Inoo frowned at the missed call notification on his phone. It was Takaki. He knew it before he’d even checked. Guilt washed over him like a cold bucket of water as he put his cell phone away without returning the call. He just couldn’t bring himself to talk to Takaki today, to listen to that wonderful voice—somehow managing to sound rough and smooth at the same time—chatter on about random meaningless things or whatever else was on his mind.
It wasn’t that he disliked talking to Takaki. It was just that he liked it too much. He’d tried ignoring his crush on Takaki, pushing it away and out of mind during every photoshoot, every interview, every television filming. He’d tried ignoring how Takaki made him feel like he was floating on air every time they were close. He’d tried ignoring his imagination when he envisioned touching that smooth skin and soft lips.
He’d tried ignoring it all, but he had to admit that he liked Takaki a lot.
He didn’t dare hope that his affection was returned.
Tonight he was tired. Here he was walking home under his umbrella during a rainy evening, and he was afraid that if he talked to Takaki, he’d make a fool of himself by confessing the feelings he was trying to pretend didn’t exist.
The sound of a ringing telephone stopped him right in his tracks in the middle of the sidewalk, startling him from his thoughts. His heart started beating faster, while he felt a mix of excitement and fear.
Was it his phone again? Takaki calling him back?
It took a moment before Inoo realized the sound wasn’t coming from the phone inside his bag. He turned slowly to look around the sidewalk until his eyes landed on a nearby payphone booth.
Huh? He didn’t even know it was possible for someone to dial a public phone. Who would be calling when everyone had cell phones these days?
But still the ringing persisted and no one else was around to answer it. The sidewalk was deserted as the rain poured down, pooling around Inoo’s shoes. The shrill ringing sound was annoying, so when it started up again he made a split-second decision to answer the phone. Rain dripped down the sides of his umbrella and he could hear the rumble of thunder above, but he reached out to answer the phone anyway.
As soon as he picked up the receiver, he felt a painful jolt of energy, a bright flash of light, and then everything was suddenly darkness.
When Inoo opened his eyes, he was staring up at the clear evening sky. The blue of the day slowly fading into the dark of the night. No sign of any clouds from the storm he’d just been caught in moments before. Inoo realized that he was lying on the sidewalk in his clothes, now completely dry, and his umbrella was missing. Everything felt slightly different, but in a way that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Like a nagging sense of déjà vu lurking in the corners of his mind.
Inoo rushed home without stopping, hoping that things would make more sense if he was back among the familiarity of his apartment. But when he stepped inside, things were different there too. He could have sworn he was back in college with the amount of blueprints he had scattered around the living room. And he couldn’t find any trace of his Jump stuff. No sheet music he had lying around, no magazines he kept for the really nice photoshoots he liked. Nothing.
This is how he would imagine the apartment of a common businessman with a great salary from an architecture firm would look like. It was how he sometimes envisioned it during his college days when he fantasized about what it’d be like to have an ordinary job.
“Is this… some sort of alternate universe?” he said out loud to himself as he looked over the apartment that was both his and not his at the same time.
A sudden knock on the front door sent him into a panic, and he spun around in a circle as he tried to figure out whether he should answer it or not.
“Inoo-chan! Let me in!” a familiar voice called out. “I know you’re home.”
Inoo sighed in relief. That was Daiki’s voice. Maybe he would know what’s going on.
He answered the door and Daiki barged in just like he always did, tossing his shoes off with practiced ease.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” Daiki blurted out immediately, giving Inoo a concerned look at the state of his clothes.
“Uh…” Inoo didn’t quite know how to respond.
“You can’t wear sweatpants on a first date,” Daiki continued, already heading towards the closet in Inoo’s bedroom. “I swear, you’re the most hopeless person I know when it comes to fashion,” he muttered as he began pulling out nicer pants and shirts, laying them out on the bed so that he could look at all the choices.
“What date?” Inoo’s head was starting to spin.
“The one with that Takaki guy, right?” Daiki looked up from the clothing pile. “That’s tonight right? I could have sworn you told me it was today.”
A date with Takaki? Now Inoo knew for sure something strange was going on. He certainly didn’t have any date plans with his bandmate before. Those only existed in his fantasies.
“I tripped and hit my head pretty hard earlier,” Inoo lied, although he supposed he probably did hit his head when he’d fallen to the sidewalk. That excuse would probably be less alarming to Daiki than to tell him that he possibly had been struck by lightning and sent to a parallel universe. That was his working theory anyway.
Daiki scrutinized Inoo for a moment with an intense gaze, like he was looking right through him, and then he merely shrugged without much concern. “You’re not bleeding so you’re okay, I think. How many fingers am I holding up?” He raised his hand in the air.
“Two,” Inoo answered, but he had questions of his own he needed to ask. “So I’m… going on a date with Takaki? Takaki Yuya? From Hey Say Jump?”
“Heisei Jump? Is that the name of his restaurant?” Daiki tilted his head as he thought about it. “That’s a really weird name. Not gonna lie, but I probably wouldn’t eat anything at a restaurant with a name like that. What would they even serve?” He continued to ramble on about the importance of good restaurant names while he picked through Inoo’s clothes.
