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Bad Luck and Cotton Wool

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Tamamori quickens his steps as he threads down the farm road he passes by every day. The road’s quite bumpy and forms some muddy puddles along the way thanks to the rain that had been pouring down since this evening. Of course he jumps over them, and even then, it still leaves some dirty stains on his shoes.

He clicks his tongue; he’ll have to wipe them clean later.

With poor visibility and the boring landscape, his way home feels like it takes twice longer than usual. There’s nothing but sunflowers and paddies along his path, is he even halfway there?

This feels much much longer than riding home on Minakami’s bicycle.

Fun fact he only discovered recently; Minakami rides his bicycle really slow.

He realised it only after noticing how the group of kids in the village always races past them on their way home in the evening. And even the old man that lived near Minakami’s house rides his bicycle faster than Minakami.

It’s kind of embarrassing that he never noticed it because actually, their way home always feels too short for him every time. Honestly speaking, he enjoys sitting on the saddle and just sitting so close to Minakami.

But he saw Minakami on an errand once, riding on his bicycle and a huge luggage tied to his back. And he’s pedalling fast, speeding down the market street of Aizu. He’d probably miss that scene if only he blinked a second earlier.

Does he really weigh too much for Minakami’s old bicycle?

Tamamori sees another puddle in front of him and jumps over it again. He picks up the pace and this time he’s almost running. It’s slippery and dark; some of the street lamps don't even work anymore and no one seems to be in charge of fixing it. He knows it’s dangerous running down the road under this weather, but he wants to get home soon.

Ah, he wishes Minakami would appear from the end of the road on his bicycle to pick him up. He’s tired of running and just wants to sit leisurely at the saddle while Minakami does all the pedalling.

But of course there’s no way Minakami would appear now.

It’s what they promised after all.

Minakami used to wait for him at the station whenever his work runs late. He’d wait at the station and return alone if Tamamori is not back by the last train. But then after one rainy night where Minakami fell down from his bicycle on his way to the station, Minakami is prohibited from picking him up on rainy nights anymore.

You have bad luck and you could accidentally fall into a puddle one day and disappear,” was what he said at the time.

And since then, Minakami waits over at Tamamori’s house instead whenever it rains.

The hem of his pants is fully soaked from the heavy rain, and the thin shirt he’s wearing doesn’t really help in making him warmer. The cold breeze blows on his naked arms and it sends his whole body shivering.

Plop.

A drop of rainwater lands on his eyelid as he looks up to the sky. When he checks the inner side of his umbrella, several small holes are there.

Since when?

It’s leaking in several more drops of water on his face again and it doesn’t seem like he can escape from being drenched tonight.

Talk about Minakami’s bad luck, maybe he’s the one with bad luck all this time.

Getting up late this morning resulted in being late to catch his usual train, then getting scolded for it in the office. Since his supervisor had been in a bad mood since the morning, the work keeps piling up on his desk. He looked back and forth between his pile of work and the cloudy sky outside the window and wondered if he could finish this all before the last train departs tonight. Good thing he managed to finish on time.

And here he thought that would be all his misfortune for the day.

Tamamori clutches his bag tightly and shields it under his arm, not wanting it to get wet. There are some manuscripts for the story he is writing and some articles he’s working on halfway. There’s no doubt he remembers them all word by word, but he still would prefer not having to rewrite the whole thing again.

He breathes out cold air and the next second he blinks; his surroundings have changed to an open sky with clouds under his shoes. He jumps over from cloud to cloud, careful not to miss his footing. When he looks to his right; a flock of sheep is also jumping from cloud to cloud like him. Then to his left is a shepherd with gentle features who watches over the flock of sheep.

It’s the place from the story he wrote last night, about a sheep who traded its lifespan for longer dreams. And the dream that the sheep traded for, is this.

Playing and jumping around with its flock.

Running happily circling around the shepherd.

Tamamori looks back to his front, a grand castle made from the colourful soft cotton wool can be seen in the distance. The colourful castle contrasts against its surrounding pure white and blue combination of the sky.

At the end of the story, the sheep had used up all of its lifespan. And after passing, the sheep gets to know that the place it’s been dreaming for is heaven. And so, the shepherd round it up and drops it in a bucket of colourful paint, before using it to decorate the grand castle in the middle of the place there.

