kei completed the request, he took the opportunity to casually (by his own estimation) take a look at the contents of the refrigerator. There were a number of beers from several different brands, so maybe he had no particular preference. And then there were eggs, milk, ham, natto… just the basic normal staples. Through the transparent crisper drawer, there was the red of tomatoes and the green of cucumbers. In the freezer, there were a few frozen fried rice entrees from the supermarket and a bunch of side dishes wrapped in plastic, probably prepared ahead of time. Kei had satisfied his curiosity and pulled out the items he needed before closing the door.
“Did I pass?”
“Well, I do try to cook proper meals for myself,” Ushio said. He transferred the Hamburg steaks onto plates and poured red wine into the frying pan to deglaze it.
“Whatever, I wasn’t acting like a mother-in-law, okay?”
“It’s just pure curiosity, I get it. It’s a peek into how someone lives.”
Ushio cooked off some of the wine and added Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and a small dash of soy sauce. Apparently that was the sauce that Ushio chose to pair with the dish. The Kunieda family used ketchup and a bit of honey.
“I still don’t know anything about you, so I’m curious too… Is this sauce okay with you? I can also make ponzu mixed with grated daikon if you want.”
“I don’t have any garlic, but I’ll make it for you next time. Hmm, but you should call me over to your place next. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know where you live exactly.”
It didn’t particularly bother Kei if Ushio were to come over at this moment. He didn’t care if Ushio saw his manga, snacks, or junk food. However, it had never once crossed his mind to invite someone over to his apartment. He pictured Ushio sitting on his sofa, Ushio sleeping in his bed, Ushio peeking into his refrigerator—Kei only had to say “Okay” and he could see those scenes with his own eyes. It could even be part of his daily life. But it seemed like a crazy fantasy to him because he had never let anyone get this close to him before. He had thought that there was nothing strange about this particular way of life of his. Regardless of the pros and cons of the current situation, it would be difficult for anyone to imagine the serious possibilities of someone else other than themselves—let alone the fairy tale ending for children where that partner fully accepted their true selves and allowed them to be who they were. Anyway, the two of them were still at the beginning stages of all of this.
Kei didn’t give any time frame and just answered, “One of these days.”
“Okay, and now it’s ready.”
Ushio’s Hamburg steak looked like it came off of a family restaurant menu. It would be nearly indistinguishable if it had come on a gaudy cow-shaped sizzle platter. The visuals were perfect with some shiny glazed carrots, sauteed green beans, and lightly grilled potatoes with skin on. Plus a beautiful fried egg with a shiny yolk that topped off Kei’s plate.
“Are you a skip-the-white-rice type of person when you drink?”
“I’m a gotta-have-white-rice person no matter what.”
They sat at the dining table for a late-night meal. Maybe because his blood had concentrated in his stomach while he ate, but Kei didn’t feel flustered even though they were face to face. Ushio asked him, “How was work?” and Kei spoke with great fervor (basically hurling insults) about the college professor who was their guest today, how he was a pompous ass and incredibly ignorant about anything outside of his expertise. Ushio made jokes from time to time and listened happily.
Ahh, this was the mood. It was strangely nostalgic, and Kei felt relieved. The easy banter from when they were Owari and Tsuzuki was revived between them. The characters were both the same, so maybe it was only natural. Their relationship had been built on a lie, and it was more precarious than the clay that the figures were made from. Kei had struggled with the guilt and the fear that he felt, but looking back, it had been an important time to him. Because once a magic trick had been revealed, it would never be the same again.
“Do you want any more?” Ushio asked when they finished eating.
“I’ve had enough.”
“Okay, so we’re done here. I’ve put out a new toothbrush next to the sink. It’s the one with a white handle. Same as the cup.”
Kei brushed his teeth like Ushio suggested, and then he watched Ushio’s back as he washed the dishes.
“Okay, I’m going to shower now.”
There was a slight awkward silence before Kei answered. He wondered what Ushio would say about it, but Ushio just headed for the bathroom. Eventually he heard the sound of water running, different from the sound just now. Oh, it was like everything was falling into place. After all, there was probably only one thing that they could do after this. But Kei would be happy to play Sevens or Momotetsu 20-year mode before they got to it.2
Kei had no intent to refuse him. He really, really didn’t. He repeated these excuses to both Ushio who wasn’t here and to himself. If he didn’t like it, he could just go straight home if he wanted, and there was no better proof than staying put in his seat right here.
What am I getting cold feet for? We already did this once before.
But then his brain remembered that one particular time and flailed in disbelief, Huh, we’re doing that again? Kei didn’t dislike it. He had been scared and embarrassed, but Ushio had been gentle with him. Kei had been happy about it, probably. But it still scared him. He had felt such a resistance to exposing his true face that actually he felt pretty impressed with himself that he was able to do as much as he did that night. His head had been preoccupied with the excitement and satisfaction left over from the magic of the broadcast, and so he had no brain capacity to give any thought about sex too deeply.
