"Do you believe in luck, Kaidoh?" Inui turns out a plastic bag onto his desk. Good luck pieces scatter everywhere: omamori, owls, frogs, dream-catchers, crystal balls. A phone strap strung with five yen coins drops onto the floor.
"No," Kaidoh says.
"But maybe luck works whether you believe in it or not." Inui sifts through the pile, separating everything out. "Sports day is coming up so it will be a good chance to test it out." He pulls out a notebook -- uncrumpled so it must be new -- and sits down.
Kaidoh sits on the bed. The first pen Inui tries is empty. So is the second. Inui puts them back into his pencil cup. "Third time lucky," he says and starts to write.
Kaidoh is jumpy and it's an odd feeling for him, at least it used to be. But now when he's in a room with Inui he's jumpy, itchy, wanting all the time.
He digs his fingernails into his palms. He sits on his hands, he curls his toes up inside his slippers. He looks around the room, anywhere but at Inui. There's a box of tissues beside the bed. A charge jolts through him and he's on his feet.
He puts his arms around Inui, bending over him from behind, his face brushing Inui's sticky-up hair.
Inui raises his head and Kaidoh spins the chair around, finding Inui's mouth, straddling his lap. Inui locks his arms around Kaidoh's waist and they kiss, wet and open, and the chair squeaks as Kaidoh presses closer.
"We should stop." Inui wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. Kaidoh doesn't want to stop and he leans in, pushes his tongue past Inui's lips. Inui takes Kaidoh by the shoulders. "Kaidoh."
Kaidoh stands up. His skin is burning and he can't catch his breath. "I should go," he says, and his voice cracks for the first time in six months.
"Call me after supper," Inui says and Kaidoh leaves, holding his bag in front of him.
Inui crouches on the floor, spreading out a bunch of tiny daruma dolls. "The data will be worthless if they're not identical," he says.
Kaidoh sits down at the desk. He picks up Inui's pencil cup. All the pens look the same. He takes a piece of scrap paper out of the recycling box and tries them. Seven are dried up and he throws them away. Two still work. They're dented with Inui's tooth marks, ends compressed and cracking. Kaidoh bites down on one of them. The plastic tastes like nothing at all.
"There are three groups," Inui says. He sits down with his back against the bed, pushes his glasses up his nose. His fingernails are rimmed with dirt. "One group will know about the lucky piece. The second group won't. And the third group is the control."
The five yen phone strap is still under the desk and Kaidoh picks it up and puts it in his pocket. He wonders how Inui is going to get people to carry lucky pieces without knowing about it. He wonders if Inui doesn't notice his fingernails or if he just doesn't care. Then he can't wait any longer.
"Just a minute," Inui says, and checks his watch, and then they sit together on the floor, thighs pressing, spines twisting as they kiss and kiss. Inui pulls back once, but it's just to take his glasses off. He puts both palms on Kaidoh's face, calluses scraping Kaidoh's cheeks.
Kaidoh hooks his thumb just inside Inui's waistband, fingers on Inui's bare skin just underneath his shirt. Inui sighs and it's like his body goes all soft and taut at the same time, relaxing into Kaidoh and moving his hands down Kaidoh's back. Not enough contact and Kaidoh pulls at Inui, pulls down so they can stretch out against each other.
Inui's watch alarm goes off. Inui tucks his shirt back down. Kaidoh swears under his breath. Inui looks at him and Kaidoh looks at the floor, at 22 daruma dolls all out of order.
"Where did all my pens go?" Inui says.
The grass on the embankment is cool and soft and Kaidoh splays out like a starfish drifting in a cool green sea. He turns his head and right there, just past the tip of his nose so he has to go nearly cross-eyed to see it, is a four-leafed clover. He tucks it into the bag from the stationery store.
"Am I late?" Inui says and pulls out his notebook to find today's menu. While he's flipping pages, Kaidoh slips the new pens into his bag.
Inui is wearing his baggy mint-green warm-up suit and he checks Kaidoh's condition, measuring his arms, prodding his thighs. His breath blows on the back of Kaidoh's neck and all the hairs on Kaidoh's skin stand up straight. Kaidoh has to bite his lip so he won't push Inui down onto the grass.
"Can I come over afterward?" he says, halfway through their run.
Inui looks back over his shoulder. "It's late, don't you think?" He stumbles on a crack in the sidewalk, but rights himself, only losing half a stride.
Kaidoh doesn't think. "Please."
Inui doesn't turn this time. "We shouldn't spend so much time alone."
Kaidoh's chest contracts and he has to slow his pace. He can feel the phone strap in his pocket, shifting with every step. He wonders how a lucky piece can help you win if you don't even know the rules of the game.
"Kaidoh." Inui jumps up, book in hand. "I thought you weren't coming over tonight."