He takes another step and jumps again to another cloud, feeling the water vapour of the cloud splashing against his face. The castle looks even closer now.

Ah, just a little more.

When he finally reaches his home, his eyes catch the sight of Minakami’s bicycle parked in the garden. A smile escapes his lips.

“Minakami!” he calls, but no response. It’s not rare for Minakami to not hear his voice during these times. Most of the time, he’d find Minakami with a book in hand. While other times, he’d be sleeping in the living room with wild cats snuggling up close to him, they’re probably trying to find warmth on those cold days and Minakami is warm.

On those days, Tamamori would just let Minakami sleep. He knows Minakami is working hard in succeeding his family’s brewery and lacks rest on some days.

Tamamori closes his umbrella and taps it a few times against the ground before leaning it against the wall. He peeks from the open glass doors and sees Minakami in his living room. Awake. With Tamamori’s manuscript in hand.

It’s that story about the sheep. That story came to his mind last night and he picked up his pencil and started writing. Then, since he only has several hours to sleep after finishing that story, he woke up late and didn’t have the time to tidy it up in the morning. He ended up leaving the house for work with those papers scattered around the floor. It has a little over thirty pages and now it’s already in Minakami's hands.

Tamamori stands on the doorway with his bag still clutched tight under his arm, his eyes focus on Minakami and his mouth is slightly open. The water on his face feels uncomfortable and he probably needs a towel to wipe it dry, his clothes are drenched, dripping rainwater on the wooden floor.

Plop.

Plop. Plop.

When did it start?

Tamamori wonders to himself. It’s a question he already had since a while ago.

He lifts his hand to his stomach, clenching tight on the wet buttoned shirt he’s wearing. His stomach is tied up in knots.

Minakami had turned on the light in the middle of the living room, but that was it. The light is only enough for him to read in this dark and stormy weather. Another wild cat is on his lap, just like every time, each time, cats seem to like nestling up against Minakami.

He sighs softly, his head tilts to the side.

Minakami turns to another page and his thin smile disappears, and a frown is now there instead. His mouth opens and closes like a goldfish, and Tamamori can see his shoulder tenses as he opens his eyes slightly, showing the bright blue colour under those eyelids.

As Tamamori writes his story, Minakami’s face would appear in his mind. Then when he gives his story to Minakami, he’d compare the expressions on his face with the ones he imagined he’d have. His smile would grow wider and his eyes filled with excitement. He’d also frown and show concern on some parts of the story.

Sometimes his expressions would be the exact same as the one he imagined. But most of the time, his imagination would miss.

There’s always something new about this man’s expression as he reads Tamamori’s story. It always looks a lot more excited, sadder, happier, angrier.

And it’s always interesting to look at.

He feels like he had wasted all those years when he had the chance to properly look at Minakami as he read his stories.

How many stories had he written all this time that he had shown Minakami?

And how many amongst them in which he just let him read without caring to properly look at him as he read it?

He recalls the first time he told Minakami about his illusions when they were in the hospital. Seeing those expressions on his face definitely triggered him into writing stories. Those times were truly the happiest. He enjoyed seeing Minakami listening intently to his stories, and for young Tamamori, young Minakami’s expressive facial features really drew him in. No one around him has ever been interested in his stories.

And yet years passed by and he might have taken Minakami for granted.

A friend who’d always be by his side, who would enjoy his stories.

He forgot about how much he had loved seeing Minakami’s reactions to his story.

But after realising his feelings now, Tamamori had regressed back to five year old Tamamori. The Tamamori who enjoys seeing Minakami’s excited face and only wants to bring him more stories just so he could see that face.

Minakami sighs in satisfaction with a gentle smile adorning his face as he puts down the manuscript. Finally, he notices Tamamori.

“T-Tamamori!? Since when have you been there?” Minakami panics, he immediately stands up and rushes to Tamamori, the cat on his lap meows loudly before jumping away and makes itself home on a cushion near it instead.

“Not too long ago.”

“You should have called me louder like usual if I didn’t respond,” he chuckles. “Ah, you’re soaked! Did you forget your umbrella today?”

Tamamori looks at his own clothes and remembers the state he’s in. Only then he feels the cold again and begins to shiver, “there are holes on it. I’ll need to go buy a new one.”

“I’ll go get a towel,” Minakami says as he runs slightly to Tamamori’s room.

