“Hey, Shōta, you’re single, right?”
Shōta blinks at Nemuri slowly from across the library table.
“I told a friend of mine I’d find her a date,” Nemuri continues, studying Shōta. He doesn’t exactly scream ‘boyfriend material,’ but he has a handsome face buried underneath his unruly stubble, and with the right outfit, he might actually look halfway decent. “She’s studying business analytics, so you’d probably get along well.”
“I have a boyfriend,” Shōta replies, looking back down at his textbook.
Now it’s Nemuri’s turn to blink at him.
“Wait, really?” Nemuri asks, the words slipping past her lips before she can stop them.
“Yes, really,” Shōta says dryly.
“Why’s this the first I’m hearing of it?” Nemuri presses, leaning a little further over the table, her interest piqued.
“It wasn’t relevant,” Shōta replies, shrugging slightly. His unperturbed attitude makes Nemuri narrow her eyes slightly, searching Shōta’s expression for any inconsistencies.
“You’re not lying to avoid going on a blind date, are you?” Nemuri asks, and Shōta finally looks up from his textbook to glare at her.
“I have a boyfriend,” Shōta says again, a little more firmly this time.
“Alright, alright,” Nemuri sighs. She props up her elbows on the table and rests her chin against her hands. “It’s just that I’ve never seen you with someone who looked like he could be your boyfriend. You can bring him along when everyone goes out for drinks, you know. Unless – ” She pauses, considering Shōta. “Is he scandalously older?”
“No,” Shōta snorts, giving Nemuri a flat look. “He’s studying abroad in Canada.”
Nemuri stares at him for a moment.
“Studying abroad in Canada,” she repeats slowly, testing out the phrase. “You know that’s, like, the classic fake boyfriend excuse.”
“Can we get back to studying now?” Shōta sighs, rubbing his fingers against his temples. “Whether or not I have a boyfriend is not relevant to our child cognitive development exam.”
“Oh, come on!” Nemuri huffs, her lower lip pushing out into a pout. “You can’t just tell me you have a boyfriend and then refuse to give me details!”
“Yes, I can,” Shōta snorts, jotting something down in his notebook and then turning to the next page in his textbook. “Do you remember at what age children develop the ability to create multi-word sentences?”
“You know, if you keep avoiding the subject, I’m just going to assume you’re lying,” Nemuri replies. Something occurs to her, and she reaches out to grab Shōta’s phone off the table, pressing the home button to reveal the lock screen photo, but she sighs as a fat, orange cat comes into view.
“Can we please focus, Kayama-senpai?” Shōta huffs, taking his phone back from Nemuri.
“What sort of person uses a picture of their cat as their lock screen, instead of their boyfriend?” Nemuri complains, and she’s aware she’s being petulant, but curiosity has always been her downfall. She can’t possibly study when Shōta’s just told her such a juicy fact about his personal life, but without any of the fun details.
“I like my cat better,” Shōta says dryly.
“So he’s studying abroad and you don’t even miss him?” Nemuri sighs, purposefully overdramatic. “How long will he be gone for?”
For a moment, Shōta hesitates, but then he says, “The entire school year.”
“So he’s already been gone for, what? Three months?” Nemuri asks, her forehead creasing as she searches through her mental calendar.
“Approximately,” Shōta answers, his tone steady and unperturbed.
“Yet you still haven’t started missing him yet,” Nemuri repeats. Based on the conversation so far, she’s pretty sure Shōta doesn’t actually have a boyfriend, but if he does, she pities the poor guy.
“I didn’t say that,” Shōta huffs, finally looking up from his textbook to shoot Nemuri a glare.
“You don’t have his picture set as your lock screen,” Nemuri counters, arching an eyebrow at him.
“Maybe he’s on my home screen,” Shōta replies, his tone dry.
“Then show me,” Nemuri demands, and she reaches for Shōta’s phone again, but Shōta doesn’t let her snatch it this time.
