Chapter 2:

friendly quips and surprise parties

autumn leaves and chocolate bars

Katsuo is holding a napkin under his nose, letting it soak the blood dripping down his nostrils.Bookmark here

“Happy birthday to me” He chuckles, making judgemental eye contact at Akihiko.Bookmark here

“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” Bookmark here

“How about 100 times?”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry! It was an accident!”Bookmark here

Katsuo pouts. “I know. Doesn’t mean It didn’t hurt. You kicked a ball right onto my nose.”Bookmark here

It’s been exactly four days since the beginning of the year, and Football practice has already started. They usually run a few laps around the field, stretch, then finally divide in two groups and start playing a few games, mostly games until 2-3 goals, then they switch. Bookmark here

They’re sitting on the bench just outside the field, and Akihiko hadn’t taken off his No. 9 shirt yet. Both of them are sweaty and gross, but Akihiko can’t even bother to get up.Bookmark here

“I have work tomorrow, I’ll give you free ice cream” he whines. Bookmark here

Katsuo cracks a smile. “There’s a very high chance you’ll get fired if you do that”Bookmark here

“I’ll make my dad make omelettes!” Bookmark here

“I can just ask him myself. He loves me”Bookmark here

“I’ll buy you the new volume of S.OULS?”Bookmark here

“Already preordered it”Bookmark here

“Fine then. I’ll buy you lunch for two weeks.”Bookmark here

“Hmmm…” Katsuo tapped his chin with his finger. “Deal.”Bookmark here

Akihiko lets out a victory wail. Then he understands what he just signed up for.Bookmark here

“Why are you the way you are?”Bookmark here

“Hey, you suggested it.”Bookmark here

Akihiko buries his head in Katsuo’s shoulder, muttering about how broke he’s going to be.Bookmark here

Katsuo removes the napkin from his nose, and touches it to make sure the bleeding stops. He ruffles Akihiko’s hair with his other hand. “Let’s go home.” He says.Bookmark here

Akihiko looks up at him, then turns his gaze to his watch. It’s 5pm. Until they finish changing and showering, It’ll be almost 6. Not good. Kanna, Katsuo’s parents, and a few of their friends are in their apartment right that instant, planning for the surprise party. Akihiko was tasked with getting Katsuo distracted, and get him home at 7:30 exactly. He actually has no idea if Katsuo is aware of the planning or not, but knowing him, he probably does.Bookmark here

He remembers the time they were in middle school, when he told him with absolute confidence, that their math teacher and home ec. Teacher were dating. Two months later, they announced their engagement. He remembered staring at the blond with awe, him smirking back.Bookmark here

It was probably when his crush started. Bookmark here

Then it never stopped.Bookmark here

Now, Akihiko’s heart is beating at least 150bpm when Katsuo’s fingers touch his scalp.Bookmark here

God, he’s screwed.Bookmark here

But nevermind that. His mission now is dragging his best friend around for a while, hoping he doesn’t get suspicious, and getting him home just in time. He took on this spectacular quest, and he will complete it even with the cost of his life! Bookmark here

Not really.Bookmark here

But he will do it.Bookmark here

They shower and change to casual clothes, And Akihiko almost needs to physically drag him to a bunch of stores, first to buy shoes, then shorts, then some home supplies, and a gift for his dad’s upcoming birthday. That particular thing is a surprise, even to Katsuo. He bought it immediately after laying his eyes on it, because it was just perfect.Bookmark here

On their trip, Katsuo bought a hat and a bunch of pens, with the excuse that he’s running out of the ones he has at home. Which is a lie. Akihiko knows because he stole multiple of them.Bookmark here

Wait, maybe that’s why they’re gone.Bookmark here

Oops.Bookmark here

Ignoring that tidbit of information, it’s finally time to get to the Katoka family apartment, and Akihiko might be a little too giddy when they walked in, carrying their shopping bags. Bookmark here