Tamamori closes the glass doors behind him and removes his shoes, lining it up neatly next to Minakami’s dirty geta. Maybe he should also get Minakami fancy shoes after he receives his first salary. He’s been trying to come up with a gift for Minakami with his first salary since he secured his job and maybe buying him shoes is a good idea after all.

Because unlike working in Umebachidou where he just gets enough money for his meals and daily expenses, where it feels more like he’s freeloading instead of having an actual job. This time it really feels like he’s working. It’s like getting his first job.

Minakami comes back with a towel in hand and drapes it on Tamamori’s head, patting it gently against his face and hair.

Tamamori’s head bops along with each pat Minakami gives him while drying his hair. He peeks at Minakami’s face under the towel. All his exhaustion from work today feels like it’s already disappeared behind the clouds after seeing Minakami. He opens his mouth and softly mutters, “I’m home.”

Minakami stops his movements and meets his eyes, his usual smile warms up his body. His body stops shivering from the cold.

“Welcome home, Tamamori.”

Tamamori nods slightly, not knowing what else he should respond to continue the conversation. So he leans on Minakami’s chest instead and ignores the fact that he’s making Minakami’s shirt wet, too. He holds his breath, and his stomach is tied up in knots again.

“Ah.”

He suddenly remembers the answer to his question.

“It’s from the first day we met.”

“What?”

“Since I start thinking about your face as I write my stories.”

“E-eh!?” Minakami’s body tenses up and blush creeps up his face, his eyes opened wide—showing his blue eyes. “W-what does that mean?”

“It means what it means.”

“T-Tamamori!!”

Minakami’s hands are hanging awkwardly around Tamamori, the towel has already fallen to the ground ever since Tamamori leaned over to him. He puts his arms around Minakami and closes his eyes.

Minakami hums softly, his hands finally settle down on Tamamori’s shoulders, trying to pull him away so he can look at Tamamori’s face. But Tamamori doesn’t budge and he finally gives up. “Did something happen?”

Tamamori shakes his head, the rainwater drips down and wets Minakami’s shirt even more. The arms he put around Minakami hold him tighter, “just thinking to myself. And I just … remembered how you had been the one for me all this time. All this time. And I never would’ve realised it if I had not lost you.” Tamamori takes a deep breath and nuzzles into Minakami’s chest, breathing in the faint scent of his family’s sake mixing together with the scent of rain, “I’m sorry.”

Without losing Minakami, he would still be unaware of everything. About how Minakami had gone through such lengths just to save him, about how the guilt of killing his mother as compensation is eating away at Minakami since then that he started thinking about ending his own life. Day after day, while walking across the Suidou bridge, the thought of hanging himself there would cross Minakami’s mind.

And Tamamori feels so, so stupid.

He wonders how Minakami must have been feeling all this time.

He can’t really be thankful of all the things that happened to him on those three days. But without it, he’d probably still be unaware of all those.

“I’m glad you’re safe now.”

The warmth of Minakami’s hand against his hair calms him down. He doesn’t respond with anything, just softly pats his hair. And they don't move away for a moment, at least until Tamamori comes to his senses and his face grows warmer.

Why did he have to say something so honest like that?

The hand that he rested on Minakami’s back moves over to the side of his torso, and pinches him there.

“Ah!” Minakami flinches and jumps away from Tamamori. It must have hurt.

“S-say something! I’m dying out of embarrassment here.”

Minakami awkwardly laughs, his hand rubs at the spot Tamamori had just pinched. “Sorry, sorry.” He smiles again, it’s his usual smile, then he leans closer and embraces Tamamori again. “Thank you, for not giving up on me.”

“That’s right. Thank me more, you useless roninsei.”

Though, that insult is probably not fitting for Minakami anymore. He’ll have to think of a new one later.

But Minakami is right. He’s glad he didn’t give up on him in the end.

Achoo!”

Tamamori wipes his nose with his hand. He thought he’s not cold anymore, but it seems his body is saying otherwise. He turns over to his side and looks outside the glass door; the rain doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. It might even rain until morning.

He lifts his head and sees Minakami also looking outside.

Then Minakami lowers his head and meets his eyes, a gentle smile on his face, “aren’t you cold? Let’s warm you up.”

Tamamori only nods, before leaning his face closer to Minakami.

.

End.