“Time to wake up, sleepyhead.”
Takaki hears the voice through a sleepy haze, a voice he loves to wake up to every morning. But he’s also comfortable and warm between the sheets of the bed, so he’d rather drift back to dreamland for a bit longer.
“You gotta wake up, Yuya,” the voice continues with a hint of laughter. “You gotta go take care of the kids.”
“We don’t have kids,” Takaki answers, his own voice rough and groggy. He feels lips pressed gently to one of his eyelids as the owner of the voice switches tactics to wake him up. A moment later, he feels long fingers slide through his messy hair too, getting tangled in the knots.
“I’m talking about the kids at the preschool,” the voice says again, fully laughing now.
Takaki opens his eyes to see the smiling face of his boyfriend hovering over top of him. Inoo Kei, always doing his best to make sure Takaki doesn’t oversleep for work, though he’s not a morning person either. Inoo’s just better at hiding it.
Takaki stretches his arms out to pull Inoo close, relishing the comfortable feeling of their bodies pressed together.
“Can’t we just cuddle like this for a while, Kei?” Takaki asks. He kisses Inoo’s forehead since it’s closer than his lips at this weird angle. “Like maybe all day?”
“I wish we could,” Inoo sighs. He shifts so that he can rest his head on Takaki’s chest. Takaki imagines he’s probably listening to his heartbeat, the steady thump a reminder of who his heart belongs to.
“I love you,” Takaki says softly.
“I love you too,” Inoo replies, and then sighs again. “But we really do need to get out of bed now. I have a flight to catch.”
Takaki unlocks his arms, giving them the opportunity to untangle themselves, though he wishes for the extra warmth to return immediately. Inoo has to fly across the country for a business trip with his architecture firm, something he has to do occasionally to make sure important work gets taken care of. A few days apart won’t be unbearable, but Takaki knows he’ll miss his boyfriend. He does every time Inoo travels for business.
“I can call you tonight after I get settled into my hotel room,” Inoo says as he climbs over Takaki and out of bed. “I always love hearing the sound of your voice. It’s sexy,” he adds with a grin.
“I know,” Takaki teases back. He reaches for Inoo’s arm and pulls him close for one more kiss, just one more before the day begins. He needs that connection.
Takaki arrives at the preschool an hour later, prepared for his usual group of rowdy three and four year olds along with his assistant teacher, Yuto. Sometimes Yuto is just as rowdy as the kids, but that just makes the days more interesting. He always has a ton of great stories to bring back to Inoo each night.
The day goes as usual with the typical lessons mixed in between snack time and naptime, but they end up with some extra free time before the parents arrive to take the kids home.
“Time for finger-painting!” Yuto announces with a staggering amount of paint jars cradled in his arms.
The children cheer as Takaki begins dressing each kid in an apron to minimize the impending mess, listening to them all chatter with excitement like a roar of wind accompanying an incoming storm. They rarely pull out the paint because of the chaos that ensues, but Takaki decides the kids definitely deserve a treat for being more well-behaved than usual.
He should have known the good behavior had only been a ploy to lure him into a false sense of security.
By the end of the painting session, Takaki has saved little Haru from putting paint-covered fingers up his nose, stopped Megumi from tangling paintbrushes in her hair, and scolded Yukari for not sharing the purple paint. He’s not even going to ask Yuto why there’s something resembling war paint all over his face, though he does at least compliment his co-teacher on the cat he painted along with the children.
But worst of all, Takaki finds his cell phone half-submerged in a cup of water and smeared with sticky blue fingerprints.
“This is bad,” Takaki says, staring at the black screen of his phone in horror after all the children have gone home. He’s feeling stupid for not securing his phone in a place out of the reach of sneaky little fingers. Thoughts of Inoo being so far away had been on his mind earlier, so he hadn’t been thinking straight.
Yuto pauses from where he’s scrubbing paint off his face to lean over and get a better look. “You should probably put that in rice,” he suggests. “I might have some here actually… if I can remember where I put it…”
Takaki thinks he should probably be concerned that Yuto apparently has food stashed throughout the preschool in secret places, but the phone is the bigger problem to deal with first. In another few hours Inoo is going to call expecting to talk to his boyfriend and all he’s going to get is an automated “this phone is out of service” message.
He tries turning the phone on again, but the screen remains an ominous black.
“Can I borrow your phone to send Kei a message at least?” Takaki asks. “Just so he won’t be worried when he can’t reach me.”
“Sorry,” Yuto says, returning with a styrofoam bowl full of dry rice. “My battery died earlier and my charger is broken.” He takes Takaki’s phone and plops it into the bowl with a satisfying thunk.
“Where were you keeping this rice?” Takaki asks warily.
Yuto points up. “Above one of the loose ceiling tiles. I’ve got a bunch of crackers up there too if you’re ever hungry during naptime.”
The opening of the door distracts them before the conversation can continue to even stranger places. Yuto’s boyfriend, Yamada, walks in. He pauses in the doorway, narrowing his eyes in concern.