“It’s not him,” Shōta mutters, breaking eye contact with Nemuri, embarrassment evident in his posture. The fake boyfriend possibility is becoming more and more likely by the minute.
“So you have a boyfriend who’s conveniently studying abroad in Canada for the entire school year, and you don’t even have any photos of him on your phone,” Nemuri surmises. Shōta scowls harder, but he doesn’t admit to lying or try to contradict Nemuri’s claims.
“He sends me enough photos of himself that if I saved them all, I’d have no storage left in my phone,” Shōta grumbles, glaring down at his textbook.
“Riiiight,” Nemuri replies, not even trying to hide her skepticism. “And let me guess, he uses an app like Snapchat or Snow or something, so the photos disappear after a few seconds, leaving you no actual pictures to show me.”
The way Shōta scowls at her tells her she’s right.
“Alright, well next time I ask if you want to go on a date with one of my other friends, just tell me you’re not interested instead of making up a fake boyfriend,” Nemuri continues, finally straightening up and opening her textbook. “I can take no for an answer.”
“Can you, though?” Shōta mutters under his breath, and now it’s Nemuri’s turn to narrow her eyes at him.
“What was it you were asking about child language development?” Nemuri asks, pointedly ignoring Shōta’s muttered commentary.
The rest of the study session stays on track, although Nemuri can’t help the way her mind strays back to Shōta’s fake boyfriend whenever the subject material gets a little too boring. It’s not that she doesn’t think Shōta would make a terrible boyfriend – it’s just that he doesn’t seem to do anything that would indicate that he’s dating someone. He doesn’t bother with his appearance, he’s not constantly messaging someone, he doesn’t try to find unsubtle ways to insert information about his boyfriend into casual conversations…
Out of the corner of her eye, Nemuri finds herself watching Shōta’s phone, waiting for it to light up with a text or some other notification that would indicate that his long-distance boyfriend is trying to get in contact with him. Then again, if he really does have a boyfriend who’s studying abroad, it’s probably an ungodly hour of the morning in Canada right now.
Of course, that just sounds like another excuse.
“Hey, Shōta! You’re going out for drinks with us, right?”
“I can’t,” Shōta replies as he packs up his things after class.
“What? Why not?” Nemuri asks, her forehead creasing slightly.
“I’m supposed to video chat with my boyfriend,” Shōta answers, slinging his bag up onto his shoulder.
“The fake Canadian one?” Nemuri says, arching an eyebrow at Shōta.
“He’s not Canadian,” Shōta huffs, shooting her a flat look. “He’s just studying abroad there.”
“But you’re not denying that he’s fake,” Nemuri replies, an amused smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
“I’m leaving,” Shōta announces, not dignifying Nemuri with a proper reply. Nemuri pouts slightly, a little disappointed that Shōta hadn’t tried to refute her claim, but instead of trying to push the conversation farther, she just calls after him, “Have fun with your Canadian boyfriend!”
Shōta doesn’t acknowledge her.
It doesn’t take long for Nemuri to pack up her own things and start heading for the izakaya she and the others are meeting at. A few other people have already arrived by the time she gets there, and she takes a seat next to Tensei, plopping herself down with a huff and reaching for the beer menu.
“Hey,” Tensei greets her, handing her a menu. He pauses, glancing towards the door, and adds, “I thought you were bringing Shōta with you.”
“He can’t come,” Nemuri answers, opening up the menu, “because he’s video chatting with his Canadian boyfriend.”
Tensei blinks at her.
“His what?” Tensei finally replies, looking at Nemuri like she’d just spouted out gibberish. Nemuri understands the feeling.
“Apparently,” Nemuri says slowly, “he has a boyfriend who he’s conveniently never mentioned until now who is studying abroad in Canada for the academic year. I’m pretty sure he just needed an excuse to stay at home and watch cat videos instead of being forced to go out and socialize, like a real human being.”
“I don’t know, he doesn’t really seem like the type to make up a fake boyfriend,” Tensei muses, a contemplative look on his face. “Usually he just tells us to leave him alone when he’s feeling like a hermit.”
