Kite got off at Shinjuku station and made himself small as he hurried to the exit. It was past the early morning rush, and the station was not as overfilled as he had seen it on other occasions, but he still had to watch not to bump into the other commuters. Especially the kids looking at their handhelds, or all the people staring at their phones while walking. Speaking of phones, he should probably fire a message off to his sister sometime soon. After he spoke to Shin. Yeah, he’d notify her then. No more wasting time.
He took the west exit and followed the pedestrian street leading to the municipal building. If memory served right… Yes. About five minutes later, he arrived at a small convenience store situated off the side of the road.
This had to be it. Kite looked through the large front windows with the green L-Mart. He hadn’t been in contact with Shin for almost two years. No phone calls or e-mails after that last one, shortly after the earthquake. Kite could still recall it clearly. He’d been worried sick about his friends—all of his friends, really, but most of all, he’d been going out of his mind worrying about Shin’s safety after the tsunami. And then he’d gotten that e-mail.
I’m fine. Things are crazy. If you’re still in the States, stay there.
Kite had stared at his phone, at the message, for long minutes. Happy, so fucking happy to hear from his friend, but confused at his words. He’d sent back, Glad you’re okay. I’m coming back as soon as I can.
Shin took two or three hours to respond with, Don’t come all the way for me. I don’t want to see you.
Kite could only think of one reason why his friend would block him out, so he asked, Is this because I kissed you?
But he had to accept radio silence as his answer, no matter how many messages he sent following that one. After a few days, he decided to say fuck it and take a job in the States. He was only translating things for a magazine that didn’t pay much money, but at least they didn’t care that he “wasn’t really Japanese,” something that had gotten him into a lot of trouble looking for serious jobs in Japan. So he’d settled and built a new life for himself—until now. Now he was in Tokyo, for better or for worse, and he wanted to see Shin.
Stalking his former best friend and bandmate on social media told him Shin worked in this convenience store. Kite didn’t know whether Shin had a shift this morning, but there was one way to find out.
Kite tightened the straps of his backpack and walked in through the automatic doors.
He’d expected the first thing to hit him to be the sight of his old friend, if Shin was working, but it wasn’t that. No, it was the heavenly smell of food. And not the poor excuse for food they served on airplanes either. Kite’s gaze followed the smell to the counter where steamed meat buns sat in a glass case next to the register. The perfect breakfast for a cold February morning like this. He hadn’t had any of these in forever, but he could just remember the taste, the texture of the hot, juicy meat—
Kite’s interest in food plummeted as he turned to the speaker. He’d know that voice anywhere, and hearing it speak the Japanese version of his name was like every memory of his childhood here rolled up in two syllables.
“Shin…” Kite’s mouth refused to close all the way. “You’ve changed.” Stupid; of course he’d changed. It had been two years. He’d cut his hair so it didn’t fall into his eyes anymore, and he’d let all the black grow back in. The green outfit with the convenience store’s logo was only work clothes, but it was still weird to see his best friend in them. Like Shin had broken their promise never to grow into boring adults.
It had been a stupid promise anyway.
Shin glanced around the store, maybe to make sure there were no customers around, but it was a quiet morning. “What are you doing here?” he asked finally. He’d gone pale, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing and wasn’t pleased by it.
“I just flew in,” Kite said. Maybe he should have warned Shin, but part of him had stubbornly wanted Shin to be happy to see him.
“Oh.” Shin turned away and went to the counter. “I didn’t think I’d see you here.” Shin wasn’t looking at him as he spoke, and he sounded bitter, though Kite didn’t know why. Shin was the one who’d rejected him. Not the other way around.
“Risa’s getting married,” Kite said, following Shin to the counter, where he was checking the price tags on the meat buns, although they probably didn’t need checking.
If Shin was curious, he did his best to hide it, seemingly ignoring Kite as he went over the items on the counter. Kite, on the other hand, didn’t take his eyes off Shin. Not even the food could distract him now. His mind was stuck on the way he’d slipped up that last night he’d spent with Shin before leaving Japan two years ago.
They’d hung out on the bay with a couple of beers. Working on a song that Shin had trouble singing right. The English bits were the problem. Kite remembered getting into a silly laughing fit over the way Shin mangled the lyrics of the song, overpronouncing in all the wrong places. He remembered Shin telling him to shut up. And then, inevitably, he remembered letting his guard down and kissing his best friend and secret crush of forever.
“Are you going to buy anything?” Shin shot him a pointed look.