“Oh crap,” Inoo whispered quietly to himself. Were they not even Johnnys in this universe? This was so damn confusing. On the bright side, apparently the Takaki of this world was at least interested in him. Maybe he could calm down by focusing on that small victory.
A pair of pants thrown at him by Daiki hit him in the face, reminding him that he really was going out on a date soon. This was really happening.
“Random question,” Inoo began as he changed into the nicer pants quickly. “What do we do for a living?”
“How hard did you hit your head?” Daiki asked from where he was sorting through Inoo’s small collection of hats. “Are you seriously okay?”
Inoo laughed to make it seem like he was just joking around. “I was just thinking that it would have been really cool if we’d joined Johnnys and, you know, debuted together in a group. That would have been fun, right?”
“Us? Johnnys?” Daiki laughed in disbelief. “I think I’m too short for Johnnys, right?”
The irony was making it hard for Inoo to keep a straight face. “Maybe, but you know they get to eat lots of delicious food all the time. For free!” he teased, although that seriously was one of the best perks of the job.
“Yeah, while wearing a dress and a wig,” Daiki scoffed. “No thanks.”
He placed a hat on Inoo’s head and scrutinized the look before shaking his head and deciding against it. Inoo just let him do whatever he wanted since he was still trying to get used to this alternate reality. He had no clue if this was a temporary thing or how he’d be able to get home again. Those thoughts filled him with a rising sense of panic, and he had to focus on something else before it started to show on his face. Daiki would probably assume it was just first date jitters though.
“There, I think you’re ready to go,” Daiki proclaimed as he took a step back and observed Inoo once more like he was a work of art he’d just completed. “Go have fun on your date and tell me all about it when you get back. Make sure he kisses you, okay? Unless he turns out to be a total creep or something, in which case, make sure you punch him.”
“Haha, sure,” Inoo said, trying to cover up the uncertainty in his voice. He hadn’t even thought about the possibility of kissing Takaki with all the other things he’d been worrying over. But the idea was so irresistible, just imagining those lips against his own, that butterflies started fluttering around his stomach. He decided he should try his best to enjoy the date since it would probably be the only one he ever got with Takaki.
“Right, where are we meeting again?”
“Outside,” Daiki sounded exasperated with what just seemed like Inoo’s forgetfulness to him. “He’s picking you up. Now gooooo. The sun is already setting.” He pushed Inoo towards the exit of his apartment, only pausing long enough for them to both put shoes on. “You better call me later.”
Inoo nodded, but his mind was far away, turning all thoughts to Takaki. As soon as he stepped outside, his eyes fell immediately on the guy waiting for him, leaning against a car with a patient look on his face. The Takaki of this world was just as beautiful as the one he knew. Even though he wasn’t an idol here, his face, hair, and style all seemed to indicate that he put a lot of effort into looking nice. But he had an aura about him that just seemed normal, like an everyday kind of guy who looked happy to be taking Inoo out on a date. It was a different vibe than Inoo was used to. A reminder that this wasn’t his world.
But that smile though—the one that spread across Takaki’s face as soon as he spotted Inoo—that smile was as radiant as always.
“Hi,” Inoo said, not really believing that any of this was real.
“Hey,” Takaki replied casually, “Ready to go?”
Inoo happily said yes and settled into the car. This all felt like a dream, but a wonderful one he didn’t want to wake up from yet. So he vowed to devote himself fully to the experience and not spend any time worrying about the whole parallel universe problem he’d stumbled into. He could deal with that after he had his fun.
“So what’s the plan?” Inoo had imagined a million scenarios for a first date with Takaki before, each one more extravagant than the last. But as Takaki explained his plan for dinner by the beach and then a stroll along the boardwalk, Inoo decided that simple was the best option. He didn’t need anything fancy, just Takaki by his side was enough. Talking and laughing, getting closer. That was perfect.
It was easy talking to this Takaki. Easy but still strange at first, since from Inoo’s point of view, he’d known Takaki for more than ten years. But then again, in his world, it had taken the two of them entirely too long to get to know each other, to get comfortable with sharing stories from their personal lives. Maybe it was different with this Takaki because it was so new, only the third time they’d met. As Inoo had learned from listening to Takaki talk: they’d met at a restaurant where Takaki works as a waiter, and they’d instantly liked each other from the moment they first said hello.
The restaurant they arrived at was situated on top of a hill, overlooking the dark ocean below. It was nice but not too fancy and the menu had the most delicious-looking items all over it that Inoo couldn’t even choose what he wanted to eat. They sat at a table by the window, able to see in the reflected moonlight over the waves as they washed up on the shore, and Takaki talked about his love of the sea. Inoo listened, enthralled by the voice and the passion behind it.
“I’ll take you out on a boat to go fishing sometime, if you want,” Takaki concluded with a happy smile. “If you don’t get seasick, that is.”
