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Chapter 8: Serendipity

 

Sakuragi groaned, his head dizzy as if he’s been spinning too much for too long. Adjusting his vision around the room, he sees a glass of water next to him. He grabs the glass unevenly and drinks the content in one whole gulp.

“You’re awake.” Sakuragi look up to see Youhei standing by the door with his arms to his chest and his expression guilty.

“Wh-what happened last night?”

“You came over and we talked,” said Youhei, sitting next to the dishevelled redhead. “Then things just escalated quickly, I turn my back for one second and…” Youhei scratched his head nervously, looking away. “Youhei, what did I do?” Sakuragi’s face grimaced at what he was about to hear. “You called Rukawa, puked then passed out.” Youhei managed to say in one breath. Sakuragi froze in terror, his face shocked and it looks almost as if he stopped breathing. Youhei poke his unresponsive friend, making sure he is still alive.

“What did I say!?” Sakuragi jumped, panicked.

“You locked yourself in the bathroom! You were hell-bent on telling him how you feel.”

“How I feel?”

“Yeah, you were cursing a lot last night, you were really angry.”

Sakuragi sat upright and nodded. “So, was I cursing at him on the phone? Good. That makes sense!” Sakuragi smiled, satisfied.

“Hanamichi,” Youhei leaned forward, placing a palm on his cheek. “Is that how you really feel?” he observed his friend as if trying to figure him out. “Of course!” Youhei sighs and shrugs at the blatant lie. It’s kind of disappointing that Sakuragi calls them best friends and completely forget that he can see behind that false bravado he carries with him. Youhei knows when Sakuragi is lying. But he figures, if he’s willing to insult their friendship like this then maybe he’ll play along with this denial. At least until he is willing to admit consciously to himself that he is hurting.

Til then, Youhei will keep the knowledge of finding his friend crying on the bathroom floor with the phone on his chest repeating Rukawa’s name to himself. It’s sad, Youhei thinks. He wishes that Sakuragi would just be upfront about his feelings. It’s been 2 years after all; it must be such a burden.

“Don’t you have work or something?” asks Youhei. “Nah,” said Sakuragi, combing his hair with his fingers, “But I guess I should get home. I feel exhausted. Youhei hums in agreement. “Don’t forget about tonight.” Sakuragi nodded, “I’ll see you tonight.”

 

Two days. He has two days left. For some reason, he feels hesitant about going back which was odd since he’s been counting down the days since he arrived. Rukawa sat on a bench opposite small shops and café with the road running in between. He looks down at the piece of paper in his hand, an invite. Haruko mentioned about a get-together and apparently, there is a party tonight for the entire team.

He noted how inconvenient a letter would be since she could just call him. But he shrugs it off; the sentiment does feel somehow special. He runs his hands across the neat handwriting contemplating whether he should go. Does he want to go? He does, but at the same time, he just feels like it will just cause unnecessary tension between him and a certain boisterous redhead.

Rukawa sighs, thinking back to last night. The sincerity in Sakuragi’s words caught him off guard, the ache he feels knowing that he is the cause of the redhead’s remaining heart ache. Rukawa knew at some level that Sakuragi would resent him, he would too if someone did it to him. He imagines he would want to cut ties with someone who left him and avoid them as much as they could but unlike Sakuragi, he could learn to let it go. Unlike Sakuragi, after 2 years, he would eventually accept what happened. Rukawa anticipates the resentment he was sure to get when he came back but never could he imagine the honesty and the raw emotion he felt from Sakuragi. He knew Sakuragi, he know what he likes and what he doesn’t. He knows what he’s thinking as if he is a person anyone could figure out. But he isn’t. Just when you think you understand him he surprises you. Rukawa is sure he’s never met anyone as complicated and as intense as Sakuragi. And that is exactly how it started. His irritation for him turned into something more as time goes by. His innocence and his sincerity is something Sakuragi rarely shows but the couple of times Rukawa stumbles on it made him want to get closer, want to know everything about him, to just dive into the complexity that is Sakuragi Hanamichi.

