Chapter 9: The Unintentional Reunion
I shouldn't be bringing pork soup to a place like this, Takahiro thought to himself as he clutched his homemade tonjiru in one hand and rang the doorbell with the other. He had a key, but good manners had prevented him from ever using it.
To his surprise, the apartment's inhabitant answered immediately.
"Takahiro! Come in!" Usagi ushered, eyes immediately drawn to the bag in Takahiro's hand. He looked exhausted, but pleased to see him.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Usagi asked, directing him to the couch.
"I needed a break," Takahiro answered honestly, handing the soup to his friend and stretching before he sat down. "Here, this is for you."
"I can't thank you enough. I haven't eaten in a while," Usagi confessed, accepting the bag and transferring its contents to the fridge before settling down opposite Takahiro and lighting a cigarette.
"Really? Why not?"
"I tend to become easily absorbed by my writing," he answered. "When inspiration struck, I awoke out of a dead sleep sometime last night, and I've been attached to my computer ever since." He exhaled a cloud of smoke. "Enough about me—how are you? How's Misaki?"
"He's great," Takahiro said, adoration coloring his voice. "He's so helpful—always does the chores and the cooking. He never asks for anything. I can hardly believe he's only twelve...when did he get so mature?"
"He has a remarkable role model," Usagi answered with a quiet intensity.
Takahiro blushed. "You're too generous, Usagi-chan," he said. "I'm afraid I rely on you more than I should."
"Nonsense," Usagi scoffed. "Not once have you been an imposition. Besides," he continued, gesturing towards the fridge, "I suspect you have taken better care of me than the other way around, recently."
"You deserve a break, too, Usagi-chan," Takahiro suggested. "Hey...come out for a drink with me!"
Usagi looked uncomfortable. "I'm so sorry, my friend. In fact, I'm expecting company, though I'd be able to join you another night when this particular manuscript is completed. I'm trying to make a good first impression by being timely, see."
"Oh, of course," Takahiro assured him. "Who's coming over? Your editor?"
"No, I thought I'd have it proofed once before showing it to them. Actually, do you remember my neighbor, Kamijou Hiroki?"
Did he remember? Pfft. "Yes, I remember. He's on his way here, you said?" Takahiro asked, suddenly feeling his stomach clench with anticipation.
Usagi nodded. "He usually gives my work a once-over before anyone else can read it." Usagi smiled, then inclined his head. "Other than you, that is."
The doorbell rang.
"Well, speak of the devil," the young writer said, annoyance flashing across his face. "He's early."
Akihiko rose and had barely unlatched the door when it was thrust the rest of the way open, nearly clipping him on his giant square chin as he jumped back to avoid it. Hiroki breezed inside, not even glancing at Akihiko, and tossing his bag unceremoniously on the couch without noticing it was otherwise occupied. Takahiro gave a little squeak as he narrowly avoided being hit.
"I have your manuscript, loser," Hiroki said, waving a hand towards the couch and making a beeline for the fridge. "You can thank me for this generous service later, as right now you should get busy making the corrections I've indicated. Seriously, were you even conscious when you wrote chapter nine?"
Hiroki opened the door to the fridge and stuck his nose inside. "Wait...why the hell is there food in here?"
Akihiko cleared his throat. "Hiroki, you remember my friend from high school, Takahashi Takahiro?"
Hiroki tensed up and turned around slowly. Takahiro waved a hand in greeting, rising from his place on the couch. "Hello, Hiroki-san. It's been a while."
Panic flashed across Hiroki's face.
"Takahiro, hello! How have you been?" Hiroki said, closing the fridge and suddenly moving closer to the couch, snatching up his bag. "Ah—never mind—dumb question. Sorry. I'm an idiot. I've...yeah. I've got to go."
Akihiko looked confused. "Working on your thesis?"
"Nah, I'm going out drinking," Hiroki said, ruffling his long hair with one hand before crossing his arms uncomfortably over his chest. He had definitely lost weight since Takahiro had last seen him.
"You should just start paying your rent at 'Hanami' instead," Akihiko called after him in a disapproving tone of voice, referencing a popular bar near T University where Hiroki was a regular.
Hiroki was halfway out the door when he stopped short, hand still on the knob, pausing as though trying to remember something he'd forgotten.
"Akihiko, make those corrections to chapter nine, and it should be fine. It was really a brilliant piece," he said, still facing the hallway. He turned abruptly and sought eye contact with Takahiro.
"Takahiro, I wish you all the best," Hiroki said rather formally, with the closest thing to sincerity he could achieve in his voice.
He let the door fall shut behind him.
The silence echoed in the spacious penthouse. "What was all that about?" Akihiko wondered out loud. "I haven't seen him so flustered in a while."
For once, Takahiro was a little ahead of the game. Looking Hiroki in the eye had reminded both of them of their last meeting, outside the gates of the Usami estate. Luckily, since everyone assumed Takahiro didn't quite get it, it was easy to play up to his own stereotype. He shrugged.
"Isn't it as Usagi-chan said a long time ago? That was Hiroki in a good mood, right?"
Akihiko lit another cigarette and laughed, all smiles again. "You're right. Trust me, I've seen him in a bad mood—it gets much, much worse. No less yelling, but more crying."
Takahiro felt saddened by the flippant way Usagi had tossed out that remark. He moved for the door, too.
"I should really be on my way," he said. "I don't want to keep you from your work."
Akihiko was about to protest, but sighed heavily as he glanced at the clamped stack of papers that had spilled out on the couch when Hiroki dumped his bag.
"You're probably right," he said regretfully. He walked Takahiro to the door, then clapped him on the shoulder, his hand lingering. "Thank you again for the soup. Where are you headed?"
"I have to go meet up with someone," Takahiro answered. "I'll see you next week. Lunch, maybe?"
The two waved, and parted.
The first bar Takahiro went to, he sat by himself. It seemed his thoughts had followed him out the door tonight after all, so he figured a little alcohol might be nice to keep them both company. He downed the first and the second quickly, then sipped on his following drinks at a slow but steady rate.
Seeing Hiroki after four years had been unsettling—like a moment out of one of Misaki's mangas.
That jittery, weird feeling was back again, except this time, Takahiro had nothing to lose. He finished his drink, took a shot for the road, and stood up, determined. What was the name of the bar that Hiroki was going to? Hanami? Takahiro smiled.
He might not have had the opportunity to explore his feelings all those years ago, but that didn't mean he couldn't get a little closure.
Akihiko stared at the screen of his computer through the haze of smoke billowing off the end of his cigarette, his eyes feeling scratchy and dry and his shoulder muscles in excruciating pain.
"Fuck this," he growled to himself, laying his forehead on the crook of his extended arm and thinking of Takahiro's invitation. "I'm never paying attention to a deadline again!"
A/N: Didn't know what to name the bar, so I picked Hanami (it's the name of the Japanese restaurant in my town, and it refers to the cherry blossom viewing).
Hopefully someone laughed at that square chin snipe at Akihiko, because I'm cracking myself up over here.
I'd love some reviews :D special thanks again to puutiti and damns-hot-as-hell!