The sky cracked open, right along its seams. It’s where the rain came from, where the clouds tried to cover and heal the sky. But they soaked up so much from the wound that it fell to the earth in tear-shaped droplets, and then torrents.
i. where the rain fell, but not where it touched
There were a few droplets, here and there — that make you wonder whether you imagined the flickering dampness against your skin. Then it poured. Heavy beads that unfurled like ripples on the surface of a quiet lake, or a loud burst that left your head ringing for moments, even minutes.
Kaoru ducked under the nearest overhang, brushing away drops before the fabric of his uniform absorbed them — the chilly scent of an ocean paying a visit. His heart warmed even as the temperature dropped and his breath left clouds that dissolved into the misty air.
He leaned back against a cool glass door, glancing over his shoulder into a quaint shop — a bakery? Kaoru stepped aside, the soles of his shoes scratching, crushing wet clumps of dust and sands and soils. The bakery through the front window seemed a snug cottage from a fairy tale, lined with bread and pastel pastries designed in smiles. There was no one inside, and the people that hurried past under their clinking umbrellas missed the glowing warmth — the kind that touched your soul, bones, before diffusing out to your skin — concealed behind glass and water.
Kaoru pushed the glass door open, bell clinking above his head. The earthy scent of the dripping skies melted together with the sugary aroma.
“Welcome,” a deep voice called to him from behind a bread-coloured counter.
Kaoru bowed politely to the man before taking the seat closest to the door.
This seems like a good place for dates… It was comforting. Cozy. Kaoru was a little surprised he had never seen the place before, and more so that none of his dates ever mentioned it. His gaze flitted over the pristine iced cakes on display. Maybe this stuff tastes bad.
The curiosity made his mouth water. It would be rude to take shelter from the rain without having anything to eat, yes ? Kaoru dropped his bag onto his chair and strolled to the counter. Spending no time at all — since he had secretly been eyeing it ever since he entered — he pointed at a lime pie holding swirls of meringue. It looked much simpler than its vibrant neighbours.
“The lime pie, please,” Kaoru smiled, digging into his pocket for money. “I’ll eat here. This is a nice place. You opened recently, huh?”
The man behind the counter met his gaze through round, thick-rimmed spectacles, full of mirth. “Yes. Perhaps. Please take a seat and I’ll be right with you.”
Kaoru tilted his head to the side. Weirdo. “Thanks.”
Kaoru plopped back down on the cushioned chair and traced circles on the glass with the tip of his finger. Adonis would probably be delighted with the selection in this place — if he didn’t know already. Maybe Kaoru would remember to mention it to him the next day. Or not. It wasn’t important. Even so, Kaoru drew out his cell phone from his bag and set a reminder anyway. It wouldn’t be unpleasant for his kouhai to find delight in treats and revel in this lovely ambiance.
“Here’s your lime pie, sir,” a small plate dusted with sugar was set in front of him beside napkins, triangular and specked with sprinkles. Kaoru grinned and voiced his thanks; the man returned behind the counter, leaving traces of a smile.
The tip of his dessert spoon touched the pie, but Kaoru felt a tug — not on his skin. As if compelled, Kaoru looked back into the window. Through it. The heat of the lights overhead, of the cushion underneath him, they were engulfed by a chill that fanned out from his centre, the surface of a dewy green lake freezing in white.
“Kanata-kun!” he dropped the spoon and raced to the exit. The bell chimed on his way out.
Kanata faced a sky that rained wishes on his cheeks, the creases of his clothes, the edges of his hair. Kaoru was frozen barely two steps away from Kanata, under the overhang — separated by feelings he couldn’t bring himself to touch. Where the rain fell but not where it touched.
Water caressed Kanata’s closed eyelids, delicate as gossamer.
Against the woven greys of cement, of mildewed corners, ashes and emptiness, Kanata was almost ghostly. Kaoru swallowed, removing his jacket, stepping slowly towards the boy. Where the rain touched Kaoru too, dripping coldly on his scalp, past his vision.
“Kanata-kun?” Kaoru’s voice was paper light, a sun-washed streak, beckoning, pleading, questioning. Let me see your eyes.
“Ahh… Kaoru?” Kanata didn’t open his eyes. “The ‘rain’... it’s ‘warm’.”
Kaoru’s brow furrowed. “Here, you’re going to catch a cold… See. You’re standing in everyone’s way over here,” he caught Kanata’s forearm, almost surprised that his fingers didn’t melt right through him. “There’s a nice bakery here… Come inside and get warm, okay?”
Kanata… where are you right now?
