"Shinobu-chan, look at this!" Shinobu glanced up from her biology homework at the sound of her roommate's chirpy voice.
Mitsuri beckoned Shinobu over to her laptop. Peering over Mitsuri's shoulder, Shinobu skimmed the reddit thread displayed on the screen.
"People are posting online looking for someone to date! I had no idea that was a thing!"
Shinobu pursed her lips at the posts; she had no idea why anyone would stoop to shopping for dates or quick sex on reddit.
"That's pretty pathetic. Why would anyone go for that?"
"They must be pretty lonely," Mitsuri said, her voice tinged with sympathy.
A switch flipped in Shinobu's head at her words.
"You know what, Mitsuri-chan? Maybe it's not such a bad idea. I bet it helps lots of people find love, especially people who have trouble getting along with those around them."
"Yeah, that's true! Would you ever do something like that, Shinobu-chan? You're always by yourself and working hard; you should have some fun!"
Shinobu scoffed. "I don't have any time for that and even less interest. But you know who might find this helpful?"
Mitsuri glanced up at her inquisitively.
Shinobu smirked. "Tomioka-san. He's always alone and doesn't seem to have any friends. He probably has no chance at a love life if we don't help him out."
Mitsuri perked up. "You're right! We should suggest he place an ad!"
Shinobu quickly shook her head. "You know how shy he is. He has really low self-confidence too, so he probably won't do it on his own."
She clapped her hands together, feigning an epiphany.
"I know! We should place an ad for him! Then when people respond we can show him that he doesn't have to be alone forever!"
Mitsuri nodded with delight.
"That's a great idea! I'll make an account right now!"
Mitsuri went through the sign up process, then clicked on her new profile.
"Hm, we need a profile picture. Do you have any photos of him, Shinobu-chan?"
Shinobu unlocked her phone and went to the photo gallery. She clicked on the folder titled "unflattering pictures of Tomioka-san". Scrolling through the blurry pictures of Giyuu in various stages of sneezing, eating, or sleeping, she finally found one that wasn't quite as awful as the rest and sent it to Mitsuri.
"Perfect!" Mitsuri uploaded the photo and started to make a new post. "What should we write?"
"Here, let me type." Shinobu nudged Mitsuri out of the rolling desk chair and took her place.
[21 M] ISO cheap date
Must have very low standards. I am lonely and don't have any friends. I am not very bright and my fashion sense is terrible-
"Don't write that! We're trying to get people to like him!" Mitsuri cried.
"Fine," Shinobu sighed, and erased the draft.
[21 M] ISO someone to launch the meat missile with-
"You can't write that! That's horrible!"
[21 M] ISO someone who wants to go balls deep-
"Shinobu-chan! Move over, I'll write it!"
Shinobu pouted but moved aside. Mitsuri took to the keyboard.
[21 M] ISO someone to fall in love with me-
"What is that supposed to be? That just sounds pathetic." Shinobu snorted.
"It's romantic!" Mitsuri exclaimed, before continuing to the body of the ad.
I'm the strong but silent type. I look really cool when viewed from the side-
"Oh, absolutely not."
Shinobu jostled Mitsuri for the keyboard and deleted the text.
I seem like the strong and silent type, but I'm actually pretty ditzy. I always go to class on time because I am a nerd but sometimes I sleep through class because I have depression. I enjoy long walks in the moonlight and staring deeply into fountains. I'm a bit of a fixer-upper, but with some tender loving care I might blossom. I am also a virgin.
"Should you really put that last part?" Mitsuri asked worriedly.
"It's important," Shinobu reassured her. Before Mitsuri could argue more, Shinobu typed Giyuu's number at the bottom and posted the ad.
"I'm not so sure this was a good idea, Shinobu-chan." Mitsuri's eyebrows were drawn together with concern.
Shinobu waved her off. "It'll be fine. Look, we've already gotten our first comment!"
She scrolled down to view the comment and they stared at the screen for a second in shock.
