Nothing could have prepared Makoto for the day Haruka showed up at his front door.
With bated breath, he clutched his chest because how else could he hold himself together? His heart was a time bomb ticking in his rib cage, threatening to explode any second. He blinked once, twice, before testing his voice.
The world paused at the sound of his deep, quiet voice. Nanase Haruka was standing outside his door, his features looking different and familiar at the same time— the shape of his face sharper and more matured than he looked all those years ago, but with that same smooth expression and those electric blue eyes that could always pin Makoto in place.
Nanase Haruka, the boy he grew up with.
Nanase Haruka, his best friend, who would always stand between him and the menacing ocean.
Nanase Haruka, his lost lo—
“Makoto? Are you okay?” asked Haruka, his eyebrows raised in concern.
He opened his mouth in a desperate attempt to form words, any words, but no sound came out. A gentle meow interrupted the awkward silence .
He gaped at the white cat nestled in Haruka’s arms.
“Oh yeah. I believe she’s yours?” said Haruka, offering the cat to her owner. “I’m here to return her.”
Arms wide open, Makoto welcomed Nikko home. “Nikko! Where have you been?” He cuddled her and peppered her face with kisses until he felt his eyes glisten with tears. He bowed. “Th-Thank you very much! Please come in.”
Haruka hesitated for a moment before following Makoto inside his apartment.
Throughout the years, Makoto had imagined their reunion multiple times, in different seasons, under different circumstances. He had them all mapped out in his head. In his favourite one, they would bump into each other at Shibuya Crossing, in the midst of faceless people. Once he got over his shock, Haruka would say sorry awkwardly, and Makoto would say it’s okay and they would have coffee together and laugh as they talked about everything that happened since Haruka left.
Of all his imagined scenarios, none of them included Haruka knocking on his door to return his lost cat.
“I found her three days ago, but I only saw the signs yesterday,” said Haruka, sitting on the couch.
Makoto rummaged inside his fridge to look for something to drink. Not knowing how else he could find Nikko, Makoto had called Nagisa and Rei to help him put MISSING signs around their neighbourhood.
“But someone else called to ask my address,” he said with a frown.
“That was my housemate.”
“Ah, I see.” Makoto returned to the living room with two bottles of orange juice. “Orange juice?”
“Thanks,” replied Haruka, and with a hint of smile in his lips, he added, “Don’t worry, I took good care of her.”
Makoto found himself taking the deepest breath he’d taken all day. “Thank you again, Haru! I was so worried.” He picked up Nikko who was purring and nuzzling his ankles. “Oh, I missed you too, Nikko!”
He sat with Nikko on the opposite end of the couch as though he was afraid Haruka would evaporate if he came too close. “D-Do you want coffee instead? Or tea? I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of drinks in my fridge. I haven’t been to the supermarket lately—”
“It’s okay, Makoto.”
His heart surged at the mention of his name. “Right.”
He patted Nikko’s fur to ebb the tide of self-consciousness in his chest. He was seeing his own home through Haruka’s eyes. Suddenly aware of the dusty shelves, the stacks of books and the pile of clothes on the floor. His unmade bed. The dirty dishes in the sink. Haruka was seeing the tiny, unkempt space he was living in, the same one he’d lived in since moving to Tokyo for university. But of course Haruka had already left by then.
“ Sunlight, huh?” asked Haruka, the corners of his lips tugging teasingly.
Makoto touched his nose to Nikko’s and smiled fondly. “She’s my ray of sunshine.”
The white cat purred as if in agreement.
“I got her when I moved here and she’s my favourite company,” said Makoto just as Nikko leapt from his lap to rub her head gently against Haruka’s hand.
“Sh-She likes you.” His cheeks heated up at how comfortable his pet felt around Haruka despite meeting him only a few days ago.
“I guess you’re not the only cat whisperer in Tokyo,” said Haruka.
Makoto laughed sheepishly and cleared his throat. “Speaking of Tokyo, what brings you here?” and he added with haste, “if I may ask.”
Nikko lifted her chin as Haruka stroked the top of her head, indulging in the attention he was giving her. “I’m here for a swimming competition,” he said. “It’s in three weeks, but I figured it’d be nice to explore Tokyo because I never really got the chance when I was still living here.”
Makoto’s face brightened. “You swim competitively now?”
“Yes,” he replied with an enthusiastic nod. “Do you remember Kirishima Natsuya?”
“Ah, Natsuya-senpai? Our swim club captain in middle school?”
“The very same. I met him again at a tournament in America some years ago. We travel together from time to time.”
“Haru, that sounds great!”
“He acts like an annoying big brother, but other than that, it’s the happiest time of my life,” he said. “I swim when I want, where I want.”
