It was a bad idea from the start.
Misaki had gone in looking for a few volumes of manga when he'd seen it. That book. That obnoxious, idiotic book. The title – Dating Older Men – was scrawled across the front in pink glittery script. Normally he'd just ignore it. There was a time when he wouldn't have even given it a second glance but Usami had been acting weird lately. It was the kind of weird that made him worry – had he done something wrong, had he forgotten something important, had something happened that Usami didn't think he could talk to Misaki about.
He was probably over-thinking things. He did that, and then the problem always turned out to be something stupid like a misplaced teddy bear or the plot for another smutty novel.
Still, that book.... He kept catching glimpses of it out of the corner of his eye. It was like it was following him around the store, only without ever moving. He was browsing the manga shelves when he first saw it, sitting on a display table at the back of the store. He wandered over to look at cookbooks and he saw it again. Two girls giggled and pointed at it as they walked past. He turned the corner, into the aisle with the computer manuals and it still pulled at his eye. It was everywhere.
He shouldn't. He didn't want it. He didn't need it. Usami would find it and say really embarrassing things. Usami would read too much into it.
He turned, intending to walk out of the store, but his feet led him past the display table instead. His hand moved on its own, reaching out and clasping around the cover.
He tried to pick up the book but there was resistance. The book was being pulled another way. He looked down and then realized that his hand wasn't the only one on the book. Someone else had grabbed it at just the same time. Misaki's gaze followed the second hand up the attached arm and stared at another boy, a boy with light brown hair, about the same age as Misaki. They both blushed and let go at the same time. The book clattered to the floor.
"I... er... I mean..."
"It's not what it looks like."
There was another boy about to buy the same book he was going to buy. Another boy buying a book about dating older men, thus it was safe to assume that this boy, this average normal looking boy, was more like him than his apparent age suggested. Misaki wasn't sure what to think about that. It was like finding a kindred spirit, but in a weird and semi-creepy way.
They both stammered an apology and reached down to pick up the book at the same time. Their heads met in the middle. They backed away in unison, clutching their heads and apologizing again. Misaki felt like such a klutz but at least he wasn't the only one.
The other boy recovered first. He picked up the book and held it out for Misaki. "Here. You had it first."
Misaki waved his hands in the air. "No, no. It's yours. I'll just get-" His words cut off as he stared at the table. There was a big empty space where the rest of the copies were usually stacked. "Oh." He could go looking for other copies, but he had no idea what section to look in. Asking an attendant was right out.
"Here." The other boy held out the book again.
"N-no." Misaki shook his head and took a step back. It was a stupid idea. "It's okay. I shouldn't." That sounded bad, like it was something he shouldn't be interested in, like it was wrong and yet here was another kid in the exact same situation. The other boy raised an eyebrow. He probably didn't think it was weird at all. "I-I mean, I don't need it..." Damn, that made him sound cocky. "I mean..."
"It's okay." The boy pulled back the book and held out his free hand. "I'm Shinobu."
"Misaki." Shinobu's hand was warm. It wasn't the same as Usami's, though he really wasn't sure why he compared them. Probably because he didn't know many gay men, at least outside of the Usami clan.
"Let's exchange numbers. When I'm done, you can have it."
"Oh." He shouldn't. But still... the pink cover called to him. Maybe, just maybe it would help. "O-okay. Thank you."
He pulled out his phone. Shinobu did the same and in seconds there was a new number programmed in Misaki's phone.
"I'll text you when I'm done. Bye!" Shinobu disappeared down an aisle with a backwards wave.
Misaki stared after him for a long moment, his phone still in his hands. He had a feeling he was going to regret this.
Misaki fidgeted with his coffee and kept an eye on the street. It would be just his luck for Usami to wander by. It'd been hard enough to sneak out – Usami had switched from being weird to super clingy AND weird – let alone justify why he was meeting another dude for coffee. Usami got strange ideas about Misaki's friends and thought they were all trying to sleep with Misaki. So far none of his friends had tried to sleep with him. Sleep with Usami, yes. Him, no. That seemed to be reserved for the Usami family alone.
God, his life was messed up.
A book slammed down on the table. Misaki jumped and emitted a very manly shriek. Okay, so it wasn't that manly. It wasn't manly at all and he was going to forget that ever happened. Thankfully, Shinobu didn't seem to have noticed. He flopped into the opposite chair with a dark scowl.
"Don't bother reading it. It's complete garbage."
"Oh." He wasn't sure why he was surprised. Those books were always garbage. He shouldn't have expected this one to be any different.
Shinobu shifted, leaning across the table to suddenly invade Misaki's space. He poked at the book, like it was a living thing and he wanted it to suffer. "I couldn't believe the crap in there. It's full of stupid advice, like how to make your breasts bigger and how to act all delicate and dainty 'cause guys like that."
Misaki stared down at his chest. "I don't have breasts."
"I know!" Shinobu rocked back in his chair and waved his arms in an expansive circle for emphasis. "It's stupid. Completely stupid."
"Oh." Misaki stared at the book again. He supposed that was it then. There wasn't any reason to take the book then, if it was so bad. He'd kind of been hoping for something more.
Shinobu's chair clacked against the tile as he settled it back on all four legs. "So. I was thinking. I mean, I'm dating this older guy and you, I assume...."
