They met in the Minato City Library. Sho was twenty years old, and a junior in Keio University, working as a part-time librarian’s assistant. Although his family could afford to send him to a prestigious university and pay for his dorm fees, nothing could beat the satisfaction of working for one’s own survival. Besides, he liked being around books.
“Excuse me, do you have a book by Robert Browning?”
He was on the ladder, stacking books on the highest shelf. When he turned to the direction of the voice, he saw a tall young man looking all too smart with a blue-and-white striped shirt, a key necklace, a gray cardigan, shorts, leather shoes, and a wide, friendly smile on his face.
Sho was taken aback by the sudden appearance, that he lost his footing, and he fell on the ground, books toppling all over him.
“Are you okay?” the man asked, extending a hand to help him up.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he apologized weakly and in embarrassment, accepting the help. He groaned at the sight of the books in disarray. “And to think I sorted these.”
The younger man just chuckled. “Let me help you with that,” he said, picking up some of the books.
“No, it’s okay,” Sho said. “I’m the one working here—“
One sincere look from the younger man, and Sho stopped stumbling. “I want to,” he said.
As soon as the books were neatly stacked back on the shelves, Sho’s shift was over, and he was invited to have lunch in the nearby coffee shop. Introductions were made, and he soon found out that the younger man was Matsumoto Jun, nineteen years old, and an English Literature sophomore in Meiji Gakuin.
They exchanged numbers before Jun went back to the university. Much to his surprise, he saw him again the next day, and the day after that, and he found himself looking forward to the next time that they would meet.
The chase lasted for ten months, and though it was long, it was worth it.
All Sho wanted at that point was to know more about Jun. They had added each other on Facebook and he probably spent the next hour scrolling through his Wall and looking at his interests and stuff, stalker-ish as it may seem. (He then realized that he had yet to study for his public finance exam due the next day, and fortunately, he had aced said exam.)
All Sho wanted to do was hang out with Jun. Fortunately, Jun would drop by the library during his free time, and they would go out to have lunch together. (The head librarian somehow knew what was going on, so she would let Sho end his shift early.) They would go to their favorite coffee shop and talk about subjects ranging from literature to current affairs to, surprisingly, fashion.
Jun was the only person he wanted to talk to. Even if it was four in the morning… even if he and his best friend Nino were finally finishing off that boss in that final level of Super Mario.
“What the hell, man?” Nino would yell whenever Sho’s phone would ring, and Sho would pause the game to go outside to talk to Jun.
And every time he would see Jun… butterflies. Especially when they hugged for the first time.
Jun was everything that was perfect.
Sho finally took the chance one summer night. He had snuck Jun in the library (the head librarian was kind enough to lend him spare keys for the night), and took him to the place (or the shelf, to be precise) where they first met.
“Can we be more than friends?” he asked, all too quickly.
Jun was grinning too widely at the question. “Yeah,” he replied excitedly.
And with those simple words, they began their relationship.
Sho was high that night, but it was a different kind of high, different from whenever he would get an A on an exam or when he would get any academic accomplishment of that sort.
He was in a relationship with Jun, a person that he had come to like and care for since the day he first met him… Jun, the number one person in his life.
He still couldn’t believe it when he came home that night and changed his Facebook relationship status, bringing forth tons of likes and comments, and an eventual phone call from his family.
When Jun showed up in the library the next day, his smile wider and his cheeks redder, then it had begun to sink in.
He and Jun are together.
They spent almost every waking moment together. Sometimes Sho would pick Jun up after his class, and they would take a long walk in the city. When the sun is starting to set, they would stop by the bridge connecting their city to the next. They would just watch the view, their fingers laced together, never wanting to let go.
They were not the intimate type of couple, at least in public. But whenever they were alone, in the other’s apartment), they would share feather light kisses, gentle embraces… and sometimes they would fall asleep, arms wrapped around each other.
Jun would surprise him with the most romantic gestures—a candlelit dinner, a bouquet of roses, a home cooked meal. Sho, meanwhile, was not the most romantic person on earth, but he tries to make up for it by dropping by Jun’s university or apartment during unexpected moments to give him his favorite food, a sweet note… tiny gestures to show the other that he cared.
Their relationship was perfect, Sho thought. He couldn’t have had asked for more.
A year had passed and their relationship had started to simmer down into something more comfortable. They knew each other’s schedules and every detail of their lives. The intimacy lessened, and they let each other show their true selves.
The times when they would go out have lessened. It was expected; Sho had just graduated and was accepted as a writer for the NTV segment News ZERO. Jun, meanwhile, was in his senior year in Meiji Gakuin, worrying about graduating on time.
They would try to do their routine, but Sho would forget that Jun has a life outside their relationship.
“Where are you?” he texted one time when Jun didn’t show up for their library ‘date.’