A soft smile lingered in his lips, making Makoto’s heart skip a beat. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw this sight. He imagined Haruka lying on his back and gliding across a pool, feeling the water embrace him with his eyes closed.
Memories of their last meeting flooded Makoto’s head. They had yelled words that cut deep into each other’s hearts. Haruka had wanted the world to leave him alone and let things be. For Makoto, it was a desperate attempt to make Haruka see some sense. Ever since he found Haruka and Rin arguing in the locker room during regionals, he had been terrified that Haruka would quit swimming again like he did in middle school, only this time for good.
What dream? What future? I don’t have any of that! These words were gusts of wind that blew Makoto away. How could Haruka believe this? For his natural skills and all the hard work he put into swimming, he deserved to have a bright future ahead of him.
Knowing that Haruka pursued doing what he loved most gave Makoto a rush of relief.
He gave his best friend a big smile. “I’m so happy for you, Haru!”
Haruka’s eyes glinted under the soft afternoon light. Had it really been eight years since they last saw each other? It was only natural to see Haruka age, but he had aged in a way that suited him. He looked like he had gained more muscles from swimming competitively, his skin a few shades darker from traveling across warmer places. Despite those slight differences, Haruka had the same haircut from when they were children. He still wore loose clothes like he was always ready to strip them off and jump into a pool. The faint scent of chlorine still clung to him.
Makoto must have been smiling for too long because Haruka whipped his head to the side, something he did every time he was embarrassed. Makoto’s cheeks burned up. He searched around the living room helplessly and found framed photos of him and his younger twin siblings, Ren and Ran. “The twins still ask about you sometimes.”
“Oh,” Haruka blinked. “How are they?”
“They’re doing very well,” he said. “They’re in high school now. They moved to Tokyo with our parents a couple of years ago. Still as lively and talkative as ever.”
Haruka chuckled. “Do you visit Iwatobi often? How are your parents?”
“They’re okay,” said Makoto. “Dad got a job offer here, that’s why he and Mom and the twins moved. It’s great because we can see each other every weekend. We visit Iwatobi every summer.”
“How long are you staying in Tokyo?”
“Maybe three more weeks,” replied Haruka. “I’ve already visited my parents in Osaka, so I’ll probably stay for a couple of days more after the tournament, then fly out.”
Haruka’s phone chimed before Makoto could say something. He watched Haruka’s expressions change as he read the message— his eyebrows scrunching, his lips frowning, and his face gradually smoothening with indifference.
“It’s Natsuya,” said Haruka, slipping his phone back to his pocket and taking a deep breath. “We rented a house with some other guys who are also joining the tournament, and they’re having crisis in the kitchen. Again.”
He took another breath and searched Makoto’s face, letting another moment to pass before hesitantly saying, “I have to go.”
Haruka stood up. “Do you still see the others?”
“Uh yeah,” he said, following Haruka to the door. “Nagisa and Rei moved to Tokyo too. I see them once in a while.”
“I see. Maybe we can all hang out sometime before I go.”
“Yeah, sure! I’ll let them know you’re here.”
Haruka nodded and started putting his shoes on. Nikko rushed to his side, purring and nuzzling his shins, telling him not to leave.
Makoto laughed. “Nikko, Haru has to go.”
Haruka petted the white cat and gazed at Makoto wordlessly.
He cleared his throat. “Haru,” he said. “Thank you again. For taking care of Nikko and bringing her back.”
Haruka shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
And without thinking, Makoto threw his arms around Haruka and hugged him so tightly that he felt his friend stiffen. “Sorry” he said, laughing nervously. How he wanted to kick himself. Tachibana Makoto, what do you think you’re doing?! “I-I’m just so happy to see you again.”
The words flew out of his mouth before he could catch them. Blush creeped up from his cheeks to the tips of his ears.
“Me too,” Haruka told the floor.
His friend looked at him and blinked a silent inquiry.
Fists clenched, Makoto asked, “Are you free tomorrow?”
“Do you wanna go out?”
Haruka fished his phone out of his pocket and asked for Makoto’s phone number. Then, he rang it so Makoto could save his. “There we go.”
Makoto picked up Nikko in his arms and waved her arm at Haruka. “Bye, Haru!”
“Bye. See you tomorrow.”
Makoto smiled at him for the last time and closed the door. Leaning against it, he let his legs give in and melt to the floor. His skin tingled where it touched had Haruka. His cheeks and his ears were still warm and blushing. He heaved a long and heavy sigh, then pressed his phone to his lips. Warmth bloomed in his chest. Joy sparked to his fingertips. He felt eight years younger.
Nikko meowed at him. You’re grinning like an idiot.