Chapter 17:

… Then Went as a Guest

Cursed Lines

This chapter is from Konya's POV.

I never thought I'd spend so much time thinking about what I should wear when going to a classmate's. I knew I wasn't expecting anything unnecessarily, but the thought of being alone once again filled me with strange anxiety and excitement at the same time. However, it would be easier if Kiyoshi chose a more neutral place, such as a library, instead of inviting me to his place.

A part of me wanted to see it as a date, and a more sensible part reminded me that it was just an offer to help me study. Thinking of this meeting as something special was so tempting that it kept me awake all night. I wondered what his room looked like, his space, and what interesting things it would tell me about him.

I got tired of standing in front of the wardrobe, so I finally decided on black pants and a T-shirt and threw an unbuttoned shirt over my shoulders. When I was going to the indicated address, it occurred to me at times that maybe it was a bad idea. I tried to convince myself that despite the awareness of the price I would incur for temporary happiness, maybe it was not worth exposing myself to this pain. However, when I entered the store to buy something so as not to come empty-handed, the freezer with ice cream caught my eye, there were mint-flavoured ones on top. With a smile, I remembered our return home together and confirmed my belief that it was a good decision.

I knocked, my heart was a little lighter but beating faster, increasing with each step I heard closer to the flat's entrance. Kiyoshi opened the door for me and greeted me with a nervous smile. He looked at me and then at himself in tracksuits and soured a bit, obviously unhappy with the difference in our attire. I hoped he wished he'd tried harder than said I'd overdone it.

However, I knew what would cheer him up and handed him the groceries. Several drinks, snacks and five pieces of mint ice cream. I watched with joy as his eyes sparkled with happiness at the sight of his favourite delicacy. He invited me to the dining room, due to the larger amount of space, and I admit I was a bit disappointed.

"I thought I'd have the perfect opportunity to have a look at your room," I said casually, placing my bag on the chair. "I'm curious to see what Cupid's room looks like."

Kiyoshi turned to me furious, and I don't think even ice cream could ease his anger. He looked funny when he was nervous, even more so when his eyes said he wanted to hit me with the nearest object. Unfortunately for me, it would be a frying pan, although perhaps I shouldn't have worried, recalling my chalk experience.

"You just lost your chance," he grumbled dissatisfied and started to prepare tea.

"What if I ask for it as a reward for good academic progress?"

"Only if I rate it satisfactory enough," Kiyoshi said coldly.

It seemed to me that his slightly nervous behaviour was due to the tension caused by my presence, and I was nervous too. There is a big difference between being alone in and out of school. However, Kiyoshi relaxed a bit as we started to study. I did not expect him to be such a demanding and patient teacher. He stated that it was years of helping Daisuke. He refused to be drawn into any distracting chatter and slapped my hand with a pencil whenever he saw my mind wandering elsewhere.

I liked his presence and closeness as he leaned in to see what nonsense I was writing. He also shared the methods of learning languages that he knew which I could use when preparing for the next tests. I treated it as an expression of concern that I especially wanted to remember.

After a few hours, however, I felt that I had no more strength, my brain was steaming from the excess of learning. I was more and more tempted to hold Kiyoshi's hand, which seemed to be closer to mine every time he placed it on the table.

"I'm begging for a break," I announced, unable to stop myself and grabbing his hand in a pleading gesture.

I was surprised he didn't push me away, instead, he took a deep breath and looked away, blushing. Again, I felt that electrifying heat that was so addictive. And no, I didn't want it to end because those moments gave me so much happiness. Kiyoshi smiled faintly and got up from the table.

"Yeah, it's a good time for dinner," he announced, heading towards the kitchen. I thought maybe I should go, but when he noticed that I was starting to pack my things, he looked at me furiously. "I'm used to cooking for two, so don't be silly and help me set the table."

