Reki sniffed, ripping off another piece of bread and chucking it into the group of ducks below in the pond. “Yo, Langa?”
“Huh?” Langa grunted. He tore a piece of bread for himself before throwing one down to the ducks.
“Stop, that’s for the ducks!”
“I know. But I’m hungry. We can share.”
Reki rolled his eyes and nudged Langa with his shoulder. “I’m convinced you have, like, ten stomachs.”
“Anyways! My question,” Reki leaned closer, noticing how Langa always allowed him into his space. And, in this moment, how he always allowed Langa into his. “When’s your birthday? I realized we never talked about that!”
Yeah it was a random question but Reki was curious. He’d grown close to Langa in incredibly quick fashion but the simple things! He had no idea when his best friend was born and that was utterly unacceptable. This had to be changed immediately.
Langa ate another piece of bread. Chewed. Swallowed. Stared distantly into the horizon before turning back, quickly. His eyes widening a fraction in surprise. “Today.”
“Oh ok!” Reki accepted and then shuffled back a bit until his answer really hit him. “EXCUSE ME?” and he’s right back. All up in Langa’s space. Nearly onto his lap as he gripped Langa by the shoulders and shook him several times. “What do you mean today? Hello! Hello, why did you not let me know this sooner!”
Langa, still unphased by the bomb he dropped, answered in his same, even tone that’s quickly driving Reki up a wall. “You never asked.”
“What do you mean!! WHAT DO YOU MEAN!!!”
“I forgot, honestly.” Langa explained as if forgetting his birthday was the same thing as forgetting where you put your tv remote. “Ah, but my mom said I shouldn’t stay out too late. Since she wants to celebrate. Something small.”
Reki felt himself age several years. Tired, but determined, he pinches Langa’s cheeks instead. Ignoring the “ow ow ow!” Langa made every time he pulled. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me! I can’t believe I didn’t know until now! I have to get you a present.”
“It’s not a big deal, Reki.” Langa said, patting Reki’s hand that held onto his cheeks. “I liked spending time with you today. That can be your present.”
“ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Reki released Langa’s cheeks. He stood up and kicked up his board, grabbing it and holding onto the end with his hand. “You go home and celebrate with your mom! I’m gonna go prepare something! Something epic. Something totally rad!”
“I was already going to do that…” Langa frowned. “Reki, seriously-”
But Reki was far too stubborn and ridiculously determined to make things right. Logically, he knew that Langa didn’t care. How would Reki have known today was his birthday? Not his fault! But that didn’t matter. Not to Reki. Not when Langa, who was so far from home, who made Reki’s world a little more colorful and bright and… no. He had to. He couldn’t go to sleep in peace tonight knowing he hadn’t done something for Langa.
Reki kicked off onto his skateboard and turned around, “Keep your phone on ring tonight, ok? Cause I’m gonna call you later! Don’t forget!” with a wave, he kicked off. Chucking the last pieces of his bread into the duck pond.
Langa watched Reki skate off, then turned with a sign. Back to the pond as the ducks happily descended upon the discarded piece of bread. A small smile grew on his face. As color rose to his cheeks. He shook his head and threw his last piece of bread too before heading home.
“JOE! I NEED-Oh,” Reki stood at the door he opened (without knocking mind you). Eyes wide as he stared at Joe and Cherry. Joe with his arms around Cherry’s waist and Cherry’s gripping Joe’s shirt as the two stared back at him. Lips red. Cheeks flushed. “I. Can’t you do that at home?”
“Kid can’t you knock ?” Joe laughed. But there’s no real heat to his words.
Cherry on the other hand gripped Joe’s collar harder before pushing him back. “You said the door was locked, you beefhead!”
“I said I thought it was locked.” Joe’s laughter grew louder even as Cherry gripped him up ready to throttle him.
It’s not like Reki was surprised to see Joe and Cherry mid make out… he always wondered. But to actually see that happen in real time-he cleared his throat. Cheeks still hot. Willing his mind to not take that one step further considering what if that were him and Lan-
“I’m sorry! Next time I’ll knock.”
“There won’t be a next time!” Cherry howled.