Ugh, there’s no use thinking about it at this point. I’m already here. Buck yourself up.
Kei crossed his arms and closed his eyes, and on the spot, a memory with lots of bare skin floated into his mind. He became frantic and shook his head to chase it away. It was important for Kei to have a routine at times like these, and he wished that he had brought his accent dictionary with him.
The back of his eyelids suddenly dimmed, and when Kei opened his eyes, the room was now dark. It wasn’t completely dark because the light at the stairs was still on.
“What are you doing!?”
Kei complained at Ushio’s silhouette which was slightly larger than usual with the towel over his head. Everything was bad for his heart.
“Uh, I called out to you a couple times, but you seemed to be absorbed with the TV, so I thought that I should go with the mood.”
Kei had completely driven the TV from his thoughts, and he finally noticed that the show had changed.
“And it turned out to be a famous property where a death had occurred…”
What the hell was this? The screen showed a simple shot of candles with flickering flames in an over-decorated set.
“I don’t need that kind of mood!” Kei rushed to turn off the TV.
“Huh? Do you hate those kinds of things? Are you scared of them?”
“It doesn’t matter because they don’t exist.”
He wasn’t pretending to be brave; he really didn’t believe in them (he thought that it was a ridiculous genre for even presenting the option that they existed in the first place). Ushio answered, “Well, that’s boring,” and closed the subject. And then it was silent. Crap, he had shut off the background noise himself, and now it was incredibly quiet. But it was far too unnatural to turn the TV on again. While Kei was unable to touch the remote, Ushio came up next to him. He could smell and feel the hint of warmth and moisture from the shower.
“Then should I create a different mood for us?”
But the tone of his voice was still bright.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Like drinking some more.”
“I’ve already brushed my teeth.”
“That’s true. And I wouldn’t want you falling asleep on me again.”
“Right back at you.”
Ushio brought the tip of his nose right up to Kei’s ear, and Kei couldn’t hide the sudden stiffening of his body.
“So you showered before you came here. You smell nice… Oh, I see, when you’re Kunieda-san, you have product in your hair, and you smell different with that scent mixed in.”
There was a faint scent of mint toothpaste from Ushio’s breath as he talked. Ushio called out “Kei” again, and Kei felt like he was getting sweaty behind his ears.
Crap, what do I do? Now I’m going to smell like sweat.
But that uneasiness disappeared when Ushio took his hand to pull him to his feet and said, “Let’s go over there.” Kei wanted to say something, but he didn’t have the slightest idea what. It was like a clip clamped his throat closed, and his voice wouldn’t come out. But was this okay? If he gave up and surrendered his control like their first time together, would it proceed down the same course where Ushio took the reins regardless of how nervous he was? Yeah, the script should say here, Act natural and go with the flow.
“Where are your glasses?” Ushio asked as he laid Kei down on the bed.
“In my pocket.”
“Of your pants? Let’s take them out so that they don’t get broken.”
Kei couldn’t even think beyond the next second, and yet Ushio was thoughtful enough to think of such a thing. Kei told himself silently, Right, I should just stop thinking about things. His head had been too full to worry about anything last time, so this time he should clear his mind out instead. Ushio would take the utmost care in anything he did (and that pissed Kei off a little), and look, here he was, placing his hand on Kei’s cheek, letting him know in advance that he was going to kiss him. Kei’s job here was simple. He just had to close his eyes at the perfect time—not too close and not too far away. Not yet, he was still too far, hmm, now, that felt about right. Just when Kei closed his eyes with perfect poise, there was the sound of something vibrating on the table. That wasn’t the sound of poltergeists, right?
“…Oi—” Kei said.
Ushio heaved a sigh. “Why did it have to be at a time like this again?”
He sat back up and stared down at Kei without moving. The room was dark, and Kei couldn’t really see his expression.
Ushio mumbled a question, but it was too soft for Kei to hear it. Kei asked him, “What?” but Ushio shook his head instead.
“It’s nothing. Sorry, can you wait a sec?”
Ushio answered the phone that had been vibrating on the table and said things like “Huh?” and “Wait, it can’t be.” The tone was very different from the previous conversation that had interrupted them before. It sounded like there was some serious trouble.
“Let me turn on my computer and check it again. Do you mind if I hang up? I’ll call you back in about 5 minutes. …Yes, alright, I’ll talk to you soon.”
Ushio ended the call, took a short breath, and apologized in a more serious tone.
“Sorry, the client says that they can’t open the files I sent them, so I need to go check on some things.”
That was truly all that Kei could say. Ushio returned to the bed, gave a quick ruffle to Kei’s hair, and the room fell silent again. He seemed to want to say something or to ask something.
“It might take a while, so you should sleep.”
Kei had to say something. Not a meaningless fixed phrase, but words that would lift Ushio’s mood. If Kei was at work, he could come up with something immediately, but with his mouth half open, Kei could only nod his head in response. Ushio turned around and headed for the stairs.
