“SAWAMURA DAICHI, PLEASE BE MY BOYFRIEND!”
None of the three sophomore university students walking across the grassy quad that morning were expecting to be subject to a sudden proclamation of love. And none of them were expecting to hear such an audacious request from an unknown, pale haired man with hands clenched at his sides and legs spread wide, eyes squeezed tightly shut over brightly flushed cheeks.
But more than anything, the two men on either side of the student in question didn’t expect the answer that left their companion’s lips, without a hint of shock nor hesitation.
The strange man gave a deep bow and said to the grassy earth beneath him, “Thank you very much!” He straightened and opened his wide brown eyes for the first time since his sudden arrival. “Then, I’ll meet you here in this spot at four!”
Daichi gave a nod, “Okay.”
The man visibly gulped, blinking rapidly as his flushed cheeks turned an even brighter shade of red. He spun on his heels and ran across the quad in the opposite direction, leaving no trace that their encounter had ever taken place except for the shock and resonating silence between the three men he left behind.
Tanaka turned towards Daichi, “What the hell was that all about?”
“Who was that?” Asahi asked, clutching at the strap of his bag across his chest.
“I don’t know,” Daichi admitted and turned back towards the school, hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“You don’t know?” Asahi and Tanaka followed after. “You don’t know who he is and you accepted his confession just like that?”
“I don’t see what the issue is,” he said simply. “My girlfriend broke up with me last week so I’m free.”
“The key word here being girlfriend,” Tanaka said dully. “Since when are you gay?”
Asahi rubbed his temples stressfully while Tanaka sighed.
“I can’t tell if you’re an idiot or just cruel.”
Daichi chuckled, "Well, hopefully neither." He lifted his eyes to the leafy canopy above his head. "But I guess we'll find out."
I did it, Sugawara Koushi thought as he clutched at the jumping heart in his chest and rushed off towards his first class of the day, for which he was already late. I actually did it! He curled his fingers around the tan strap of the bag cutting across his chest and squeezed. And he accepted. He actually accepted…
Sugawara paused to lean against the wall of the hallway, sucking in big gulps of air. He had never expected his spontaneous confession to end in such easy success. Daichi was supposed to promptly reject him so he could put his feelings to rest and move on with his life. But instead, he had immediately accepted his feelings without so much as a question or hint of doubt.
Was he an idiot or just cruel?
Sugawara dug his fingers into his scalp and screamed soundlessly at the ceiling, Now what the hell am I supposed to do?
He wasn’t supposed to say yes! Sugawara had no plans. No idea as to what he was even supposed to do with a boyfriend. Was it the same as having a girlfriend?
For some reason he just couldn’t imagine the larger, darker, and- let’s be honest here- manlier guy being happy about sharing a milkshake or holding hands during a movie at the theater.
Just what the hell did one do with a boyfriend?
I should take it back, he decided, turning dejectedly towards his class once more and continuing on at a much slower pace, feet dragging. Apologize and admit that I made a mistake. Go back to being strangers and get on with my life like I originally planned.
But he had said “sure.” Why did he say “sure”? It just didn’t make sense to him. Sawamura Daichi had a reputation of being an infamous playboy, bouncing from girl to girl at the drop of a hat. Never once had Sugawara heard of him dating a guy. And yet he had accepted his confession so readily without batting an eyelash as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“He’s weird,” Sugawara said under his breath. “He’s definitely weird.”
It had to be some kind of trick. A ploy in order to torture Sugawara by deeming him a homo and ridiculing him with the help of the entire student body.
There was no way that Daichi was that kind of person. Sugawara just couldn’t believe it after the past few months he spent shamelessly spying on the man from a distance. Sugawara had seen all the care and attention he put into each of his relationships, always listening attentively and following along wherever his girlfriends pulled him, no matter how selfish the request.
If he had any shortcoming, it would be that he was too nice, too lenient.
He always followed along wherever everybody else went.
But what about Daichi’s feelings?
What did Daichi want?
Surely, if he was dating him, Sugawara would want Daichi to be more selfish.
And that was the beginning of his crush.
If Sawamura Daichi was my boyfriend… it was a thought that led Sugawara down a path of outlandish imagining during times of boredom that eventually gave birth to an unhealthy attachment to the man to whom he had never spoken a word. And as his feelings grew, he watched closer and longer, only feeding his crush more and more. After his two months of distant yearning, he came to one conclusion of which he was one hundred percent sure.
Sawamura Daichi wasn't cruel.
He may be an idiot though.
After all, he had accepted this idiot’s unprovoked confession so early on a Monday morning.
He's weird, Sugawara decided with a nod.
He's totally weird.
“He actually came.”
Sugawara peeked around the trunk of the tree, eyes locked on the figure standing in the middle of the quad, in almost the exact place they had met that morning.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” he whispered.
Sawamura Daichi shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and turned his face up towards the sun, eyes closed.
Sugawara took a deep breath and used the opportunity to scrutinize him.
It was no secret that he was an attractive man. He was immensely popular. His stature, broad. His face, kind. His jawline was cut and strong, cheekbones high, eyebrows straight and thick over deep brown eyes.
Model material, Sugawara sighed.
Sawamura Daichi could be the model for an underwear brand or athletic wear. He was fit and perfectly tanned and charismatic and exactly the type that belonged under a camera lens.
The complete opposite of Sugawara, who was small and thin with hair that never sat where it was supposed to. His cheeks were round and he sometimes still got mistaken for a highschooler and had even been mistaken for a woman one time, (though he preferred to forget that incident. His cousin still called him Milady from time to time, a habit he should really beat out of him before he said it in front of the wrong person.) On top of that, he was so deathly pale that he needed to lather on an entire bottle of sunscreen before stepping foot into the very idea of a beam of sunlight.
The complete opposite of Sawamura Daichi who looked literally born from sunlight and everything good and warm and manly in the world.
So he was attractive. Did that mean he was Sugawara’s type? He hadn’t the faintest idea. After all, Sugawara had never been interested in another man before. And his tastes in women followed a much different recipe, preferring loud, feisty girls who were smaller than him with long hair and bright, doe eyes.
Was it possible to have such conflicting tastes? Though he supposed the fact that he was apparently just as attracted to men as he was women, a revelation that caused many a late night crisis, was just as (or more) conflicting.
Sugawara straightened away from the tree and let out a trembling breath, eyeing Daichi nervously. The man was still patiently waiting, despite it being half an hour past four, not showing a single hint of frustration at being made to wait. Sugawara’s chest tightened and he gripped at it, hands shaking.
He inhaled deeply and finally stepped out from behind the tree. He trotted in Daichi’s direction, calling out, “Sorry! Have you been waiting long?”
Daichi turned towards him and smiled gently, “Not long.”
“That’s good then,” Sugawara smiled back.
Daichi stared for a moment before saying, “Uhm. So can I ask your name?”
“So-sorry!” he bowed suddenly, forcing Daichi to take a step back. “My name is Sugawara Koushi! Sorry!”
He didn’t even know my name?
He stared at the ground beneath his sneakers with wide eyes.
Is this guy some kind of idiot?
Daichi chuckled and placed his hand on Sugawara’s shoulder, “Why are you apologizing? And quit bowing. I’m not anybody important or anything like that.”
Sugawara straightened, face and ears hot. He cleared his throat and avoided Daichi’s gaze.