“And then we drag him out anyway,” Nemuri adds.
“Well,” Tensei admits, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “True.”
“He didn’t have any photos he could show me either,” Nemuri continues, pressing the buzzer to call a waiter over to the table. “His phone lock screen is just his cat.”
“Even if he did have a boyfriend, he’d probably still keep all his wallpapers and backgrounds as that cat, though,” Tensei snorts. He takes a sip of his beer and then adds, “Although I guess that makes it hard to believe he actually has a boyfriend. I wouldn’t want to play second fiddle to a cat.”
Nemuri lets out a bark of laughter, but she smooths her expression over into a polite smile as the waiter comes over to take her drink order.
“Does Shōta have a Facebook?” Tensei says suddenly, once Nemuri has finished giving her drink order.
“I think so, but there’s probably not much on it,” Nemuri replies, propping her elbow up on the table and resting her cheek against her hand. “I don’t think it says he’s in a relationship.”
“Maybe his boyfriend’s tagged him in photos, though,” Tensei points out, unlocking his phone and opening up the Facebook app. He taps at the screen, bringing up Shōta’s profile and then scrolling through it, searching for any photos that would seem to suggest a boyfriend.
“Anything?” Nemuri asks, peering over his shoulder.
“Not really,” Tensei answers, and Nemuri sighs, leaning heavily against Tensei. “There are a few photos of him with high school friends, but that’s about it.”
“Damn,” Nemuri replies, pouting slightly. “If he did have an actual boyfriend, then I’d have something new to tease him about.” She pauses. “Now I’m trying to think about what sort of guy Shōta would actually date.”
“A cat furry,” Tensei says solemnly.
“You’re meaner than I am,” Nemuri laughs, hitting Tensei’s shoulder lightly.
“Maybe when Shōta talks about his cat, he’s not actually talking about his cat,” Tensei continues, and although he tries to keep a straight face, Nemuri can see him struggling to keep the grin off his face.
“I’m not one to kinkshame, but I’m pretty sure Shōta would murder you if you said that to his face,” Nemuri replies, but she’s still trying to hold back her laughter.
“Seriously, though, I’m having a hard time imagining someone Shōta would actually date,” Tensei says, his expression sobering a little. “Someone quiet and mature, maybe?”
“I can see that,” Nemuri muses, tapping at her chin with her finger. “Or someone sloppy, who doesn’t mind the fact that he only shaves like once a week and wears the same tracksuit over and over.”
“Honestly, when you say that all I can imagine is a carbon copy of Shōta,” Tensei replies, his smile turning a little wry.
“God,” Nemuri laughs. “That’s terrifying. On their dates they probably eat protein gel and compare prices on cat toys.”
The two of them fall into silence for a moment, contemplating the image, and Nemuri wrinkles her nose, unsure whether to be amused or disturbed by the concept. Tensei seems similarly torn, and after a beat, he says, “Maybe we’re being too mean. Shōta has his good points, and he’s actually pretty good looking, once you get past the stubble and the tracksuit.”
“True,” Nemuri replies, letting her mind stray to the one time Shōta had stripped off his shirt when drunk, revealing a surprisingly toned chest. “And maybe the fact that it’s long distance makes things easier, because they don’t actually see each other that often.”
“Did Shōta say how they met?” Tensei asks, mild curiosity flitting across his face.
“I didn’t think to ask,” Nemuri answers. The waiter finally brings over her beer and she accepts it, taking a sip as she puzzles over Shōta’s imaginary boyfriend. “It’s not like he goes out much. I guess that’s another hole in his fake boyfriend story.”
“I still don’t think he’s the type to make up a fake boyfriend, though,” Tensei says.
“Look at what we’ve driven him to,” Nemuri sighs, her tone purposefully overdramatic.
“Well,” Tensei replies, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he raises his glass, “here’s a toast to Shōta’s maybe fake, maybe real Canadian boyfriend.”