Like he could sleep just because Ushio told him to. His mind and body had suffered a disappointment, and they still reeled from the events before the interruption, as if subject to the law of inertia, and he couldn’t settle down.
Wait, don’t tell me that we’ll be interrupted like this every time, and we’ll go days, weeks, months, and years unable to satisfy each other…? And we’ll live out the rest of our natural years staying 98% chaste, unhappily ever after?
No way, that was impossible. Kei slumped over on his side, and he could hear a faint voice talking. Maybe because it was late at night or maybe because the situation was that serious, but Ushio’s voice sounded much lower than usual, and Kei couldn’t discern anything that he said. He worried, Is he okay, but it wasn’t like Kei could do anything to help him. If it was something like painting a figure, he could help out, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
They had overcome a number of hurdles to arrive at a happy and exciting relationship, but Kei felt like things weren’t going as well as he had expected. Alone in the bed, the frustration and hesitation that he couldn’t fling away coiled around him, and Kei didn’t know what to do as he wondered how to deal with himself and his feelings.
He tossed and turned in the bed, bothered by his thoughts, and eventually he fell asleep. By the time he came to, the room was filled with light. He didn’t know the exact time, but there was plenty of morning sunlight spilling through the gap of the curtains. Kei cursed at himself for being heartless, but he had been exhausted and nervous about last night—or so went the excuses that he made to himself. He couldn’t shake the years and years of habits ingrained into him from living alone. The first floor was quiet, but he wondered if Ushio was still troubleshooting for his client.
Kei wondered to himself, What do I do, and stuck his hands underneath the pillow without thinking and grazed something with his fingers there. When he pulled it out, he saw that it was an old photograph. The photo was black and white, and quite an antique one. The subject was a plain-looking man wearing pants and a shirt that would be called unfashionable according to today’s modern sensibilities. What was this? His grandpa or something? But they didn’t look alike at all. And he didn’t understand why Ushio would keep something like this under his pillow. Was it supposed to be like a good luck charm? Something that would improve his dreams…? Maybe because it was black and white and slightly out of focus, but even so, a worn-out photograph of some unknown person was honestly slightly creepy. Kei took the photo with him downstairs.
“Oh, good morning.” Ushio raised his head from his computer.
“…How’s your work going?”
“I think it should get resolved soon. I guess you could say it was an unlucky mishap… Are you hungry? Do you want breakfast?”
“More importantly, here, I found this under your pillow.”
Kei held out the photo, and Ushio let out an “Oh” as he got to his feet to take it.
“Great, I’ve been looking for this. I wonder how it got there? Well, whatever, thanks.”
“Who’s the person in the picture?”
“A friend’s great-grandfather. He’ll be 100 years old this year. Isn’t that incredible?”
It was incredible, but why would Ushio have his picture?
“I thought that I’d make a little video to celebrate the milestone, so I borrowed a photo album for references. It’s the same day as Respect for the Aged Day, so I still have time to finish it.”3
Ushio was happily telling Kei how the great-grandfather was still active and how he had taught Ushio how to fish and clean them when he went over for a visit, but for some reason Ushio’s voice suddenly sounded far away. It was like there was a film over his ears. Huh? Was he still dreaming or something? Even his feet felt unsteady like he would fall over. However, the declaration of “I’m going home” was as clear as day.
“I have work.”
“Oh, right, it’s a weekday. I’m never quite sure what day it is. But I’m really sorry about last night.”
“It’s not a big deal.”
“Should I walk you home?”
“Why? I don’t need you to.”
Kei equipped himself back up with his facemask and glasses and left Ushio’s house. The cool air from last night had completely vanished. He tried asking himself if he was angry. No, not really. He was able to answer the question without hesitation. If work trouble suddenly popped up, then there was nothing that he could do about it. Although it was unexpected, Kei wanted to be tolerant of Ushio’s work because it was his living. That was why it wasn’t anger, but he did wonder what it was. It was a bit of a hollow feeling, like he was dissatisfied with something. Kei returned home feeling restless and uncomfortable, and he started up his morning ritual by opening his laptop and replaying the DVD.
Huh? Kei was surprised at himself. He didn’t feel thrilled and excited like he did up until yesterday. Well, it wasn’t like he felt nothing, he still felt happy and embarrassed, but it didn’t feel as fresh anymore. Like it was a half-step out of key, and it no longer felt right to him. But nothing had changed about the video.
Oh, I get it now.
Kei realized what that uncomfortable feeling was. His excitement had crashed because he had heard that Ushio would make something for the great-grandfather of a friend, a total stranger essentially.
Kei had reached an understanding while talking to himself, but it didn’t do anything to improve how he felt. It didn’t necessarily have to be for Kei, but Ushio would make videos unrelated to work for anyone. Happily and without a second thought.
Hnnn, I see. Heh.
Ushio hadn’t done anything wrong. He hadn’t lied or betrayed him—Kei knew that. But the time and effort that Ushio had set aside for someone else, even if it wasn’t exactly the same, it hadn’t been particularly precious to Ushio. Kei’s heart grew harder and harder.