“I confessed without even telling you my name,” he said under his breath. “How embarrassing.”
Daichi hesitated before saying, “We’re dating now, right? You don’t need to feel embarrassed.”
Sugawara glanced up at him and then quickly away when his face turned hot again.
What the hell is my problem?
“So anyway,” Daichi put his hands back in his pockets. “Now what? Is there somewhere you wanted to go?”
“Ah,” Sugawara gulped. “I didn’t really have anywhere in particular in mind. I just thought maybe we could walk home together…”
Daichi stared at him as he mumbled under his breath, cheeks bright red, eyes looking anywhere but his face.
“Alright,” he finally said, turning away. “Let’s go then. We can stop for ice cream on the way.”
Sugawara caught his breath for a moment before chasing after him, hands wrapped around the strap of his bag across his chest. “Okay! I'll get snickerdoodle! What's your favorite flavor, Daichi?”
"Ah... uhm... I don't know."
"You don't know?" Sugawara cocked an eyebrow.
"I'm not a huge fan of sweets," he admitted.
Sugawara stared at him, "Then why did you suggest we get ice cream?"
Daichi's brows furrowed slightly, expression turning perplexed. "Because... I guess because it's summer... and that's usually the type of thing someone would get when walking home with their boyfriend? And, you like it, right? So it's fine."
There it is.
"So... you want to get something that you don't particularly like, just because it's the typical thing to do and I like it?"
Daichi hesitated, "I... I guess."
Sugawara stared up into his face.
“But wouldn’t it be better to stop for something we both like instead?”
Daichi was quiet.
“Do you like hot dogs? Or maybe burgers… I know of a good food truck along the way that sells great gyros… or there’s a ramen stand near the bus station and a taco joint not far from that…”
“Which do you want to go to?”
Sugawara fell silent, staring straight ahead. He pushed a frustrated breath through his lips and muttered, “I want you to decide.”
Daichi glanced at him.
Sugawara puffed up his cheeks, lips pressed tight in a childish pout.
Daichi covered his mouth with a hand but it did nothing to hide the sound of his chuckling. Sugawara's cheeks blazed.
"Alright," Daichi lowered his hand once more and cleared his throat. “You win. Gyros it is.”
He glanced over at Sugawara and cocked an eyebrow, mouth full of his latest bite of his gyro.
Sugawara leaned back on the bench, staring down at his half eaten gyro as he poked at a lettuce leaf, "I was wondering..." he pursed his lips momentarily, stretching his legs out in front of him on the sidewalk. "What... uh... what do you like best about people?"
Daichi chewed and swallowed slowly, mulling the question over.
"I mean," Sugawara straightened and looked up at him, "What kind of qualities attract you?" His cheeks tinted pink and he looked away again, "Ah... or not attract... but like... your friends. What about your friends made you want to be their friend? Are there specific qualities that you like best about them?"
Daichi hummed and stared forward again, watching a woman tug the hand of a small child as they walked across the park.
"Specific qualities that I'm attracted to, huh?" he lowered his gyro. "I suppose... I like it when people are tenacious. And strong and courageous."
Sugawara didn't reply.
"For example," Daichi leaned back. "Tanaka, he's strong. In body and mind. I've known him for years and I've never seen him get discouraged. And Asahi? He's a huge coward," he smiled crookedly. "But he always manages to make it through situations that he's absolutely terrified of. That takes a lot of courage. I admire that."
"Huh..." Sugawara took a bite of his meal, head cocked as he chewed and stared absently across the park.
Daichi watched him for a moment.
It was incredible, really.
Sugawara Koushi was an open book.
Daichi could see him drawing in to his thoughts, his eyes glazing over and his lips pursing, and he decided to take the opportunity of his inattention to really examine his new... boyfriend.
Sugawara's pale, unruly hair was a complete mess, as if he had just woken up from a four hour nap. His simple clothes were disheveled, his blue t-shirt slightly ruffled around his left bicep and the hem folded and tugged over his right hip, revealing the smallest sliver of pale skin between it and his faded jeans.
Daichi's first impression was that Sugawara seemed to exist in a state of frazzled, vulnerable, absent-mindedness. He was an open book with dog-eared pages, messy notes scribbled in the margins, and all the important bits highlighted in bright colors.
And on top of that, he was shockingly...
Daichi furrowed his brow.
Was that the appropriate word to describe Sugawara? Daichi had never used that word to describe another man before but he'd definitely say that Sugawara was pretty. His brown eyes bordered on hazel and were gentle and round. His gaze, soft. His jaw was delicate and his chin pointed. The only blemish- if you could call it that- on his porcelain skin was a mole under his left eye and Daichi admitted that it merely enhanced the beauty of his face.
Model material, he decided, taking another bite of his gyro.
Sugawara Koushi could be the model for some modern clothing line in the big city. He seemed to belong in pastels and florals, smiling under the lens of a camera amidst tall stalks of sunflowers or lilac bushes.
Ah, he'd look good with rhododendrons, Daichi pursed his lips.
"So basically," Sugawara's voice drew his attention once more. He gazed up at him, eyebrows lifted on his forehead, "Your type is the main character?"
Daichi blinked, "Main character?"
"Yeah. The hero that runs head long into the adventure and is brave and strong," Sugawara smiled crookedly. "That's your type."
Daichi chuckled, "I suppose that makes sense."
Sugawara crossed his ankles and bit into his gyro happily, seemingly pleased with his deliberation about Daichi's preferred type.
"What about you?" Daichi finished off his meal and rolled up the wrapper. "What attracts you about people?"
Sugawara's eyes went wide and he covered his mouth with a hand as he chewed quickly.
"I like support characters!" he exclaimed after giving a hard swallow and turning towards him on the bench.
Daichi sputtered and laughed.
"You know..." Sugawara went on, eyes bright. "The people that are perfectly okay with blending into the background so that others can take the spotlight. Those are my favorite. Because they're underappreciated!" He held Daichi's stare with serious intensity, "Even though they don't stand out, they're important. They support everyone else and are usually the ones to help the main character when he really needs it. They're selfless and kind and strong and never ask for anything. I like those people."
"And whenever I see a great support character, I just think," Sugawara pressed a hand to his cheek and closed his eyes. "Ahhh, I wish I could give them a hug. You know?" He opened his eyes again and peered up at Daichi, "I want to give them the love and support that they deserve but never ask for."
"Hmm..." Daichi tossed his rolled up wrapper into the trashcan a short distance from the bench. "Is that me?"
He grinned and turned back to Sugawara, left eyebrow ticking up, "That's me, right? The support character."
Sugawara's face flushed bright with color and he turned forward, "No! I... uh... no. Uhm... you're definitely a main character. You... you stand out too much. You're definitely... definitely a main character."
Daichi's grin shifted into a smirk, "Hmhm..."
"A-anyway," Sugawara finished off his gyro and tossed the trash. "Let's go!" He leapt to his feet and headed down the sidewalk without a backwards glance, arms stiff at his sides.
Daichi chuckled and followed, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“My apartment is this way,” Sugawara gestured down the street to their left.
“Mine is this way,” Daichi said, pointing to the right.
Sugawara gazed down the street, “What’s the name?”
Daichi’s mouth curled into a rueful half smile, “Sounds like we’re practically neighbors.”