“Cheers,” Nemuri laughs.
Unfortunately, Nemuri’s curiosity is not satisfied with mere speculation.
Which, consequently, is how she finds herself seated at a small booth in the back of a café, Shōta cornered between her and Tensei as they prepare to start the inquisition. Shōta seems to have already gathered that this is not a normal study session and is eyeing the two of them warily, cup of black coffee positioned as a barrier in front of him, with his child developmental psychology textbook fortifying the blockade.
“So,” Nemuri says, her tone deliberately casual, “no date with your boyfriend today?”
“It’s currently four A.M. in Canada,” Shōta replies, and if anything, his wariness increases.
“I guess the time difference must make things difficult,” Tensei says. He has his elbow propped up on the table and his cheek resting against his hand, looking properly sympathetic.
“He keeps late hours,” he explains. He narrows his eyes at Nemuri and Tensei and then asks, “Are we actually going to study or did you just ask me to come here so you could interrogate me about my boyfriend?”
“Busted,” Nemuri sighs, reaching out to take a sip of her latte. “Also I’m pretty sure you’re the only student in this entire university who actually bothers to study regularly.”
“I’m leaving,” Shōta says flatly, but he’s blocked into the booth by both Nemuri and Tensei.
“Oh, come on, we’re just curious,” Tensei replies. “Also a little concerned, to be honest. I mean, you’ve never mentioned this guy before.”
“It’s,” Shōta mutters, a little stilted, “recent.”
“It’s recent but you’re in a long distance relationship?” Nemuri asks, a frown tugging at her lips and wrinkles marring her forehead. “No offense, but that sounds even more fake. Can’t you at least show us a picture?”
For a moment, Shōta just studies the two of them, as if calculating the likelihood of getting himself out of the café without revealing anything about his mysterious boyfriend, but finally he sighs and reaches for his phone. Nemuri can feel her excitement grow as he inputs his password and then starts scrolling through his photos – at least ninety percent of which are of his cat, she can’t help but notice – but when he finally turns the phone towards her and Tensei, her excitement dissipates.
“Shōta,” Nemuri says flatly, “if you’re going to make up a fake boyfriend, don’t just pick the first picture that comes up when you google ‘hot blond’.”
The man featured in the photo has long, silky hair which falls loosely around his face, and bright green eyes that shimmer with amusement as he peers into the camera. The Snow filter that he’s added only serves the make the photo more sickeningly cute, pink cat ears sticking out of his hair and a matching set of whiskers painted over his cheeks, and as Nemuri looks at the picture, she can’t think of anyone with a personality more completely opposite of Shōta’s.
“That really is my boyfriend,” Shōta snorts, locking his phone again. “If you don’t believe me, that’s your issue.”
“No offense, Shōta, but I kind of agree with Kayama-senpai,” Tensei replies, his expression apologetic. “You didn’t meet this guy online, did you? It kind of seems like a catfish.”
For a moment, Shōta hesitates, but finally he mutters, “We were high school friends.”
Both Nemuri and Tensei blink at him, caught off guard.
“But you only started dating recently?” Nemuri asks, frowning slightly.
“He confessed right before leaving for Canada,” Shōta answers, fiddling with his coffee cup and not quite meeting Nemuri’s eyes.
“Well, that’s terrible timing,” Nemuri snorts.
“He thought it would be good to have some distance between us if I rejected him,” Shōta explains, shrugging slightly, as if his boyfriend confessing right before moving halfway across the globe is a minor inconvenience.
“So he really thought you were going to turn him down, huh,” Nemuri muses, mulling over the information. The guy in the photo Shōta had shown her certainly didn’t seem like the type to lack confidence like that, with his handsome features and the clear way he was posturing for the camera. Then again, Shōta doesn’t exactly seem like the sort of person who would accept a confession either.
“I don’t know why,” Shōta huffs. “I’ve liked him since – ”
Shōta cuts himself off before he can finish, as if realizing he’s voluntarily given out too much personal information.