“Do I even want to know why there’s finger-paint on only the left side of your face?” Yamada asks Yuto before turning to Takaki. “Or why you’re holding a bowl of uncooked rice?”
Yuto shrugs. “I got distracted by the untimely demise of Takaki’s phone.”
“Hey,” Takaki’s eyes light up with a sudden idea. “Can I borrow your phone real quick? Just to send a message to my boyfriend so he won’t be worried when he tries to call me later. I’m sure if Yuto were the one on the other side of the country, you’d want to be able to get in touch with him too.”
“Sure,” Yamada answers, handing over his phone. He’s more preoccupied about cleaning the rest of the paint off Yuto’s face than anything else. Yuto squirms a bit at first, but Yamada apparently knows the right thing to whisper in his boyfriend’s ear to get him to stay still for a few moments. Judging by the look on Yuto’s face, Takaki probably doesn’t want to know what words had been exchanged.
Takaki turns his attention down to the numbers on the screen, his fingers hovering right above ready to dial the number.
Except that he can’t remember what that number is.
“Damn cell phones,” he exclaims in frustration. “They’re so convenient, yet so awful!”
Both Yamada and Yuto turn to look at him after that proclamation. “Uhh, you okay there, buddy?” Yamada asks with concern.
“I, um…” Takaki feels his face turning hot with embarrassment. “I can’t actually remember his number. I never needed to memorize it because it’s in my phone…”
Yuto laughs, but Yamada elbows him in the ribs. “I bet you can’t remember my number either,” he scolds his boyfriend for laughing at Takaki.
“I can!” Yuto exclaims. “It’s… uh…” There’s a long pauses as he thinks. “It’s got a seven in it, for sure. Maybe a three?”
Yamada rolls his eyes.
Takaki returns the phone with a sigh. He’ll just have to try a different plan to get in touch with Inoo. Yamada and Yuto wish him luck before they leave the building, hand in hand, to head home. He hears Yamada tell his boyfriend that they’re going to spend all night memorizing phone numbers.
Somehow, Takaki thinks they’ll probably get distracted after the first one.
The weather outside is nice as he walks back home, but he can’t really focus on enjoying it while he’s thinking about his phone problem. He had been looking forward to hearing Inoo’s voice again after a long day, and now he wouldn’t be able to. It was frustrating. Just as frustrating as the time they’d accidentally gotten locked out of their apartment.
The sudden memory of that incident, however, makes Takaki chuckle as he remembered how it turned out in the end.
“If we can’t get inside, I’ll just have to kiss you out here,” Inoo had declared right before he leaned forward and kissed Takaki against the locked door of their shared apartment. Takaki had been a little embarrassed at first, but it didn’t take him long to kiss back, forgetting about everything else but the taste of Inoo’s lips.
That is until the sound of someone nearby loudly clearing their throat startled both of them apart. They turned to see two people standing in the hallway watching them. One was a short guy who had a hand raised in front of his companion’s face.
“You’re ruining Keito’s virgin eyes,” the guy announced with a grin.
Keito swatted away the other guy’s hand and merely squeaked out a polite hello, not really knowing what else to do in the situation. He then decided it might be best if he just stared at the floor for the rest of the conversation.
“We’re locked out,” Inoo explained, pointing towards the door they’d just been leaning up against.
“You’re in luck,” the short guy said, pulling a thin piece of metal out of his pocket. “I happen to know how to pick locks. I’m Chinen Yuri, by the way. This is my roommate Okamoto Keito. We just moved in next door.” He pointed to the doorway of his own apartment for clarification.
“What an awkward way to meet our neighbors…” Takaki muttered to himself.
“I think we’re going to be great friends,” Inoo declared, looking excited. He really had no shame about these kinds of things.
Takaki laughs quietly to himself at the memory. They really had become quite close with Chinen and Keito since then, often hanging out together. Any worries Takaki might have had about the neighbors being able to break into their apartment at any time were unfounded.
“That’s it!” Takaki exclaims, stopping suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk, earning a side-eye from a few people passing by. But he pays them no mind. He’d just remembered that his neighbors have Inoo’s phone number too.
Keito is the one to answer the door after Takaki knocks. He smiles politely but looks confused as to why Takaki is holding a styrofoam bowl of uncooked rice.
“Can I borrow your phone? Mine is dead and I need to call Kei.” He gestures towards the rice as if that explained things better.
“Of course you can,” Keito says, gesturing for him to step inside the apartment. “As soon as I find it.”
Takaki sets his rice bowl down on the kitchen countertop before giving Keito a confused look. But then he glances around the apartment and sees everything is in a state of disarray, like someone had been searching desperately for something.
“How’d you lose your phone?”
“Well we have this chore wheel,” Keito begins, running his fingers through his hair in frustration, “and we decided to give each other punishments if we forget to do a chore. And I forgot to take out the trash last week, so Chinen hid my phone somewhere. I’ve been looking all day for it.”
With a determined expression, Takaki pushes up his sleeves. “I’ll help you look. I really need to talk to Kei.”