Sugawara twisted the strap of his bag, staring down the right street with a pleased smile and glittering eyes. He looked up at Daichi and lifted a hand in a wave, entire face brightening. He grinned wide, corners of his eyes wrinkling.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” He turned and took a few bounding steps down the left street before Daichi’s voice stopped him.
He slowed and looked over his shoulder, “What?”
For a moment Daichi just leveled him with his steady stare, not speaking, until Sugawara started to fidget under the attention.
“Earlier,” he finally said. “You called it... a confession.”
“You said that you confessed. But... you just asked me to date you, right? So I'm just a little confused on what you mean by confession...”
Sugawara whipped his body towards him and the words died on Daichi's tongue at the sudden intensity of his wide-eyed stare.
He pressed a hand to his chest and blurted out, “I like you! Like... a lot!”
Daichi blinked. His mouth went dry and he floundered, taken off guard by the sudden announcement. He wasn't... expecting that. He gulped, cleared his throat, and waved, “I’ll... uh... I'll see you tomorrow... then?”
“Yes!” Sugawara returned the wave exuberantly and ran down the street, eventually disappearing from view.
For long seconds, Daichi remained where he was, the sun (it was the sun, wasn't it?) warming him to the core.
He... likes me?
Daichi wasn't expecting that.
“Summer rain is my favorite rain.”
Daichi glanced down at Sugawara as he peeked out at the warm rain falling outside the cover of their shared umbrella. He reached a hand out and caught a few droplets on his palm.
“It gives you a break from the summer heat but it’s not too cold either,” he went on, curling his fingers against the moisture. “And it blocks out the sun so I don’t have to worry about getting burned.” He retracted his hand and stared down at his pale palm.
Apparently Sugawara was feeling melancholic at the moment.
Was he expecting something?
Did he want something?
He pursed his lips and wracked his mind.
It had been a week since they had started dating and Daichi was somewhat at a loss.
Sugawara never asked for much.
He seemed perfectly content with merely eating lunch and then walking home together after classes, making idle conversation about nothing in particular. If they stopped somewhere on the walk home, he insisted on paying for himself and had even paid for Daichi on more than one occasion, despite his reluctance.
Daichi didn’t understand.
All of the women he had dated in the past had been very happy when he spoiled them. When he bought them gifts and food and willingly went along with all of their whims.
But Sugawara… every time Daichi tried to do the same for him, he pressed his lips in a tight line and stubbornly refused until Daichi bowed.
He didn’t understand.
Was it just that Sugawara preferred to be the one to do the spoiling?
Daichi... didn’t know how he felt about that. Having others pay for him or giving him gifts… it made him… uneasy.
“But rain makes my hair stand up,” Sugawara drew his attention once more. He absently patted at his flyaway hair, attempting- and failing- to flatten that stubborn lock at the top of his head. He inhaled deeply and then let it out.
What does he want?
What do I do to make him happy?
Daichi chewed the inside of his cheek.
Sugawara wiped the remaining rain drops from his palm against the thigh of his jeans and Daichi glanced down at his own hand holding the umbrella between them.
Daichi shifted the umbrella to his other, sure to keep it over Sugawara’s head, and then timidly reached for his hand, which hung at his side once more.
“Ah! Look, Daichi!” Sugawara suddenly darted out from under the cover of the umbrella, leaving Daichi grasping at air.
Sugawara crouched on the edge of the sidewalk, gazing down into the flower bed at the outskirts of someone’s front lawn. Daichi blinked in surprise and then followed. He crouched next to him, holding the umbrella over his head once more as Sugawara reached out and rustled around in the flowers.
“Bam!” Sugawara thrust his hands towards Daichi’s face. “Look!”
Daichi leaned slightly away so that his eyes could focus on the face poking out from in between Sugawara’s thumbs.
“Isn’t he cute?” Sugawara grinned. “It’s a salamander!”
Daichi peered at the dark eyes staring back up at him over a small, slimy nose.
“I think it’s an ezo salamander,” Sugawara went on, opening his hands slightly and laying a finger gently across the amphibian’s back when it attempted to scurry away. “There are a lot of them living around my parents’ house. My brother and sister and I used to catch them when we were kids.” He patted the salamander’s head softly.
Daichi pursed his lips.
So Sugawara liked salamanders? Should Daichi take him salamander… hunting one day?
Was that a thing?
“Here!” Sugawara took the umbrella from his hand and then held out the salamander. “Want to hold him?”
“Ah…” Daichi blinked, “I don’t th—”
“It’s okay, he won’t bite,” Sugawara giggled. “Hold out your hand.”
Daichi slowly did as he was told, brow twisted uncertainly.
“Careful, he’s going to try to run,” Sugawara warned before gently dropping the creature into his palm.
Daichi quickly cupped the salamander with his other hand, hiding it from view and holding it captive.
“It’s slimy,” he observed for lack of anything better to say.
Sugawara snorted and Daichi glanced up at him. His nose crinkled, soft brown eyes squinting.
Ahh… Daichi gulped. He’s… kind of…
“I’ll bet he came out to enjoy the summer rain,” Sugawara leaned his chin in the palm of his left hand and then twirled the umbrella with his right. “Maybe I was a salamander in a past life,” he smiled warmly.
Daichi’s mouth went dry and he glanced down at his closed hands. The salamander wiggled and pushed at his fingers.
“Give him a little pat,” Sugawara urged.
Daichi bit his bottom lip and timidly opened his hands. The salamander scurried out between his fingers and dropped to the ground.
“Ah!” Sugawara reached for it, lost his balance, and grabbed Daichi’s hand. The salamander scampered off into the flower bed and disappeared once more.
“Oh, he got away,” Sugawara steadied himself and looked up into Daichi’s face. “Missed your chance, Daichi.” He squeezed his fingers and laughed lightly.
Daichi’s heart rate sped momentarily before slowing back to its normal pace. He took a short breath and then closed his hand around Sugawara’s, smiling softly.
“I’ll be sure not to hesitate next time."
“Suga, over here!”
Sugawara glanced towards the voice and spotted Asahi waving from the picnic table near the northwest corner of the quad. He stuck his sucker back into his mouth, pulled his knitted, periwinkle skull cap down lower over his shameful bedhead, and trotted off in the direction of the table.
“Ham and cheddar again?” Tanaka said when Sugawara dropped his brown paper sack down on the table beside him and slid onto the bench, pulling his book bag up and over his head.
“Haven’t you heard the old adage?” Sugawara said, dropping the bag on the ground at his feet. “Consistency is the very spice of life.”
"I'm pretty sure that's wrong," Asahi mumbled.
“And haven’t you heard the old adage, you are what you eat?” Tanaka said, snatching the cap from his head and revealing the tragic mess that lay underneath. “One of these days you’re going to wake up a soggy, sad, floppy ham and cheddar sandwich and Daichi will break up with you for real.”
“This time I brought a cup of applesauce too,” Sugawara said, ignoring Tanaka’s threat and theft of his hat. He unrolled his paper sack and pulled out his sad lunch.
“Where is Daichi anyway?” Asahi asked, pouring steaming soup from his thermos into the cup.
“Getting drinks.” Sugawara bit down on his sucker and cracked it in half.
Tanaka gazed at Asahi’s thermos with a dull stare for a moment before nudging Sugawara with his elbow, “At least you’re not soup in summer guy over here.”