"That's....a dick pic." Shinobu sighed, reported the comment, and closed the tab.
The open space of the empty quad did little to block the wind, sharp with the clean scent of winter. Sabito quickened his pace to stave off the cold seeping through his coat and to his pestilent friends, though neither was successful.
"You lost the bet, so you gotta," Sanemi jabbed Sabito in the side.
"Ugh, fine! What do you want me to do?"
"We should have him go on a blind date!" Rengoku suggested.
"With a guy," Sanemi jeered.
"That he found on a shitty reddit ad," Uzui added with a smirk.
"Woah, woah, let's not go too far-"
"You bet that Shinazugawa couldn't do two thousand pushups; you had to know he was going to make you suffer as much as possible." Rengoku pointed out.
"Yeah, but you guys didn't have to dogpile!"
Uzui shrugged. "That's the game."
Sanemi punched Sabito in the stomach. "You gonna whine about it? You gonna wimp out on us, bitch-boy? If you can't take the heat don't stand so close to the fire."
Sabito gasped from the impact of Sanemi's blow.
"Shut up! I'm a man, so I'll do it!"
Uzui was already on his phone scrolling through ads.
"Hm...43 year old married male...38 year old looking for someone to step on him...oh, here's a real winner!" He snorted, and the others crowded around his phone to see.
"21 year old male, looking for someone to fall in love with him."
Sanemi snickered. "That's pathetic."
Uzui continued reading. "Says he's the strong and silent type but is actually a ditz, goes to class on time because he's a nerd but sleeps through it because he's depressed...wow, I don't know whether I should be laughing or crying."
Rengoku frowned. "Did he really write this? This guy sounds like he needs some help."
"He enjoys walking in the moonlight and staring at fountains...calls himself a fixer-upper; yeah, no kidding..." He burst into laughter. "...And is also a virgin."
Sanemi cackled. "What the fuck kinda ad is this?"
"Oh, you gotta go with this one. Guy's a catch." Uzui said.
Rengoku furrowed his brow, frowning. "Are you sure this isn't a joke post? I can't believe someone would genuinely write this about themself."
"Only one way to find out. He put his number in the post," Uzui pointed out.
"You guys are really gonna make me do this, huh?" Sabito sighed.
"A bet's a bet. Start typing, piss-baby."
Sabito ignored Sanemi's jab and copied the number from the ad to his phone.
hey, saw your reddit ad and I'm interested. Can I swing by at 8 tomorrow night?
"Come on, make it spicier!" Uzui urged.
"Nope. All you said I had to do was go out with him. I'm not putting on a show for you clowns."
"If you're putting on a show, you'd be the clown," Rengoku pointed out rather unhelpfully.
Sabito's phone chimed and he checked the response.
"Wow, he wasn't kidding about being the stoic type. He could at least put a little effort in," Uzui remarked, unimpressed.
"Yeah, well, his ad didn't exactly sound like it was written by someone who actually wants a date."
"By the way, we expect you to livestream it so we can see it firsthand," Rengoku noted.
"You gotta. How else are we supposed to know you actually did it?" Sanemi demanded.
"I will take one picture. One single picture." Sabito relented.
"One picture in each location you go to on the date. And we will be cross-referencing with his profile picture, so don't even think about cheating." Rengoku suggested.
"You guys are assholes."
Uzui smirked. "You're the idiot who's friends with assholes."
"Yeah, you got me there."
Sabito knocked on the door and waited apprehensively. He had no idea what kind of person someone who posts a reddit ad asking people to fall in love with him and declaring himself a virgin would be, but he was obviously mentally unstable. For a brief moment Sabito wondered if he should really be entering this guy's apartment unarmed, but he figured anyone who would post such an ad would be someone he could easily take down in a fight.
Finally, the door opened. In the doorway stood an attractive albeit tired-looking man with messy dark hair and a flat stare.