“It wasn’t love, I know”

“I wanted it to be real, I hoped it would.”

The words echoed, and suddenly his heart feels strained at the thought. He remembers butting heads with Sakuragi most of his freshman year but somewhere along the way that changed. Rukawa couldn’t remember exactly at what point it change. Honestly, it wasn’t because he hated the redhead, irritated, sure, but Rukawa tries to avoid anything that wasn’t important. He only has two things he cared about in freshman year and that was sleep and basketball. Anything beyond that was just extra. Love is a strange thing, something obscure that perplex even him. It’s not as if he detest the feeling, despite what people seem to assume. Rukawa has never been the type to waste time, to idly dreaming that things would work out or for someone to come and change him. Sometimes that makes him feel like he didn’t belong. When everyone was ogling the girls or when people around him would go in and out of relationships, he didn’t think too much about it. Maybe because he would be the one girls stare at and that irritated most of the guys in school.

He used to wonder if he was just asexual. If he was, he wouldn’t really mind it but his parents would be the ones disappointed not him. Being the only son he supposes there is some kind of duty that he should fulfil. There is nothing more that his parents want for him than to settle down, get married and have a stable job. After years of being in America that traditional mindset seems so mundane and uninteresting. The exposure to a more individualistic culture was weird at first but he really come to appreciate the freedom that comes with it. American people are assertive, there is no hidden meaning, and people tend to be self reliant.

Love, Rukawa feels, tend to be used around so carelessly. He witnessed ‘love’ from different people and all of them always fall apart.

Rukawa asked a friend once what love meant to him and with a thoughtful tap on his chin his friend answered confidently, “I think if it makes your heart fast and you get that sense like you can’t control yourself, yeah, that’s love.” “When you can’t control yourself?” Rukawa repeated his words, confused. “Yeah, you know when you’re turned on or something.” Surprised at the shallow response, Rukawa simply nodded and accepts the answer. Coming from a place of experience, he supposes that is one way of interpreting love.

With Sakuragi, it wasn’t the easiest of awareness to his feelings. He only wanted to get to know him at first, to get closer, to understand what makes him so….passionate. As it turns out Sakuragi has a lot of layers that even the ones closest to him don’t know about. Well, except Youhei, that guy knows everything. The bravado Sakuragi carries with him all the time is irritating and painful to watch sometimes. Especially considering he does posses the skill he frequently boasts about. It was gradual, they established some sort of friendship and soon enough they were able to see past the unnecessary bickering and actually talk. Well, Sakuragi prefers teasing him more but it was an improvement nonetheless.

The first time they talked seriously was because of a girl. He remembers Sakuragi walking up to him after everyone left the gym. The sky was a brilliant mix of yellow and red indicating the sinking of the sun. It was beautiful, he paused to admire it for a second before a tall figure appeared beside him. Red hair and a tint of concerned look on his face. Rukawa notices the redhead’s fidgety stance and decides to break the odd atmosphere.

“If you have a problem, you should just spit it out.”

Sakuragi jerked lightly and fumble his thumbs nervously.

“I just wanted to ask if you there is anyone you like.” Rukawa raised a questioning brow at the redhead, unexpected of the sudden question.

“No.” Rukawa stated plainly without hesitant.

With that response, Sakuragi breathes out, looking relieved. But then quickly change his expression to a more panicked one.

“I mean, that’s bad!” Sakuragi frantically shakes his head. “I mean, that’s good!” “What?” Rukawa asked irritated at the nonsensical dialogue.

“I promised Haruko I would talk to you about it,” Sakuragi explained, “She really really likes you.” Each word makes Sakuragi’s twinge, he avoid Rukawa’s gaze, embarrassed at level he allowed himself to stoop.

“And you really really like her?” Rukawa didn’t mean it as an insult but the pain in Sakuragi’s eyes lets him know he had gone too far.

“You should tell her how you feel, ahou.”