“Soup is a yearly treat,” Asahi muttered, lifting the cup to his lips and blowing gently.
“Now that you’ve dissed everyone’s meal, why don’t you show us what you’ve got today?” Sugawara suggested, crunching on the remains of the sucker.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Tanaka pulled the Tupperware container from his bag and placed it on the table. He popped the lid off and displayed a row of hard shelled tacos complete with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans. “Today’s lunch courtesy of my neighbor Mrs. Gonzales.” He snickered and lifted a taco. “It pays to have charm.”
“It pays to live next door to a Hispanic couple recovering from empty nest syndrome,” Asahi corrected.
Sugawara tossed the chewed sucker stick into his empty paper bag and started unwrapping his skinny ham and cheddar sandwich from its plastic wrap.
“Anyway,” Tanaka said through a full mouth. He and Asahi both turned their eyes to Sugawara.
He took note of their stares as he took a wolfish bite of his sandwich.
“So you and Daichi have been going out for two weeks now,” Tanaka said.
Sugawara chewed quietly, waiting for him to go on.
Asahi checked the area uneasily.
Tanaka leaned closer, dark eyes wide, “So you guys done it yet?”
“Done what?” He took another bite, cocking an eyebrow.
“You know, butt stuff.”
Sugawara choked on the bite. He dropped the sandwich to the table and coughed, covering his mouth as tears stung his eyes.
Tanaka beat on his back until he gained control of himself once more.
“Not just that,” Asahi said timidly, untwisting the top of his water bottle. “It’s just that Daichi never talks to us about that kind of thing and we never see you guys touch so it doesn’t even look like you’re in a romantic relationship...”
Sugawara’s cheeks and ears burned. He cleared his throat and looked away, “Jeez you guys lack tact.”
“C’mon, what’s wrong with being curious about our friend’s sex life?” Tanaka leaned his cheek on the palm of his hand and poked Sugawara’s forehead. “Normally, Daichi doesn’t even introduce us to his girlfriends so this is a rare opportunity getting to know his significant other.”
“You don’t have to go into detail,” Asahi said. “We just want to know whether or not you do anything.”
“It’s… not like that,” Sugawara refused to make eye contact, staring off between the two. “That stuff... uh... we don't... we don't need to do that.”
“Huh?” Tanaka scowled. “What are you talking about? He’s your boyfriend, isn’t he?”
“Well yeah but… I guess I haven't put a lot of thought into that part...”
Asahi and Tanaka exchanged a look.
“It’s not really the physical stuff that I’m after,” he continued, cheeks reddening. "So I haven't thought much about it yet."
"Then..." the tendon in Tanaka's jaw flexed. "What are you after, Suga?"
"I just... like him."
Asahi sipped his soup quietly while Tanaka stared at Sugawara with a flat look.
"You know..." Tanaka said in a low voice. "You're not the first person to-"
"Tanaka," Asahi interrupted. He gave a short shake of his head.
Tanaka's lips twitched and he let out a huff, turning back to his lunch.
Asahi looked to Sugawara, "Suga, why do you like Daichi?"
Sugawara's cheeks flushed and he cleared his throat, "Wh-what do you mean? Why does anyone like him?"
Tanaka slapped his hand down on the table, scaring a squeak out of Sugawara. "That's it. I'm getting real-"
"Tanaka," Asahi snapped, quieting him down once more. They glared at each other for a long second before Tanaka backed down, grumbling as he crunched on a taco. Asahi looked to Sugawara, who stared between them fearfully. "Suga, why do you think Daichi is so popular?"
"Huh?" Sugawara's cheeks grew even hotter and his eyelashes fluttered. "Well... uhm... obviously because..." He covered his face with his hands, "Ahhhhh, do we have to talk about this?"
"Quit dodging and just answer," Tanaka demanded.
Sugawara groaned and then slowly lowered his hands, avoiding their stares.
"People like Daichi because he's so..." he squeezed his eyes shut. "He's so hot!"
The others stared at him in shocked silence.
"I mean..." Sugawara opened his eyes again and flapped his hands around his face. "He's so fit! And... and he's got such a nice looking face and always smiles and is super charming. And his voice is really low and su-sultry... and he's so polite and respectful and he treats everyone so nicely no matter who they are..." he groaned and dropped his forehead down on the table. "Crap."
"Wait a minute."
Sugawara rolled his head to the side to stare up at Tanaka, who wore a perplexed expression, eyes wide, eyebrows high on his forehead.
"Do you seriously believe all that?"
Sugawara's stomach twisted, "Of course! Why else would he always have new girlfriends every couple of weeks?"
Tanaka let out a loud laugh and Sugawara slowly sat up again.
"What?" he frowned.
Tanaka pounded him on the back, "Sorry for doubting you, Man."
"Eh? Doubting me how?"
"Phew! What a relief!"
Sugawara shoved him off when he draped an arm over his shoulders, "What are you talking about? Don't leave me out of the loop!"
"Don't worry about it," Asahi smiled, drawing his attention. "It's just reassuring to learn that you actually like Daichi for who he is. And don't have any ulterior motives for dating him."
"I don't get it," Sugawara whined. "What ulterior motives? Tell me!"
Tanaka laughed, "I like you more and more every day!"
Sugawara complained loudly and shook him.
"Anyway," Asahi said, sipping at his soup. "From what I've seen so far, I think you're good for Daichi."
Sugawara released Tanaka, "Am I?"
"Definitely," Tanaka nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "You don't order him around. So you're already way better than all his past girlfriends."
Sugawara pursed his lips and gazed down at his lunch for long seconds.
"Say..." he said slowly. "What's the deal with that anyway? How come he never keeps a girlfriend for very long?"
Tanaka and Asahi hesitated, exchanging a wary glance.
“Hard to say,” Asahi finally said, looking away. “All these years we’ve been with him, I’ve never seen Daichi be the one to break it off with a girlfriend. He’s always just been dumped really fast after starting to date.”
“Which is bullshit, if you ask me," Tanaka scowled. "He’s quality material. Good lookin’, smart, going somewhere with his future, and he always works really hard to keep everyone happy. Sounds like a perfect guy to me.”
“And on top of that, he always does whatever his girlfriend wants," Asahi frowned down into his soup. “He always smiles, hugs, and kisses whenever it's required of him and doesn't ever say a thing against them when they make selfish requests."
Ah, Sugawara poured a mouthful of the applesauce into his mouth. So he’s noticed it too.
Tanaka coughed into his hand, “Abort conversation.”
All three turned the direction from which Daichi approached, holding a plastic grocery bag in his right hand.
“Welcome back!” Sugawara greeted nervously, sweat lining his temples.
Daichi paused, standing opposite him at the table, next to Asahi. He glanced towards the other two but they avoided his stare, putting their attention into eating their lunch.
Daichi slid onto the bench and placed the bag on the table. He pulled out a can of chilled coffee and a bottle of apple juice. He passed the juice over to Sugawara and cracked the coffee open.
“So what were you two talking about with Suga before I got here that’s got him looking so guilty?” Daichi said calmly, lifting the can to his lips.
Tanaka grinned, a long, thin string of cheese hanging out of the corner of his mouth. “I’ll bet you’d like to know, wouldn’t ya?”
“That’s why I asked,” Daichi smiled, though there was a warning in his eyes.
