Kato got up to his usual routine and went to breakfast. After a few days sitting at this table, the two other boys who became regulars finally introduced themselves. They were both just a hair taller than Kato, and both must be ukes considering they’re sitting here with Kato and Murata.
Both had shown up at the same time last month are so were also new. The boy with the brownish hair was named Akio Matsuoka and the dark haired was Katashi Ikeda. They were well aware of Kato and Murata’s names since they talked so much.
They talked for a bit during breakfast about the school and what classes each was in. Kato wondered why they chose now to speak up, but he let it go. Maybe they were shy by nature or scared to be here or some other reason. He didn’t want to pry.
Takahashi wasn’t there. Kato imagined that he was probably nursing that ankle. He finished eating, returned to his room to get his stuff and went to class.
Kato was eager to hear Takahashi sing more but today the instructor had the entire class sing along to an English song. If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn it was Sister Mary’s suggestion that they do so. It’s one thing to speak English, but singing it was super difficult for Kato. He didn’t know when or where to stress syllables—half of a word on this note and drag out the other half on three more notes— it sucked. He was happy that with the whole class singing as his voice, and mistakes, were drowned out. After that the instructor taught more music theory, something called syncopation.
At break, Kato wasn’t thirsty, nor did he need to use the bathroom, so he got up and stood next to Takahashi, leaning against the wall. “Sup?” he said.
Takahashi looked to Kato with a suspicious-looking smile. “What?”
Takahashi shook his head. “Silly.”
“So, what’s for dinner?”
Takahashi started laughing. “You are so easy to read. I knew you’d ask me that.”
Kato grinned. “I’m a growing boy.”
“What the hell?” Kato yelped. “Doesn’t it take all day to make that?”
“Yup, but that’s not a problem.”
“Where to you get the ingredients? Do they sell that here?”
Takahashi made a shush sound. “Never mind where I got them. Just be at my place at 5.”
“What are we going to do tonight?”
“I dunno. I’ve got cards, other games, my guitar, whatever. Let’s hang out, eat lots of food, then eat more food, and sleep it off.” Takahashi smiled.
Kato fidgeted. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything,” Takahashi smiled.
“Okay.” Kato went to sit back in his chair and wait for the next class.
This time the class was about opera. Kato wasn’t very enthusiastic about opera. The instructor played a video, but it was all Italian with Japanese subtitles. The singing was alright but unintelligible. He zoned out watching it while thinking about dinner.
Lunch came and went. Kato was waiting outside the dorm, ready to go to the Sports Complex for afternoon classes as Takahashi walked up.
“Nah, it feels okay to walk on now,” Takashi informed him.
There was no sign of Murata and Nakamura, so Kato said, “Let’s go.”
“Ping pong today, eh?”
“Yeah, I’m in the same class as Murata-san and Nakamura-san,” Kato smiled.
“I might get bored watching the game and drop by.” Takahashi flashed that sparkly smile of his.
“Oh, cool. I wish your ankle didn’t hurt. We could play doubles.”
Takahashi smiled. “Maybe next weekend. Besides, I’m not good. You will likely lose with me on your team.”
“Nah,” Kato waved him off. “No need to even keep score. Just play.”
They walked the rest of the way without saying anything. Kato simply enjoyed the company.
At the entrance, they parted. Kato went to the building with the ping pong tables and waited for Murata, who ran in at the last minute, huffing away.
“What took you?” Kato asked.
“I was hanging out with Nakamura-san and lost track of the time.”
“Oh. Well, let’s run our warm-up laps and start playing.”
“Wait, where is Nakamura-san? Is he coming?” Kato inquired.
“Yeah, he’ll be here in a minute. He had to go back and grab something.”
Once Nakamura showed up, they grabbed Kato a partner and they played doubles for about 90 minutes. Then Kato told them he needed a break and went to the restroom.
When he returned, he saw that Takahashi was seated in a chair watching Nakamura and Murata play. Kato sat in the chair next to him with a huff.
“Tired?” Takahashi asked.
“Yeah, been a long week. I kind of just want to relax.”
“It is a nice day out, you wanna go?”
“Skip class?” Kato asked incredulously.
“Not precisely. Friday afternoons, nobody cares if you skip the second half of class. Unless you’re in a team game like baseball and they need you to man a position.”
“Oh. Ok then, sure. Let’s go.”
Takahashi got up and lead Kato out of the building to the same place they had their picnic. There was a nice tree in the shade and Takahashi sat down and leaned against it, wincing a little.
“Your back!” Kato warned.
“Nah, it’s ok.” Takahashi chuckled.
Kato sat down beside him and leaned against the tree too. They both sat there for a few minutes, people watching. They had a good view of the track and field. Kato glanced at Takahashi, wondering what he was thinking about.
Takahashi hissed and stretched his leg out to relieve the pressure on his ankle. Kato felt concern but didn’t know what he could do about it. He just looked at Takahashi.
“I’m fine, Kato-san,” Takahashi said without so much as a look toward Kato.
“Oh.” Kato wondered if he was really the open book that people claimed since he could be read that easily.
They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Kato liked comfortable silence for short periods of time, but his mind always seemed to want to ask questions. “Who are those three boys you eat with every day?”
Takahashi looked at Kato, then looked back at the field. “Some semes I’ve known since last year. We all started at the same time.”
“Friends?” Kato asked.
“No? Huh?” Kato couldn’t believe that.
“They are classmates, not friends.” Takahashi looked down at his hands.
