The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Yosuke was trying to think of a swimsuit that would look good on Shouko. He was having some trouble with that, for reasons he had expected (it was Shouko, she was tall for a girl, he tried to not make a point of looking at her boobs) and a few that he hadn’t. Well, the one that he hadn’t: the image of his best friend in a swimsuit was kind of hot. He had picked out swimsuits for Chie and Yukiko without feeling too bad—fine. He hadn’t felt bad about buying a swimsuit for Chie. It had been like buying a scarf. Dead easy. Picking one for Yukiko made him feel kind of guilty, but only in the sense that he knew that Chie would think even less of him. And maybe kick him in the nads. And if Shouko knew he thought she’d look good in a swimsuit, because what red-blood guy wouldn’t, then she’d… He had no idea.
This had been Shouko’s idea, anyway. He made the mistake of mentioning that he had bought swimsuits for Chie and Yukiko, but not for her. She laughed over the phone, clothes rustling as she tied her apron, and breath unnaturally loud as she breathed into the receiver. He could still remember what she sounded like, the little bite of sarcasm she spoke with when she got relaxed. “And not one for me? I need one, you know... Well, I was planning on swinging by Junes after I finished up at the day-care center, but I'll let you buy it for me."
Which was kind of wrong, because the only person he’d be buying swimsuits for was his girlfriend (future, potential one, whatever), or maybe something like a joke pair of trunks for Kanji or Teddie. Buying something for a really, really close female friend? One that he found weirdly attractive (not weirdly, she had always been pretty—no, shit, what)? God, it was like a giant sign of “drive faster” on the way to ways to fuck up a friendship-ville.
He wound up buying something that looked, in his opinion, pretty damn awesome. It was Shouko, after all. She probably didn’t expect him to do anything except make an ass of himself.
Shouko said that, as newcomers to Inaba, they needed to swim in the river. She had forgotten about it all of August because of how weird things had gotten.
“Too bad we couldn’t have gone in for a celebratory swim with everyone else,” she said ruefully. “I kind of want to see what the others look like in swimsuits.”
Shouko, fearless to the point of stupidity, jumped into the river without even checking the temperature. She vanished below the waters, a dark shadow below the surface, then popped back up, teeth chattering and skin puckering and her best shit-eating grin on. She was wearing his swimsuit, the one he chose for her, and she looked really—
Yosuke wanted to bang his head into a nearby rock.
She barely objected to his choice, just looked at the swimsuit and then grinned and pulled out a pair of swimming trunks that Dojima had given her because he had been too awkward to give her an actual swimsuit. It’d be, Shouko said in her best imitation of a mortified Dojima, too inappropriate. That explained jack why Dojima had chosen blue trunks with an orange frog, right at the groin.
An eye for an eye, Yosuke thought mournfully, staring down at his trunks. He stopped when he realized he was staring at his crotch. A crotch that was now wet because Shouko just splashed him.
“C’mon,” she said. Her hair was clinging to her neck. Her very… He let out a little groan.
“Do I have to?” he said. “It’s cold.”
“It’s the first week of September,” she said. “I have faith in you.”
Yosuke rolled his eyes, and dipped a toe into the water. She grabbed onto his foot, and pulled him in. He didn’t really fall into the water, no, that did him a disservice, right there. He hadn’t fallen, he had been slapped in the whole body by a sheet of ice-freaking-cold river water, and now he was cold as ass. There was cold water everywhere, honest-to-god like he just stuck his shins and thighs and hips and chest into liquid ice cubes (which water was) and—
“Fuck!” he swore, springing out of the water and nearly crawling back to dry land. The rock was warm with the sun, even if it was rough and even if it was rough and if a million old men had stood on the rock and threw their lines from this spot with their grubby boots and vomited here after drinking too much. “Fuck, Shouko! What the hell?”
“Misery loves company,” Shouko said.
“And company hates misery!” Oh, the sun. He never realized how much he loved it until now. So—so what was the word? So-absolutely-not-cold.
Shouko was floating on the surface of the water, arms and legs moving just enough to keep her head from going under. “Water, Yosuke,” she said. “Wa-ter. It’s fine. You barely notice it if you stay in it long enough.” Then she stood up—the water came up to her neck—and said, her mouth quirking in the mother of all shit-eating grins, “Can you swim?”
“’Course I can,” Yosuke said. “I just haven’t done it in years.” He sighed, and let his body loosen from its huddled ball at the edge of the rock. One leg into the water, then two. He let his foot touch the pebbled bottom of the river, and then yanked his foot back with a grimace. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t remember it.”
“It’s like riding a bike. Not the actual motions—”
“You’ve been hanging around Yukiko-san too much if you thought that was funny—”
“—but the memory part.” Her face soured. She slapped an arm against the water, and the ripples made it to his knees a second later. “—shut up, Yosuke.”
Their eyes meet, and they both started laughing.
Yosuke was bored as hell, and about to strangle himself with his own cock. Who knew that watching someone swim could be so boring?