“If you really wanted to know,” Asahi said, pouring more soup out of the thermos and into his cup, “Instead of asking the two you are well aware are perfectly capable of lying to you, you might want to ask your open book.”
Daichi turned towards Sugawara, who immediately stiffened, clutching the applesauce cup tightly in his left hand. His eyes widened as the attention was placed on his face.
“I—” he flapped his mouth. “I— I… I’m bad at calculus.”
All three guys stared at him silently as his confession hung in the balmy summer air.
He gulped and looked between them, “Like… really bad. And I’m getting a little concerned about it, you know? Because exams are coming up really fast and I can’t do about half of the problems on my study guide. I’m afraid I’m going to fail and have to take it again.”
Asahi and Tanaka looked at one another.
Daichi leaned his chin on the palm of his hand, “Would you like me to teach you? I’m good at math.”
“Really? Could you?”
“Sure. After your last class today we can study together.”
“Wow! Thanks! That’ll help a lot!”
Tanaka leaned into Sugawara's side and cupped his mouth to keep his words from reaching across the table as he murmured, “If you can’t stop the honesty, stop the conversation, am I right?”
“If it works, it works."
“Thanks for agreeing to help me study,” Sugawara said as he and Daichi met up and headed across the quad that afternoon.
“It’s no problem,” he said, hands in his pockets.
“So where are we going to go? The library?”
Daichi gave a shake of his head, “The afternoon librarian is strict. I don’t think I’ll manage to get much teaching done in there if I have to whisper.”
“Hmm… then should we go to a café or something?” Sugawara ran his finger along the strap of his bag. “Java Cabin or someplace like that?”
Daichi shook his head again. “Since most students’ classes are done by now, the usual hang out places will be packed and noisy.”
Sugawara frowned, “So then where should we study?”
Daichi glanced down at him momentarily before staring straight forward again, “Well… why don’t we go to my place?”
“Okay!” Sugawara exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation. He smiled wide, step turning slightly to a skip as he swung his arms at his sides.
Daichi smiled crookedly.
He was constantly amazed at just how open Sugawara was. The smallest of emotions not only ran rampant across his face but played throughout his entire body, making it impossible to keep the slightest bit of change in his attitude a secret.
Over the past couple of weeks, Daichi had learned well how to read the tiniest shift in his motions. Not only was he easily decipherable, but he was awfully consistent. In just two weeks, Daichi had memorized just about every one of his emotional cues. From the timid way he scratched the back of his neck when he felt backed into a corner to the rough scuff of his heel on the sidewalk when he was annoyed, Daichi had carefully filed away each and every one of Sugawara’s ticks and quickly developed the accurate response required for them all.
Even the clumsy deflection from earlier wasn’t lost on Daichi’s ever vigilant scrutiny. It was all too apparent that Tanaka and Asahi had pressured him into talking about something he wasn’t entirely comfortable with discussing. It was also obvious that it was a subject that Sugawara would deem far too embarrassing to speak of in front of Daichi. That was why he had heeded his training and calmly accepted Sugawara’s desperate plea for a change in conversation and didn’t push him farther.
Daichi glanced down at Sugawara when he started to hum happily, eyes bright with excitement as they moved from the grass to the sidewalk and turned towards Stetson Street.
Daichi was finding that he quite enjoyed dating someone so open. He much preferred an easily readable open book to a complicated locked diary of explosive emotions and indecipherable meaning. Compared to Sugawara’s basic fourth grade level Japanese, Daichi’s past girlfriends- his last one in particular- were more like collegiate theses on neuroscience written entirely in Arabic.
“Hey Daichi,” Sugawara pulled his attention to him once more. “Got any videogames at your apartment?”
“Don’t you need to study?”
He grinned, “I do better when I can be rewarded occasionally!”
Daichi smiled, “I’ll make you dinner then.”
“Wow! Really? You mean it? Are you a good cook?”
“I’m not bad.”
“Awesome!” Sugawara clenched his hands into fists. “I’m an awful cook so this will be my first home cooked meal since Christmas!”
Daichi chuckled, “I’ll do my best to make it tasty.”
As they rounded the corner of Clock and Stetson, Daichi halted.
Sugawara paused at his side and glanced up at him. “Something wrong?”
Daichi’s eyes locked onto the silver Cadillac parked directly in front of the tall, modern apartment building on the corner. His left eye twitched momentarily and his hands clenched into fists inside his pockets.
Daichi swallowed and then turned to Sugawara with a calm smile, “I suddenly want to see your apartment. Can we study there instead?”
“Huh? You want to? Well, it’s fine with me,” he crossed his arms over his chest and cocked his head to the side. “Although I don’t have any ingredients for a meal in my fridge… Unless you can make something out of beer, butter, and pickles.”
“We’ll stop at the corner mart on the way,” Daichi turned back down the street they had come. “I don’t need much to make something simple.”
“Okay!” Sugawara chased after him. “I don’t mind studying at my place, but why so suddenly?”
“I just remembered how filthy my apartment is and don’t want you to see it is all,” he smiled down at him.
Sugawara’s brown eyes bored into his face for a prolonged moment before turning forward once more, “That’s fine then.”
Daichi gulped as he examined him.
This is one I haven’t seen before, he realized as he scrutinized Sugawara’s suddenly unreadable expression.
Instead of the usual honest palette of expression, it was like all emotion had completely vanished. In place of Sugawara’s basic fourth grade Japanese, Daichi found himself staring at a completely blank canvas, devoid of any hint as to what he was thinking or feeling.
And in truth, it terrified him far more than the convoluted Arabic of any of his past girlfriends.
“Ahhhh,” Sugawara leaned his back against the couch from his place on the floor, low coffee table covered in books and notes spread out in front of him. “This is so confusing! I’m never going to get it!”
From across the table, Daichi browsed over a set of sloppily written notes, a pair of sleek, clear framed glasses perched on his nose.
“Your notes are so unorganized,” he said, lowering the page. “So messy. You should clean them up and highlight important formulas.”
“Which ones are important?” Sugawara dropped his head back on the couch and stared up at the ceiling.
Daichi sighed, “You won’t be able to do any serious studying until you can actually understand the material you are studying. So we should rewrite your notes. I can teach you the formulas along the way. It’ll help you memorize them if you write them anyway.”
Sugawara let out a groan and sat forward, leaning his elbow on the coffee table and propping his cheek up in his palm. “That’ll take forever!”
“Maybe. But it’ll help.” Daichi set the notes down and then passed him his notebook. “Ready?”
Sugawara lifted his pencil and took the notebook with a grumble.
“Alright. Let’s start with this one…”
The sound of Sugawara’s cell phone ringing interrupted.
Sugawara pulled the device out of his pocket and glanced at the screen. Daichi watched as that same unreadable expression crossed his face and he silently ignored the call, placing the phone on the ground beside him and turning back to his notes.
“Which one?” he asked, putting his pencil to the paper.
Daichi resisted the urge to ask who it was that was calling and instead read off the formula.
As Sugawara copied it down, his blank slate turned strained and stressed, eyebrows knitting and forehead wrinkling.
Daichi hesitated. Sugawara held his head in one hand and scratched the numbers and letters down, chewing on his bottom lip.
Daichi leaned back and said gently, “How about we take a break?”