“I’m…” Kite looked at the steamed meat buns. “No, that’s not… I need a place to crash.”
“You need what?”
“I kinda forgot to book a hotel for tonight?”
“You forgot to book a hotel?” Shin gave him an incredulous look. Yeah, the story probably wasn’t that believable, and Kite was a bad liar. Kite shrugged.
“Can’t you go couch surfing?”
“I can’t just—wait, you know I’ve been couch surfing?” Kite liked traveling, but it was expensive, so he chose to crash at strangers’ houses sometimes. He’d only mentioned this once or twice on the Internet, so Shin knowing meant his old friend had been paying attention.
“Yeah, I know.” Was Shin blushing? He turned away before Kite could really tell, opting to face the counter instead. “So can’t you do that tonight?”
“It’s a little too late for that now. Man, I’m tired.” That wasn’t even a lie. “I saw you were in Tokyo, and so I was hoping—”
“No. That’s not a good idea.”
“C’mon, we used to be friends.”
Shin turned around to him slowly. “Used to be. You said it.”
“I didn’t mean we’re not friends anymore, only that it’s been a long time.”
“And whose fault is that?” Shin walked to the other side of the counter, pretending he was too busy with work to talk. Kite still wasn’t entirely sure how he deserved this treatment. So he hadn’t shown his face in a while, yeah, but…
“You were the one who told me not to come back.”
“I know.” Shin faced away from him so Kite couldn’t see his expression, but he sounded regretful. If that wasn’t wishful thinking on Kite’s part. “I’m sorry I wrote that.”
Shin glanced at him, and for a moment it seemed he really was sorry. “Things were complicated,” he said before his expression turned stony again. “It’s not like I gave you an order anyway. I’m not your boss.”
Kite dug his thumbs into the belt loops of his pants. “I don’t have a boss.” These days, he only had clients.
“Figures.” Was that a smile?
“C’mon, just let me stay the night. For old times’ sake.”
“I’m working, and when I’m off I need to study and—”
“I’ll wait. You won’t even notice me.”
“It’s impossible not to notice you.”
Kite didn’t know what to say to that. Was he impossible to ignore because of his looks, or because of his personality, or was there some other reason Shin couldn’t help but notice him?
But then Shin went on, “I mean, just look at your hair, Kaito. Was that really necessary?”
Kite ran his fingers through the deep red strands of his hair. “You’ve never had a problem with that before.”
Shin was opening his mouth to say something when the door to the store opened and an actual customer came in. Shin went to the register, then looked at Kite. “Now’s a really bad time.”
“Okay.” Kite looked out through the huge shop windows at the street. Traffic was slow this morning—for a metropolis like Tokyo anyway. “I passed a burger joint when I came here from the station. You can find me there when your shift’s over.”
“I won’t be off for a while.”
Kite shrugged and walked to the door.
“You should really make other arrangements,” he heard Shin call after him as he left the store. Maybe Shin was right and this was a stupid plan, but Kite had a feeling if he waited, he might get a chance to set things right.
* * * *
Shin got off his shift half an hour late that afternoon as his coworker’s train was delayed by “human accident.” Jinshin jiko.
Everyone in Tokyo knew that was code for suicide by train. Shin had gotten used to it by now, but his first few weeks in this city, those few lines of text on the digital notice boards had regularly made him feel ill. Who would throw his life away like that? And who were they leaving behind in the process?
“I’ll try to be on time tomorrow,” his coworker said. “You can go now. Feed that dog of yours, right?” Shin’s coworker was a student at one of the local colleges. Some language school. He often worked in the afternoon and Shin didn’t see much of him, but he’d seen a picture of the dog once and kept bringing her up ever since.
“Yeah.” Shin glanced at the door. He had to feed himself, the dog…and maybe someone else. He grabbed a bag of lemon gums from the candy rack. “Ring these up, okay?”
Shin paid for the candy and left the store, almost bumping into an old lady who entered from the street. “Excuse me,” he mumbled in passing. Get it together, Shin.
He’d been distracted ever since his earlier meeting with Kaito. Would he really still be waiting? The nerve of him. Just dropping in to stay with Shin. But Kaito had always been bold. Since their teenage years anyway, when suddenly all the girls were all over him. Some of the boys too. Too many of them. Considering how natural dating and sleeping around came to him, Kaito had probably thought nothing of kissing Shin that one night. Had probably forgotten it by now.
Shin wanted to forget about it too—which was much easier done when Kaito was an ocean away instead of randomly dropping in at his workplace.