“Yeah ok,” Joe rolled his eyes. His arms wrapped around Cherry’s waist. With a tug, he turned him back into his arms and rested his chin rather boldly on to his shoulder. “We’re not exactly subtle. It was about time someone found out about us. Reki,” Reki jumped to attention, clutching his skateboard. Joe grinned, “Whatcha need, kid?”
“Too close!” Cherry growled, attempting to break free at the same time as Reki responded, “Uh… right! Right! Today’s Langa’s birthday. So I wanted to ask a favor!”
“Oh?” Joe said. “What’s the favor?”
“I was wondering if we could like. I dunno. Make him a cake! And, uh-have everyone come by! Shadow and Miya and Oka… just everyone!”
“That’s pretty last minute. Your breath is gross. Stop breathing on me, Joe!” Cherry pushed Joe’s face away who only laughed and held him tighter. He huffed, seeming to give up on breaking free from Joe’s hold anytime soon. Reki held back the urge to laugh because Cherry’s temper was foul and Reki did not want to be at the receiving end of that anytime soon. No that could 100% go to Joe.
“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Joe said. “But the cake’s gonna take a few hours. Less, if I have some help.”
“I’ll help!” Reki was already setting down his skateboard by a plant and rolling up his sleeves. “I’m pretty good around the kitchen. Just tell me what I need to do.”
“Loving the enthusiasm. Cherry, be useful and text Clowny, Shortstack, and Oka, yeah?”
“Who do you think you are bossing me around, huh?”
“You’re so cheeky you know that? Would it kill ya to just listen to your elders.”
“We’re the same age!”
“Ok!” Reki jumped in. “Party. Langa’s birthday. FOCUS!”
Joe detached himself from Cherry-much to Cherry’s visible appreciation and Reki’s well… he’s just happy this is working out better than anticipated. Joe made moves towards the kitchen and told Reki to follow him while Cherry grumbled, pulling out his cell phone to make the necessary calls.
It was a very last minute plan. And by pure luck alone was Reki able to get the gears going. His heart raced, imagining the end goal. The restaurant filled with Langa’s friends and the cake and maybe they could get some juice! Reki could make a playlist while they baked. And Langa. He hoped he could see Langa smile.
The thought made Reki’s heart squeeze as he slipped into the apron Joe handed him.
“Alright kid,” Joe smirked, tying the knot for his apron behind his back. “Let’s get to baking.
“And… finished!” Reki wiped the imaginary sweat from his brow as he placed the icing down. The words, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LANGA!!!, were neatly drawn onto the cake in light blue icing. It had taken all but 30 minutes and complete concentration but Reki was nothing if not a perfectionist.
“Looks good, kid.” Joe leaned over to inspect the cake. Baking it took about an hour. Decorating it another forty five minutes or so. Meanwhile, Shadow, Miya, and Oka had arrived with some decorations. Shadow refused to have a birthday party that did not have a banner, streamers, or some sort of fun confetti.
“You can bake, slime?” Miya had asked when he popped his head back into the kitchen to see what was happening. “I thought you were just a skatehead. Who would have thought you could do more than one trick, slime.”
“Slime this, slime that, but when everyone gets a slice of cake but you, we'll see who the slime is then!” Miya only laughed.
What mattered was that the cake was finished. He pulled out his phone to check the time and saw that he had two missed texts from Langa. One was a photo his mom took of him in a party hat eating cake with his same absentmindedly pleased expression. The next was a text from about ten minutes ago: rdy whenever for whatever u have planned.
Reki zoomed in on the photo of Langa eating cake, a goofy smile curling onto his lips.
Joe peeked at the smile. Untying his apron, humming. “You got it bad, kid.”
“I!” Reki started, his cheeks coloring to nearly the same shade as red as his hair before deflating. His smile is not so goofy but warm, complacent. “Yeah. Yeah I do.” No use fighting what was, to Reki at this point, inevitable.
He’d been this way ever since he saw Langa fly amongst the fireworks.
Joe smiled in sympathy, reaching out to ruffle his hair. “I get it. You gonna tell him tonight?”