Shouko didn’t press him to join her in the water. She swam around in a little circle, from one bank of the Samegawa to the other, first lazily, then picking up speed and momentum until it looked like she was doing a race against herself. She looked the same as she always had, except without clothes on, except she was wearing a swimsuit, and—and what was he thinking about again?
“Hey,” he called. “Do you like Rise-chan?”
Shouko stopped swimming. Her hair kept moving, even after she stood up on her tiptoes, and then grunting a bit as the pebbles shifted under her weight. It snapped around her head, floated around her face and chin. She spat out a stray strand and said, “Where did that come from?”
“Come on. You know she’d jump you if she were here.”
“No she wouldn’t. She doesn’t act that way when it’s just us two. Of course, you wouldn’t have seen that. Because of, you know, the entire alone aspect.”
He lowered more of his body into the water, all the way down to the hip, and shivered. The hairs on his arm were sticking straight up in the air. His chest and his legs were on entirely different planets: one was nice and warm and toasty, and the other was bugfuckcold. He tried to keep himself from squirming like a girl because hell if he’d ever look that gay in front of Shouko, and said, “She’d totally go les for you.”
“As much as fanboys like you want her to be, the day she decides she wants to spend the rest of her life chasing after women is the day that Dojima-san’s going to let Nanako date.”
“So within the next ten years?” he said with a wink. “Sounds like a good timeline to me.” She laughed at that, although a little uneasily. “No, seriously,” said Yosuke. “Do you like her?”
“It’s Rise-chan,” she said, a little helplessly. Yosuke couldn’t blame her. Rise was one of those things that happened to people. Once she turned on the full entertainer charm, you didn’t meet Rise or talk with her or hung out with her: she dropped into your life, slung an arm around yours, and bulldozed her way through all of your defenses. “She’s an actor. She can get involved without getting all soppy because she’s doing it for guys like you.”
“So you do like her?” Up to his pecs in water now. At least he was taller than Shouko. It wasn’t like Shouko was short—she was a hundred seventy two centimeters flat—but at the deepest point, the river was halfway up her chin, but just barely at his neck.
Shouko’s skin, against the life-sucking force of the cold, went a bit pink at the ears. “Not at all,” Shouko said. “Really. She’s right up your alley, though.”
“What? You think so?” For a single, horrible second, he had the image of a threesome in his mind’s eye. Then he gouged it out. ‘Right up your alley’—“Hey, wait,” he said. “Did you just diss me?”
“So what did that mean?” he said.
Shouko hesitated. She waded over to shallower waters, until her legs were the only thing left in the water, and leaned against the rock, swaying a bit when an especially strong current caught her around the knees. “You? You like falling in love. You like girls who make you feel good, and you like them small, giggly, and sweet. I don’t have a clue what your actual type is aside from that. Serious girls, I guess? You like it when they don’t appear interested, or maybe you’re too afraid of them if they actually become attainable. Maybe guys? Smooth guys, not like Kanji, but Kanji’s pretty good in other ways, so…”
She had just called him a shallow rake, basically. Was that all she thought of him? Yosuke tried to ward off the disappointment seeping into his skin by shaking the water out of his hair and saying, “Ew, no.”
Shouko ducked under the surface to avoid getting splattered, and then popped back up with a helpful, “I think it’d be hot. You’d get a lot of girls chasing after you if you make out with a guy or two.” She smiled in a funny way and said, “Part of the appeal is how you’ll swear out of your ears that you’ll never do it, but you’ll do it if you think a girl will look at you twice. Some girls like that.”
“You just called me shallow, and now you’re giving me tips on how to pick up chicks,” he said.
“I didn’t say you were shallow,” she said. “I said that you like falling in love. It’s okay. You’re young—”
“So are you—”
“Well, so what?”
“I’ve probably had more girlfriends than you’ve had,” Yosuke said.
“Fine, boyfriends versus girlfriends. Want to bet on it?”
“Stop it,” she said. “You’re even worse than Rise-chan. Always going on and on about this cute guy in her class, or that cute guy in my class—” She flicked some water at him with her fingers. This time, he wasn’t going to take it lying down. He swept a giant wave back at her, a wave high enough to touch her face. “Ugh, Yosuke—”
“You were already wet, anyway, why are you complaining?”
“But now I’m cold!”
“Oh, so now you’re cold!” He splashed her again until there was water dripping from her hair and nose, and she was making these loud noises of outrage—and then she leapt onto him, and forced his head under the surface, holding it there for a fraction of a second. Then he was popping back to the open air, bubbles coming out of his nose, and an urge to throw Shouko into the deep-end, except she’d probably flay him alive with her fingernails or a rock or something.
Oh, hell. Why not. He waded deeper and closer to her, and…
And she jumped at him, knocking the wind out of him and making his head spin and shit, his head was underwater, she pushed him under just when he was about to take a breath, and now his mouth and nose was full of water and—
He sprang back up, heaving for air and something trying to explode out of his mouth, a deep, throbbing ugly feeling caught right in his throat. Shouko was pulling him to the bank, and he crawled onto the sand, heaved once, twice, and then a third time, for good measure. Nothing came out except a wet feeling in his mouth, and a spray of mist from one nostril. After a few deep breaths, he collapsed on the sand, wincing when his shoulder hit grass and dirt instead, and rested on his side.
