“No, really, I’m good here.” Hisomu beamed nearly as brightly as the sun beating down overhead.
“You’re just trying to get a sunburn.” Nico frowned down at him where he sat on the towel, beach umbrella still folded and lying on its side in the sand beside him.
“Would you like to join me?” he asked innocently, patting an empty corner of the towel.
The towel itself was horribly frayed at the edges, not to mention fantastically faded. Nico thought that she could make out the face of Winnie the Pooh on it, but it also could have been a horrifically discolored Doraemon.
“Nico doesn’t want her skin to hurt,” she replied with a pout. Even so, she settled down next him, leaving her own princess-pink towel and umbrella set abandoned nearby.
Nico sighed, looking up at the blue sky with not a single cloud in it. It was a shame- she had been hoping to impress the boys with her skill at spotting the ones that looked most like fairies (she had gotten rather good at sounding convincing about it, to the point where she could get nearly anyone to agree with her, even if the cloud really did look rather like a wiener dog instead).
Taking another side-eyed glance at the boy beside her, Nico wondered if the sunblock she had applied would do anything to aid Hisomu’s skin, overly pasty from years of locking himself up indoors. Better apply some more just in case, she thought, scooting back over to her own little area of the beach in order to grab a fancy little bottle out of her bag. As the daughter of the owner of the local hospital, she had been told more horror stories than she could count about the things that could happen to one’s skin in the sun. Squeezing a goodly amount into her palm, she applied the coconut-scented lotion up and down her arms and across her chest, only stopping at the lime-green ruffles of her bikini top.
“Need some help?” Hisomu asked, finally partaking in the shade of her umbrella, patting at his own shoulders in demonstration.
She did always have a terrible time reaching her back; damn her short arms. Nico was certain that Hisomu must be all kinds of bendy, with limbs like those. She was quite jealous. Contorting limbs into odd positions was a sure-fire way to get people to think of you as weird. ‘Weird’ came so naturally to him… How lucky.
Nico nodded reluctantly despite herself, and Hisomu began to pat the cream onto her petite shoulders, rubbing in comforting little circles, all the while Nico wondering how such gentle hands could be used to harm their owner so often.
Just then, the third member of their little party arrived, Katsuhira, somehow making a valiant effort to hold three snow cones in two hands.
“Nico wants rainbow!” she announced, popping up off the sand, back only half-slathered as she snatched up the treat in question.
“Ahhh, brain-freeze~” Hisomu hummed, making no move to take a snow cone for himself.
“Which one do you want?” Katsuhira prompted.
“Whichever you don’t.”
This led to something of a stand off between the two boys, neither having much in the way of a flavor preference, resulting in neither claiming a cone for a few moments. Eventually, after letting lose a wail of frustration, Nico chose for them, Hisomu receiving green, and Katsuhira blue.
“You look like a corpse,” Hisomu pointed out cheerfully after Katsuhira had taken a few a bites, his lips painted blue from the over abundance of food dye.
“You don’t still want me to die for you, do you?” Katsuhira asked by way of conversation, although he was already fairly secure in the answer, especially considering how the other boy had just snuggled up against his side as the three sat on Hisomu’s towel, baking in the sun together once more.
“…No. I think that I would miss you. That said, if the undertow drags you under at any point, feel free to stay under as long as you like. That burning feeling in your lungs when you can’t breathe-“
Katsuhira cut him off. “Are you ready to try swimming yet?”
“Hmm? No.” Hisomu smiled pleasantly, as if it weren’t the entire reason they had come to the beach today.
“At least we’re not planning to toss you in like last time,” Nico pointed out. “How come you never did learn how to swim, though?”
It was hard for Nico to wrap her head around someone not being able to. Her parents had paid for swimming lessons since the time she was a toddler. She supposed that they had seen too many water-based accidents at the hospital to take any chances on their daughter not knowing how to handle herself around the stuff.
Hisomu shrugged. “My parents just never taught me. I mean, they never took me to the beach, so it never really mattered, you know?”