Are you listening to me…?
ii. where i can belong
Kaoru had wrapped his jacket around Kanata’s shoulders, sternly put Kanata in a chair, and somehow procured a small, green towel. He was thanking the man in the bakery. While he waited, Kanata pulled Kaoru’s jacket close into his body. “It smells like ‘Kaoru’. Like ‘happy’ things.”
Kaoru heard — certainly; his frown quivered when he was returning. To hide the silken look of warmth and stay cross at Kanata. And Kanata couldn’t help but giggle.
“It isn’t funny,” Kaoru said, “You were standing way too close to the cars! You could have gotten hurt.”
Kanata held the sleeve of Kaoru’s jacket near his lips. “But you were ‘here’ for me, Kaoru.”
His voice was measured and matter-of-fact. Like there couldn’t have been anything else.
An eyebrow twitch. Tensing shoulders. Relenting sigh. Kaoru was looking everywhere but at him. You’re so ‘cute’, Kaoru. Kanata giggled again, floating bubbly rainbows.
Kaoru cleared his throat. Folded his legs. “So?”
“I saw you leave hours ago. What’re you doing around here anyway? Were you with Moricchi?”
Kanata brought his legs up to his chest. “Chiaki went home early. I was by ‘myself’.”
“Kanata-kun, look at me?” Kaoru asked. Kanata’s chest tightened, but he complied. Met the earthy eyes that could bring wilting buds to bloom. Today, Kaoru is ‘different’. Is it because we’re far away from the ‘school’…?
“Kaoru is unusually ‘serious’ today,” Kanata whispered. “Chiaki was ‘serious’ too. He left early because his father was ‘ill’. Maybe this rain is not as ‘warm’ as I believed. Those ‘kids’ were down, because Chiaki was down, you know~”
Kaoru’s lips pressed together… trying to make sense of Kanata. Kanata shivered — after all, his clothes were still cold. He didn’t mind. He wanted to look at the sky again, not through the window, but a stormy ocean right over his head. Home always followed him, caressed him, embraced him, loved him. Did Kanata himself burst open the sky to pull home closer — climb the drops like the spider’s thread?
Kanata blinked, feeling a touch, a caress that trailed down the same path his sorrow would. The corner of his eye to his jaw line. Kaoru’s hand sprung back, folding into a knuckle like thick roots of an old tree. “S-sorry…”
Kanata released the folds of Kaoru’s jacket, instead catching his fist mid-air, cradled like a baby turtle between his hands. One by one, prying Kaoru's fingers open, petals of a glowing lotus, pressing his own pale, stone-cold fingers into Kaoru’s palm. “Don’t say ‘sorry’. Not to me. ”
“Kanata-kun… Are you okay?” Kaoru leaned in closer, the scent of rainwater and muddy leaves filling Kanata to the brim. “You can tell me anything, you know?”
Kaoru, what do I do… How can I make everyone ‘stay’ with me?
How can I become someone who can hold my ‘home’ together?
Lips trembling, I cannot ‘burden’ Kaoru.
He reminded himself of that, again, again and again. Against the pull of Kaoru’s skin — a briny, midsummer night ocean washing over his body. He released Kaoru’s hand with a solemn look, and snapped his attention to the untouched pie.
Curiously tilting his head, Kanata asked, “Why haven’t you ‘eaten’, Kaoru?”
A shadow had tipped over Kaoru’s face. “Uh… I’m not really hungry anymore. B’sides, I have to get home soon. You want it?”
Pinch. Icicles pricked Kanata’s heart. Usually it was the other way around. Kanata held onto Kaoru. Kaoru pushed Kanata away... until he didn’t, until he couldn’t. Kanata broke through to him most of the time.
I’m sorry. Don’t go. He had spent years soiled and toiled with crimson grudges, loneliness in dull white, rejection in black. The ones who saved him… he’d promised to protect them, hadn’t he? No more slipping away. No more partings.
Kanata swallowed the weight in his chest. He took a generous spoon of pie, glassy eyes turned playful, and turned it to Kaoru. “Say ‘aaah’...”
“O-oi,” Kaoru sunk further into his chair, “What are you trying to pull?”
He was a little flustered, but more than that his brow furrowed. Not enough. The flickers of hurt in Kaoru's eyes weren’t gone. Kanata took a deep breath. “I want to say ‘thank you’ for bringing me back. You ‘heard’ me.”
A shaky laugh, perfect smile. “It was nothing… I was just here, that’s all. I forgot my umbrella. That’s all.”
Kanata went quiet, watched as Kaoru waved goodbye, drawing words that Kanata couldn’t hear or know. He only heard, “It’s getting late, so go home soon.”
