It was a ghastly temperature for the time of year. To stay warm the two friends sat together on the radiator. She wanted to kiss him then and there to get all the waiting over with. Of course he knew that. He had known about her crush since the third grade. Ten years later they were the same as ever.
It was the last time the two would ever be exactly like this. With two sharp knocks he announced his presence. Reluctantly Rei rose from his warm perch to answer the door. He was greeted by the stranger with a crisp form. Glancing over it he was informed that his new room mate was 19 year old Kai Hiwatari. Rei grimaced, it’s not that he was unpleased about gaining a room mate; it’s that his things were everywhere.
“My name’s Rei, nice to meet you.” Rei offered a hand which Kai merely frowned at. After realising he wasn’t getting a response he retracted his arm and stepped back. “Sorry about the mess, I was told I wasn’t getting a room mate.
“Hn.” Kai frowned further.
The room was far from spectacular. It was one of the older residences and wasn’t entirely modernised.
Seeing that Rei and Kai needed to get settled the girl rose. “I’ll see you later then, Rei.” She gave him a light peck on the cheek before heading to her dorm.
“That’s Mao, we’ve been friends forever. She’s around here a lot.”
Kai didn’t even dignify him with a response. He was busying himself with cleaning Rei’s things out of his side of the room. Feeling rejected Rei began helping. This was looking to be a long year.
It turned out that they had almost identical schedules. Initially Kai had not struck Rei as the history type. At a month later he still didn’t. They were at least comfortable with the other’s presence. They got along with a complex language of gestures.
It bothered Rei a bit, he wanted to ask questions and have discussions. It became clear to him early on that Kai came from a family that had a lot of money but didn’t any more. Many of his possessions had an air of wealth but they were worn. Rei was all too familiar with second hand. He used to receive them from his cousin, Beth. For many years his family had been surviving just above the poverty level. When his grandfather died he left Rei’s father a failing tea house and a handful of gambling debts. They were pulled from the darkness one day when one of his mother’s painting s found its way to an influential art critic. They sold the tea house and bought a restaurant in a better district. Things had been good ever since.
When Rei returned to his room that evening he found Kai sleeping on his desk. The room was unusually warm but Kai’s exposed flesh was covered in goose bumps. Tentatively Rei brought his fingers to Kai’s forehead.
“Don’t touch me.”
Rei nearly wet himself. “I was checking to see if you had a fever.”
“No, I’m just frozen and have a headache. Do you have a hot water bottle?”
A little taken aback by Kai’s sudden talkativeness it took him a minute to process the question. “No, sorry. Mao has one but she’s in class right now.”
“There should be some painkillers in the top drawer of my night stand.”
Taking it as an order to retrieve them Rei went to look. “I can’t find them…”
Kai’s chair scraped across the floor and Rei found himself pushed out of the way. After some violent searching Kai began cursing in Japanese. “I must be out. Fuck.”
Rei supposed it was time to get it. Every few months his father liked to send him tea leaves for the family’s special mix. It almost made you better because you didn’t want to take it again. “I have just the thing. It makes Buckley’s taste like honey.”
Kai merely grunted in response. Taking it as a ‘whatever’ Rei went about making the tea. Kai slumped onto his bed and brought his comforter around his neck. Rei made enough water for three cups. Surely Kai would need something else after finishing the swill. He set his tea and the extra cup of hot water on Kai’s bed stand before joining him on his bed. He handed Kai the tea and waited for his reaction.
After taking a sip Kai was more alert. His eyes widened and he spat the beverage back into the mug. “Is this piss and rotten eggs?”
“I always thought it was more of a rotten cabbage and dog food.” Kai gave him a nasty look. “My mom took it for hear migraines. Always worked for her.”
“Don’t see how she could.”
“It never killed her, so it won’t hurt you.”
“Somehow I doubt it…” Kai surveyed the liquid with disdain.
“It was the aneurysm that got her.”
Kai froze. Not knowing what to say he began to reluctantly drink the tea. “I didn’t mean…”
“You never knew.” He stretched out on the bed and stared that the ceiling. It happened the previous summer. She was having one of her migraines and sent Rei to the pharmacy to get some more ibuprofen. He came home to ambulances.
Several moments later Kai pressed the mug into Rei’s arm. “This better work.”
Rei smiled. “Orange pekoe or mint?” It was the ultimate test. If Kai chose the orange pekoe then they were soul mates, or something to that degree.
“Do either of them have piss, rotting food or dog food as a main ingredient?”
“No.” Rei laughed.
“Then I’ll have the orange.”
They talked the afternoon away. Rei was almost late for his art history class that evening.
For years he swore he’d never smoke a cigarette. His uncle was a chain smoker, had a rasping cough and yellow teeth. But Rei had now concluded Monet could drive you to extremes. No matter what Rei did it looked horrendous.
For his art history class he was required to recreate a famous piece of art. Monet was his mother’s favourite. She had been able to emulate his style to a great degree. However, Rei was useless at it. The poplars in Poplars on the Epte looked spindly and the ground blobby.
After finishing his third cigarette of the day he made his way back to his dorm. He stared blankly when he entered the room to find Kai studying his injustice to impressionism.
“Your strokes are too defined.”
“You’re telling me!” Rei pulled a chair up to sit by Kai.”
“You should have done a Cézanne.”
“Monet was my mother’s favourite.”
Kai changed his plan. “May I?”
“Sure, it can’t get any worse.”
Kai took up a brush and Rei’s pallet. He began changing the edges, removing the smoothness. “Do you see what I’m doing?”
“No you don’t.” Kai smiled. He took Rei’s hand and began guiding him in his strokes. For a long time they painted together and transformed the abomination to a decent attempt.
“I didn’t know you were left-handed.” Rei said after they stopped to make tea.
“It depends on the situation. I like painting better with my left.”
“That’s pretty strange, Hiwatari.”
“I love how you do that.” He hadn’t meant to say it so much as think it.
Kai raised an eyebrow. ”You’re pretty strange yourself.”
If you asked either of them what occurred in the next five minutes neither could say exactly. It went something like them both reaching for the paintbrush on the floor and then both finishing dishevelled on the floor, paint smeared on the carpet. After they finished their experiment Rei got up to try to save the carpet. It was that night that nearly three months of tension unravelled.
Rei shifted from foot to foot, he was standing in his pyjamas in the freezing room watching Kai check over his bags.
“I’ll bring you back some tea from Japan. Don’t look so put out. I’ll be back here the day before classes resume.”
Rei nodded. “I know, but it would have been nice to…”
Kai kissed him once. “I have to go visit old friends and family. Besides your dad will be overjoyed by the fact he can replenish your supply of swill tea.”
Kai gave him another kiss before Mao entered and put a burning stick to Rei’s butt. “What’re you doing in your pyjamas?! Lai will be here to pick us up any time now!”
Kai chuckled. “See you both in the new year.” Kai waved as he left the two.
While Rei was in a panic getting everything together Mao took a good look at how the room had changed. Her eyes fell on the Monet.
“Hey, that’s really good.”
“Huh?” Rei spotted her gaze on the painting. “My teacher didn’t think so. I got a 60 on it.”
“Your mother would be proud.”
Rei smiled faintly. “You have no idea. I’m thinking of doing Japanese Bridge next. That one was her favourite. Coincidentally it’s also Kai’s.
“He likes Monet?”
“He has good taste then.”
“He does at that.” Rei smiled brightly. “And not just in art.”