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.

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

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

“How about 100 times?”

“I’m sorry! It was an accident!”

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

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.

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.

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

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

“I’ll make my dad make omelettes!”

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

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

“Already preordered it”

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

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

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

“Why are you the way you are?”

“Hey, you suggested it.”

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

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.

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.

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.

It was probably when his crush started.

Then it never stopped.

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

God, he’s screwed.

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!

Not really.

But he will do it.

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.

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.

Wait, maybe that’s why they’re gone.


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.

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

“Happy birthday!!!”

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

Or maybe not.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Well, for this one, Akihiko is definitely interested.

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.

He forgot to ask for her last name.

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.

(he doesn’t write it down later)

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

He eats in his room. The horror.

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.

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.

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.

“It’s not funny!” he scowls.

“It’s very funny”

“Shut up”

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

“Shut uuup”

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

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

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

“I meant to do it eventually”

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

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

“You do present a great point”

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

“Another one?”

“Obviously. Someone needs to teach you taste.”

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

“We can agree to disagree on that one.”

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

“Well, except for everything, not much.”

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

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

“Hey the weather is nice today”

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.

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

“Really? Where? “

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

“When do you start working?”

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

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

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.

“I’ll send you the playlist”

“Absolutely not”

“I’m sending you the playlist”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

“I got you, son”

He’s okay. He’ll be okay.

Taylor Victoria