It hasn’t stopped raining yet, Kaoru. Won’t you be ‘cold’?
A green, elegantly patterned umbrella hung over his head. Kanata sat, contemplative, until the bakery owner had slid the umbrella on his table, along with a box of two lime pies. Kanata ran. He wasn’t fast. Nor good. But he ran as best as he could in small, awkward steps. The water underneath his feet was his friend. Wisps and streams curled around his ankles when he almost slipped, and guided his path forward.
Through streets of people, some that called out to him, Be careful! Don’t run in this kind of rain! Reckless kid!
He was cold all over and dry-mouthed. His chest felt a million suns festering under his skin.
Kanata turned a corner, run dissolving into a slow, floating walk — until he stopped. Pale-faced, lips parted, Kaoru was facing him.
You were coming ‘back’.
“Oi…” Kaoru muttered, looking around when Kanata melted into the ground harbouring a brilliant grin. His backside made a loud thump, a small splash. The umbrella rolled away from his sweaty palm. Kaoru was grumbling under his breath but lifted the umbrella over their heads in a swoop, knees bent forward to level with Kanata’s hopping gaze.
“Stand up,” Kaoru said, “You’re in everyone’s way.”
“Mmm~” He sprung to his feet. A frog? “Thank you, ‘Kaoru’.”
“What’s that?” Kaoru nodded his head towards the box cradled under Kanata’s arm.
“The bakery owner gave me ‘pies’. To eat ‘together’ with you. That is what he seemed to ‘say’ to me.”
Kanata’s arm threaded around Kaoru’s. No words passed between them as they walked, but Kaoru’s ears were pink. Against the curtain of water shaped by the umbrella, pitter patter, a gentle smell washing away their surroundings.
It is very ‘simple’... Isn’t it?
A bench under a wooden roof, in what appeared a small park with sparse bushes and no fountains. That was the closest they could run. Kanata laughed and puka puka’d, tried to play in the rain, Kaoru pulled him along. By the time they plopped down beside each other, both were short of breath, effervescing. Kaoru opened the box of pies. “There aren’t any spoons…”
Kanata’s fingers behaved as pincers do around his slice of pie, lifting it — ah! It almost fell — to his parted lips. Soft meringue, the tartness of lime, melted, dampened into his dry mouth. Watching Kanata fill his mouth with the rest of the pie, Kaoru’s eye twitched. “So… messy…”
Kanata licked his lips. Warmth grazing in his stomach, spreading like fireworks.
“Kaoru, shall I ‘feed’ you?” Kanata asked, the second slice already between his fingers.
“N-no, I can eat by myse—” Not fast enough for the blue-haired boy pushing the slice (softly) through Kaoru’s lips. Words melted into grumbles. Kanata’s marine eyes glittered. Is it ‘good’?
The other boy swallowed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I can’t believe I let a guy feed me…—” silenced by Kanata’s pout — “S-stop that… I was kidding...”
Head bobbing side to side, Kanata pulled his legs together. “Those ‘kids’ made me think… whether I ‘do’ enough for them… For ‘Ryuseitai’. For ‘Chiaki’. He was gone… but I couldn’t stop those kids from feeling ‘down’. I am their ‘senpai’, after all.”
Voice carried by the drops of the rain.
“When someone is ‘sad’ or ‘anxious’, I cannot ‘cheer’ them up. I cannot… ‘hold’ anyone together. It is hard, you know~ for me to ‘try’. But the land is where I ‘belong’. I believed I could ‘change’.”
Kanata’s head dipped and fell onto Kaoru’s shoulder. Strands of blue hair formed a half-flower in his vision. “In the ‘end’, all I can do is ‘pat’ their heads.”
“Is that all…” Barely a whisper. Kanata could hear it, he could feel it.
Lips brushed against Kanata’s exposed forehead. The touch of a cloudy sky.
“Isn’t that enough?” Kaoru’s whole body seemed to say. Not ask.
“Kanata-kun, you’re a bit weird, and you do dangerous things sometimes, but — all of us, we know. You’re enough as you are.”
Kanata’s body quivered. Seawater stung the back of his eyes.
“You scared me a little, you know,” Kaoru wrapped an arm around his shaking shoulders. “You see through right me. Through all of us.”
Stroked his arm gently. Drew circles, starfish, oceans and clouds with his finger. The land filled Kanata up.
“You won’t let anyone fall apart. I believe that. In you. That’s why — don’t worry about changing. At least, not with me.”
Ah… He would always ‘belong’.
When the clouds part and the sky is bright again, the raindrops evanesce. They go back to the sky. The wound heals, each time it rains. No matter how many times.