Ugh, stop, I’m being too immature about this.
But regardless of the logic that he tried to use on himself, he couldn’t write off his disappointment.
I mean, think about it. Say that a prince had cut through all these thorns and suffered all these injuries to rescue you, and then he declares all smooth and dashing, “Okay, I gotta go, I have a request to clear out a hornet’s nest next!” I mean, wouldn’t you go “What? You’re off to the next job already?”
It made him wonder if he was treated with the same kindness that he used for everybody else.
Kei received a message from Ushio that said, Let me make it up to you again, but Kei went to get ready without replying to it and left for work much earlier than normal. Because if he kept thinking about it like this, he felt like he might get stuck, unable to move.
Kei received messages from Ushio every day. The contents were short—things like Can you come over today? and Please respond to me. He didn’t try to lure him over with food, which probably meant that Ushio had guessed that Kei was unhappy about something. Kei fully acknowledged that ignoring Ushio was the worst thing that he could do in this situation. Ushio’s gentle kindness had been what saved Kei, had attracted Kei to him, and that was what had allowed Ushio to laugh and accept Kei’s personality, to tell him that he didn’t need to change. It was only natural that Ushio would show that kindness to other people too. If Ushio had been a man like Kei, who was only friendly to people on the surface but antisocial inside, and only treated Kei like he was special while rude to everyone else, Kei wouldn’t have fallen in love with him.
The things that he loved about Ushio were the same things that were unbearable to him. This was the first time that Kei ever experienced such a contradiction.
“Because you’re kind to everyone, Kunieda-kun.”
Oh, so that was what she meant. Now he understood it. He felt a transcendental sympathy for the girl now. Should he join a group huddle and shout, We got this! I get you! Beat ’em, beat ’em, go! But Kei never wanted Ushio to find out about this petty jealousy of his, and if in the unlikely event Ushio were to say that he wouldn’t do the video anymore, it would leave Kei with a horrible aftertaste in his mouth. So what were they supposed to do? The question applied both to Kei and to Ushio.
Kei went about the week without replying to Ushio’s messages, and on Friday, a group leader at the Announcer Department came to Kei with a work request.
“I’d like to ask you to call an ice show performance.”
“You’re asking me, sir?”
“That’s right. Tatsuki was originally scheduled to do it, but the Sports Department made an error and double booked him. The show is in July, and the commentary will be aired on TV.”
Kei thought, Uh, I know nothing about figure skating, but it wasn’t a job that he could refuse just because he didn’t know anything about it. If he knew nothing about it, then he just had to learn it.
“Well, there’s still plenty of time. I’m sure that you can pull it off, Kunieda.”
Sure, he could pull it off in the end, but it pissed him off when other people said that to him like it was nothing. He ranted in his head, I’ll slash your damn face with the blade of an ice skate, while Announcer Kunieda smiled and accepted the job with an “I’ll do my best.”
After the broadcast was over, Shitara handed Kei a DVD.
“The Announcer Department asked me to give this to you.”
“Oh, it’s probably reference materials about figure skating. Thank you very much.”
“So you’re calling a performance? Sounds tough~”
“It’s for a show, so I don’t think that it will be as hard as it would be for a competition. But yes, it’s my first time doing something like this, and I’m not quite sure what to say…”
“Hmm, shouldn’t you be thinking about speaking as little as possible?”
“Because the viewers who take the time to watch ice shows on TV, they have to be pretty big fans of it, right? I think they probably know the jumps and spins without any additional commentary. They probably want to listen to the music too.”
He had a point. Kei pressed a finger to his chin to think about it, and Shitara continued, “Isn’t it the same for baseball? No one ever interrupts the moment when the bat makes contact with the ball. And if you have a game where the home team is down by 10 runs, using bullish words like ‘counterattack’ and ‘turnaround’ just makes the viewers more disappointed, and when that happens, you have no choice but to give a straight commentary of the game.”
“I see, but—”
What should he do if his job was to speak?
“Yeah, it’s actually more difficult to not speak than to speak. Is it a purposeful silence? Or is the silence there because they don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all?”
Kei agreed with Shitara, but it meant that his homework was now harder than he expected, and it increased his depression. For now, in order to master the skill of purposeful silence, he had no choice but to study up on it. After taking a bath, Kei warmed up some ready-to-eat curry and poured it over some microwaved rice. He decided to watch the figure skating DVD while eating his late dinner/midnight snack. When he went to change the DVD that was left in his laptop, his finger hesitated, but he clenched his hand into a fist and scolded himself by digging his nails into his skin.
Don’t think about other things. I’ve got work to do, work.
First off, he wanted to be able to immediately identify the different jumps. Kei paid careful attention to the angles of the legs and the preparation movements as he watched the lutz, toe loop, loop, etc, on repeat to drill them into his eyes and brain. He ate his curry without looking down at the plate, and his spoon bumped down against it. That’s annoying, he muttered to himself, and that was when he received a message on his personal cell phone that was placed next to the laptop. The message was short. It could be read in a few seconds from the notification screen.
