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in a quiet ramen shop

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Sometimes, missing someone didn’t feel as if there was a hand squeezing his heart from between his ribs. Or a burn, scorching and bright red, pressing against his chest. Or a wound that took all the time in the world, yet refusing to scar over.

And that thought made the streets look indistinct, blurry and unrecognizable amidst the rain. Takuto couldn’t shake it, and he couldn’t sleep without his room spinning or the thought continuing to bounce off the walls in his head. 

Yeah… In hindsight, I could have paced in my room. It’s messy, but it would have been better than being wet and wandering to who knows where.’ He thought, his arms clung close to his body in a hug. 

Takuto found solace in living in the quiet parts of the city, more so than any rural town or bustling neighborhood. He adored the thought of fleeting conversations outside his window, of painting the sights into his notebook, of making coffee as he watched the sun rise from his bed; The kind of solitary life he could slip into so seamlessly. All because it could silent his thoughts unlike no other atmosphere.

Though, something in him craved something a little more. The faint thought at the back of his mind, a possibility of nobody knowing who he was at all.

Maybe in another universe, he was granted that choice, yet he couldn’t help but wonder how different everything would have been. 

Shaking off his lingering thoughts of the past, Takuto trudged down the sleek, wet pavement. His shoes pounded gently onto small puddles, splashing about minute specs of water to the sides. His bag bounced lightly beside him, hitting the damp surfaces of his coat yet refusing to allow it to turn his stuff into mush.

But then again, it would have been torture, being confined in a space as small as my room. Like, surely this wouldn’t take long. Just need to unwind somewhere safe, and… see where it goes from there.

Although the commute from his house to the shop was longer than most in the recent nights, and that he could have used his car to get to his destination, something in him tonight craved that jog through the city. That feeling that he was letting the world move on its own, while he stepped aside to witness it from afar.

Weaving into a small alley, he neared the lone shop that illuminated the path. The soft light of the vending machine inside adorned the pavement with a soft blue hue. With slight effort, Takuto tugged open the heavy, glass door that led into the ramen shop, seeking solace in its mix of warm and cool colors. He stood still for a brief moment in relief, before unceremoniously dumping his coat and small bag into the farthest table from the entrance. 

The rain outside turned unrelenting, pouring down in cold, heavy sheets. It battered against the glass and the simple hangover, pommeling it in gentle droplets. At first, it brought Takuto a sense of melancholic nostalgia. Listening to the raindrops on the large glass pane beside the door tugged him to the edge, to perhaps reminisce. Of what exactly, he didn’t want to know. Times long gone, distant memories; All of them were the same amounts of lost in his mind.

Then, it subsided to comfort. He sat down, taking a moment to watch the rain coat the glass pane. The barely visible clouds accompanied him above, its cotton edges rimmed in a gentle pale yellow from the moon. With the sky performing in minimal effort to make him feel less lonely that late night. The lingering rain on his face cooled his skin, making streams of pretty droplets as it slid off his chin and hit the table's surface. 

Absent-mindedly, Taluto traced the droplets on the glass panes with his free hand, glancing at the ones that raced down the translucent surface. Thankfully he was alone, no one but himself in a position to shake him from his trance.

And yet, the sound of the ramen machine snapped him out of his reverie, encouraging him to stand and draw him in for his late night meal. Takuto paused and glanced towards its direction. His fingers curled into his palm as if preparing to push himself from his seat to go towards it. His gaze trailed towards the small coffee machine right beside it, the subtle aroma of caffeine making him approach it and see its selection of drinks. 

...It would be unwise to drink this at this hour,’ Takuto thought with a sigh, glancing at his watch that read roughly a little before two in the morning. ‘But it would be idiotic of me not to stay warm, or let myself suddenly collapse out of exhaustion... I need coffee.

He raised his hand, sliding in a few change he had from his pocket and selecting a simple warm latte. The timer was quick to whittle down, not long enough for Takuto to pay attention to it. With little pause, he was gently grasping his drink.