When Shin reached the restaurant, he spotted Kaito sitting in the far corner. Half of him hadn’t expected Kaito to be there. He definitely hadn’t expected his own lips to quirk up at the sight of his old friend hunched over a coffee table. Turn that off. You’re over him. You’re so over him.
Kaito was resting his head on his arms on the table. He only looked up when Shin dropped the bag of candy in front of him.
“Surprised to see me?”
“Kind of.” Kaito smiled. “Happy, though. Thought you might not show up.”
But you waited anyway. Even after I treated you like shit.
Shin sat down in the chair across from Kaito. “Honestly, I shouldn’t be here. Entrance exams are next week.”
Kaito straightened, as if Shin had said something troubling. “You’re trying to get into Tokyo University? I saw something like that on your page.”
“I am.” Shin didn’t mention that he’d already failed his first try last year, but Kaito had probably seen that too. Not that there was any shame in failing to get into Tokyo U. Shin was in good company there. Once you got in, though, you’d made it. If Shin could pass the exams, and he had to, slaving away at the convenience store and studying the rest of the time would be well worth it.
“Good luck.” Kaito didn’t sound like he truly meant it, and he didn’t mention how they’d decided, together, not to attend university almost three years back. For now, Shin was spared from having to explain what had changed his mind.
Of course, the band they’d wanted to focus their energy on had fallen apart anyway.
Across from Shin, Kaito picked up the candy. “Oh hey, you brought my favorites. Can’t believe you thought of it.” His smile was threatening to crack his face apart. Kaito had this way of smiling that made him seem like a rebel and a kid all at the same time. It was a kind of genuine happiness that Shin didn’t often see in people, and it was this sense of freedom that had made Shin want to follow Kaito to the end of the world when he was younger.
It was also why Shin’s parents had always called Kaito a bad influence.
“Do you want one?” Kaito held the bag out to him.
“No, thanks. I’m good.” He could do with some actual food though. Shin looked over at the counter of the fast-food store. A small line had built up in front of the cash register, and the cashier, a guy their age, kept glancing over at him and Kaito instead of focusing on his job. That wasn’t surprising; Kaito had always attracted stares. He looked just Asian enough that you had to look twice to notice he wasn’t fully Japanese—and most people did. The slant to his eyes was only mild and they were a beautiful shade of hazel. Green with flecks of light brown. His hair was brown too, when he wasn’t dying it.
Shin remembered wishing his friend weren’t quite so handsome so people would stop falling all over themselves to date him. They didn’t even know him. Not like Shin did.
“That cashier keeps staring at you.”
“Does he?” Kaito looked in the cashier’s direction, caught his gaze, and smiled.
Shin felt an irrational stab of jealousy toward the cashier before he could suppress it. “Are you trying to flirt?” Seriously, this was high school all over again.
“I’m only being friendly, but I can stop if it bothers you.”
“Why should it bother me?”
“I don’t know.” Kaito took a sip of his coffee, never moving his eyes off Shin. “You know, I was actually hoping we could talk about that last time we saw each other.”
Shin felt his stomach turn into knots. Last time. Kite could only be talking about that kiss. That stupid kiss Shin had been wanting for years, and which had left him completely dumbstruck when it had happened.
“Do you want to do that again?”
“I don’t know… I shouldn’t… I…”
“Okay. You don’t have to tell me right now. Just… When I get back, okay?”
So far Shin had been saved from having that conversation by Kaito never getting back.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said.
Kaito leaned forward in his chair. “I’ve been wondering—”
“Let it rest, okay? It’s over.” Kaito trying to take him back to the past was the last thing he needed on his plate right now. With exams a mere four days away, he had no time to be screwing around with someone who was probably leaving the country again before the end of next week. Not even if that someone had starred in most of his wet dreams since middle school. “The only way you can stay at my apartment is if you don’t bring that up anymore and you don’t try anything.”
“Okay, fine.” The corners of Kaito’s mouth turned down. He’d never been good at hiding what he really thought. Got him in trouble with a lot of people, but there had been a time when Shin liked that about him. Liked how uncomplicated he was. Now he realized Kaito simply had failed to grow up and adapt to polite society. Shin’s mom had been right in her assessment of his best friend, while he’d been blinded by the way Kaito’s lips curved when he was happy.
That wasn’t happening again.
“But I can
stay at your place tonight?” Kaito asked.
Kaito offered him another smile. This one looked like trouble, but Kaito grabbed his bag and was out the door before Shin could think to ask about it.
Ana J. Phoenix