“If you keep ignoring me, I’ll ambush you in front of the network.”
Kei dove for his cell phone and called Ushio’s number.
“Oi, don’t be rash!” Kei yelled when the call was picked up on a single ring.
“I finally get a reaction from you,” Ushio said. “How have you been?”
The voice could be considered cheerful, but Kei could sense that a lot more was hidden behind the question. Shit, he called him without thinking, but now what should he do? If Kei hung up on him, he might actually try to ambush him.
“Are you angry about something?”
“Then why are you ignoring me?”
“Listen here.” Ushio’s frustration was apparent. “When you get angry or upset about something and refuse to talk to me like this, I think that it’s a problem. We can’t even communicate when you do that. You can use your words, can’t you? You’re an announcer after all. I’ve told you before that I can’t understand you unless you talk to me, remember?”
Kei thought, You won’t understand even if I tell you. How can someone like you understand how I feel? This tug of war between wanting and not wanting you to understand. It has happened before, and it’ll happen again in the future. God, this dating thing is a pain in the ass.
“Oi, say something.”
Ushio prodded him when he hadn’t sorted out his head yet, and Kei flared up at him and yelled, “Shut up!”
I’m trying to think here. My circuits are built differently from yours, you slap-happy idiot.
His circuits were more complicated—it was easier for his wires to burn out, get crossed, or develop local shorts, and so he stabbed his spoon into the now emptied plate and made a somewhat strange insistence: “Y-You’re just a damn curry plate!”
Kei thought to himself, What are you even saying, and he expected to hear the words said to him too. But after a few seconds of silence, Ushio responded with an acknowledgement.
“Oh,” he said, “you mean like shallow and wide?”
“How did you guess that!?”
It was like he had found the deepest spot in the area, but when he looked around, he saw that there wasn’t much a difference between him and his surroundings, and it made him feel like what he found wasn’t all that special—it was true that Kei did feel something like that.
“I don’t know why I’m being yelled at for guessing correctly, but yeah, maybe you’re right. If that’s what bothers you, then I’m sorry.”
Ushio was so damn understanding that something about it struck home for Kei.
“You bastard, I bet up until now you’ve been dumped with a line like ‘I feel insecure because you’re too kind to everyone,’ haven’t you!?”
“Huh, isn’t that what Kuneida-san has heard?”
The returning blow hit the bull’s eye of something he didn’t want to discuss, and Kei was at a loss for words.
“Maybe we’re actually birds of a feather?”
“Obviously, we’re not.”
But nevertheless, he firmly refuted it.
“We’re absolutely nothing alike.”
I mean, I’m nothing but an empty lie, but you are actually real. It’s because I realize how selfish it is to be frustrated with it that I’m struggling like this so much.
“Hmm, well, let’s return to the original topic. But even if you tell me that you feel insecure, I’m too in love with you to let you go,” Ushio said gently. “You’re the first person to make me feel this way.”
The direct confession went straight for his heart, and at the same time, his brain short circuited all over. But ridiculously enough, Kei stared at the DVD that was still playing in front of him and thought things like Oh, that’s a flip.
“Do you already hate me now?”
Kei couldn’t tell if it was a tactic that Ushio was using or if it was his true insecurity talking. He had no idea, and so he couldn’t come up with a good response. And because he couldn’t come up with anything, he ended the call. Kei furiously brushed his teeth and left his apartment dressed in his usual clothing. He walked steadily—no, he ran. He had his facemask on, and he quickly ran out of breath, and Kei struggled as he pushed forward. They lived so close in the neighborhood, and yet it seemed so far. The non-woven fabric swelled with his breaths, and his heart swelled in his chest.
His feelings were treacly sweet, but painful. He hated the parts about Ushio that he loved, but he loved him so much that he couldn’t stay hating him. It made him uneasy to be with him, but it made him lonely to be without him. So what should he do from now on? With the same rhythm as each breath that he took, he welled up to the beat of yes and no, yes and no, yes and no.
Kei opened the door with his spare key, and as he took off his shoes at the entrance, Ushio came down the stairs, probably having heard the noise that he made. Kei gave up on searching for the words to say.
Instead of how he should say something here, he thought about how he should be silent here.
Kei marched over to Ushio. He grabbed the collar of his shirt, lifted his chin triumphantly, and kissed him. And in an instant, Kei realized his mistake. His aim had been slightly off to the side, and he was still wearing his facemask. However, there was no time for him to regret or reconsider it, because in the next second, Ushio hugged him fiercely.
This time their lips were lined up properly. It was only for the next second that Kei remembered the very first kiss they had shared, and the kiss grew deeper with this flimsy partition between them to become a new memory. Every time Ushio changed the angle of his face to kiss him, his glasses would become more and more crooked, and Kei couldn’t even spare a thought to fix them. His facemask had slipped down to the point where it could fall off his nose but didn’t. Ushio’s breath mingled with his own trapped under the mask. It was hot and hard to breathe, but he didn’t want to stop. The fabric became damper. The tip of Ushio’s tongue licked at his upper and lower lips and tried to enter his mouth. Naturally, it was physically impossible like this, but Ushio still persisted to press in against the cloth. The gesture was like a dim-witted animal; it made his heart pound, and he clung to Ushio with both hands. Kei presented his own tongue to press it up against Ushio’s behind the mask. The fibers loosened up a little, the texture rough and moist between the two soft bodies, turning pliant and weak from their jostling back and forth. But it wouldn’t melt and disappear, and it was frustrating as they teased each other’s lips with the cloth between them.
Yes, it was frustrating, but Kei was aware that it also fueled his arousal, and he wondered how many contradictions he and Ushio would have to tackle between them in the future.
While Kei was out of breath, even his heartbeat careened away from him, and maybe he was running out of oxygen with both his nose and his mouth covered because his head went into a daze. He had a bad premonition and slapped at Ushio’s arm a few times, and finally Ushio released his lips. Kei could see Ushio’s eyes through his crooked glasses, and he could only stand there bewitched like the other times in the past, marveling at how beautiful they were. A light of clear lust shone brightly in them, lacking gentleness and emotion, and that was why Kei felt like he could sense Ushio’s blood and flesh so close to him.
“I can take this to be your answer, right?”
The look in Ushio’s eyes seemed to threaten that he might rip out his throat with his teeth if Kei were to answer no. Kei silently removed his facemask, and this time he pressed his bare lips to Ushio’s cheek. From there, their kiss did not restart again. Ushio took Kei’s hand and hauled him up to the second floor. With the assistance of centrifugal force, he flung Kei onto bed, whereupon he tore off the facemask and glasses and tossed them onto the floor.
“Oi, what if you break them?”
“I’ll buy you as many of them as you want. I’ll even throw in an upgrade with a nose and a mustache.”
It was their first proper exchange since Kei had arrived here tonight.
Those are damn party goods, heh.
Ushio climbed over Kei and straddled him with his knees, and there was a profoundly heavy creak from the bed.
“Fuck,” Ushio muttered angrily, stripping off Kei’s coat and throwing that to the floor too. “You’ve left me hanging all these times in a row.”
“It was all your own fault, you know!”
“Shut up. I had no clue where you even lived. You seriously had me panicking.”
“And instead, you threaten to out me at work.”
“Yeah, I was close to staging a one-man demonstration with a megaphone and a sign that said ‘Take responsibility for what you’ve done!’”
“Don’t you dare!”
It was terrifying even as a joke. Kei pulled down the zipper of his tracksuit, and when he squirmed out of it, he followed Ushio’s lead and dropped it to the floor. Ushio stared at Kei in amazement, wanting to say something, but Kei made sure to warn him first.
“…Make sure you turn it off this time.”
Ahh, Kei felt like it had been a while since he last saw Ushio smile. There was a pure happiness on his face—he looked delighted like a child, adorable like a child, but the love there was very different from a child’s. Kei just hoped that he was the first to ever see that expression from Ushio.
Ushio brought his hands towards Kei with his fingers stretched out. Kei didn’t understand what Ushio wanted as he mimicked the movements, and Ushio clasped their hands together and pulled them over to press kisses to Kei’s knuckles.
“Are you nervous?”
There was a familiar ring to that question. He then remembered that phone call that had interrupted them last time and the question Ushio had mumbled that Kei couldn’t make out.
“Are you relieved?”
In other words, was Kei actually relieved that they were interrupted? Ushio had his own worries and insecurities that made him scared; it was only natural. It was a first for him too. Now that he thought about it, maybe Ushio had been honest with his feelings when he said that he had only done some quick cleaning and didn’t want Kei to look around the house. Maybe Kei wasn’t the only one to feel all these opposing feelings, this contradiction of yes and no.
Kei answered back, “Not at all.”
Ushio looked relieved as he said, “Liar.”
His fingers touched Kei’s bare skin with a slow and careful deliberation like the needle of a record player. A faint ripple of excitement ran to his brain. Depending on the movements of the fingertips and the location of the teasing, the waves rocked through him, disordered and turbulent. Like how he rubbed at Kei’s nipples.
Kei could feel them hardening with the slight back-and-forth motions. The faint spreading of lust condensed at the same time, causing the raised tips to throb with a sharp intensity.
Something soft pressed against one of the round nubs, swollen and red, and Kei arched his throat and chest up without meaning to do so. Ushio’s tongue laved tenderly at the pebbled hardness, as if soothing the gentle curve pushed up towards him, but no matter how Ushio touched him, his lust expanded and accumulated in his spine.
“I have proper lube this time, so you can relax.”
Kei had never used such a thing before, and he had no idea how he was supposed to relax. Ushio took out a clear bottle from the headboard and dribbled it out on his hand and onto Kei’s belly.
He first noticed how cold it was, and then he felt a thickness that seemed almost solid. The goopiness felt disgusting to Kei, and he almost withered in an instant, but when Ushio rubbed it against his cock, his body accepted the pleasure that felt on the verge of chills but conceived in heat.
The up and down friction seemed to cover his length in a thin flimsy version of a tongue, and the feelings of unfamiliarity and rejection became a spice that heated him up. Kei had always been able to control himself so perfectly. That he could be conquered this easily—it was something that he had wished that he would never experience in his entire lifetime if possible.
Because once he experienced it, he could never go back.
The lubricant began to smear more, maybe due to his own warmth or maybe due to the warmth of Ushio’s hand, and it felt like it became smoother. But it still didn’t erase away the unnatural sensation, and Ushio added more on top of it, pushing his finger into Kei’s hole.
“Does it hurt?”
If Kei were to kick and scream that it hurt, it didn’t seem likely that Ushio would stop given the course of their first time together. Besides, it wasn’t like Kei wanted Ushio to stop either. He shook his head honestly, to communicate that he was okay, and Ushio pressed in even deeper.
It was a strange sensation. Despite a stiffness, he felt like he was softening everywhere. There was nothing more to expose or to allow of himself. And he felt both a fear and a relief about it. But then more than pain, more than distress, the finger clad in a too smooth film found a sensation that was beyond controllable for him. His pleasure was so intense that he could almost believe without logic that sex could make people useless. It was like his body was a ripened fruit that had fallen to the ground, left to slowly deteriorate.
“Ahh, nooo, don’t!”
“Why? Doesn’t it feel good?”
When the words of objection rushed out from his mouth, Ushio played with Kei’s cock, half-surged with blood, and the stimuli from both inside and out wrangled a high-pitched moan from the back of his throat.
No way, I could release an octave that high?
It was a potential that did not make Kei happy. He couldn’t vocalize it on demand, and his arousal was clear in his voice—there was no way that he could let anyone hear it… Except Ushio.
“Noo! Ah, aaah…”
“Your reactions are better than last time. I wonder if it’s because of the lube,” Ushio commented, moving both of his hands between the legs he had splayed open. It was nothing but meaningless talk if that was all that he said, but then he continued as an aside, “…Those ingredients sure are effective,” and Kei had to shout “Oi” and prop himself up on his elbows.
“What the hell is in it!?”
“I’m just joking around. It’s nothing more than regular lube. The ingredients are glycerin and a few other things.”
“It’s the few other things that are the problem here!”
“Huh? Are you asking if there are illegal substances mixed in the lube that’s making you melt into a puddle? Now where would I even buy something like that?”
“I haven’t melted into a puddle yet!”
“Ugh, whatever, just shut up! And get it over with already!”
“But it would be a waste to do that.” Ushio leaned over to kiss Kei on the cheek. “In more ways than one, you react so nicely that I just can’t get enough of you~”
Kei pressed his lips together, embarrassed at the happiness that he could hear in the voice, but with the finger that slowly pumped in and out of him, he just couldn’t keep them closed.
“Your voice is too sexy here.”
“S-Shut up, ugh.”
“I won’t be able to hold myself back if we do this quietly. I need to say something to distract myself.”
Was he telling the truth? With the full length of Ushio’s middle finger examining his insides while the other hand stroked the exposed tip of his cock engorged with blood, his elbows buckled and Kei fell back onto a pillow, and he could only see the ceiling again. As a trade-off, in the back of his mind, Kei could picture with elaborate detail the movements of the finger inside him—in either case, there was no way for him to settle down.
The invasion increased by another finger, and another finger, and the pressure made his knees tremble, to the point that he felt like it directly vibrated his insides. Ushio pressed hard at the little spot not too deep inside, up towards the belly, as if taming any of his remaining resistance, and arousal burst inside him like a water fountain.
“Noo! Ahh, ahh, s-stop, aahhh.”
The inside of his body didn’t get wet on its own, but Kei felt like he was wetting himself inside. It coated onto Ushio’s fingers, hotter and more viscous than lube, and made his hole obscenely slick. It was nothing more than an illusion, but his cock started to drool on itself, and that was the reality.
“Aaaah…! I can’t, nooo.”
His hips lifted naturally and quivered. It was like his hole responded to the movements, and it kept squeezing down Ushio’s fingers and loosening back up over and over again. It was so embarrassing; he thought that he had probably turned red to the back of his ears, but he couldn’t stop.
“Kei, does it feel good?”
“Why not? It makes me happy if you’re feeling good. We’re having sex after all. It’s only natural.”
Ushio pulled out his fingers and gently traced the gasping exterior.
“Can I put it in here?”
“Let me put it in, Kei.”
Kei kept his eyes closed and nodded his head. The voice that said “Thank you” was solemn and serious, and it made him even more embarrassed than if Ushio had teased him. Ushio grasped the back of Kei’s knees to hold his legs up, and in this very flagrant sex position, Ushio pressed his cock to Kei’s hole to enter him.