“Sounds fun,” Inoo nodded in between bites of his food. It was quiet for a moment, only the soft chatter of the rest of the restaurant around them, and Inoo realized it was his turn to start a conversation topic. He looked down at his food while he thought of safe things to discuss. He didn’t know how different his own life was from the Inoo of this universe. He couldn’t talk about all the things he did with Johnnys, or… maybe he could? A sudden idea struck him.
“Do you ever wonder about crazy things like ‘what if I’d become a Johnnys’?” he asked, looking up to see Takaki purse his lips as he seriously considered the silly question.
“I guess I’ve never thought about it,” he answered, absentmindedly waving his chopsticks around. “But I did go to a Kinki Kids concert once when I was younger, and really enjoyed it. The singing and dancing does look like it’d be fun. I don’t know if I’d like everything else though. Being filmed all the time and having everyone from all over the country watch you. It sounds a bit tiring.” Takaki shrugged. “What do you think?”
“I think you would have been fantastic at it,” Inoo wanted to be encouraging, because the Takaki he knows is fantastic at it, no matter whether he believes that or not. He remembered late night phone calls sometimes after a tough day of work where he needed to keep Takaki from getting discouraged.
“On the plus side, they seem to get to travel a lot,” Takaki added, “and I love to travel. So I guess there’s that.” He laughed and went back to eating his food. For a moment listening to that laugh, Inoo almost forgot that this wasn’t his reality. He’d heard that warm familiar laugh thousands of times, and it always made Inoo want to laugh along too.
The conversation naturally moved on to travel, and Inoo was relieved to let Takaki do most of the talking as they finished up their food. Once that was done, they walked hand in hand along the boardwalk overlooking the beach, passing by all the quaint shops and restaurants lining the pathway. The sun had set already so the only light was from streetlamps, casting artificial shadows on their faces and bodies. Takaki looked so happy and relaxed, like nothing could go wrong to bring his mood down.
And Inoo was happy too, being able to intertwine his fingers with Takaki’s and walk side by side with no worries. But even though he tried not to think about it, he couldn’t help but compare both this Takaki and his Takaki. At first glance, they were so similar, but the more time he spent here, the more he could spot the differences. This Takaki talked more freely, but also considered his words before he just blurted them out. This Takaki didn’t hum quietly when he was thinking about something. This Takaki didn’t brush his fingers through his hair to put stray strands back into place. This Takaki wasn’t afraid to tell him his feelings.
Inoo’s heart hurt because as lovely as this Takaki was, he realized that he missed his Takaki.
This Takaki didn’t remember hastily whispered conversations between concert songs. He didn’t remember photoshoots with their arms wrapped around each other, giggling about the weird positions the photographer suggested. He didn’t remember the awkward times when they were just two teenagers who didn’t know how to talk to each other.
This Takaki didn’t remember because none of those things ever happened to him.
This world where Inoo was apparently a successful architect was nice, but it wasn’t where he belonged. He missed Jump, missed their silly conversations in the dressing room or during photoshoots, missed how they always supported and encouraged each other when necessary, missed the laughter that echoed off the walls whenever they were together. He needed to go back to his world.
His Takaki was waiting for him to return a missed phone call.
A rumble of thunder overhead and the sudden splatter of raindrops reminded Inoo of how he’d gotten here in the first place.
“Looks like a storm blew in from the sea,” Takaki said, looking up at the dark sky. “I’ll go get an umbrella.”
He turned to dash into the nearest convenience store, but Inoo grabbed his arm to stop him. Something was telling him that if he didn’t do this now, he might never get the chance to. Takaki looked confused but Inoo didn’t care as he leaned forward and kissed him. The rain was starting to pour, but Inoo only focused on how it felt to finally touch those lips. It was electrifying as Takaki eagerly kissed him back, arms wrapped around him in a warm embrace.
And then, the sound of a nearby payphone ringing shattered his concentration.
He pulled away.
“Maybe you should go get that umbrella,” he said quietly. Thunder was still echoing above and the rain was getting heavier. Still the phone kept ringing.
Takaki nodded, albeit a bit slowly because he was confused, and then Inoo watched his back as he went to the nearest store. Feeling a strange mix of sadness and happiness, Inoo reached out to answer the payphone. As soon as he picked up the receiver, he felt a painful jolt of energy, a bright flash of light, and then everything was suddenly darkness.
When Inoo opened his eyes, he was staring up at the clear night sky, his umbrella was in his hand and he was in his earlier clothes—sweatpants and all—which were now soaked from lying on the sidewalk during the storm that had finally passed through. Inoo stood up slowly and looked around. Everything looked normal, and he had a feeling he was back in his own universe even if he couldn’t prove it yet.
He pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through the messages, noting with relief that Jump’s group chat was there. And he still had the notification for one missed call from Takaki. Inoo took a deep breath, knowing what he wanted to do now.
He set off down the sidewalk again, heading in the direction of Takaki’s apartment. He dialed the number and waited for the familiar voice to pick up on the other end.
“Hey,” Takaki answered.
“Sorry I missed your call earlier,” Inoo began, ignoring the large swirl of emotions hitting him. He picked out confidence in the mix and focused on that to be his guide. There were a lot of things he needed to say.
“I’ve got the craziest story to tell you.”