“You pined?” Tensei asks, his eyebrows disappearing up towards his hairline. Honestly, Nemuri understands the feeling. It’s hard enough to imagine Shōta dating someone, much less actually harboring a secret crush on someone.
“Can we talk about something else?” Shōta huffs, but Nemuri thinks she sees a bit of a flush hiding under his patchy stubble.
“Sorry, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this,” Nemuri replies, mentally running through the information Shōta’s given them so far. “So you have a hot boyfriend who’s studying abroad in Canada, and who confessed to you right before leaving, because you’ve known each other since high school and he was worried about ruining your friendship.” Nemuri pauses and then adds, “Also you pined.”
“Take your time,” Shōta says dryly, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Are you sure you didn’t pull this plot from a shōjo manga?” Nemuri asks, arching an eyebrow at Shōta. “Because I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before.”
“If you’re going to keep accusing me of lying, then stop pestering me for details,” Shōta huffs, eyeing the café door as if he’s calculating whether or not he can make an escape by vaulting over the table.
“I think it’s just that he doesn’t really seem like your type,” Tensei replies. His tone is more placating than Nemuri’s, and Nemuri sees a bit of tension drain from Shōta’s shoulders. “He’s kind of flashy.”
“We have things in common,” Shōta says, but he doesn’t offer more details. He hesitates and then mutters, “And he makes up for what I lack.”
Nemuri supposes that ‘opposites attract’ is an age old saying, but she hadn’t expected Shōta to buy into it.
“Now we can either study, or I can cause a commotion by jumping over the table in order to get out of here,” Shōta announces, breaking Nemuri from her thoughts.
“Alright, alright,” Nemuri sighs, reaching down to dig a notebook out of her bag. “Spoilsport.”
Shōta glares at her. There’s still the barest flush on pink on his cheeks, and although Nemuri’s still not entirely convinced, she’s willing to consider that Shōta’s boyfriend is maybe, possibly real.
She’s holding off judgement until she meets him in person, though.
“You have the cake?”
“Of course,” Tensei replies, grinning as he holds up a neatly sealed box. “Vanilla with strawberries and whipped cream frosting. And you’re sure you know where Shōta keeps his spare key?”
“He thinks his hiding place is clever,” Nemuri snorts as they ascend the stairs to Shōta’s apartment.
Tensei hesitates, eyeing Nemuri, and then asks, “Do you know where I keep my spare key?”
“Maybe,” Nemuri replies, shooting a smirk over her shoulder at Tensei.
“Remind me never to piss you off,” Tensei says as they make their way onto the landing in front of Shōta’s door, but he’s still smiling. Honestly, sometimes Nemuri wishes Tensei wasn’t quite so laidback.
Instead of trying to mess with him more, Nemuri crouches down to pick up the cat food bowl next to Shōta’s door, revealing a key underneath. Sometimes she wonders how Shōta’s landlord hasn’t complained about him feeding the stray cats yet – but then again, maybe everyone just assumes that Shōta has a million outdoor cats.
Honestly, Nemuri wouldn’t put it past him.
It only takes another couple of moments to unlock the apartment door, and Nemuri ushers Tensei inside before placing the spare key back under the food bowl and closing the door behind her.
“So, on a scale of punching us on reflex to instant death, how likely is it that Shōta will think we’re trying to rob him?” Tensei asks as he slips off his shoes and proceeds further into the apartment, setting the cake down on Shōta’s kitchen table.
“We just have to yell ‘Happy birthday!’ before he can activate his fight or flight response,” Nemuri replies, making herself at home in one of the chairs. “Get ready, because based on his class schedule, he should be home sometime within the next fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t know, I’ve seen Shōta’s biceps,” Tensei says, sitting across the table from Nemuri. “I don’t really want to take my chances. Are you sure a surprise party is a good idea?”
“No,” Nemuri replies, pulling out her phone to text Sekijirō and Emi, to see when they get off their part time jobs. “But Shōta will enjoy it after a few minutes of complaining, and the look on his face when we surprise him will be priceless.”