There was nothing that could be done about the stinging that he felt from something pushing into a very narrow space, but Kei could clearly feel Ushio’s arousal, and that made him happy. Ushio’s cock rubbed up everywhere against his hole that had been carefully prepped by fingers, and its pulse shook Kei from within. Each palpitation dominated all of Kei’s insides, and Kei felt like he would even lose the sound of his own heartbeat.
“Nn. I’ll go slowly, okay?”
Ushio established a short rhythm not too deep inside, and the parts where they touched heated in an instant.
“Ahh… Ah, nnnhh…!”
As Ushio rocked into him, Kei grabbed the pillow without thinking, and he remembered the item that he had found under it before. Ushio seemed to be sensitive to his feelings and asked, “Does it bother you?”
“That I’m making a video for a friend’s great-grandfather too… It’s kinda hard to explain. It’s not for work, but part of it makes me feel like it’s a challenge for work. The motivation is kind of like, can I make something that a cennitarian can appreciate? When I make things on my personal time, the subject has to fascinate me somehow, so everything has to run past that filter first. But the video that I made for you is completely different for me.”
Kei interrupted Ushio and reached out to catch Ushio’s face between his hands. He figured that he would enlighten him.
“At times like these, it’s more important to not speak than to speak.”
“…Ohhh.” Ushio blinked a few times before nodding as he held back a smile. “I understand. Thank ya for the useful advice~”
“Do you really understand?”
“I do. You mean this, right?”
Ushio sealed up Kei’s lips, and as he twined his tongue with Kei’s, he pushed his cock in deeper.
Kei stopped breathing for a moment, and even that stillness was devoured. He clung to Ushio’s back, and it was like a signal to pound into him, and Kei came all over their bellies pressed together. Ushio kept licking at his tongue, and Kei teared up from how hard it was to breathe, but he didn’t want to let go of Ushio.
“Nhh, nh, nh.”
Without any words, they matched their timing to catch their breaths and sought out each other’s lips again. How much their hearts had opened up to each other was still an unknown to both of them—it was different from words and different from their bodies. And even when Kei realized that this was a process that could take them a while, it didn’t make him sad. There would be times in the future where Kei couldn’t control his troublesome personality, and Ushio probably had plenty of things about him that would be difficult to handle. He had never wanted to exert all of his effort into anything besides work before, but deep inside his heart, he was excited. For some reason, he believed that Ushio would never abandon him.
I suppose that eventually I’ll come here and have sex, like it’s only natural and expected.
It was fine; there was nothing to be afraid of. Even though there was a fear of losing his bachelorhood, it was also the same for Ushio. The yes and no’s that they carried between them—the corners would round out and soften every time they learned something about each other.
Sweat dropped from the end of Ushio’s nose. There was no room for lies and vanity in their instincts. The nakedness that thrust its hardness over and over again and the nakedness that clenched down on it in full bliss—entranced and mesmerized, they desired the same thing. It felt good. They wanted to come feeling this good. Only the two of them together could fulfill their desires, and no one could say so otherwise. It seemed like an endless freedom and joy.
Kei begged for Ushio’s lips over and over again, and with their lips touching, his breath that said “I love you” probably made itself known to Ushio. Because the thickness that filled his belly swelled even larger.
“God, you always play dirty. I knew that though.”
Kei wanted to argue back, No, that’s you, but he couldn’t speak or stay silent any longer. The only thing he could do was cry and moan. His inner walls melted from the continuous thrusts, and his cock lusted to graze against Ushio’s belly again. His nerves had all become stupid from this reckless pleasure, but eventually a limit would come.
“Ah, ah, aaaah!”
Ushio came when he thrust the deepest that he could, and the heat and the mass that swelled at that moment made Kei come too. As he accepted it all, Ushio’s body dropped down on top of him covered in sweat, and they held each other through the short aftershocks until their pulses died down.
Ushio was still out of breath when he asked, “What do you prefer for breakfast? Bread? Or rice?”
“Rice,” Kei answered briefly.
He was talking about food just after they finished? Where was the mood in that? Kei smiled and gave Ushio a few pats on the back.
“What? Are you saying that I must be tired from working so hard?”
“That would be me, dammit!”
Strangely enough, Kei didn’t feel embarrassed as they clung to each other. But they would have to shower again and get ready for bed after this… And Kei was sure that he would probably panic when it happened. He was sleepy, but it was a hassle to get up, but now he knew that the hassle was proof that there was something special between them. Rather than over-analyzing every little possibility that concerned his fate, he now knew that he should just have fun together whenever he felt that there was a “hassle.” To take the time to banter back and forth with each other and to savor every moment together. He was sure that everything that they faced in the future would be their first and their last.
- Sky Perfect and WOWOW are satellite channels in Japan.
- Sevens is a card game and Momotetsu 20-year mode refers to a Momotaro Dentetsu game for iOS.
- Respect for the Aged Day is the third Monday of September.