I obediently complied with his request, then watched as he finished preparing the meal and moved around the kitchen with great ease. Something that will always be unattainable to me. It smelled great, and I was already impressed by his skills. After the first bite, I thought I might fall in love even more. The dish was spicy, just as I like it, but from Kiyoshi's not-so-satisfied expression, I concluded that he had added too much spice for his own taste.

I looked at the almost empty plate and felt my heart clench. Had he made this dinner with me in mind? Did he remember what I told him once? Why? Was there a slight chance that he would reciprocate my feelings? How is this possible?

"How did you become so good at English?" I asked him to stop thinking about it.

"When I started to be interested in painting, I decided that one day I would go on a several-month trip to museums in Europe. I decided that it was worth getting ready, so I studied on my own, watched a lot of documentaries, and listened to programs in English, and somehow it stayed in my head," he replied with a smile to this memory.

"I'd love to join this trip," I said, watching his reaction. He looked as if he had temporarily drifted off somewhere, remembering something, and was presenting his biggest blush of the day so far. "Has the thought of my company alienated you that much?"

"On the contrary," he replied in a barely audible whisper and started to collect the dishes.

"I am passionate about history, such a trip would be equally interesting for me."

I offered to do the washing up, which Kiyoshi agreed to and said it would earn me a dessert. He set about wiping the dishes himself.

"I noticed," he said, putting down the first plate. "History is the only class you seem interested in, even though you don't contribute much."

I smiled, he couldn't deny that he wasn't watching me, it was a nice feeling. I wanted to comment on this but decided it wasn't worth the risk of losing the dessert. It was a good decision because when I smelled it, I almost jumped for joy. Cheesecake, my beloved homemade cheesecake! He had to prepare all this with me in mind. I ate two pieces and looked at the rest of the cake with regret.

"I'll pack the rest for you," Kiyoshi said, seeing how I followed my favourite delicacy with my eyes.

"Do you think I've made enough progress to get the promised reward?" I asked in a pleading tone.

"All right, come on."

I felt like I was going to some temple, I wanted to finally see the space where he spends the most time outside of school. It's a big step in our relationship, isn't it? Should I return the favour, and invite him over some time? Under what pretext? How much time do I have left? No, I told myself, if Eros's genes were to take over, Kiyoshi would have hated me long ago. What happened that day gave me so much hope that I decided to fight for my own happiness and not give it to anyone.

Cupid's room was very ordinary, with a single bed in the corner, a desk, a bookshelf, a dresser, and a small easel. There were paintings on the walls, I asked if they were his, but he denied it, saying that they were simply reproductions of his favourite works, and he wouldn't hang his own so as not to feed his pride, which he didn't have much anyway.

However, I asked him to show me his work, and he sighed heavily and told me to wait a while. In the meantime, I looked at his collection of books and picked up one of the grandest. I sat on the bed and started flipping through the album. The images I was looking at were dark and caused me incomprehensible anxiety, but at the same time, they seemed insanely magnetic. I was so engrossed in it that I didn't notice when Kiyoshi sat next to me, arm in arm, watching me turn the pages. I slammed the book shut and apologized for taking it without asking.

"It doesn't matter," he replied with a smile. "You just happened upon one of my favourite painters."

"Bek..."* I tried to read the name of the artist. "I won't even try to read his name."

"I have problems with that too. This artist was from Poland. Do not worry. Got it, you wanted to see it." He handed me a huge briefcase. "Mom loves to store everything, so there are things in there that I'm not proud of."

We didn't go back to studying that afternoon, and I kept looking at Kiyoshi's work, asking him lots of questions in the process. I watched him try out different techniques and styles, looking for his favourite theme, and I felt honoured to be able to watch it. I thought he was insanely talented. When it was time to say goodbye, I felt immense sadness, but I couldn't stop time on that day and replay it over and over again, I could only hope that someday it would happen again.

"This is the only time I can count on your help?" I asked as I put on my shoes.

"We can always study together in the library," he replied, eyeing me carefully. "And I think we can stop pretending we don't know each other at school."

*It's a reference to Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński.