Yamada can’t pinpoint the exact moment he got addicted to cigarettes. He never really thought he would get hooked considering he had dreams of becoming a singer. He watches the smoke curl as he exhales and thinks that sometimes he feels like those gray wisps. There one moment, then gone.
He doesn’t hear Yuto coming home to their flat.
“I’m home,” Yuto says, seeing the cigarette in Yamada’s hand. Yuto rolls his eyes. “Are you being dramatic again? This is reality, Yamada, not a music video.”
Yamada inhales again. “When you put up that post about wanting a flatmate, you never said anything about smoking bothering you.”
Yuto smirks. “You do whatever you want,” he says as he walks over to the sofa Yamada is lying on. “Just don’t hate yourself if your voice starts sounding like blender.”
Yamada doesn’t respond and Yuto kisses the older boy’s forehead.
Yamada exhales as the world around him comes to a stop.
This, he thinks to himself as he opens his eyes and sees Yuto motionless above him, this is why he got addicted to cigarettes. Yamada sighs and rolls out from where Yuto is now pressing a kiss to the air. He puts out his cigarette and tries to calm the butterflies in his stomach.
“Deep breaths, Yamada,” he says to himself. “The world only starts moving once you’ve calmed down.”
He knows Yuto won’t hear him. Time has always stopped for Yamada whenever he got too emotional. He doesn’t know what to do now that it stops every time Yuto does something.
Yamada can still feel Yuto’s dry lips on his forehead. He looks at the younger boy, frozen on the sofa, wishing he could tell him the truth.
“I think I’m in love with you,” Yamada says to the tranquil air, to Yuto. “I wish you could love me back.”
Yuto stays still. Time stands still. Yamada sighs as he lights another cigarette, willing the ache in his heart to fade.
Minutes later, time rewinds itself and Yuto marches off to his room like nothing happened. Yamada hates that he craves for more smoke in his lungs.
They’re walking in the park, the way they always do when Yuto leaves his shift at the bookstore early and Yamada’s boss doesn’t show up. Yuto’s hand finds Yamada’s and they head towards the smaller fountain away from the families and crowds.
Yuto’s fingers always hold on too tight, always fit. Yamada’s fingers are always gentle, always cautious.
“I have this theory,” Yuto says excitedly.
“Go on,” Yamada says, smiling amusedly. He ignores the flutter in his stomach when Yuto squeezes his hand. Time only stops for a few seconds and Yamada uses those extra seconds to stare at Yuto with fond eyes.
“So, you know how my interests change every few months?” Yuto says.
‘You mean like how sometimes you like me and hold my hand, but sometimes, you stay quiet and look right through me,’ Yamada thinks.
“Sure,” he says instead.
“What if that’s my interest?” Yuto says. “I’m interested in changing interests.”
Yamada lets out a laugh before he can stop it. “That makes no sense, Yuto.”
“Yes, it does! I like change! From one adventure to the next. The unpredictable future! Who knows what I’ll like next? Not me. Not anyone. Isn’t that exciting?” Yuto says.
Yamada chuckles. “You should just quit your job and become one of those crazy daredevil TV show hosts.”
“I just might,” Yuto quips.
“What will I be doing then?” Yamada asks.
Yuto’s eyebrows furrow in concentration.
“You’ll probably email me in all caps praising my crazy stunts then demanding I come home to Japan,” Yuto replies finally.
“Yeah, and when you get here you’ll win a smack on the head and the biggest hug,” Yamada says.
Yuto shrugs. “Sounds perfect.”
Yuto’s lying on Yamada’s bed when time stops again. Yamada’s sitting up, head resting against the wall and Yuto suddenly stops mid-way into his story about how he and Keito found this perfect little bike store.
It’s not like Yamada was listening, honestly. Sometime after Yuto mentions the small alley filled with posters, Yamada gets the strongest urge to kiss him. He doesn’t because Yuto’s eyes are bright and full of excitement from the memory.
Once the world halts, Yamada realizes he could kiss Yuto. He could kiss the corners of Yuto’s curved lips and the sides of his eyes.
He doesn’t because it feels too much like stealing something that isn’t his.
He doesn’t because if he ever finds the courage to kiss Yuto, he wants a Yuto that can choose to kiss back.
“Yama-chan, Yama-chan, Yama-chaaan,” Yuto calls from their sofa.
“What?” Yamada asks as he finishes his email. It’s a weekend. He should be allowed to take a break from work.
“Get over here!” Yuto yells back.
Yamada sighs as he shuts his laptop. “Please don’t tell me you’ve splurged on another camera,” Yamada says as he walks out of his room.
He finds Yuto sitting on their couch with a guitar in his hands.
“Are you going to play Star Time again?” Yamada says, smirking.
“Yes, because it’s the only song I know, thanks,” Yuto quips with an accusing glare.
“Go on,” Yamada says, smiling.
Yuto begins strumming and singing. Yamada giggles before Yuto can even reach the chorus.
“What?” Yuto says, pouting. “You know I can never get the strumming right.”
“Mhmm,” Yamada says through his laughter.
“Shut up. Hate you,” Yuto says, putting the guitar down.
“Love you too,” Yamada says, still laughing.
Yuto rolls his eyes. “Get back to work.”
Yamada’s too happy to argue.
They share a bed every now and then. There was a whole month that Yuto would just slip into bed with Yamada without a question or comment.
It starts like this. Yuto and Yamada facing each other, talking in hushed voices even if no one else is around.
Yamada’s eyes flutter shut and his body still tenses even after all the times they’ve slept by each other.
The persistent thrum of ‘he doesn’t know; he can’t know’ is there.
Yamada breathes in deeply, imagines open fields and rolling waves, anything but the boy next to him.
It continues like this. Yamada half-asleep until Yuto breaks the silence with a soft ‘Yama-chan’ and a question on his lips.
Yamada’s eyes flutter open and his body relaxes when he sees Yuto’s silhouette, Yuto’s warm eyes.
Yuto talks a bit more and Yamada can never remember what they talk about when he wakes. He only keeps Yuto’s smiles.
It ends like this. Yamada stirs in the middle of the night to find Yuto’s arms around his waist, Yuto pressed to his back.
Yamada wakes up in the morning with a racing heart and sad eyes.
Yamada leaves work one day and buys himself a cup of ice cream because why the hell not?
As we walks home, he loses himself to the city life. He likes the rush of the people around him. The colors and lights and noise make him feel so alive.
Sometimes, when he stays in their flat all weekend, he forgets that there’s a whole world out there.
He walks, brings the plastic spoon to his lips and just when he tastes the sweet caramel on his tongue, he sees Yuto walking towards him.
Yamada smiles as Yuto walks closer, probably off to see Keito at the Chinese restaurant nearby.
Yamada wordlessly offers Yuto a spoon of ice cream just as he passes.
Yuto accepts, smiles, mumbles a thank you, leaves.
Yamada watches him leave, feels happy, and sees everything slow down until the world is a frozen blur.
“Fuck it,” he says as he runs through the frozen crowd to find Yuto.
“You make me so happy,” Yamada blurts out when he finds him. “You make me so happy and comfortable and if I lose you we’ll always have simple small moments like this.”
Yuto doesn’t move. The world doesn’t move. Yamada moves to kiss Yuto on the cheek.
When he steps back, he almost bumps into someone. Just like that, the world is bustling and loud again.
Yamada finds his way home.
“I’m moving out,” Yuto tells him one afternoon.
“What?” Yamada asks. He keeps shuffling through the papers he brought home from work.
“I’m moving out. Keito found an apartment nearer to the shops. It’ll be easier for me to get to work. The rent’ll be cheaper too since there’ll be three of us,” Yuto says.
Yamada doesn’t look at Yuto. He’s known for a while. Yuto’s been spending more nights at Keito’s. Yamada’s seen the lack of clothing randomly left around their flat. He’s been avoiding it.
“Yama-chan?” Yuto says again. “Um. We’ll still see each other, right? I know Chinen’s been planning to move in so it’s not like you’ll be alone either.”
Yamada looks up. Yuto’s standing there with a hesitant smile.
“Yeah,” he says. ‘I miss you already,’ He thinks.
Time stops like that. With Yuto standing there, ready to leave, ready to go, ready to begin again.
Yamada buries his head in his hands.
Yamada can’t pinpoint the exact moment he fell in love with Yuto.
He never really thought that he would end up with a flatmate who laughs like he’s running out of air. He never asked for someone to hold his hand and whisper the secrets of the universe into their shared darkness. He never looked for someone who’d steal his guitar to play the same song again and again or someone who would run in the rain with him like in the movies.
He never expected any of this. He wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“Stay,” Yamada says. He’s known Yuto wanted to move somewhere more lively for a while now. He’d hoped Yuto would stay for him anyway.
“Stay with me, please,” Yamada begs. Yuto stays motionless in front of him with arms wide open.
Yamada shakes his head and doesn’t allow himself to cry.
“It’s selfish and you deserve to be out there with someone better and you deserve big things. But I need you here with me. Sometimes, I think about how I would follow you anywhere and how I could write a million songs about how lovely you look in the rain,” Yamada says.
“I need you to hold my hand when I least expect it. I need you to roll your eyes in disapproval when I can’t decide what I want for dinner. I need you to know that it terrifies me that I’ve become that cliché in movies and books,” Yamada continues.
He looks straight at Yuto.
“I’m in love with you,” He says quietly. “I know you need to leave but I need you to stay.”
His eyes start to water but he wipes the tears away before they can even fall.
When time moves again, Yuto hugs Yamada and Yamada forces himself to let go.
There are twenty-four hours in a normal day.
There are thirty hours in Yamada’s when Yuto finally leaves.
They meet a few weeks later and Yamada is doing just fine.
Chinen is always around to make him laugh. Yamada and Yuto text every once in a while. His heart still flops around in his chest when he sees Yuto’s smiling face on his newsfeed but everything else is just fine.
“Did I tell you about the photography exhibit I went to?” Yuto says, interrupting Yamada’s thoughts.
“Yeah, I saw you post about it online,” Yamada says. “Tell me more about it?”
Yuto grins. “It was amazing. The shots were taken at different schools. You would think it would be typical but it was so artistic and creative.”
Yamada relaxes as Yuto continues his story. Nothing’s changed. They’re close friends that can talk about anything. They’re close friends that can share a comfortable silence.
The word ‘casual’ repeats itself like a drumbeat in Yamada’s head.
It doesn’t drown out the orchestra of ‘I love you’s’.
“Yama-chan, can I ask you something?” Yuto says.
They’re lying on Yuto’s bed in his new flat.
“I promise I won’t kick you in your sleep,” Yamada replies, smiling.
“Not that, idiot,” Yuto says, tugging at the end of his shirt.
“What is it, Yuto?” Yamada asks, closing his eyes.
“What happens when you flicker?” Yuto replies quietly.
“When I what?” Yamada says.
“When you flicker,” Yuto repeats. Yamada opens his eyes to find Yuto staring intently at him.
“I don’t understand,” Yamada says confusedly.
Yuto’s eyes flit around nervously. Yamada watches him sigh and sit up.
“Yuto?” Yamada says.
“You flicker,” Yuto says. “It’s only for a split second but I see you flicker in and out. And I know it sounds crazy. I thought I was hallucinating but it kept happening.”
Yamada feels the air rush out of his lungs.
“I mean I didn’t mind it at first,” Yuto continues. “You would flicker all the time but when you came back you’d seem more energetic? Happier even.”
“But the last time it happened,” Yuto barrels on. “That time I told you I was leaving, when you flickered back you looked so sad.”
“It’s nothing,” Yamada says reflexively.
“It’s not nothing,” Yuto argues.
Yamada shakes his head and feels the panic rising in him.
“Yama-chan?” Yuto says softly. “You can tell me.”
‘I can’t tell you that time literally stops when I feel too much. I can’t tell you that time stops when you so much as touch me,’ Yamada wants to scream.
“It’s me, Yama-chan,” Yuto says. “You can tell me anything.”
“I need to go,” Yamada mumbles quickly before he runs out of Yuto’s room.
He tries to ignore the guilt and sadness and yearning.
Time stops before he can even leave the flat.
Yamada knows time has stopped because of the deafening silence.
He gives up like this.
He sees Yuto there and he’s so tired of being stuck. He starts by breaking the vase of flowers by Yuto’s door. He starts throwing the pictures framed on the wall. He throws glass and plastic and wood like a mad man because maybe it’ll ease the pain.
He gives in like this.
He slumps against Yuto’s door, sinks to the floor, and stares up at Yuto.
“Please don’t hate,” he whispers quietly. “Please love me back. Even as a friend. Please don’t kick me out.”
Yuto doesn’t move an inch.
He closes his eyes and finally allows himself to cry.
He gives it away like this.
“I love you, Yuto,” Yamada says.
And just like that time rewinds itself. Every shard of glass restored, every table turned now standing. Yamada’s back at Yuto’s door.
His hand reaches for the knob.
“I know,” A voice says from behind him.
Yamada whips around to find Yuto looking at him fondly.
“I know you love me,” Yuto says, a blush coloring his cheeks.
“I mean, I love you too, but that doesn’t answer my question,” Yuto continues.
Yamada gapes at Yuto and Yuto steps closer.
“You knew?” Yamada stammers.
“I hoped,” Yuto replies.
Yamada stands there speechless.
“Yama-chan, I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I think that can wait until after you kiss me,” Yuto says boldly.
Yamada bursts into laughter as he rushes forward and kisses Yuto.
When their lips meet, it’s gentle and sweet and everything.
Time stops like that and Yamada laughs at the situation he’s in.
Time starts again seconds later and it’s perfect.