As he turned to walk towards his table, the ramen machine perked up at his presence. It beeped in a soothing melody, calling for him to grab a small meal. But Takuto shook it off, giving a silent and kind decline as he settled at his table. 

Takuto pulled out his surprisingly dry notebook, with its pencil strapped close to the side. He cracked it open, before looking upwards and scanned the small shop. Half an hour later he had counted, and made a decent sketch of the shop in his notebook. He nearly tuned out of his surroundings, too engrossed with how his pencil gracefully glided on the paper and created intricate details with differences only in volume and shade.

That was until he heard bells, and muffled words strung together in sentences he barely understood. He found himself too focused to look up, intending to finish another sketch so he could have something to watercolor in the following day. Despite his fication, he could feel the intrigue clawing at his attention, hoping to make him find the source of the new string of sounds.

He flipped through the next few pages of his notebook aimlessly, with the colors of his finished paintings turning into a vivid blur. He may have intended to sketch the small space, create a few miscellaneous sketches of his surroundings. However, he sat in silence with his cup of almost cold coffee. 

The dim light from a lamp above highlighted the edges of his notebook with a faint yellow glow. It warmed the back of his palm, which held a pencil with its tip barely touching the blank page. He felt the need to write out the thoughts in his head, falling deep into his emotions and imagining someone walking towards him. Hoping that they would find a free space, ignoring the ones with a thin layer of dust a few feet away.

Takuto lowered his gaze, stopping before his mind could continue with that possibility. He heard footsteps on the creaking wood floor, and glanced to his left to see the other person—a man slightly taller than him, clothed in a tattered and fading teal shirt with black suit pants—approach the machine and put on the stove his bowl of ramen. (Or was it a damp folder filled with pages, opened and placed on top of the stove to hasten its drying process? Takuto couldn't tell from where he sat.)

Barely, Takuto could notice the cup of coffee in the other man's hand, and the faint edges of his phone in his pocket. Perhaps to scroll through whatever he could as he occupied the table across from him with his hot beverage. The front of his hair swooped to the side and bounced with every step he took, bringing him closer to his chosen table, mere inches at a time.

Takuto imagined him. His fingers and pencil gliding over the blank page; The man smiling at him, showing his eyes. The thought made him smile in return, and his heart raced. 

'Maybe he could come to me.'

A conversation would spark about how their days were, what they were doing, about their lives, maybe more. Maybe the other man could sit at his table to prolong their conversation. Or maybe he would sit at the other table in front of him, to leave him concentrated with a freeforming sketch.  

If that were to be the case, he would find himself sometimes glancing up at the man, admiring how he delicately took his prepared bowl of ramen to his table. How his fingers curled around his phone, or how most of his hand hid in his sleeves to keep his cold palms warm. Or how he left the bowl to steam on its own, his fingers dancing on the digital keyboard and his brows furrowed in concentration. He would find himself glancing even as one of his hands reached for his cup and lifted it to his lips, warming his hand. 

Stolen looks, Takuto realized what he was doing; Both of them looked away, hoping that they didn’t peered into each other’s thoughts, or read their expressions. Maybe they would share similar half-smiles, forming when they made eye contact once more, to avoid the awkwardness. 

Instead, the train of his imagination led him to a bittersweet end. It was cruel for reality to creep on him as it did, yet he found himself taking solace in the silence of the shop once more. He glanced down at his sketch, realizing his hand had created a vague black and white image of what he had imagined. And for a brief second, Takuto considered ripping the page out. It was nothing more than a visualization of a dream out of reach, a wish that looked as if it didn't matter, that shattered his heart and dug him deeper in his own sadness. 

Takuto knew the other man in front of him had no fault in coming at the night he decided to sort his thoughts somewhere other than his room; It was merely his, for he needed to unlearn the path of probable one-way love. Barely a month or two—At least that’s what he had counted—had passed since he was freed from his distorted desires. And he could never have guessed he would fall for this gentle, kind soul. 