Kaidoh stops by the door. There is something inside of him, thrashing to get out, and he thinks his skin will split. He takes the phone strap out of his pocket and throws it on the floor.
"So that's where--"
Kaidoh crosses the room. He grabs Inui by the shoulders.
The book slips from Inui's fingers. "Kaidoh," he says, "what--"
"Your fingernails are dirty," Kaidoh says and bears Inui down onto the bed. He closes his eyes so he doesn't see Inui's face, just tastes his mouth, hears his gasp, smells his body.
Inui is stiff and strange under Kaidoh, tensed and hardly breathing. Then he arches his back and grips Kaidoh's shoulders and they're moving together like they're one thing.
Kaidoh rolls onto his side, pushes his knee between Inui's thighs. "We should stop," Inui says from very far away and Kaidoh pulls up Inui's shirt. He strokes Inui's belly and they both shiver. "Kaidoh." Inui pulls away and Kaidoh follows him.
It's all a great smear of need and Kaidoh is almost sick with it. He presses hard against Inui's hip, he kisses Inui's throat. He moves his hand onto the front of Inui's pants.
Inui shoves him off the bed.
Kaidoh's elbow hits the chair and the chair hits the desk and pens spill all around him: gel tip, rollerball, extra-fine ballpoint.
Inui's face is red and he's not looking at Kaidoh. Kaidoh scrambles up, shaking out his tingling arm. And then he runs.
Kaidoh pulls out his math book and the flash cards fall out with it, a thick pack of tiny white sheets strung on a metal ring. Inui gave it to him, for the kanji he has to memorize this year. But Kaidoh has his own system and the cards are still blank.
I'm sorry, he writes and flips to the next card. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. When all fifty are full, he turns them over and writes on the backs.
One card tears loose and Kaidoh wants to put it in his mouth and chew it up, as if swallowing the words will make them mean something. He crumples it instead and shoves it in his pocket.
He drops the ring in Inui's shoebox. He skips the rest of his classes and goes down to the river. He lies face-down on the embankment, the stupidest starfish in the whole green sea.
He's staring at his homework when Inui comes into the room. And then they stare at each other.
"I'm sorry," Inui says. "I'm not like you, Kaidoh."
Kaidoh's heart slams against his ribcage like a fist beating on a door. He stands. He leaves the couch between him and Inui. "What--"
"The truth is," Inui says, and Kaidoh braces himself like he does before a lift. "The truth is I'm afraid."
"It's hard for me to do things I'm not already good at." Inui pulls a bundle of papers out from underneath his arm. "I did a lot of reading, but...I don't know."
Kaidoh's diaphragm jerks, sucking a sharp breath inside him. Inui shuffles through his print-outs, head down, face pale. His fingernails are very clean.
Kaidoh climbs over the back of the couch. He grabs Inui around the chest and holds on. He curls his toes up inside his slippers. "Senpai," he says and he can hardly hear his own voice. "Inui-senpai. Just...try until it works."
"Just like that?" Inui says, his mouth against Kaidoh's temple. "But what about all the research?"
"You think too much." Kaidoh looks up.
Inui is smiling. "Maybe." And he pulls Kaidoh over the back of the couch.
The pages flutter around them, the couch rocks up and back and tips them onto the floor. And they move together like they're one thing, or nearly, kissing, clutching, paper crackling beneath them.
When Kaidoh touches Inui, Inui tenses, but he doesn't pull away. Kaidoh tenses too, but he just does what seems right and Inui seems to like it. The tissues are at the other end of the room but Inui has his handkerchief and then it's Kaidoh's turn.
He closes his eyes and tenses again and Inui narrates every detail of what he's going to do and Kaidoh tries not to listen but he can't just stick his fingers in his ears. And then Inui touches him and everything goes bright and shocking. He jerks his hips and bites his tongue and he doesn't care if Inui talks forever.
They squash together on the couch afterward, Kaidoh wrapping around Inui from behind, holding on so he doesn't slip off. Inui doesn't say anything for so long Kaidoh wonders if he's fallen asleep.
"Um," Kaidoh says, "how's the luck experiment going?"
"It's on hold." Inui slides his fingers between Kaidoh's. "I can't figure out how to get the participants to not carry their own good luck charms."
Nobody can see him so Kaidoh smiles and hugs Inui just a bit tighter and smiles some more. He's nearly asleep himself when Inui sits up and blinks.
They both gather up the print-outs, then stand together awkwardly until Inui finally says he has to go.
When Kaidoh gets back to his room, he finds one print-out that they missed, stuck under the couch. He pulls it out and reads it. Then he tears it into tiny pieces. He hopes they don't ever have to do that one.
He sits back down. On top of his books is a cheap white pen with a four-leafed clover on the end.
He uses it to do his homework.