Kaidoh lets go of the heavy door. It shuts with a slow wheeze instead of a solid clang. He stops for a moment to look down, like he’s a watchman in a tower, surveying the students crossing the grounds, clustering, chattering.
He takes a breath of clean air and hot sun and crosses the roof to the shade around the corner.
Someone is there.
Don’t they know this is Kaidoh’s place? But lunchtime is nearly over so he goes over anyhow.
It’s Echizen, lying on his back, a notebook over his eyes. Chest rising and falling, like he’s got nothing better to do.
“Hey.” Kaidoh prods Echizen in the ribs with his foot.
“I’m sleeping,” Echizen mutters but he sits up and shuffles over.
“Greet me properly.” Kaidoh sits, crosslegged, and props his lunchbox in his lap.
“Cheeeeers,” Echizen says. “Got enough to eat?”
If this is how students behave in America, Kaidoh doesn’t think much of it. But he’s too hungry to yell so he just eats instead, eyes on his food, while Echizen stretches out again.
“Don’t be late for practice,” Kaidoh says, when he’s finished. He pokes Echizen again, with his finger this time.
Echizen snores but he’s definitely faking.
Kaidoh leaves him there and wishes he could bang the door behind him.
The stairwell door makes a satisfying clang. Kaidoh’s footsteps echo after it, down and down, to the alcove at the bottom by the furnace room. Too chilly and uncomfortable for anyone but Kaidoh.
He stops and lets the echoes die away so the silence can wrap around him like a sage’s cloak, perfectly still in solitary contemplation, purifying his mind and body, before he takes the last few steps to his refuge.
And there is Echizen.
He’s sitting on the old blanket Kaidoh keeps stashed down here, empty plastic bag at his feet. When he looks up, he grins like they’re across the court from each other.
Kaidoh stops and stares at him. He turns to climb back up, up to his roof spot instead.
“There’s a fight on the roof,” Echizen says. He doesn’t volunteer who or why.
Kaidoh turns around and sits down with his lunch. He’s half on the blanket, half on the cold floor.
Echizen leans back, hands behind his head. His elbow bumps Kaidoh’s ear but he doesn’t apologize. “That’s a big lunch,” he says.
Kaidoh keeps his eyes on his food. “I need a lot of calories.” Like he has to justify himself to Echizen.
“The croquettes look good.” Echizen sits up and leans over, his arm brushing against Kaidoh’s.
“I thought Americans ate hamburgers.” Kaidoh shifts his lunchbox, a defensive position.
“Momo-senpai buys me hamburgers,” Echizen says. His fingers flash out, too quick, like his serve, and filch a croquette. “But I like Japanese food.”
Kaidoh turns to snatch it back but Echizen is already taking a bite, meeting Kaidoh’s eyes as he opens his mouth.
“Apologize!” Kaidoh says.
“I’m sorry,” Echizen says, annoyingly casual. “It’s delicious.”
Kaidoh eats the rest of his lunch, eyes flicking back to Echizen with every bite, but Echizen doesn’t try again, just yawns and slouches and closes his eyes.
When he’s done eating, Kaidoh leans back too, eyes open, and looks at their stretched out feet. There’s a cartoon cat drawn on one of Echizen’s school shoes in blue marker, smiling, pointed ears and long whiskers.
When it’s time to go, Kaidoh makes Echizen fold the blanket.
The ground is damp so Kaidoh spreads out a plastic bag before he sits. There are voices all around but he’s alone in the shade of the tree. He puts one hand on the grass, like a ranger who can feel movement of the forest through his body, the whisper of the trees, the skitter of the animals. The footsteps of the man he’s tracking, light and wary.
“Hey,” Echizen says and Kaidoh jumps.
Kaidoh looks up at Echizen, the hair falling over his forehead, the moving shadows of the leaves on his face. The melon bread and juice box in his hands. “You should eat better,” Kaidoh says and slides over.
“It’s not a hamburger.” Echizen sits down.
They don’t talk, just sit and chew and breathe and bump elbows while the plastic bag crinkles under them. Echizen is wiping away the crumbs before Kaidoh is even half finished his lunchbox.