“Shit, Yosuke. You all right? I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d go down so easily.”
“There’s water in my lungs,” he complained.
“You’ve probably hacked it all back out by now,” she said. She rubbed gentle circles on his back, hand working heat into the valley between his shoulder blades, her thumb resting on his spine—geeze, when did she get such big hands? Or maybe his back really was that small. He raised his neck, and her neck was… He wanted to—he wanted to bite her neck, holy shit, he was turning into a freaking cannibal.
He wanted to bite her neck and—no, shit, not tear it out and swallow it, just put his teeth against the skin and go up to the mouth, but it was Shouko’s mouth, so he couldn’t kiss it, no, what, ugh, god, no, it’d be like making out with a sweater, and Shouko would—she would—
“Hey,” he said. “Can we kiss now or something?”
Shouko’s mouth opened. A noise came out, then snapped into a low droning sound of bafflement that would have better suited a robot than a human. Then she laughed and said, “Wh—didn’t—what?”
“I—no, forget about it, I’m stupid.”
“You kind of are,” she said. “But I—I mean…” She trailed off awkwardly. Her shoulders and neck were stiff, and she kept blinking, over and over again, her eyelashes fluttering like—he didn’t know, something cliché, fluttering together like, like, keyboard keys going ‘clack’ no fuck what was he saying. He was going to die from embarrassment. This was not the way he imagined he’d ever ask a girl to make out, mostly because most girls kind of jumped him instead because he was that smoking hot, or because he never actually asked a girl to make out with him to begin with. Shouko shook her head sharply and said, “I can’t say yes or no without feeling weird.”
“Well, good,” Yosuke said. “Because kissing you would be like kissing—”
“Close enough,” she said. “But…” She looked him over thoughtfully, and then said, “Sit up.”
“No, come on, I’m kind of curious.” Yosuke sat up because, hell, he was curious, too. Curious if he was a cannibal. Shouko’s cheeks were a little pink, but maybe it was just the sunset turning everything into different colors, a shade different from normal. “Damn it,” she grumbled. “This is so embarrassing—”
“Thanks a lot, geeze,” Yosuke said. Screw it. He was going to lean over and do this himself, but no matter how hard he tried to lean into her, she either bent away or he got intimidated by her nose and had to back off, or his lips would bump into her chin. God, this was embarrassing. He tried to grab onto her face, but she elbowed him in the nose instead; then they were wrestling on top of each other, and he was very definitively—getting an upper hand. Now she was flat out beneath him, her arm twisted under her ribs and face pointed straight at him, half-grinning and half-“you piss me off.” Their lips were nearing each other and—and then there it was, the kiss, the big revelation of his cannibalism or whatever. He couldn’t get his hands to move, they were kissing in swimsuits and then she rocked back and forth and flipped him over. Then she sat there, staring down on him, straddling his chest.
She stroked his chest once, twice; then she stood up and said, “Okay, I’m done now.”
“Yeah,” Yosuke said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He couldn’t stop it from shaking. Damn it, what had they been thinking? Stupid hormones. He spat into the ground, just to make himself feel a bit better.
“Let’s never talk about that again,” Shouko said, strangely preoccupied with getting bits of grass and dirt off her knee.
“Yeah,” Yosuke said. “That was—shit, that was…”
He couldn’t do it, in the end. He didn’t know why. This was what he wanted, right? He wanted it, or at least, he thought he wanted it. But what did he want, and why? Damn it. He didn’t know. He didn’t know the first thing about any of it. He wanted her attention and her friendship and he wanted her, maybe, but he didn’t know in what way, or if he even liked her that way or if he had just been born stupid. Shouko was his first real girl friend who didn't want to kill him half the time, but what did that mean? Hell, he didn’t even know if it meant anything at all.
“Well,” Shouko said, “I’m going to get dressed.”
“Uh-huh,” Yosuke said.
She disappeared into the bushes with her bundle of clothes. Yosuke ducked behind a tree to change back into his clothes. All right, so he had fucked that one up. No biggie. It was Shouko. She’d blow it off and tell him that he was a retard or something. Because that was what best friends did, unless they were girls, and then there were complications.
He grabbed his hair with both hands, and pulled. Hard.
He buttoned up his shirt, and came out from the tree. Shouko was already there, hair pulled back in a godawful ponytail and brief slung over her shoulder.
“You want to come over for dinner?” she said. “Nanako wants to spend more time with me before I vanish off into the depths that is Iwatodai.”
“I should go home,” he said. And sleep off the weirdness, he added, but didn’t say.
“Okay,” she said. “Bye, then.”
They meant to go on their separate ways, but since they lived in the same direction, it didn’t really matter in the end.