Yet, he knew he couldn’t let himself fall into that cycle again. He grew terrified of that process, of falling in love, taking away everything of himself until he had nothing else once more. He still believed he was still at fault for two deaths, and he continued to pry himself away from making it three. His past lover’s family’s blood on his hands… an image that proved no intention of wavering in his head.

Takuto took a deep breath. He stopped himself from snapping his pencil in half from frustration, or from tearing apart his finished paintings from his notebook. It was in the past, and he couldn’t have stopped it. He had little to no faults involving what happened, but he couldn’t get rid of the guilt he had overnight.

He reached for his coffee, shrugging off its chill liquid and took in the little caffeine it brought. Its subtle flavor danced on his tongue, the sweetness doing its best to get rid of the lingering bitterness.

It was exhausting, the energy it took to unknow the truth that drained him for months on end. That everything he did for almost a year was all done at the cost of his happiness and love, those of which he believed he wasn't worthy of. The wound in his heart was still fresh, taking its time to become a scar he could finally touch. Acceptance of the outcome of his past relationship was no easy feat, and recovery would only require more than that. He was devastated, there was no refuting that fact, but many times he had wondered if he could have done something different. If he hadn't wasted his time trying to find the strength to get up in the morning, to do his needed tasks, to let himself rest instead of pushing through the night for a mere paper—Takuto's speculation of different results didn't bother to surface. 

Maybe for another brief second, he had begged to whatever god he knew existed above to grant him some spare time. Even a sliver of pardon or kindness for him to live out the path ahead at a pace he could, despite his mind and body roaring at him to do otherwise. 

For long he chanted the last words he heard, before he woke up on top of the unkempt bundle of blankets and clothing in his room—"It’s never too late for a new beginning in your life." Although the memories of how he got there remained ever still fuzzy, he couldn't shake how those words remained clear amongst his hazy recollections. 

Yet, staying in the ramen shop made his chest lighter. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he felt as if he was granted peace. Takuto sighed to himself. He tucked the pencil between the pages of his notebook and pushed it aside. A rush of air swept his lower body as he got up.

The former counselor carried himself with a sheepish stride, shyly walking towards the ramen machine and inputting his spare change. He scanned the minimal options on it, hazel eyes landing on a simple, sweet and rich udon. A gentle smile tugged the corners of his lips upward, and he selected his choice. He remained fixated at the red numbers on the timer, watching it widdle away in brief seconds. Everything around it became foggy, lifeless almost, the machine’s buttons and the boxes blurring into messy lines and scribbles on the shop’s brown walls.

Behind him, he could hear the muffled slurps of the other man eating his ramen, whilst the faint sound of boiling water in front of him rang in his ears. 

When did he get his ramen?’ Takuto squinted at the machine, as if directing his question at it. ‘All I remember was that he came in, then I stared, and…’ He nodded to himself, his lips twitching in quiet realization. ‘I… zoned out. I was dissociating, again, and I didn’t know. I should… probably find a way to stop before it becomes a habit. Maybe before it messes with my own perception too much too.

Takuto shook his head, and blinked. A few seconds passed and he carefully grasped the rim of the finished ramen bowl from the pick up box. With small movements, he brought it to his table, careful to keep it away from his notebook. The quiet rustling of his paper bowl on the wooden table overtaking the silence ever so briefly. He grabbed the provided chopsticks from the side, the friction of paper and wood replacing it. He tugged the two apart with a swift snap—Takuto pondered at how melodic those sounds were even if the silence settled once more.

The wooden tips of his chopsticks soaked up the broth with ease, wrapping the noodles delicately and bringing it to his lips. Takuto almost forgot that the meal was freshly made, which would have burned his tongue and throat if he consumed it in an instant. He huffed a few blows, hoping to cool it down before his stomach could twist and growl at him. 