“I’ve tried! “ Sakuragi snaps defensively. “I’ve tried…” he repeated lowly.

Rukawa doesn’t know whether he should feel sorry for him or to be envious over the fact that he isn’t swamped with girls swarming up to him like bees.

“Wait, “Sakuragi looks at Rukawa, backing away slightly. “Don’t tell me you…you bend the other way…” Sakuragi motions his hand to make a swinging gesture.

“You better stop.” Rukawa glares at Sakuragi, irritated.

“I don’t understand Kitsune,” Sakuragi asked, sincerely confused. “You have all this popularity but not once have you even smiled at a woman.”

Rukawa sighs, “All they care about is looks.”

“But it gets them interested. Think about it Kitsune,” Sakuragi leaned closer, his hand on Rukawa’s shoulder. “You use that to your advantage. You go on a few dates, hold her hand, and walk her home. Then when the mood is right, the moon shining down on you and her, hearts beating fast as you caress her delicate cheeks, you lean in and press your lips against hers.” He could hear the longing in Sakuragi’s voice, swooning at the idea of romance. He was so close he could feel the warmth oozing out of the redhead's chest. Rukawa leaned away from the proximity and fixed his jacket.

“Love, “Rukawa scoffs at the notion. “Sounds like a waste of time.”

Rukawa chuckle sarcastically at the memory. Oh he was so wrong. If only his past self could see the situation he is in he would personally kick himself many times over.

Sakuragi groaned, rubbing his hand on his temples with one hand while brushing his teeth. Staring at his reflection in the foggy bathroom mirror he regrets the poor decision he made last night. He doesn’t know what possessed him to trouble Youhei at 11 pm but all he knows is that he felt unsettled, almost restless with unwanted thoughts. If he didn’t confide in someone or distract himself he would surely explode. The conversation in the café just made it difficult to focus. His co-workers wouldn’t stop pestering him about Rukawa and he’s sick of it. The more they ask, the more it forced him to remember every memory, every detail, every information of the man that he rather not remember. To make it worse, the real icing on the cake is that random women start coming to the café looking for the handsome blue eyed stranger. Sakuragi rolled his eyes and if it weren’t for the rules in his contract he would already push them away.

Seriously, it’s like there is no escape. Is God really this cruel to punish him like this?

Sakuragi washed his face and place his toothbrush in the cup holder. He paused and examined his worn out face, clearly seeing the stress. He sighs, “calm it Hanamichi, he said he’s only here for a few days.”

“Yeah, a few days then you won’t see him ever again.” He reassured himself. “Won’t see him ever again…” he repeated, his voice low and unsure.

This is what he wants right? If it is then why does he feel so unsure about it. He was fine living his life for 2 years not hearing anything about Rukawa, not seeing him. It was easier, easier than this. He can at least pretend that Rukawa didn’t exist and there was nothing between them. But seeing him, in the flesh, it feels as though he never left. It made the break up real, as if he is mocking him about ever making him feel like he cared. He recalls Rukawa regards love as a waste of time. It makes sense that perhaps everything that they felt was also a waste of time and he realised it and left. Without warning, Rukawa suddenly decides he didn’t want or didn’t like him anymore and just end everything without an explanation.

Sitting on the balcony, Sakuragi hugs himself as comfort as he stared at the setting of the sun. He looked down at the road below him and immediately he could visualise his past.

It was a hot summer night; he just ended another unsuccessful date with a girl. At that point he was ready to give up and accept the fact that no girl will like him for who he is. Almost all dates ended up with them using him as a ploy to get closer to Rukawa. There were some that were sincere but it became clear that they weren’t that interested. Sakuragi is a hopeless romantic so without being rude about it, he told them he had work in the morning and left after paying for the bill. Walking home with a slumped posture and a frown, a usual thing habit he does after every unsuccessful date he thought about everything that he did or didn’t do. Sure he was slightly shy but he was just careful, he didn’t want to mess up. But of course, he ended messing up. He kept his gaze on the ground when a pair of sneakers came into view. He stopped and looked up to see Rukawa looking at him up and down with a basketball in one hand.