Sugawara glanced up at him, “Can we?”
He smiled, “I’ll make something to eat. You can just relax and let your brain regenerate.”
Sugawara let out a deep sigh and slumped over on the table, resting his cheek on his opened calculus book, “Oh thank God…”
Daichi stood and walked behind the breakfast bar, into the kitchen. “Should I make you some coffee while I’m at it?”
“Yes please,” came the mumbled reply.
Daichi moved around the small kitchen, making himself acquainted with the cupboards and drawers, learning it upside down as he gathered the materials he’d need. He started the coffee and then went about collecting the ingredients for the meal he’d decided to make. Sugawara’s ringtone went off again and Daichi glanced over the breakfast bar as Sugawara held the phone in front of his face.
The light from the screen glinted off his emotionless brown eyes as he silenced it once more and then held the power button down until the screen went completely black. He then tossed it onto the couch beside him, still leaning heavily on the table but turning his head to face the opposite side of the room to hide whatever expression followed his blank slate.
In reply, Daichi turned towards the opposite side of the kitchen to hide the irritation on his own face.
He was slicing an eggplant a few minutes later when a sound came from the front door of the apartment. Sugawara sat up suddenly and Daichi looked to him. There was a click and several thumps, followed by the sound of the door swinging open.
“Koushi!” a female voice called.
He jumped to his feet as the door slammed and a young woman with long brown hair stomped down the short hallway. Daichi stood next to the breakfast bar as she came into view past the wall of the kitchen. She wore a short baby blue sundress and white sandals, a white purse hanging off of one shoulder.
“Risa!” Sugawara rushed up to the woman as she removed a pair of thick, dark sunglasses from her face and tossed them and her purse onto the narrow hallway table as she passed it. “What are you doing here?”
“You’ve ignored all of my calls so the only thing I could do was come here!” she said, full pink lips turning down into a scowl.
“How did you even get inside?” the energy seemed completely sapped from Sugawara’s voice and face as he stopped in front of her.
She lifted a small silver key, “You gave it to me, didn’t you?”
Sugawara didn’t answer.
“Why have you been avoiding me?”
He glanced towards Daichi, who stood watching from the kitchen quietly.
“We don’t have anything to talk about so I didn’t—”
“Don’t have anything to talk about?” Risa repeated, voice rising in volume. “Are you kidding me?”
“Please… can you just go for now and I’ll call you later?”
“No! Because I know the call will never come!”
She followed the nervous track of his eyes and finally noticed Daichi. She glanced towards the living room over Sugawara’s shoulder.
“I promise I’ll call you,” Sugawara said, drawing her attention once more. “So just leave for now and—”
“You,” Risa turned towards Daichi. “Who are you? This guy’s tutor or something?”
Daichi cocked an eyebrow, “No… I’m actually—”
“It’s fine,” Sugawara interrupted. “You don’t need to answer her. I’ll walk her out right now,” he reached for her purse but she grabbed his wrist and yanked it away.
Risa’s large brown eyes locked onto Daichi’s, “Go ahead. Answer me. Who are you?”
The woman’s willful attitude made his eyelid twitch uncontrollably. He suddenly wanted to put her in her place before she somehow managed to completely wrestle the situation in her favor.
“I’m Suga’s boyfriend,” he announced.
All of the color drained from Sugawara’s face as the apartment turned deathly still and quiet. Daichi was just starting to wonder if maybe it had been the wrong decision to make such an audacious remark when Risa broke.
“His what?” she hissed, turning towards Sugawara.
He gulped and avoided her stare, “Y-you heard him…”
“I’m sorry,” Daichi took a step forward, well aware of Risa’s ever tightening grip on Sugawara’s wrist. “But I don’t quite understand the situation here. Who are you, exactly?”
Risa’s eyes flew back to him. “I’m his girlfriend.”
Daichi’s eyebrows lifted. He wasn’t expecting that answer.
“Ex!” Sugawara quickly corrected, finally pulling his wrist from her grip. “I broke up with you a month ago!”
“And I told you that I didn’t accept it! I refuse!”
“You can’t just refuse!” he argued, squaring up to her, eyebrows knitting together. “That’s not how this works!”
“We didn’t even talk about it!” she said. “We’re supposed to discuss it and find a way to get through it! You can’t just suddenly drop a break-up on me and then disappear like it’s nothing!”
“It wasn’t suddenly,” his hands squeezed into fists. “You know it just as well as I do. This has been in motion for much longer than that!”
“You never told me. How would I know?”
“Uhm…” Daichi drew their attention. He glanced between them before settling on Sugawara, “Maybe I should leave…”
“No!” his eyes widened and he took a step towards him. “Don’t go… we still…”
Daichi stared at him for long seconds. His hands trembled and his eyebrows pulled together.
“I’ll stay,” he decided. He glanced towards Risa, whose face was turning red as she crossed her arms over her chest. “You two should talk though.”
“We don’t need to talk,” Sugawara said sternly, reaching again for Risa’s purse.
“I’m not leaving!” she said, giving him pause. “Not until you talk to me!”
“I told you I have nothing to say to you…”
“Koushi!” Risa grabbed his arms and moved closer to him, eyebrows furrowing, eyes filling with moisture. “I said I was sorry, didn’t I? Why do you have to overreact all the time?”
“I don't think it's an overreaction to break up with your girlfriend when you walk in on her having sex with another man,” Sugawara said under his breath.
“It was only one time! I slipped! I didn’t mean to…”
“It wasn’t just one time,” Sugawara’s voice gathered strength and anger, rising in volume. “You know it wasn’t just one time.”
Sugawara whirled and stomped back into the living room. Risa gave chase.
He sat on the couch and she sat next to him, turning in his direction.
Daichi went back to the eggplant, eyes flicking up from the vegetable to the couple in the living room. Risa spoke softly to Sugawara but they were far enough away that the conversation didn't reach Daichi's ears. At one point, Risa reached out and took Sugawara's hand. She rested her forehead on his shoulder for a few seconds before leaning back and taking his chin in her free hand. She turned his face towards her and Daichi's fingers tightened around the knife in his hand.
Risa moved closer to Sugawara on the couch, leaning her face towards his.
Daichi gritted his teeth.
Was he really being forced to witness this?
Are you kidding me?
Sugawara covered Risa's mouth with his hand and pushed her away.
Daichi's chest filled with the unexpected sensation of relief.
That was something he wasn't used to feeling.
Sugawara spoke in a low voice, too low for Daichi to hear, and Risa yanked her hand from his.
Her face turned red and her eyes filled with tears. Her voice rose loud enough to reach the kitchen, “How can you say that? After I gave you the past two years of my life? What was all that for, then?”
Sugawara retorted, lips curling in distaste.
Risa clenched her jaw and she straightened her spine.
They exchanged a few more low words before her face twisted and she suddenly slapped Sugawara across the cheek, the sound of the blow echoing through the apartment. Daichi swallowed.
Sugawara turned his face from Risa and stared at the table, cheek turning bright red from the slap.
“So that’s it then?” her voice turned shrill. “That’s it? Two years down the drain just like that? Just because I made a little mistake?” She stood and lifted her left hand. She flung the small silver key at his face. It connected with his slapped cheek and then bounced down his chest before settling on the floor between his feet.
“FINE! Fuck you then! You will never find anyone as good as me!” she turned and stomped back towards the door.