He took a small mouthful, relishing in the warm noodles on his tongue before they left a sweet aftertaste. He slowly swirled his chopsticks around inside of the bowl. Carefully he picked up a good amount of noodles and a few toppings with the utensils. He pulled closer his bowl as he brought the noodles to his lips, avoiding the dripping soup from hitting the table. He lowered his head to eat, humming softly in appreciation at the warmth and savory taste that filled his mouth.

His eyes trailed upwards towards the large glass pane at the front, its top rim glowing a faint neon teal. They lowered, turning towards his reflection. His head was resting against his right palm, whilst his left twirled the chopsticks into forming another swirl of noodles. Only then he could see how unkempt his hair had been, how his clothing was almost unlike him to wear; how he had lost any sort of care to his appearance. 

Then, his eyes trailed upwards again, almost meeting the other man's reflection, more so his gaze from the pane. 

Takuto darted his eyes from it, and turned towards his bowl. A quiet sigh released from his tight chest, 'It’s rude to stare, Takuto… Looks like I have a long way to go before I can find the confidence to interact with other people again.' The thought merely preceded a deep breath. 

He shoved another mouthful, but the noodles became painful strands that gave off a bittersweet taste. He hummed in surprise, and realized what he had done. He didn’t observe the other man any longer, as the taste in his tongue sent a sharp tinge to his senses. He pulled away, patting his tongue with his teeth and promptly flinching at the faint sting. 

It caused his eyes to turn blurry, narrowing until he blinked away the forming tears in his eyes. He unknowingly began breathing through his mouth, despite each breath touching his burnt tongue in brief increments. 

With trembling and shaking hands, he reached for his handkerchief in his pocket and dabbed it on his cheeks. Many thoughts flooded his mind, thinking of possible solutions to quickly ease and soothe his tongue. 

However, the more he thought about it, the more the noodles left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. He could barely finish what had remained, and decided to dump it into the trash.

With a tissue, Takuto wiped down the table and tossed it into the trash. His fingers grasped the edge of his notebook and slid it back to his front, carefully flipping through the stacks of pages until he landed on his earlier sketch. He stifled a yawn, tracing the edge of the page before turning it over to a new blank one. 

Lightly, the tip of his pencil tapped on the table. With little deliberation and no idea to start from, he began moving his hand and started a new sketch. 

The rain’s clearing up, but I can probably make one more sketch, then I have to head home before the rain picks up again.’ Takuto thought. 

A few minutes passed, and Takuto found himself looking up inconspicuously from his sketch. His gaze always landed on the other man’s reflection in the window pane. He was determined not to meet the other man's eyes. And instantly his mind raced with little hesitation, memorizing every detail he possibly could. 

The other man's lothe yet strong frame, his attire classy yet effortlessly casual, his hair a soft-looking, obsidian black hue that reached barely about his shoulders and tucked behind his ear. And he felt someone's gaze on him, glancing to see Takuto. A brief moment of their eye contact told Takuto that his eyes were equal in hue, a calm obsidian, glinting as they caught the warm lights that surrounded them. 

All at once Takuto felt a crimson blush working up his face, making him instinctively bury it into his sketches. He didn't look up until he was finished with another page. His hands slammed the notebook shut, shoved the pencil back into the side, and tucked it into his bag. 

The shuffling of his frantic movements caused the man in front of him to turn. Their gazes met, and Takuto froze in place. He looked as if he had a fever, with his cheeks flushed a bright crimson, or so he hoped that was what the man thought of.

“Do you need a ride home?” The man asked, head tilted slightly to the side.

Takuto smiled, waving a free hand. However, it did little to ease his sudden spike of adrenaline. His sudden need to leave the ramen shop. "Don't—Don't worry about me, I can handle heading home on my own."

With swift movements he got up and raced out of the small shop without picking his head up. ‘Alone,’ Takuto chanted in his head, ‘I need to be alone.‘ Yet, his body suddenly took on a constant ache, leaving no trail nor trace behind him. It was as if he made a choice to detach himself, refusing to let himself have company.

His footsteps left faint splashes, unbeknownst that he missed the wistful gaze the other man had cast towards his back.