“Where did they take you?” Katsuhira asked.
Hisomu scrunched up his face in thought, as if attempting to dredge up a very old memory. “Just…home from the hospital, I guess? They died when I was one.”
“What happened to them?” Nico instantly felt tears prodding at the corners of her eyes. She couldn’t imagine life without her own parents, even as busy as they were.
Hisomu rose from the towel, having finished his snow cone. “I’m gonna go find a place to toss this so-“
Before he could finish the thought, Nico had sprung up as well, grabbing onto his wrist quite firmly considering the small size of her hands, and dragging him in the direction of the water, emptied paper cone falling dejectedly to the towel. Katsuhira trotted mildly after.
Nico didn’t let go until all three Kiznaivers were in up to waists (or, rather, Nico up to her waist, with the boys only to their knees).
Even then, she only let go for long enough to place one hand on her chin, sizing Hisomu up. “Can you lie down on your back and float?”
“She means without trying to drown yourself…or either of us,” Katsuhira added in his typical monotone.
“I can certainly try, although I make no promises.”
Wading out a little farther, Hisomu took a deep breath and flopped over onto his back with a great splash, not unlike a fish tossed back over the side of a boat.
“Ahh! My eyes!” Nico squealed, hands flying to rub at them.
Of course Hisomu wouldn’t close his eyes under water.
He had sank like a stone. Katsuhira hoisted him above water, where he just sat in the surf up to his shoulders. They were beginning to turn pink, much to Nico’s frustration. She gave her own shoulder a little scratch as she tried to remember how the more difficult kids in her swim class had been taught.
Grabbing onto one of his hands, Nico gave Katsuhira a meaningful look for him to do the same.
“Kick your legs! …But gently!” Nico added, imagining torrents of water kicked up everywhere.
Hisomu did as asked, the other two guiding him by the hands parallel to shore, moving him fast enough so as not to allow him to sink again.
Despite his initial laziness about getting in the water, Hisomu quickly found that he was enjoying himself. The only other time he could remember looking up at the wide blue sky for so long was the time he had jumped from the school roof, back when he had still gone to school regularly. He had lain in the grass for some time before help arrived, the shapes in the clouds above him nearly as appealing as the sensation of the majority of his bones being smashed to bits. The EMTs had had to cut the school uniform off of him. He never did buy a replacement.
“Yeah? You ready to swim on your own now? Congrats!”
“You told me once that you had recognised my name from patient rosters. You don’t remember seeing me there in person, do you? The hospital, I mean.”
Nico stopped swimming, turning to look at him. “Nico has an excellent memory! Nico would remember if she had seen you!”
Hisomu chuckled, standing from the water. “I don’t doubt you.”
He really was too weird, Nico thought. Anyone who could smile with that amount of charm, the sun glinting off his lip-piercing just so, was just too much of an oddity to exist. She looked over to Katsuhira, who seemed to agree from the way he was staring as well. Although his face would lack emotion to an outsider, Nico had spent enough time with Katsuhira now to glean a thing or two.
However, before Nico could ask about what he had meant, a sound arose a few feet away- a group of children shrieking. The trio looked out farther out into the ocean just in time to see an enormous wave crashing down upon them.
Nico sputtered, the salty water in her mouth robbing her of the previous flavor left by her snow cone. Something was underneath her, and it wasn’t sand.
Dove-grey eyes blinked up her, their owner making no move to free himself from her. Nico scuttled backward, turning to wring out her pigtails. Hisomu may have been equal parts handsome and weird, but Katsuhira was really no slouch either in both departments, she decided.
As she continued to absently play with her hair, Nico made a terrible discovery as her hands reached the part where the pigtails sprouted from her head- the fluffy mascots that had been attached to the rubber bands had washed away, nowhere to be found.
“Your hair?” Hisomu asked, mimicking ponytails with his hands on his own drenched hair.
Nico nodded pitifully.