Katsuo turns the key and walked into the dark apartment, seemingly confused about why it’s so dark in there when,Bookmark here

“Happy birthday!!!”Bookmark here

Katsuo is taken aback by the many people yelling at his face. He drops his bag and takes a step backwards.Bookmark here

Suddenly, Akihiko started doubting the idea. He knows how badly Katsuo deals with crowds. And he really doesn’t want a repeat of elementary school graduation. Bookmark here

He reaches to him, worried, then he notices the smile on his face. Akihiko relaxes, and smiles too. Bookmark here

They eat cake and celebrate, and Akihiko looks at everyone. There are more people there than he expected. People from Katsuo’s family, some of their friends from middle school, and Saito and Nagata, the guys they usually hang out with at school. He sees Katsuo with his toddler brother on his lap, talking to his aunt and uncle about the latest topics they learned in class, Kanna and her parents walking around praising their son/brother to anyone who’s willing to listen, and he loves it. He likes how Kanna is usually a patronizing, annoying younger sister, but she does genuinely love and care for her brother. He likes how Katsuo’s parents seem to be always working, but when they have time they shower affection and pride on their oldest son.Bookmark here

And he’s happy, because Katsuo deserves all of it.Bookmark here

He is disappointed that his dad isn’t here. But it really isn’t his fault. He has to put food on their plate somehow, and no matter how much Katsuo and him get along, his parents dislike him for some unknown reason.Bookmark here

Well, maybe he does know a little, but it’s a really bad reason anyway.Bookmark here

Akihiko shakes the thoughts off his head and goes to join the conversation.Bookmark here

“So, Katsuo, do you have a girlfriend already?”Bookmark here

Or maybe not.Bookmark here

A week later, there’s a big math exam coming. Who the heck puts math exams on the second week of school? If Akihiko didn’t know for sure their math teacher didn’t have an evil bone in his body, but was only an idiot, he would start a riot.Bookmark here

Katsuo tutors him every day. They sit in Akihiko’s house, eat some snacks and go over the material.Bookmark here

Katsuo has a way with words. And he means it literally. He has a way to explain things the teachers take 120 minutes to teach, in 30 minutes. Which is perfect for Akihiko, since he starts to drift off at about that time in class. Katsuo doesn’t mind that Akihiko constantly changes his sitting, chews on his pencil, or makes noise, but he does tell him when he gets distracted, or starts to stare off into space. Bookmark here

He takes Ritalin before the test. His head spins after. He doesn’t know how he did, and he doesn’t want to. He shuts down Saito and Nagata when they try to talk about it, and changes the subject extremely quickly when his dad tries to bring it up.Bookmark here

Katsuo takes him out to slushies, and insists on paying. Akihiko lets him. He might be a gentleman, but part time work in a small business doesn’t pay this much.Bookmark here

The day after, a group of teens from his grade come to Ayami’s, just when he’s working. He greets them, does some small talk about class, and watches them enjoy their ice cream. He really needs to take his friends here. He talks about it all the time, but none of them ever tried the delicious goodness of Ayami’s ice cream.Bookmark here

Speaking of Ayami, she started talking about her daughter, and how much she thinks they’re going to Like each other. From all she talks about, he gathered she’s in his grade, has a similar personality, and is tall. Maybe he knows her. He’ll have to ask for her last name.Bookmark here

Ayami mentioned she’s thinking about opening another branch of the shop, so she’ll have to hire more people, and maybe even tell someone her ice cream recipe.Bookmark here

Well, for this one, Akihiko is definitely interested. Bookmark here

His shift ends, and he listens to a playlist he made the night before at 4am when he couldn’t sleep, and just when he enters his house, it hits him.Bookmark here

He forgot to ask for her last name.Bookmark here

Well, no need to panic. He has more shifts later that week. He’ll just ask then. If he manages to remember. Maybe he should make sure of it. He’ll write it down later.Bookmark here

(he doesn’t write it down later)Bookmark here

His dad is working late, so he makes dinner for himself, and does something he should never do when his dad is home.Bookmark here