“You need more calories,” Kaidoh says and holds out two extra croquettes in a paper wrapper.
Echizen was so quick to steal yesterday but today he stops with his hand in the air. “What about your calories?”
“Eat.” Kaidoh can hear the growl in his voice, he doesn’t know why it always comes out like that.
“Yes, Kaidoh-senpai,” Echizen says.
Kaidoh wonders if he’s this insolent with Momoshiro. Not that Momoshiro cares about anything except eating and being liked.
“It’s good.” Echizen smiles and it’s not cocky at all.
Kaidoh looks away. He puts his hand back onto the grass but all he can hear is his own heartbeat.
“Oishi-senpai said we had to.” Momoshiro blocks Kaidoh’s way out of his classroom.
“Right now?” Kaidoh dodges around Momoshiro, out into the hallway. He’s like a master swordsman, footwork like dancing, rapier threatening Momoshiro’s throat.
“He said by today.” Momoshiro pivots and sidesteps, grabbing Kaidoh’s arm.
Kaidoh yanks his arm away. “By today? When did he tell you?”
Momoshiro shrugs. “It won’t take long, bring your lunch.” He pokes at the lid. “What do you have in there?”
“Keep your damn hands off!” Kaidoh wants to turn and stalk away down the hall. No, he wants to shove Momoshiro, _then_ turn and stalk away. But instead he goes with Momoshiro to the tennis club room and inventories all the equipment, eating with one hand and writing numbers with the other.
“Do you think Oishi-senpai wants an inventory of the dust bunnies too?” Momoshiro sneezes. “Those first years are slacking.”
“Momoshiro,” Kaidoh says. He coughs, like the dust is sticking in his throat. “Do you buy hamburgers for Echizen a lot?”
“Three whistles,” Momoshiro says. “I guess? Once in a while. Remember last year when the captain had that stupid whistle code?”
“Does...does he like them?”
“He must have, he blew them all the time.”
“No, idiot.” Kaidoh squeezes the pen in his hand. “Echizen.”
Momoshiro shrugs. “Everybody likes hamburgers.” He bends over Kaidoh’s lunchbox. “Are you going to finish those?”
“Don’t you dare–“ Kaidoh starts but the croquettes are already in Momoshiro’s mouth. “You asshole.”
Kaidoh barely makes it back to his classroom before the next period.
On his desk is a crumpled melon bread wrapper.
“Where is he?” Kaidoh growls and this time he doesn’t mind how he sounds. He doesn’t mind the first years staring at him, whispering about him.
“Probably the roof,” Horio says.
“No.” Not the roof.
“Well, maybe he said something about the stair–“
“No.” Not the stairwell.
“Then he’s definitely out by that tree, the big–“
“No.” Not the tree. Not the tennis courts. Not the library. Not this classroom.
“I’m his best friend, so I’d know.” Horio sticks his chin up in the air.
“You do know,” Kaidoh says. He looks down at Horio, just looks, clenching his fist and wanting to use it. “Tell me.”
“He told me not say.” Horio looks to the side. “But he’s in the old manga club room. Ever since they lost their funding they–”
Kaidoh wheels, strides away, not running, until he’s out in the hallway.
Echizen is in the old manga club room, sitting at a table smudged with ink and graphite. He’s reading a discarded student project, squinting like it’s interesting but the pages are upside down.
Kaidoh coughs, like there’s something caught in his throat, words or dust or his throbbing pulse. Then he tosses the fast food bag in front of Echizen.
Echizen grins. From behind the manga, he pushes out a plastic box with four convenience store croquettes inside. “I like Japanese food better.”
Kaidoh’s knees go a little funny and he smiles too. He sits down next to Echizen, like a friend sitting with another friend, and they eat the croquettes and the hamburgers and swap drinks from Echizen’s juice box.
When their elbows bump together, Echizen doesn’t move away and neither does Kaidoh.
“I need more calories,” Echizen says and leans closer against Kaidoh’s arm.
Kaidoh leans back. “I’ll buy you udon tomorrow.”