They dive into searching through the apartment, both agreeing that Chinen would be devious enough to put the phone somewhere really odd. Takaki even suggests looking under any loose floorboards, but Keito shakes his head sadly. He’s already checked. The bathroom is also another dead end, as well as the kitchen, though Takaki does make a different discovery there.
“Um, why is there a whole DVD collection mixed in here with all the kitchen utensils in this drawer?” he asks.
“Don’t move those,” Keito calls out, though his voice is muffled because he’s rummaging through a closet. “Chinen has a system! He knows where everything is.”
Takaki closes the drawer. It had been devoid of Keito’s cell phone anyway. He was, however, beginning to slightly question the sanity of his neighbors.
“Isn’t hiding your phone kind of a mean punishment? Like, what if you needed it in an emergency?” Takaki muses out loud as he takes a peek inside the refrigerator. There’s nothing inside but a few water bottles and one leftover takeout container.
“It’s not that bad,” Keito shrugs. “Last punishment for Chinen was having to eat all the expired mayonnaise at the back of the fridge. He was sick for like two days afterwards. We decided to clean everything out of there after that. Most of it was growing mold anyway.”
“That explains that,” Takaki mutters under his breath.
“I’m home!” a voice calls out as the front door opens. Chinen walks in holding a bag of food, which he sets down beside the rice bowl after giving it a confused look. “Did you bring this rice for us, Yuyan?”
Takaki eyes widen. “Don’t eat that,” he says, shooing Chinen away from the bowl. “It came out of a ceiling.”
“What??” Both of them give Takaki horrified faces.
“It’ll take too long to explain,” Takaki says, frantically waving his arms in the air. “Where’s Keito’s phone? Or better yet, can I borrow yours? I’m desperate! I need to talk to Kei because my phone is broken.”
“Did you try a carrier pigeon?” Chinen asks. “Or smoke signals? Maybe morse code?”
Takaki is not amused by his jokes, so he just glares until Chinen sighs and tells them Keito’s phone is under the couch cushions. Keito slaps a hand to his forehead.
“It’s always the most obvious place,” Chinen adds.
“Of course it is,” Keito replies with a sigh, pulling his phone out from under one of the fluffy cushions.
“But you can use my phone,” Chinen says to Takaki, pulling out his own from his pocket. “I talked to Inoo yesterday actually and promised to make sure you’re okay while he’s gone for the weekend. I even brought you something to eat too.” He points to the takeout bag he’d brought home. “I’ll message him now and let him know the situation. Then let’s have dinner.”
Feeling relieved, Takaki sinks down into the nearest chair with a nod. He’d really like to hear the sound of his boyfriend’s voice, but he didn’t have any other choice at the moment. At least now he could rest reassured Inoo won’t be calling his phone in vain.
The three friends enjoy dinner together with a sense of relief. They reminisce over other times Inoo’s been out of town for business, share stories about punishment games of the past, and talk about making plans to hang out again later. It all works as a good temporary distraction, but by the time Takaki decides he should head back to his own apartment, he feels a twinge of sadness that he can’t even wish Inoo a goodnight.
“Take this,” Chinen says, shoving something into his free hand (the one not holding the rice bowl) before he gets completely out the door.
Takaki looks down to see Chinen’s cell phone.
“You can use that to call Inoo,” he explains. “I won’t need it tonight, so you can return it in the morning.”
“Thanks Chi,” he smiles.
“But don’t play any of my games while you’ve got it,” Chinen adds as a warning. “If you try to beat my high score, I’ll break your fingers.”
“Duly noted,” Takaki replies with a laugh.
Once Takaki returns to his apartment, he rushes through his usual nightly routine so that he can settle down and make his phone call. He snuggles deep into his bed sheets even though it’s not nearly as warm without the other person who belongs there. Chinen’s phone feels different in his hands too, but it’s good enough to dial the number with no problem.
“Hello,” the familiar voice answers when the call connects. Just the sound of it makes Takaki smile.
“It’s me,” Takaki replies.
Inoo laughs. “Did you steal Chinen’s phone?”
“He let me borrow it, surprisingly. I can talk for as long as I want.”
“Or as long as I’ll listen!”
Takaki can imagine Inoo making a smirking face on the other end of the line while probably lounging on the hotel room bed, maybe with a snack nearby and his work materials piled up on a table to deal with in the morning. He’s probably lying with his limbs sprawled out like a starfish because he stretches like that even when he’s sharing the space with Takaki.
They talk for a long time about their day, laughing about the crazy stuff and sobering up for the serious stuff. It reminds Takaki of how it was when they first started dating, long before they had made the decision to move in together. They would spend hours on the phone talking, desperate to learn everything about each other, yearning to develop a relationship that would grow into something deep and wonderful.
They talk until their voices gradually grow softer and softer as sleep threatens to overtake them. When they decide to finally end the call, Inoo whispers softly, “I love you.”
And Takaki answers back, “I love you too.”
Though his eyelids feel heavy, Takaki adds a quick “talk to you tomorrow” before the call disconnects. But even though the call is over, Takaki knows he’s still connected to Inoo, no matter how far away he is. Always and forever.
He doesn’t need a phone for that.