The reply was “Yikes! Sorry! I was working on my paper. Maybe next week?”
Sometimes Jun would make it up to him, sometimes he would forget. Not that Sho was taking count.
Gone were the romantic gifts that they would give each other during special occasions. Before, on their second-month anniversary, Jun gave him his key necklace, saying that Sho stole the key to his heart. But on their fourteenth-month anniversary, Jun just gave him a pencil case, saying “Because your old one is broken.”
Sho thought that it was the feelings that count, and he would use this new pencil case every day.
Before, Jun was his number one priority. Now, he realized that he had other priorities, and that Jun could live without him.
Gone were the phone calls that would last until four in the morning. Jun would call him during their routine call time, but there were times when Sho would rather prefer to play with Nino in the other man’s Nintendo Wii.
“Aren’t you gonna get that?” Nino asked whenever Sho’s phone would ring in the middle of their game.
“Uh… later—hey, watch out for that dragon!”
In perspective, Sho thought that maybe he had stopped trying at that moment. No… maybe, he just took Jun for granted.
A year and a half into the relationship, and Sho wondered what had happened. Jun used to be that special person, his number one. Now, he wasn’t that special anymore.
He wanted to pull off something romantic, something special for Jun, just to rekindle the flame. But the more he tried to rack his brains, the more he realized that Jun had seen all his antics, and he was out of ideas.
The scarier part was that Jun seemed to be running out of ideas, too.
The scariest part was that the feelings weren’t as strong as before.
Whenever they would have their conversations about their day, the other’s remarks were no longer full-blown reactions, but “Ah”s, “Hmm”s, “Okay”s, “I sees”s, or something similar to the other four.
They have ended up tolerating each other.
Proof of that was when Jun ranted about this “annoying classmate” one day. Sho would mentally roll his eyes and listen away because Jun had been ranting about this classmate for quite some time. Besides, he was having a bad day, and he wanted to get some rest instead of hanging out with him.
“I’m hungry,” Jun finally said. “Where do you wanna eat?”
“Wherever,” Sho said, standing up to get his coat. “You pick.”
“Can’t you decide? I asked you” was Jun’s cranky reply.
“Well, I can’t decide on anything. You pick.”
“Don’t be a five-year-old and let others decide for you!”
Sho literally snapped. “What did you just say?!”
They had tons of arguments before, but it was never this petty. The day ended up with the two eventually apologizing, just for the sake that they didn’t want things to blow out of proportion anymore.
He was feeling frustrated with the relationship, and he could tell that Jun was, too. They’ve tried to change, to make up to each other, but everything they did just wasn’t enough.
Soon, the relationship didn’t become bad, but it didn’t become wonderful, either. And it was never a good way to describe a relationship.
It wasn’t long, three months to be exact, until they went downhill.
The effort to make things work between the two of them just wasn’t worth it anymore.
Jun asked to talk to him that night, outside the Minato City Library. “It’s important.” But from his tone of voice, he knew what was coming next.
Jun wasn’t smiling, and Sho feared that this could get messy. He didn’t want to end this that way. He wanted them to still be on good terms, if that was ever, truly possible.
“I think it’s for the best,” Jun said as the two of them stood beside each other, leaning against the library walls. They never attempted to look at each other in the eye.
“Fine,” Sho replied.
And it was over.
Sho remembered Jun when he was cleaning his room a year after the break-up. He opened the top drawer of his cabinet and stumbled upon a box, a collection of everything that he and Jun shared.
He and Jun were back to being strangers, but who could forget these fragments of memories that they once shared?
There was Jun’s key necklace… the pencil case… a gift certificate to their favorite soba restaurant… a mix-tape that Jun had given him (because he was feeling romantic)… other stuff that didn’t really have much meaning to others, but back then, it was something important… it held something that needed to be remembered…
Then, he found it.
Jun had written it in scented paper, in his best, English cursive writing. It was a poem by Robert Browning.
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear—
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed—
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And baffled, get up to begin again,—
So the chase takes up one's life, that's all.
While, look but once from your farthest bound,
At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope drops to ground
Than a new one, straight to the selfsame mark,
I shape me—
And there was a note at the bottom.
This is to remind you of the day we first met each other, when I was looking for a Robert Browning book, and you quickly fell for me. Haha. Sho, I’m so glad we have each other in our lives. I know that we’ll always be together no matter what, and we’ll always have a tomorrow to look forward to together.
Sho sighed out of nostalgia. He closed the box and placed it under his bed. It will probably be forgotten and dug up again when his room needed some cleaning. And he liked it to be forgotten often and rarely dug up.
His heart ached, but not out of sadness… more out of the bittersweetness of remembering everything about what had been wonderful…
When that stranger in his arms in those pictures was the most wonderful person in his life…