“Uh… I, dunno?” his eyebrows furrowed. “I hadn’t really thought about telling him… at all really.” He thought about what would happen if Langa didn’t feel the same way. If their closeness was just a matter of sharing a secret, born from forced proximity, and nothing more. He liked their friendship. Loved it.
Wanted to protect it and cherish it till the day he died. Langa was his best friend. He finally had someone he could share what he loved with. And never had Langa made him feel silly for being so excited over skateboarding. He embraced it all-his theoretical jabber, his hype over nailing a move, his joy over building and designing a skateboard. All the things he desperately wished to share with someone, Langa took it all without question and gave back all the same.
How could he not develop feelings? It still didn’t make much sense to him. He’s never really liked someone romantically before-especially not this strongly. And never a guy. But Langa was… Langa. And that conclusion was so simple and settled so firmly in Reki’s heart, there couldn’t be any other answer.
But he’d rather eat dirt than lose Langa and his friendship over unreciprocated feelings.
Joe seemed to read the confusion and warring feelings on Reki’s face. Because he ruffled his hair again and gave it a good pat before heading back towards the front of the restaurant. “No worries. You don’t gotta rush it. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”
As Joe’s about to leave, Reki stops him. Text message thread with Langa still opened because he hadn’t finished replying yet. “You and Cherry. How did you-Did you confess?”
Joe folded his arms and got lost in thought for a few minutes, “I think so? It was kinda messy. We were arguing one second, calling each other names, and then the next minute we were kissing.” he opened his eyes and grinned, “Pretty on brand for us though. I’d recommend not arguing with Snow before you confess.”
Reki snorted, “Yeah… ok.” he looked back at his phone and fired off a text.
b there soon! keep the hat on :P
“Wow you actually wore the hat.”
Langa’s eyes shot upward. He poked the point of his hat while Reki snickered. “You told me to.” he said with a frown.
“Haha, I know! I know. It looks good,” picking up Langa was quick and easy. Langa’s mom was near tears when Reki popped up at the door to take Langa out for a surprise.
“Langa you’re growing up faster than your mother can keep up!!!” she pressed her tear stained cheeks against Langa, who had a tiny blush on his cheeks despite his near vacant expression.
They took their boards to the streets after that was the only way to go around. And were walking up to the front steps of the restaurant now. Reiki’s heart rate kept escalating with each past second. Sudden doubt washed over him. What if this was lame? Or Langa didn’t like it? Maybe he shouldn’t have brought everyone together and they should have just skated off to see the sunrise or something. Or maybe he should have-
“You ok, Reki?”
Then Reki took one look at Langa. Blue party hat and all. Looking concerned with the way his lips pulled into a frown and his eyebrows knitted together. Reki’s heart burst, but for completely different reasons now.
“I’m great,” Reki smiled brilliantly. All his nervous energy gone and replaced with giddy excitement. “Here, no peeking.” He stepped up behind Langa, covering his eyes with his headband. “Don’t take it off until I say so!”
Langa gave him two thumbs up.
With a nod, Reki pushed open the door and gave everyone a finger to the lips to be quiet. His heart kept pounding, because the restaurant looked really good. The decorations were simple, with some candles and lights strewn. Balloons blown up and a giant banner that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SNOW!” with the yeti from Langa’s board painted crudely on it. How they managed to do that in such a short time, Reki couldn’t even wrap his head around. But it looked good. And there was this indescribable pool of warm curling at the bottom of his stomach. He hoped Langa liked it. No, he hoped Langa would love it.
“Okay… and… go!” Reki pulled off his headband and took a step back.
“Happy birthday, Langa!” everyone cried out. Standing around the table that was set with Langa’s birthday cake on it.
Reki threw an arm around Langa’s shoulder, and grinned. Electric and vibrant. “Hehe! Surprise!”
Langa didn’t say anything for a minute and in that minute Reki thought he was going to go through the several stages of grief and depression all at once. But then Langa smiled. It was brilliant. His eyes widened in the same way they did when he flew in the sky, or landed a move. He turned to Reki, eyes still wrought with surprise.