“You really are a sadist,” Tensei snorts.
“Is this news to you?” Nemuri asks, looking up from her phone to arch an eyebrow at Tensei.
Before Tensei can reply, though, there’s a loud thump against the apartment door, which makes both of them startle. There’s a frantic scrabbling sound as someone tries to undo the lock, and Nemuri’s half-wondering if she should call the police, when finally the door swings open and two figures stumble inside.
Both Nemuri and Tensei stare as Shōta’s not-fake boyfriend slams him up against the entryway wall and kisses the living daylights out of him.
They certainly act like a couple that haven’t seen each other in a few months, Nemuri thinks, a little dazedly, as she watches Shōta and his boyfriend continue to make out, mouths sliding together in harsh, frantic kisses. Shōta makes a sound that Nemuri didn’t even think he was capable of making, and part of her wonders if she’s having some sort of bizarre sex dream, instead of watching actual reality unfold.
“Hizashi,” Shōta pants, once he and his boyfriend finally part for air. “Bedroom – ”
“Way ahead of you,” Shōta’s boyfriend – Hizashi, apparently – says, a grin spreading across his face as he pulls Shōta further into the apartment.
Once they’ve stumbled out of the entryway and fully into the apartment, though, Tensei says, “Uh. Happy birthday?”
Shōta and his boyfriend freeze.
“Surprise?” Nemuri offers, when both Shōta and his boyfriend turn to stare at her and Tensei. “We can leave if you’d rather go fuck like rabbits, but we brought over a cake, at least.”
“Wow,” Hizashi says, blinking at Nemuri and Tensei. “You really did make friends while I was gone.”
Shōta kicks Hizashi in the shin, and Hizashi yelps, “Ow!”
“I can make friends,” Shōta huffs, glaring at Hizashi.
“I was just worried that you were only saying that to make me feel better about studying abroad,” Hizashi replies, giving Shōta well-practiced puppy dog eyes. Nemuri marvels at the way she can physically see the annoyance melt out of Shōta’s expression. “You kept telling me you didn’t have any photos.”
“If it makes you feel any better, we didn’t think you were real either,” Nemuri announces from where she’s still seated at Shōta’s kitchen table. “But I guess Shōta really does have a mysterious boyfriend who’s studying abroad in Canada.”
Hizashi blinks at her for a moment, but then turns back to Shōta and says, “Wait, do you actually have any photos of us together?”
“You take so many photos that there’s no point in me taking more,” Shōta huffs, his scowl deepening.
“So you just went around telling people that you’re in a long distance relationship with a guy in Canada,” Hizashi surmises, making Shōta’s face steadily flush pink. “That sounds so stereotypically fake it could almost be real.”
“It is real,” Shōta grumbles.
“Yeah, it is,” Hizashi replies, his expression softening into something so sweet and lovesick it makes Nemuri wonder if she’s dreaming again.
“Alright, I guess we’ll make up the party tomorrow,” Tensei announces, standing up from the table. “It won’t be a surprise party anymore, though.”
“What?” Hizashi blurts out, tearing his gaze away from Shōta to look over at Tensei and Nemuri. “But I want to finally meet some of Shōta’s friends – ”
“Hizashi,” Shōta interrupts, reaching forward to fist his hands in Hizashi’s shirt and drag him closer. “I haven’t seen you since April and I’m tired of phone sex.”
“Oh,” Hizashi replies, sounding a little dazed.
“I mean, I’m fine with staying,” Nemuri says, a smirk spreading over her lips as she lets her eyes linger on the lines of Hizashi’s slim figure.
Shōta glares at her.
“Alright, alright, we’re going,” Tensei replies, dragging Nemuri out of her chair and over towards the door. “Text me when you’re done having sex tomorrow morning, and we’ll figure out plans for the party.”
With that, Tensei pushes Nemuri out the door.
“Well,” Nemuri says. “I guess Shōta really does have a boyfriend in Canada.”