Genjirou scratched the soapy froth into his chest hairs, determined to be rid of the chlorine smell. Daily laps in that upstairs pool did wonders for his cardio, but it was making his body hair course.
Out of the shower, he toweled down, stepped into his boxers, and swabbed his ears; this bathroom was the size of his apartment.
He pulled on a pair of socks and passed through the bedroom, stopping to put a hand on the aquarium glass. The briareus moved to greet him, a nocturnal creature, it was most active at night.
“You’ve gotten used to me being here, haven’t you?” he whispered as its tentacles climbed the glass. “Seeing me in ways you shouldn’t be,”
Ogata insisted they make love in the webbed light of the aquarium; he scowled at the framed painting on the wall.
The front door opened and closed and the scent of cooked food lured him to the kitchen. Ogata had already set the bar with place-mats, silver-wear, and napkins.
“You got ‘zontays!” Genji kissed the back of his neck, cologne bitter on his tongue as pulled open the stapled brown bag. “Tell me there’s prosciutto in here,”
“I got you that meat platter thing,”
The smell of red peppers struck him, “Pepperoncini again?”
“No cabbage in it this time,”
“Thank you,” he brought out a pasta bowl for Ogata; he hated eating out of a container. “Not sure what’s worse, the smell of cabbage or what you smell like after eating cabbage,”
“They gave you a wood board?”
“It’s not real,” he set the faux block on the place matt. “It’s their version of a disposable Charcuterie tray,”
“Part of the allure is building it yourself?” Ogata patted his ass as he walked by and Genji was pleased that he remembered to substitute raviggiolo for mushrooms.
He placed the little cup of ricotta in the middle of the board and beside it, thin ribbons of mortadella and a hunk of Parmigiano cheese. He made a small stack of pickled veggies and fanned out slices of crescentine between them and the warm raviggiolo; those crackers were going to be divine topped with prosciutto.
Board in hand, he took his place at the bar as Ogata walked over with a bottle of wine.
“You ordered oysters to go?” he asked, eyes wide.
“I don’t fear food, Tanigaki,” Ogata kissed his bushy brow, then recoiled. “You swam your laps?”
Genji avoided his stare while opening the wine.
“I took an early swim, yes,” he said, filling their glasses.
Ogata sat across from him with a pained look in his eyes.
“You waited until I went to get dinner, didn’t you Tanigaki?”
“It was a spur of the moment,” he said, cheeks red.
“Tanigaki,” Ogata said. “You asked me to refrain, and I have,”
“No, you haven’t,” he blurted. “I came down here last night and stepped in your idea of refraining,”
Ogata’s eyes shifted to the kitchen floor.
“You missed a spot,” he grimaced.
“Tanigaki,” Ogata cleared his throat. “I made you aware of why I have a pool. Where is this disgust for me coming from?”
Genji swallowed his food before answering.
“You mentioned to me that you hired escorts to swim in the pool so you could watch them,” he took a sip of his wine. “You said nothing about masturbating on the kitchen floor while they swam for you,”
Ogata shoved a fork full of twisted noodles into his mouth.
The silence that followed annoyed Genji.
“How did Yukina do today?” he asked.
“Typical root canal,”
“How does a lioness get a cavity?”
“It was a fractured tooth,”
“That must’ve hurt,”
“She was asleep, Tanigaki,” Ogata said, curt.
Genji put both hands on the table.
“I’m not comfortable with what you did, Ogata,” he confessed. “I swam while you were gone hoping to avoid you doing it again, literally and figuratively,”
“I’ll get over it, Tanigaki,”
“I’m not uptight or conservative,” he added. “It was weird coming down and finding you laying here with it hanging out and-”
“—You told me your thoughts,” Ogata raised a hand. “I respect that,”
“I shouldn’t have to apologize,” he said.
They ate in silence for a few moments before Ogata spoke.
“I noticed the scale on Kōkai today,”
“It’s her aging immune system,” he lowered his gaze. “The scale gets worse no matter how much we scrub,”
“I’m sorry, Tanigaki,”
“Inkarmat said the chairman wants to talk to me about putting her down,” he steeled his emotions. “I don’t want her to suffer, but I don’t think her life should be in my hands,”
“Should she be telling you what the men in charge are planning?”
“She’s my best friend,” he said. “Best friends warn each other,”
“I never had a best friend,”
He stared, “I didn’t mean to imply that you never-”
“—There’s nothing to imply,” Ogata said. “I’ve never had a best friend,”
“Everyone has friends,” he said, smiling.
Ogata shook his head, “No one liked me, Tanigaki,”
Genji didn’t know what to say, but Ogata did.
“What did you do today, on your new day off?”
Kōkai’s failing health made the aquarium limit the number of shows she and Genji put on for visitors; this led his having every Wednesday off.
“I went shopping,” he said, eager to change the subject. “I’m one of those people that when I get into something I go all out,”
“Yes, you do,” Ogata’s lips twisted into a grin.
“Not boyfriends,” he frowned. “Hobbies,”
“Did you and Inkarmat go shopping?”
“I went with Shiraishi from the sanitation crew,” he said, refilling his glass.