“You did all this… for me?”
“Of course! Is that even a question?”
“Slime got us all together so we could celebrate,” Miya said, cat’s smile in place.
“Now why didn’t you tell us sooner your birthday was today, Snow? You really that far out in outer space you can’t remember what’s down below!” Shadow asked.
Joe snorted, “Snow’s got nothing on the brain but skating and food. I’m not surprised.”
“Not to rush the moment but I’m starving. Joe, start serving the food like you’re supposed to.” Cherry said.
“Huh? Is this your birthday party now? Are you in charge here? Is this your restaurant?”
While the two started going at it Oka went ahead and lit up the cake. “Come over and blow out your candles while those two flirt it out.”
“We’re not flirting!” Cherry yelled at the same time as Joe said, “This is not how we flirt-” which was a lie.
Langa seemed overwhelmed. In a good way? Reki hoped. But he walked over to the cake and they all sang happy birthday off key and not a lick of tune to be found. Langa laughed and blew out his candles. Reki took 300 photos alone of the blowing, the cutting, and the eating of cake.
The night went on with the adults busting out the drinks and the kids having juice! Sparkling juice, because it was a fancy affair and such matters called for such things. Of course. Reki kept looking at Langa to gauge his expression. He was happily eating cake while Miya was showing him a new mobile game he was into.
“You can make food?”
“Out of everything I told you, that’s what sticks out?”
“I think it’s cool…”
Reki laughed behind his glass, sitting off by the bar while he watched. This felt right. And good. And it was wild how in just a few months his whole life had changed since Langa entered it. He wondered if Langa felt the same. That their lives had turned completely upside down in such a short amount of time. Now here they were, hanging out in a restaurant after hours with people who Reki may not have ever gotten to know if things had panned out differently.
Reki looked up from his glass. Langa was staring down at him, face blank. “Sup? Having fun?”
Langa nodded, “Yeah. I was going to step outside for a bit of air. Wanna come with?”
“Yeah sure!” Reki put his glass down and the two headed outside. They sat down on the steps of Joe’s restaurant. Shoulder to shoulder. Knee to knee. The streets were quiet. Not many people were out and about. But through the door Reki could hear the makeshift sounds of their friends chatting and distinctively, Cherry’s yelling (most definitely annoyed at Joe).
“You okay?” Reki asked after a few minutes of silence.
Langa hummed. “Yeah. I’m okay. It’s… a lot. But good. I’ve never spent a birthday with so many people before. So this is, new.”
“Yeah? Well I’m glad you could get to experience something new! And that it was good. Everyone jumped in ready to go once I told them it was your birthday.” Reki put his head in his arms resting on his knees, smiling softly up at Langa. “You’re really loved.” he said quietly.
Saying that word out loud didn’t really hit, and probably wouldn’t hit for Reki, until much later. But something shifted in Langa’s eyes. Something bright, and before Reki could ask Langa had moved forward. Dipped his head down so their lips brushed just a measure.
Reki gasped into the kiss. His eyes wide. Langa pulled back, his cheeks burning with the same vibrant intensity as Reki’s.
“Thank you.” Langa said softly, in English. He wrapped his arms around Reki, hugging him close.
Reki forgot how to breathe in that moment. Forgot what it was like to see stars in the sky when all the stars had conglomerated in his vision. Dousing Langa with such bright light, he was nearly supernova. Reki moved on impulse. Gripping tightly onto the back of Langa’s shirt. Holding him for all he was worth and then more.
“Anytime.” Reki whispered fiercely. “ Anything for you.”
They pulled back, but only slightly. Never fully dislodging from the embrace. Reki brushed back some hair from Langa’s face. “The hat looks good on you,” he said cheekily, poking the tip of the hat.
Langa huffed, “It’s just a hat.”
“Yeah, but you look cute.” Reki smiled even more at the smile that got him. Then, because the little barrier between them was dissolved, Reki slipped in for another kiss. A few more kisses. Several pecks, at the most. “Happy birthday, Langa.” he whispered after they parted.
Langa pressed their forehead together, smiling softly. “Yeah. Thank you.”