Sabito blinked in surprise; this couldn't be the right person. Although he resembled the profile picture, he was far more attractive than the picture let on. Sabito could see where the 'strong and silent' and 'too depressed to stay awake in class' might've come from, but nothing about this man suggested he wanted to blossom under tender loving care.
"Uh, hi, I'm here to see Tomioka?" Sabito said.
"That'd be me," the man replied, stepping aside to let him in.
Sabito entered the apartment and glanced around. It was small, tidy, and simply furnished, looking more like a hotel room than an apartment. He had been surprised to learn the man lived so close to his campus, but he was glad he did; he would not have been happy to go too far out of his way for this moronic prank.
"Here's the table." The man gestured to a small wooden table in the center of the kitchen.
"Uh...that's a nice table. Is...there any food?"
Tomioka just stared at him.
"Why would there be food?"
Sabito was definitely getting weirded out.
"So...are we going out, or ordering in...?"
"You can't order food at your own place?"
Sabito sighed. "Look, if I did something wrong, just tell me. I feel like we're getting off on the wrong foot, but I really need to go on this date, or my friends will never let me live it down."
Tomioka stared at him incredulously.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Sabito stared back, just as bewildered.
"Uh...the date? What are you talking about?"
Tomioka pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing in exasperation.
"Can you please just give me the money and take the damn table?"
Sabito stared at him in confusion.
"Wait...you think I came here to buy a table?"
"That's the ad I put out, and the ad you responded to, so yes, I assumed you were here to buy the table. I'm not sure what part of 'I'm selling a table' seemed like 'I want to get dinner with you', but you're completely wrong."
"So you didn't put this ad up?" Sabito pulled the page up on his phone and showed it to Tomioka.
Tomioka read through it, eyes growing wide, then he cursed.
Sabito sighed. Of course it was a prank ad; why had they thought anyone in their right mind would have seriously written an ad like that for themself?
He wondered if there was any chance the others would believe him if he told them the truth. No, they would definitely say he got cold feet and didn't go through with it.
"Hey...if I buy your table, will you go out with me?"
"Why the hell would I do that?"
"Look, I lost a bet and now my idiot friends are demanding I go on a date with some weirdo on a reddit ad. They're never gonna let me live it down if I don't show them pictures to prove I went on the date. We don't even have to go out for real; please just go to a restaurant or a bar with me so I can get my picture and go."
"How much are you selling the table for?"
"I'll give you $100 if you go on a fake date with me."
Sabito mentally cursed his friends; he was out $100 now because of this stupid bet. He would demand compensation from them later.
They walked down the street in the center of town, decorated for Christmas with bright lights and garlands. The lane was lively, but not too crowded, with couples holding hands and parents balancing shopping bags as their children pressed their faces to store windows. Neither of them spoke much, but the silence wasn't awkward. Through their muted conversation, Sabito learned that Tomioka was studying pre-law, that he lived by himself, and that he sometimes took care of four orphaned children. Sabito had no idea how a university student with no family and no job could afford to support four kids, but he didn't ask.
After a few blocks, Sabito spoke up.
"Where are we going?"
Tomioka stopped in his tracks.
"I was following you."
"I was following you!" Sabito scowled. "Come on, let's just find a place to eat."
They kept walking, looking at the rows of buildings on either side of them for a restaurant.
Sabito stopped, noticing something in the window of one of the shops.
"Is it okay if we go in here real quick?"
Tomioka gave a small shrug and followed Sabito into the store.
Sabito picked up the pair of mittens and fleece scarf he had seen in the window.
"Oh good, I was looking for a present for Makomo. I think she'd like these," he said more to himself than to anyone else.
"Girlfriend?" Tomioka asked, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"Cousin. She doesn't go to our school, so I don't see her a lot, but we get together for the holidays at old man Urokodaki's place."
Tomioka looked alarmed. "Urokodaki?"
Sabito was searching the scarf set for a price tag and didn't notice the expression on Tomioka's face.