Takahashi looked at Kato, then back to the field. “A friend would stick up for me, stand by me, help me if I’m in trouble. I just eat chow with them. I won’t even pretend any one of them would lift a fucking finger to help me if I was in trouble.” Kato could hear a little bitterness in those words.
“But you look like you always have fun and laugh.”
“Yeah, well I’ve been eating with them for a year and I know how to be cordial and polite. They do have a sense of humor, but that doesn’t mean I’m their friend.”
Kato still couldn’t understand why Takahashi would even sit at the same table as people like that. “Do you have any friends?” Kato asked slowly, and softly.
“Nope.” Takahashi spoke frankly.
Kato felt disappointed and rejected by that answer. His heart sank. He figured it must mean that he was probably just Takahashi’s uke, and nothing more. He looked off to the side and pretended to be interested in something, hiding his face from Takahashi as a his eyes stung a little.
Takahashi sighed. Kato felt him grab his hand gently but firmly. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Kato turned to look at Takahashi. “I meant out there,” he pointed at the field. “I have no friend among them. It’s why I fight.”
“Huh?” Kato didn’t get it.
“I fight to protect myself, to ward off trouble, and because there is nobody that will do it for me. If they ever thought that I was soft for even a moment, the wolves would come after me and break me.”
“I also fight with you a lot too, but it’s different somehow.”
“I’m sure I’m half the problem there,” Kato admitted.
Takahashi chuckled. “Only half, eh?” he asked sarcastically.
Kato smacked Takahashi on the arm. “Hey!”
Takahashi laughed in earnest.
“So, does that mean you think of me as a friend? Not just your uke?” Kato just had to get some clarification here.
“Yes, yes. You’re my friend. Do you see me hanging out with anyone else?”
“No,” Kato said with a smiled. Then he added, “But what about Murata-san and Nakamura-san?”
Takahashi gave a snort. “Murata-san is your friend, and I really don’t know Nakamura-san all that well. I mean, we played an hour’s worth of cards together. That was probably the most time I’ve ever spent with the guy at one time.”
“Oh. Well, I really like Murata-san. We talk a lot.”
“Probably about your asshole of a seme, if I had to guess.”
“I—” Kato stopped, mouth open. He began to blush.
“Bingo!” Takahashi grinned.
Kato was full red now. “I never once used that word to describe you.” Kato crossed his arms.
Takahashi laughed. “Oh? Then what word did you use?”
Kato zipped his mouth shut and shook his head. Takahashi shoved Kato over and jumped on him, straddling Kato’s body and pinning Kato’s wrists to the ground. He looked down at Kato as they both laughed. “Not gonna tell me, eh?”
Between laughs, Kato replied, “Never!”
“I bet you called me a wolf, didn’t you!” Takahashi imitated a howl.
“But you are a wolf!” Kato laughed.
“Oh?” Takahashi released his wrists and attacked Kato’s ribs, tickling him. Kato was very ticklish, and he squirmed and kicked and laughed. He was able to attack Takahashi’s ribs too and Takahashi jumped off to the side as he was also, apparently, ticklish. Kato then sprang up and jumped on Takahashi, attempting to pin him down. They rolled around and wrestled for another minute, both laughing. Takahashi was bigger and stronger, but Kato was quick.
After their match—that had no clear winner—ended, both boys were lying on their backs panting and looking up at the leaves of the tree above them and the soft, fluffy clouds in the sky.
“I wish winter wouldn’t come,” Kato lamented.
“Yeah,” Takahashi agreed.
The chime for the end of class at the Sports Complex rang. Kato woke up. He hadn’t realized he had fallen asleep. He looked over and saw Takahashi standing, leaning against the tree.
“Hey, sleepyhead. Ready to go back?”
Kato stretched and replied, “Yeah.” He got up and the boys started heading back.
“Did you fall asleep too?” Kato asked.
Takahashi chuckled. “No.”
“Oh, why did you let me sleep? I’m sorry.” Kato didn’t mean to fall asleep. It was just the perfect spot on a very nice day to do it.
“Don’t be. You looked very peaceful. And you were snoring softly.” Takahashi snickered.
“Yeah, I tend to do that if I sleep on my back.” Kato stretched again. “I think I found a root or a rock or something to sleep on. Kind of sore.”
Kato attempted to point. “Beneath my right shoulder blade.”
Takahashi moved behind Kato and put his left hand on Kato’s shoulder, motioning him to stop. With his right hand, he started to rub at the spot Kato was hurting. “Ouch,” Kato said with a whine.
“Give it a minute. Rubbing it causes blood to circulate better and will make the pain go away, but it hurts to start.”
“Yeah, well, it kind of tickles too. Be careful,” Kato warned.
Takahashi snickered. He rubbed the spot and surrounding tissue for a couple of minutes then let go. “Better?”
Kato stretched a little and was surprised that the dull ache was almost completely gone. “Yeah, feels much better. How’d you know how to do that?”
“Sports medicine. Just some things you pick up playing ball. I learned to be a very good masseur. If you are a good boy, maybe some time I will give you a great massage.”
Kato quite liked the idea of a massage, but he did blush a tiny bit at the thought of Takahashi being the one to do it.
As they reached the dorm, Takahashi reminded him, “5 o’clock. Don’t be late.”
“Yes sir!” Kato exclaimed in English and saluted him.
Takahashi simply smiled, shaking his head as he walked to his wing.
Kato went back to his room to get a few things ready for his swap.