“You’re dressed for something, ahou?”

“Rukawa! What are you doing here?”

“I came to practice.” Rukawa answered flatly. Sakuragi scanned his surroundings to see accidently walked in the direction of the public basketball court. Before he could make sense of anything, he found himself sitting next to a sweaty Rukawa. Rukawa wiped the sweat from his forehead with his towel, his breathing rough from the intense practicing. He stared at Rukawa, wondered how it would be like if he could have his looks and his skill for one day. Although Sakuragi kept boasting about his own skills, he would be stupid to deny Rukawa's raw talent. No matter how many times he would deny it. “What?” Rukawa asked, noticing the intense stare. “I wish we could trade places sometimes”

Rukawa raised a questioning eyebrow at the red head. “I mean, just for one day!” Sakuragi backtracked quickly. “Just to know how it feels to be popular.”

“Oh, is this about girls again? You want to know how it feels to be wanted by girls that bad.” “Doesn’t everyone?” Sakuragi replied.

“I don’t.” Rukawa said without any hesitation.

“That’s your problem.” Sakuragi grumbles, pouting as he leaned against the wall sulkily. Rukawa smirked at Sakuragi’s cute response.

“Why does it bother you?” Rukawa asked, genuinely curious. Sakuragi regards the question, focusing on the hoop in front of him. “I just want to know how it feels like,” Said Sakuragi with a distant look, “I’ve never kissed anyone.” This love fixation that Sakuragi has baffles him. He’s never seen anyone wanting to experience something trivial as this. Usually if someone is desperate enough they would either quit or really lower their expectations.

“If I give you the experience would you shut up about it?” Sakuragi choked at the words coming out of Rukawa’s mouth, so casually too. His eyes widened in disbelief and he snapped his head towards Rukawa so fast he thought maybe he strained a muscle.

“Look, it’s no big deal. It’s just kissing.” Rukawa shrugs.

“Oh, and you have experience?”

Rukawa nodded and folded his arms against his chest. “You said to put my looks to good use so you’re not the only one who’s been on dates.” For some reason, Sakuragi’s heart felt as though it sank down to his stomach. He ignores it and grinned, “Finally listening to me!”

“Don’t flatter yourself, idiot.”

The atmosphere between them became quiet with nothing but the gentle breeze of the hot wind blowing around them. Sakuragi stared at Rukawa’s blue orbs, noticing for the first time that it is a cobalt blue, a colour like the ocean. They stayed still, nothing but the loud beating of their hearts against their chest. Sakuragi swallowed his nervousness; this is becoming way too real. To be honest he much prefers doing it with girl but maybe this will make it easier for experience. Rukawa leaned in closer, his eyes half lidded and before he knew it Sakuragi is already closing his eyes. “No, keep them open,” Rukawa’s warm breath tickled his skin. “I’m only going to teach you once.” Sakuragi nodded and slowly open his eyes. His cheeks burned like it was on fire, Rukawa is so close now he could almost feel him. His heart is beating so hard and so fast he could hear it in his ears. Rukawa close the gap between them, their lips gently meet and for the first time Sakuragi noted how soft Rukawa’s lips are. It was a soft peck and already Sakuragi feels like he’s losing control. Everything is closing in on him, he feels caught up in the moment. He’s been dreaming of the chance to feel this. Everytime he watched a romantic movie he would wonder how it feels like. How much he wanted to share something private and intimate with someone. Just one time is enough.

In hindsight, this was a very bad idea because without any self control, Sakuragi pressed harder against Rukawa as his hand slowly wanders to jet black hair. Rukawa moaned lightly and that seemed to instantly snap Sakuragi out of the moment. His eyes snapped open and he broke the kiss immediately. His face still burns as he awkwardly cleared his throat.

“Now would you shut up about it?” asked Rukawa, looking unaffected by all this. Sakuragi nodded and he did shut up about it.