He eats in his room. The horror.Bookmark here

He does a part of his homework, and gets bored. So he goes to his window and throws a rubber ball outside of it, scoring straight in the open window just in front of it.Bookmark here

When he says Katsuo is his neighbor, he isn't lying. The first time they interacted outside of class was just after the day Akihiko transferred, when he noticed a familiar face on the balcony right outside his window, and started a conversation. He was a chatty kid, definitely. Bookmark here

Katsuo grabs the ball and throws it back. It hits the top of the window frame, and falls to the ground. Akihiko topples down laughing.Bookmark here

“It’s not funny!” he scowls.Bookmark here

“It’s very funny”Bookmark here

“Shut up”Bookmark here

“What are you gonna do? Hit me with a ball?”Bookmark here

“Shut uuup”Bookmark here

Akihiko sticks his tongue out, and Katsuo starts laughing too. He walks out to his balcony, and rests his elbows on the railing.Bookmark here

“I’m taking you and Nagata and Saito to ice cream at Ayami’s tomorrow” he announces. Bookmark here

“Ohoho, finally. I was wondering how long it will take you.”Bookmark here

“I meant to do it eventually”Bookmark here

“We could've just go there ourselves and embarrass you to death on your shift”Bookmark here

“Yeah, you of all people, causing public disturbance”Bookmark here

“You do present a great point”Bookmark here

“I made you a playlist” he says, suddenly remembering.Bookmark here

“Another one?”Bookmark here

“Obviously. Someone needs to teach you taste.”Bookmark here

“My taste is fantastic, thank you very much.”Bookmark here

“We can agree to disagree on that one.”Bookmark here

“I will not. What’s wrong with my music taste?”Bookmark here

“Well, except for everything, not much.”Bookmark here

“You see, you don’t even have an answer for that. My music taste is fine.”Bookmark here

Akihiko quiets down for a few seconds, then he pouts.Bookmark here

“Hey the weather is nice today”Bookmark here

Katsuo laughs. He smiles at him, and Akihiko flutters. He loves that smile. That smile that lights up the room, but is not frequent. He wishes he could see the smile more often.Bookmark here

“I think I found a place I’d like to work in.” Katsuo suddenly announces.Bookmark here

“Really? Where? “Bookmark here

“It’s an information analytics place. I only have to write some documents, and they said My record was good for them”Bookmark here

“When do you start working?”Bookmark here

“What? I don’t even know if I’m going to work there!”Bookmark here

“Your problems with commitment will be a problem in the future.” Akihiko scolds.Bookmark here

Katsuo throws his head down, and Akihiko grins. Just then, Kanna barges into Katsuo’s room, notifying him that their mother made dinner and he needs to go eat right now or they’ll start without him. Katsuo sighs and waves him goodbye.Bookmark here

“I’ll send you the playlist”Bookmark here

“Absolutely not”Bookmark here

“I’m sending you the playlist”Bookmark here

Katsuo Scoffs and follows Kanna away from his room. Akihiko watches him until both of them until they are out of sight, then he turns around and face-plumpts into his bed.Bookmark here

That night, he dreams of choking. He dreams of long nails scratching his skin, leaving bits of blood on his shirt, and screams following him no matter where his legs take him. No matter where he tries to hide. He dreams of kitchen supplies and shattered glass. Of cries of fear and worry.Bookmark here

He wakes up hyperventilating. His dad is there to hold him, tell him to breathe, and stroke his hair while he tries not to throw up.Bookmark here

He didn’t have these nightmares for a while. He doesn’t know when or why they came back, but he does not appreciate their appearance. Bookmark here

He breaths. He breathes and he calms down. He watches his chest go up and down, and drinks a glass of water.Bookmark here

His dad talks to him. He says a lot, but Akihiko manages to take in only a few.Bookmark here

“I got you, son”Bookmark here

He’s okay. He’ll be okay.Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
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