When she paused to pick up her purse and sunglasses, Daichi spoke.
“Are you insinuating that you are better than me?”
Risa whipped her head in his direction.
“Fuck you," she hissed. "Goddamn fags. Just rot in hell where you belong.”
And with that, she left, door slamming behind her.
Daichi turned his eyes towards Sugawara. He slumped back on the couch, one arm draped over his eyes.
“Sorry,” he said. “Sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Who are you apologizing to?” Daichi asked, turning towards the pot of coffee. He opened the cupboard overhead and pulled out two mugs.
“She’s crazy,” Sugawara said, voice weak and tired. “She’s fucking crazy. And I knew she was crazy. But instead of just answering her calls and handling the situation calmly, I enabled her craziness and you were forced to see her like that…”
“So you are concerned about how I view her?” Daichi calmly poured two cups of coffee.
“She wasn’t always…” Sugawara sighed and moved his arm to his forehead, staring up at the ceiling. “No… I shouldn't defend her. She was always crazy. But… you didn’t have to know that I was the type of sucker that would not only fall for her in the first place but then date her for two whole years before finally calling it off.”
Daichi dropped three sugar cubes into one of the mugs and stirred it silently, popping open vanilla creamer from the fridge with his other hand.
“In my defense,” Sugawara muttered. “She was a really good liar."
Daichi carried the coffee mugs to the couch. He sat down beside Sugawara and offered the paler of the two coffees to him. Sugawara took it with quiet thanks. Daichi took a sip, watching silently as Sugawara blew on the steaming liquid.
“Girlfriend, huh?” Daichi said, turning his eyes to the opposite side of the room.
Sugawara’s cheeks flushed, “We-well… uhm…”
“I’m just a little curious,” Daichi interrupted, tapping the mug with his index finger. “Am I your first... boyfriend?”
"I see..." His eyes slid to his flushed face. "And... why me?"
“It’s because I like you!” Sugawara suddenly exclaimed, sitting forward and spilling his coffee on his jeans. He cursed and patted at the wet spot, holding his mug away.
Daichi took a moment to wipe the shock of his confession off of his face, heart racing.
He likes me...
Daichi wasn't sure if he'd ever get used to hearing those words directed at him.
“Sorry,” Sugawara mumbled, wiping the coffee stain dejectedly.
“Who are you apologizing to?” Daichi's voice was rough and he lifted his coffee and drank slowly.
“It’s just… I’m positive I sound like a crazy person,” he continued. “I’ve done nothing but spout stupid nonsense ever since I first spoke to you.”
Daichi tapped his finger once more, a hint of annoyance edging its way in as he stared at Sugawara’s downcast face.
“I probably never should have even asked you out in the first place. It was just a spur of the moment thing. I saw you and the others walking across the quad and I just… acted on instinct,” he sighed. “It was the first time I had ever done something so impulsive. Maybe it was a mistake.”
“Are you telling me you want to break up?”
Sugawara jerked his head up, “That’s not it at all!” His cheeks flushed bright red and he lowered his eyes once more. “That’s not what I meant at all…”
Daichi pursed his lips, “Then…”
“It’s not that I want to break up. I like you, after all. I really, truly, and honestly do. And... if you'll let me... I'd like to stay with you.”
His eyes flickered anxiously in his direction and then away. He let out a heavy breath and pressed his hand to his face, eyebrows knitting together. “Man… could this day get any worse?”
Daichi contemplated for a moment. “I don’t know,” he mused. “It wasn’t so bad. I got to learn a little more about you.”
Sugawara chuckled and rubbed the folds between his brows. “I guess so.” He dropped his hand, eyes shifting to the floor. He leaned over and reached for something between his feet and then sat back with the silver key. He turned it over in his hand slowly for a moment before glancing at Daichi. He inhaled and held the key out to him.
Daichi cocked an eyebrow.
“Do you want it?” Sugawara asked.
Daichi smiled ruefully, “We’ve been dating for a few short weeks and you’re already offering me a spare key to your apartment? You sure move fast, don’t you?”
“It’d go to waste otherwise,” he said. “You don’t have to use it if you don’t want. But you might as well have it, just in case.”
Daichi hesitated for a moment before finally taking the key from his outstretched hand. He fingered it quietly for long seconds.
“You don’t have to think so hard about it,” Sugawara said and took a sip from his coffee. “It’s not like I’m proposing or anything.”
“I know that,” Daichi said, voice low. “I’ve just… never received something like this before.” He smiled, cheeks warming pleasantly.
Sugawara’s eyes widened and he suddenly reached out and snatched the key from his hand, “Wait!”
Daichi stared at him in shock.
“I didn’t realize you’d be so happy,” Sugawara said hurriedly, face reddening. “Now I don’t feel good about just flippantly giving you Risa’s sloppy seconds. Just wait a couple of days and I’ll make a new copy, and gift it to you properly!”
Daichi blinked at him. Sugawara huffed, avoiding his stare, looking anywhere but at his face.
“Pfft,” Daichi covered his mouth with his hand. Sugawara winced and glanced up at him as he started to laugh. “Sloppy seconds, huh?” he leaned back on the couch. “I didn’t think of that before, but now that you mention it, that’s kind of annoying, huh? Alright then,” he smirked. “I’ll wait for my own. And that one,” he pointed to Sugawara’s clenched fist. “You’re going to retire it, right?”
Sugawara nodded vigorously, “I’ll never use it again. I’ll throw it into the ocean.”
Daichi chuckled, “Now there’s a plan.” He smiled and propped his elbow on the backrest of the couch, resting his head against his fist. “I’ve decided then. Once you have that new key, we’ll go on a date to the boardwalk. Ride the rides and dispose of your ex’s sloppy seconds.”
Sugawara’s face brightened, “Really? You mean it? A date? An actual date?”
“Alright!” he sat forward. “Then next Sunday! I’ll have a new key by then, and I have the day off from work too!”
“Okay. Sunday it is.”
Sugawara smiled happily and held his coffee mug up. "Sunday," he repeated, voice barely above a whisper. His bottom lip caught between his teeth and he let out a giggle, corners of his eyes crinkling.
Daichi swallowed, warmth spreading through the pit of his stomach.
Sugawara sighed and shoved his math textbook into his bag, followed by his notes and pencil, before slinging the strap over his shoulder and leaving the room.
“Well that was a disaster,” he muttered under his breath.
He was one of the last to finish the review quiz his math professor had sprung on the class unexpectedly, and his confidence in his work was almost nonexistent. After Risa had shown up and ruined his and Daichi’s study date, he hadn’t been able to concentrate on the material at all.
I'll never pass at this rate...
Sugawara made his way down the hall, rubbing the sore spot on the side of his neck. He wondered if maybe he ought to ask Daichi to tutor him again, but then sighed. What was the point? Math just wasn’t his forte. No amount of tutoring would ever make him any less of an idiot.
He glanced in the direction of the voice to three of his classmates standing next to a soda vending machine. They all sat near him in his biology class, but he had only ever spoken to them to borrow a pencil or pass over a handout. The guy in front, the one built like a bear and wearing a huge grin, waved him over. Sugawara racked his brain for a name but turned up with nothing.
“What’s up?” he asked as he drew near. “Is Biology cancelled or something?”