“You know he’s an ex-con, don’t you?”
“He stole a Vespa when he was teenager,” he said. “That’s hardly grand theft auto,”
“What were you and the criminal shopping for?”
“You know how I’ve been swimming every-” he paused.
“You can talk to me about swimming, Tanigaki,”
“I bought some swim caps, a couple of goggles,” he hesitated. “Some trunks,”
“Speedo briefs?” Ogata asked.
Ogata soured, “Are those the things that look cut-off pants?”
“I got two jammers, and a pair of square-legs like I wear at the aquarium,”
Ogata smiled, “Those are the ones that look like booty shorts,”
“Booty? Is that American thing?” he asked.
“Yes it is, Tanigaki,” said Ogata with a grin. “And you got one,”
“Shiraishi says that jammers are more streamlined,” he filled Ogata’s glass with the last of the wine. “It’s what the Olympic team wears,”
“Streamline?” Ogata said. “Are you racing now?”
“I want to get the best work out,” he said. “The salesman told us some other things pro swimmers do to maximize performance,”
Finished with his meal, Ogata leaned back, closed his eyes, and rolled his head around. Rising from the chair, Genji stepped behind him began kneading his shoulders, rubbing small circles into the nape of Ogata’s neck with his thumbs.
“That feels good, Tanigaki,”
Hyakunosuke was lost in those large hands. All he could think about was getting the Matagi’s thick body onto the futon. Unfortunately, sex was transactional with Tanigaki; he’d have to listen to him talk about his day before trying anything physical.
“What do swimmers do to maximize their performance?”
Tanigaki’s touched turned gentle.
“Uh, they get manscaped,”
Eyes opened, “Manscaped?”
“I was looking into it,” Tanigaki returned to his seat. “I could get full body electrolysis in twelve sessions for just eight-thousand,”
“Eight thousand to remove your pubic hair?”
“No,” he smiled. “I want to do my chest, legs, arms, everything,”
Hyakunosuke’s heart stopped beating.
“I’m going to get enough sessions for a full body just to see how it feels,” he explained. “I’m young, and the electrologist says if I discontinue sessions after I’m hairless, it’ll all grow back,”
“You’ll be bare skinned like a little boy,”
“Why are you making that face?” he demanded. “You’re manscaped,”
“My body is naturally sparse,”
“Maybe I want to know what it feels like to be sparse,” he exclaimed.
“You can feel me if you need to, Tanigaki!”
“You don’t know what it’s like having this much hair!” he tossed a napkin over his half-eaten food. “Summer sucks because I can’t go shirtless at the beach. I have to wear a spandex onesie at the pool, Ogata,”
“You won’t like it, Tanigaki,”
“Probably not, but,” he said. “I want to try,”
“I suppose you want me to pay for it,”
Tanigaki fixed those gorgeous brown eyes upon him and with a blink rose to his feet. He snatched up the bowl and put it upon his board, then gathered up their forks and took them to the sink.
Hyakunosuke stepped to the sink where Tanigaki washed dishes in silence; the Matagi clamming up was never good.
“If this is what you want to do, I’m fine with it,”
Tanigaki acted as if he didn’t hear him, rinsing the bowl under warm water before setting it on the drying mat.
“If I came off as disapproving it’s because I like you the way you are,” he grabbed a dish towel and began drying. “Hair grows back as you said,”
Tanigaki unplugged the drain without a word.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he demanded.
Tanigaki grabbed the towel from his grasp, and after drying his hands, pointed a finger.
“I got more than enough money in my savings to cover my expenses, Ogata Hyakunosuke. You don’t have to pay a damn thing for me because I’m not a kept man, and I’m certainly not one of your escorts!”
Towel tossed in his face, Hyakunosuke watched his lover march to the foyer; then he heard the door slam.
Frustrated, he fell into the chair and slammed his hand on the bar top. When his phone pinged, he fished it out of his pocket, hoping it was the Matagi, but there was no notification on his phone.
Another ping led him to the living room.
Genjirou returned after midnight.
Once home he’d realized he left his phone at Ogata’s. Despite his unwillingness to venture back to the other side of town, he’d called a taxi from his neighbor’s.
Inside the foyer, he slipped off his shoes.
Dark blanketed the apartment; Ogata was off from work tomorrow, he must’ve gone out. The futon lay on the floor in the light of the large tank, but Ogata wasn’t in it.
His searched the living room, the city outside his only light, and was drawn out by the sound of water churning from the kitchen. Along the ceiling, a naked swimmer sloshed in the pool. Strong legs kicked off the end, propelling the swimmer back from where he came.
“You hired an escort,” furious, he marched toward the door but stopped halfway; Ogata wasn’t in the kitchen watching. He returned and took a closer look at the swimmer.
Angular thighs kicked and corded arms stroked. He closed his eyes, unable to stop the heat that burned his blood. On the balcony, he climbed the spiral stairs to the terrace. At the edge of the heated pool, he slipped out of his sweats and pulled off his jacket, his naked skin exposed to the cool night air.
He who treads the path of love walks a thousand meters as if it were one.
As Ogata kicked off the far side, Genji jumped in to meet him halfway.