Misaki felt his face heat. He nodded instead of answering.
"So." Shinobu drew the word out. "Maybe we could compare notes?"
Shinobu crossed his arms and stared out the window. "I... well, I don't really know anyone else in the same situation. And my classmates... well, they don't really get it. They think I'm dating an older chick and I, well, I never really told them. Are you out? At school, I mean."
Misaki swallowed. It was weird, really weird, talking about his relationship with a near-complete stranger and yet at the same time, Shinobu was right. There wasn't anyone else he knew in the same situation. "No. I mean, yes. Sort of. There's a guy I was friends with. He graduated though, and he knew, but he was also trying to hit on my-" What should he call Usami? There was a word. A very obvious word but he'd never really said it before. He could barely think it. He swallowed again and forced it out. "...My boyfriend. So. That was a little weird."
Shinobu just nodded, like it was the most commonplace thing in the world. Maybe it was. Maybe his life wasn't all that strange.
No. Who was he kidding? His life was fucking weird. Weirder than the Twilight Zone, weird.
"I think my boyfriend's coworker has a thing for him. Or the other way around. I'm not sure. It's strange, and my boyfriend says there's nothing there but they act real close sometimes."
"Oh." Misaki leaned back in his chair and tried to think of an appropriate response. He remembered when he'd thought Usami was dating Aikawa. "That's... awkward."
They stared out the window at the pedestrians passing the shop. Silence stretched between them.
There were things he should ask, things he never got to talk about with anyone else but now that he finally had the opportunity, his mind was drawing a complete blank. Maybe... No. Wasn't there... That thing... And Usami... But maybe....
"Do you worry that your boyfriend is cheating on you?"
Mizuki came to mind. Misaki instantly forced that thought away. "Not usually. I mean, sometimes I've thought about it but he'd never. And I know that, I do, I just... forget... sometimes."
Shinobu sighed. "I wish I had that confidence."
Misaki frowned. He hesitated. He didn't have a lot of experience talking about relationships. He'd only ever been in one and his brother had been single almost all of Misaki's life. It was a new experience for him. "Do you think your boyfriend is cheating on you?"
"No." Shinobu sighed again. "I mean, I doubt it. He wouldn't. There was this woman... but that was years ago. And then my sister-" Shinobu cut himself off suddenly as his face turned bright red.
"Your boyfriend dated your sister?" Misaki stared.
Shinobu blushed harder and stared at the floor. "Married. My sister." The words were mumbled but Misaki still heard them. His eyes widened.
"Oh." That had to be strange, kind of like... "My boyfriend was in love with my older brother for years. Nothing happened though."
A little of the color cleared from Shinobu's face. "Nothing happened with my sister, really. They weren't married long. It was just a marriage of convenience and then she left him. She tried to get back together later, but by then he was with me and well..."
"He chose you over her," Misaki filled in for him.
Suddenly Usami crushing on Misaki's brother didn't seem so bad.
"What about your brother?"
Misaki looked over at Shinobu. He shrugged. "My brother never even knew. Then he got married and Us-" Misaki cut himself off. It didn't feel right bringing names into the conversation, even if it was weird constantly referring to Usami as his boyfriend. "...and my boyfriend and I got together shortly after that." He still remembered crying in the rain. At the time, he'd thought it a little weird that Usami had never cried in front of anyone else. Now that he'd met Usami's family, he understood, at least a little bit.
Shinobu glanced down at his phone and then straightened suddenly. "Crap. I have to go. I have class." He stood quickly and pushed in his chair. The book sat on the table where Shinobu had dropped it. Shinobu hesitated. "Did you want...?"
He shouldn't. It was crap, after all. "You could return it."
Shinobu paled. "I didn't keep the receipt."
"Oh." Misaki stared at the book. The advice sounded cliched, like the kind of stuff a manga writer would use. Maybe Aikawa knew someone who could use it. "I have a friend who might be able to use it. I mean, if you don't want it."
Shinobu slid the book across the table. "It's yours." He straightened and hesitated again. "Did you... I mean... want to hang out again some time? Compare notes and all that?"
"Sure." The word was out of his mouth before he really thought about it. Once he did think about it, it felt good. Like he had someone he could turn to for help with Usami, even if Shinobu seemed just as clueless about his boyfriends as Misaki was with his own. It was better than nothing. "That'd be nice."
A smile split Shinobu's face and Misaki knew he wasn't alone in feeling camaraderie growing between them. "Great. That's great. See you."
Misaki slipped the book in his bag and followed Shinobu out.
The book was forgotten by the time Misaki got home. It stayed in his bag, trapped under his economics text book and a mass of loose papers and notebooks. There was so much to keep him busy – homework, housework, dealing with Usami's demands – that he forgot it even existed. That is, until it showed up one day in Usami's hands.
There was a smug grin on Usami's face as he leaned against the kitchen doorway, the book raised in one hand. "Misaki, dear, what's this?"
Misaki set his cooking chopsticks on the counter and turned, expecting to see one of his failed test papers or a card from one of the other Usamis. He took one look at the book, blushed bright red, and contemplated fainting on the spot.
Usami pounced. Dinner burned. The pot was ruined forever, and Misaki was semi-convinced he was too.
He'd known it was a bad idea.