“Nah,” the guy said. He held out a can of Pepsi. “I accidentally pushed the wrong button. Want it?”
Sugawara blinked in surprise and reached for the can, “I can have it?”
“Yeah, none of us like Pepsi,” he said, gesturing at the cans of Mountain Dew in their hands.
Sugawara took the soda, mood lifting, “Well, free is free—” He cracked the top of the can and soda fizzed and bubbled from the mouth, overflowing and streaming over the sides, coating his hands and wetting the front of his shirt and pants in the sticky drink. The liquid seeped through the sleeves of his long sleeved shirt and trailed up his arms to the elbow and Sugawara held the can, much too slow, away from his body.
“Shit,” he hissed as it continued to drip on the hallway floor.
Sugawara’s three classmates burst into laughter.
“Oops,” the front man said, smirking. “It burst all over you!”
“Yeah,” one of the others said, nudging him in the stomach. “But then again, I hear he likes it when that happens.”
The third guy snickered, “Yeah, I’m sure it happens to him all the time!”
“Huh?” Sugawara blinked at them. “What are you talking about?”
The first guy snorted and turned away, “Let’s go.”
All three headed down the hall, leaving Sugawara sticky and dripping and thoroughly confused. After a moment he let out a sigh and shook his right hand, shedding even more soda to the floor.
“How immature,” he muttered, lifting the mouth of the Pepsi to his lips and taking a long drink. “Whatever. Free is free.”
“Sorry,” Sugawara said as he peeled his damp shirt up over his head and wrung it out over the sink. “Normally I’d just run home and change, but I’ve got a test in half an hour.”
“It’s alright,” Tanaka said, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke in the direction of the small rectangular window near the ceiling of the university bathroom. “We didn’t do much in weights this morning so my clothes shouldn’t be too smelly or anything.”
“Thanks,” Sugawara unbuckled his pants and kicked them off, reaching for Tanaka’s grey sweats. “It would’ve sucked sitting through the test in wet clothes.”
“So some guys just gave you a shook up pop?” Tanaka said, leaning his shoulder against the wall. “What are they, elementary school kids?”
“I dunno,” Sugawara pulled the sweats up and tied the drawstring.
“Give me their names and I’ll put the fear of god in them.”
“Nah, it’s fine. Just a little prank. Not that big of a deal. I still got a free soda out of it anyway.”
“Yeah but still. It’s stupid.” He puffed on his cigarette with a scowl.
The door of the bathroom swung inwards and two guys walked in. Sugawara recognized them as another two of his classmates from his calculus class.
“Hey,” he called. “How’d you guys do on the quiz?”
“Uh…” they exchanged an uncomfortable look. One of them left the bathroom as the other avoided Sugawara’s stare and answered, “I don’t know. I don’t have to pee anymore though so… bye.” He turned and chased after his friend.
Tanaka and Sugawara stared at the door quietly.
“What the fuck was that about?” Tanaka said under his breath, annoyance causing his eye to twitch. He glanced at Sugawara, who continued to stare in the direction the boy’s had disappeared, not speaking.
Tanaka sighed and scratched the back of his neck, “They were probably weirded out about the shirtless dude stripping in the bathroom.” He walked up and lightly knocked Sugawara on the back of the head with his fist. “Hurry and get changed. You don’t want to be late for your test, do you?”
“Oh, sorry,” Sugawara grabbed the red, wrinkled t-shirt from his bag and pulled it on over his head. Tanaka held his cigarette in his mouth and glanced at the wet pair of clothes Sugawara had shed.
He felt uneasy.
Something didn’t quite feel right.
“Ew, Tanaka, this shirt smells like BO hardcore.”
“Ungrateful child, wear your pop top then.”
“No thanks, I’ll get over it,” he grinned up at him. “Thanks.”
Tanaka blew a slow puff of smoke out between his lips and scrutinized him.
Sure, Sugawara reeked of gullibility, but he didn’t necessarily come off as the type that people normally toyed with or avoided. The guy was too cheerful and likable for anyone to really want to torment him.
“Well anyway,” Tanaka ground his cigarette out inside the sink, flipping the faucet on to rinse out the ashes, and then tossed the butt in the trash. “I’m done with classes for the day so I’m gonna head home. I’ll take your soggy clothes and give them a wash for you. Wash my gym clothes and bring them back to me tomorrow, got it?”
“Aye, aye, Captain!”
“You’re such a nerd,” Tanaka smirked and stuffed Sugawara’s wet clothes into his gym bag.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m too stupid to be a nerd,” he admitted, pulling his bag on over his shoulder and stuffing his feet into his sneakers.
“Well, you’re smart enough to admit that, so you can’t be too dumb,” Tanaka draped an arm over his shoulders and steered him out of the bathroom. “Don’t sell yourself too short now!”
Sugawara smiled, “Thanks.”
Tanaka gave him a little push as they turned down different directions in the hall. “See you tomorrow. Good luck on your test.”
“I’ll do my best to not fail!”
He chuckled, “Good. Good.”
Halfway down the hall, Tanaka hesitated. He glanced back, watching Sugawara walk cheerfully, a slight bounce in his step.
He watched him until he disappeared around the corner.
He turned forward once more, frowning.
Something just didn’t feel right.
“Ugh,” Sugawara groaned, rolling his head to the side in attempts to stretch out the knot that formed in his neck after hunching over a test for the past hour and a half. “I need to get wasted,” he murmured to himself and raised his arms over his head. His steps turned light as his thoughts drifted off to a daydream of going to the bar with Daichi.
I’ll bet Daichi is a whiskey straight up kind of guy, he thought. That, or a beer connoisseur.
Sugawara was deep in thought about all the possible directions Daichi's personal alcohol tastes could point as he neared the concrete stairs that led down to the grassy quad. Maybe he even— his thoughts were cut off when something hard slammed into his back, pitching him forward.
“Ah!” Sugawara cried out as he missed the first step of the stairs. He threw a hand out for the metal railing, making contact with his middle finger and causing the first knuckle to crack loudly and send pain shooting up his arm. His body continued to fall forward until his left shoulder and hip slammed into the hard concrete stairs and he flipped and rolled the rest of the short way down to the bottom.
“Shit!” he immediately pushed up onto his knees, leaning heavily on his left hand and holding his right against his chest. Laughter from above drew his attention over his aching shoulder at the three college students at the top of the stairs. The same from the vending machine earlier.
“Oops!” one guy said, punching another on the shoulder playfully.
“Dude!” he said, swiping at his back with a look of disgust.
The third glanced down at Sugawara, smirking. “Hey, are you okay?” he called. “Sorry about that. We didn’t see you there.”
“Yeah, I don’t actually care,” he turned and walked away. The two others laughed and followed.
Sugawara blinked quietly for a moment, sitting back on his heels.
He looked down at his hand. He was unfamiliar with the feeling of broken bones, but if he had to guess, his finger was probably cracked in the very least. He lowered it silently and assessed his appearance.
His bag had flown off of his shoulder halfway down the stairs. The flap had come open and his books and papers were now scattered all along the concrete. His shoulder and hip were stinging and upon closer inspection, there was a fresh rip in the thick fabric of his borrowed sweats just below the hip bone. The skin underneath was raw and bleeding.
“Fag,” he whispered, lifting his head to stare across the quad before him.
Ah. Now it made sense.
Sugawara was being bullied.