"Yeah, he's this old guy who lives way out in the mountains. He doesn't have kids of his own, but he takes in a lot of orphans. Makomo and I stayed with him while we were growing up."
"I know. I lived with Urokodaki-san too."
Sabito looked up sharply, studying Tomioka's face.
"Tomioka...Giyuu?" As soon as he said it, he knew it was true. Looking at his face, he had no idea how he hadn't recognized him sooner. Giyuu had grown up: he had grown into his lanky limbs, his body now slender and refined; his once round face, pudgy with baby fat, was now angular and structured. But his eyes, though having lost their youthful glow and hidden by dark shadows, were still the deep ocean blue Sabito had admired so much growing up.
"We were best friends! We used to play in the woods by that stream, remember? How the hell did I not recognize you? How did you not recognize me?"
"You didn't tell me your name when you asked about the table."
"Yeah, but...how did you not recognize me when you saw me?" Sabito's fingers skimmed the large scar near his mouth, the result of one of the many hot-blooded brawls he'd engaged in as a child.
Giyuu just shrugged. "I recognized you, but you didn't say anything, so I assumed you weren't interested in rehashing our past."
Sabito stared at him, incredulous.
Giyuu averted his eyes. "You also caught me off guard with your...proposition."
Sabito felt heat rise to his cheeks. Here was his childhood friend, who he hadn't spoken to in almost a decade, and he had just barged into his apartment and demanded he go on a date with him.
"...I suppose that's fair." He was quiet for a moment, unsure how to proceed with the conversation. There was in innate sense of relief in finding out that the weirdo stranger whose company he shared was in fact someone he had once known like the back of his hand. However, he had no idea where to begin in picking up where they had left off.
"So, tell me about these kids you take care of. They're not...your kids, right?"
"Of course not. They were living with Urokodaki-san, but the sister has some rare medical condition and has to be treated in the city, and the brother insisted on going with her. Urokodaki-san knows I go to school here and asked me to look after them. I have no idea where the other two came from, but they came with the siblings and refuse to leave."
Sabito whistled, impressed. "How do you take care of them? I bet those medical treatments aren't cheap."
"Urokodaki-san sends me money to take care of their basic needs. I check up on them once in a while, but they seem to be doing fine on their own."
Sabito wiped a pretend tear from his eye. "You used to follow me everywhere and make me hold your hand. Now you have four kids of your own. You're all grown up."
Giyuu scowled. "Shut up."
Sabito jostled him playfully. "So can we actually get something to eat? I'm starving."
When they finally found a restaurant, they sat at a booth across from one another and skimmed the menus.
"You know, I used to kind of have a crush on you," Sabito admitted, and Giyuu choked on his drink.
"I never thought I might be gay and just chalked it up to some dumb puppy love, but I think I might not mind going out with a guy. Not you specifically, I mean-unless you wanted to..."
Sabito smacked his menu to his face, hiding his embarrassment. "You know what, let's pretend I never said anything."
Giyuu was quiet for a moment.
"I used to have a crush on you, too."
Sabito slowly lowered the menu.
"How could I not? You were adventurous, outgoing...you stuck your hand in a snake hole and didn't even cry when you got bitten, just wrapped it up in some cloth and wanted to keep playing."
Sabito laughed. "Yeah, I remember that. By the time you finally managed to drag me back home, it was all purple and swollen, and Urokodaki-san smacked me for not coming back right away."
Giyuu's lips curved up in a small smile. "I admired you more than anyone. When you showed up at my apartment, I didn't say anything, because I had no idea why someone so far out of my league would be interested in me. That, and the fact that I thought you came to buy a table."
Sabito scoffed. "What do you mean, way out of your league?"
Giyuu stared at him blankly, unsure how to respond.
"You. Me. We don't match up."
Sabito shrugged. "As far as I'm concerned, we match up perfectly. Has college made you dumber or something?"