Hisomu trotted back over to the towel, fishing in a ragged duffel bag he had brought from home (or had just as likely plucked from a dumpster along the way). He set out a collection of various items- an unopen can of pineapple rings, a wad of bandages (hopefully unused), a small Gundam figure…until finally, he pulled out two clothes pins made out of colored plastic.
“Bag clips,” he explained, pinching one open and closed between his thumb and forefinger like a crab, before clamping them down onto Nico’s ponytail holders. He claped his hands together in satisfaction at a job well done. “There we go. Lovely!”
Nico prodded them experimentally, before decided that she was touched by the gesture and leaping toward him, nearly knocking him into the sand.
He patted her head fondly, continuing the story from earlier, “I saw you at the hospital, you know, but you never saw me. I’d see you trot past my window in the hall now and again, but you never looked in. I remembered thinking: ‘What a weird girl’.”
“Really?” Nico was delighted. “You think I’m weird?”
She next looked to Katsuhira for validation. He nodded.
“You never finished the story about your parents,” Katsuhira pointed out.
“There’s not much to tell. My mom got very sick, just like Honoka’s middle school girlfriend. My dad died in a car crash shortly after. They think that he started to become reckless afterward. After that, my relatives shuffled my around for a long time, until I started high school, when they rented an apartment for me…They never call or visit to check up on me, though.”
The truth was far more underwhelming than whatever Nico had imagined it might have been, even if she did feel down right horrible for him. Did Hisomu spend so much time in the hospital because it was the last place his parents ever saw? She didn’t think it was right to ask, after he had been open enough for once to volunteer so much at a time.
She was suddenly yanked out of her thoughts by a terrible pinching sensation in her toe.
Katsuhira was blinking absently at a crab that had latched onto his pinky toe. It seemed that not being able to feel it, he intended to just let it go about its business there.
Nico plucked it off, since Hisomu wasn’t going to do it any time soon either. However, in the process, it stuck onto her finger instead. She began to wave it wildly, only causing it to hold on tighter.
Katsuhira steadied her wrist, Hisomu finally removing the creature, placing it safely on the sand.
Nico pouted at her throbbing thumb.
“Here, let me see that,” Hisomu said, still holding on to her wrist. Nico was pleasantly surprised that he had helped her at all, rather than just enjoying the pain for himself.
After making a quick inspection, he pecked a kiss on the pad of her thumb. A voice in Nico’s head told her to squeal and pull back and make a fuss, however she only sat there, her face turning pink, and not from the sun.
“You too?” Hisomu turned his attention toward Katsuhira. “I know that you can’t feel pain, but you can feel this, can’t you?”
He did the same for Katsuhira, and Nico thought that she could even see a hint of smile at the corner of quiet boy’s lips.
After that, the three lazed around on Hisomu’s towel for quite a while, the swimming lessons forgotten for the time being.
“Nico thinks that we should do this again sometime,” she yawned. The sun was beginning to set, the pictures in the clouds becoming harder to make out into anything. "It'll be like a date!"
"That sounds nice." Katsuhira nodded in agreement, before adding to Hisomu, “You never did really learn how to swim on your own.”
Hisomu had scooted up next to him on the towel again, and Katsuhira hadn’t bothered to move. After all, the evening air was beginning to roll in with the tide.
The taller boy nodded, not really having heard most of the conversation.The arrival of the breeze also managed to rustle Hisomu’s bag, freeing a small photograph. On it, a picture of a tall, scraggly boy with purple hair, no more than nine years old, smiling as he hugged the smaller brown-haired boy beside him. Both were clad in something that looked similar to a hospital gown. Hisomu snatched it back before the others could see. One didn’t spend time constantly landing himself in the hospital and taking time off of school, only to not learn how to spin convincing a lie.
As Nico wandered off to pack up her own unused umbrella and towel, and Katsuhira to roll off of Hisomu to take care of his own few things, Hisomu found himself certain in the fact that even though neither of these two people who were both so very important to him could remember their times with him from years ago, they would build new memories together for sure.