"Why do you think you need to be all feisty and outgoing like me? Imagine the kind of stupid crap we'd get into if we had the same personality. And now that we're adults, the stupid crap we'd get into would be a lot worse than the stupid crap we'd have gotten into as kids." Sabito laughed.
"If we had the same personality, we wouldn't get along at all. No, I like you way better the way you are." He smirked. "Strong, silent...enjoys staring at fountains..."
"Shut the hell up. I do not stare at fountains."
"It's okay, Giyuu. Everyone has their quirks. I'll even stare at fountains with you."
"I don't want to stare at fountains."
"No? How about a walk in the moonlight?"
"I don't do that either, but I suppose it's better than staring at fountains."
Sabito smiled. "It's a date. We can go for a midnight stroll under a full moon, and if things start getting spicy we can-"
"Don't say stare at fountains."
"Dammit, there go my plans."
Giyuu sighed. "I'm going to fight Kochou the next time I see her."
Sabito smiled softly. "I don't know who she is, but if it wasn't for the fact that you have asshole friends, that ad wouldn't have come up, and if I didn't have asshole friends, I wouldn't have responded to it."
"That's one way to look at it."
Sabito raised his glass. "To asshole friends."
Giyuu reluctantly clinked his glass to Sabito's. "To asshole friends."
The next day, Sabito was ambushed on the way to class.
"So you gonna tell us about your hot date, or what?" Uzui nudged him.
"Yes, show us the pictures!" Rengoku chimed in.
Sabito's heart dropped. He and Giyuu had spent the rest of the evening catching up, slowly falling back into friendship. He had completely forgotten about the pictures.
"I...don't have them."
Uzui booed him and Sanemi sneered.
"He wimped out! I knew he couldn't handle it! What a pussy."
"No, I...it was really weird. First of all, that ad was just a dumb prank some of his friends pulled, and second of all, he turned out to be a childhood friend of mine I haven't talked to in forever."
"Yeah, sure." Sanemi rolled his eyes.
"Dumb story; come up with a better one next time," Uzui agreed.
"It's not a cop-out; I used to be best friends with him!"
"You're a bitch ass liar."
Sabito rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. I'm going out with him again, so you'll get your stupid picture."
"WHAT!?" The others shrieked.
Sanemi barked with laughter. "You gotta be fucking kidding me!"
"You're really going out with him again? Why?" Rengoku asked.
"You do you, man. Get it on," Uzui slapped Sabito on the back.
"I hate all of you. But yeah, we wouldn't have reconnected if it weren't for you guys, so thanks for being jerks, I guess."
"Well, all's well that ends well," Rengoku exclaimed, patting Sabito on the shoulder.
"Happy to be of service," Uzui gave him a thumbs up.
"When's the wedding?" Sanemi jeered.
"Don't know, and you're not invited."
"Fuck you too."
The others continued to chatter, but Sabito ignored them. Looking up, he spotted a familiar shaggy ponytail across the quad.
"I'll see you guys later," Sabito called back as he jogged to catch up to Giyuu.
The other three watched bemusedly as Sabito looped his arm around Giyuu, grinning at him and talking animatedly.
"Wow. I have no idea what's happening, but good for him," Uzui said.
"That ad might've been fake, but I think that guy might have actually found someone to fall in love with him." Rengoku noted.
"Who knew reddit ads could lead to true love? Shinzugawa, let's place one for you."
"Did you hear the news?" Mitsuri squealed, engulfing Shinobu in a hug the moment she walked in the door of their apartment.
"Let me put my bag down, please. What is it?"
"The ad worked! Tomioka-san has a boyfriend now!"
"Yep! Apparently they were long lost childhood friends and found each other through the ad! Isn't that so romantic?"
"Yes...very...romantic," Shinobu said, beaming inauthentically.
Her plan to pick on Giyuu had failed, but at least now she could say she owed him a favor. She made a mental note to buy a sympathy card for his new boyfriend.