by Morita Kuniko (森田邦子)
The library was my sanctuary. Sure, every now and then I had to deal with the noise from other students’ rendezvous in the stacks a few rows over, as well as with others playing pranks on their friends as they suffered through the silence of the cold, dark stacks, but for me, it was the only place I could safely retreat and gather my thoughts. It wasn’t even that I studied there a lot; I never really studied for tests anyways, but it gave me a place to be, away from the tiny, cramped apartment I inhabited.
“Yo! Ryou, my man, cooped up in here again?” The voice that cuts through the music beating through my headphones also reverberates through the library, drawing more than a couple of pairs of eyes our way. I just shrink into my chair, hoping to avoid talking to my friend for a little while longer. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Eric, but the man was loud, and always insisted on greeting me in English, drawing even further attention to us. I was able to click around on my laptop a little more before a large hand comes slamming down on my shoulder and pulls off my headphones, jarring my concentration. Knowing I couldn’t ignore him now, I swivel around in the chair and stare up, a tired smirk spreading across my face.
“Hey Eric. I thought you had class today,” I intone, purposefully speaking in quicker Japanese than I normally would to Eric, just to exasperate him, the smirk spreading just the tiniest bit.
Eric also switches to Japanese then, albeit a slower, more halting Japanese. “Nah, the professor came down with a case of the sniffles, so no class today. I know you’re not doing anything but stalling, so let’s go grab a bite to eat, yeah?”
I slump forward and groan.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Minutes later, walking down the walk back to the station, Eric gives me a friendly, joking shove, and I trip and stumble into the path of a bicycle coming up behind me.
My bag goes sliding under a bush, and I hear the clang of the bike bouncing on the sidewalk and the startled cry of the rider falling to the ground. After a few moments, head ringing, I roll over and swipe my hand under the bush to find my bag, getting more than a few scrapes for my trouble.
The soft curses and muttering from my left cause me to look over. Seeing a suit, I let out a silent curse myself; the salarymen along my route are never very friendly, throwing me glares rather than a friendly hello more often than not. For this, I’m likely to get a lecture from some guy my father’s age about how my generation has no manners and no attention span.
Instead, the face that turns towards me is young; I vaguely recall maybe seeing it in my required marketing class. It’s an attractive face, and I find myself quickly averting my eyes before a blush can rise. I’m vaguely aware of Eric pulling me up by my elbow, babbling in his rough Japanese, apologizing, but I am mostly caught up in the beat pounding in my ears. I shuffle, adjusting my bag in my arms, refusing to meet the other student’s eyes.
Suddenly, my chin is grabbed by smooth, cool hands. I briefly see rich brown eyes before my face is turned side to side, presumably to check for damage. Eric can’t stop laughing, the bastard. I’ll think up a suitable revenge for this.
“Oh good, it looks like you didn’t get too scratched up!” The other boy smiles widely in relief, the smile reaching his eyes. God, he really is good-looking.
…and there was the blush. Goddamnit.
I jerk my face out of the other boy’s hands before it becomes too apparent, and start sputtering at Eric, in English this time, in an attempt to further hide my embarrassment.
“You, me, train station, now.” I repeat these words, in varying orders in an attempt to both confuse the other boy, whom I hope doesn’t speak enough English to understand, and to get my thoughts in order.
“Hey, you’re in my marketing class, right?” The cheerful Japanese from behind me gives no indication that the other boy understood my desperate attempt at distraction. I slowly turn, a little deer-in-the-headlights, and nod.
“Yannagi Annin. And you are?”
There was no turning back now. I wasn’t so impolite as to run once introductions had been started. I’d missed my chance. “Tamashiro Ryousuke. And this is Eric Carlson, a transfer student to Meikai. Nice to meet you.” I come up from my short bow and stare determinedly at Yannagi’s chin, now wishing I had just stayed in the library.
“I heard you mention you were going over to the station?” Shit. He had understood that.
Eric cuts in, “Yeah! We were gonna go grab some food nearby. Do you want to join us?” He is determinedly ignoring my death glare, on purpose, too, judging by the twitch in the corner of his mouth. Yeah, he was definitely going to pay for this.
Yannagi and Eric hit it off immediately, even with a small language barrier, chatting up a storm about everything: baseball, classes, whether katsu curry was better than donburi, and how annoying their commute was. We learn that he wears the suit because his major is hospitality, and his classes often visit the high-class hotels in Tokyo. Meanwhile, I sulk, wishing I could escape, but not wanting to seem rude. Every now and then, Yannagi’s eyes flick to me, and he smiles, but makes no attempt to draw me into the conversation.
Often someone passes by our table and says hi to Yannagi–a clap on the shoulder, a friendly high five, or just a girlish giggle hidden behind well-manicured hands. Sometimes they say hi to Eric too, because his presence is impossible to miss, however, I am far too easy to pass over. It’s why I make such a good library mouse.
And so I sit there. Finally, I glance at my watch and sigh in relief. It’s now late enough I can get away with begging off having to go home, and do so. Yannagi takes this opportunity to ask me where I live, and inwardly, I groan and panic slightly.
By some cruel trick of fate, we are going in the same direction. I set Eric off towards the right platform, as I do almost every day, leaving Yannagi as my sole company. There is an awkward silence as we stand, side-by-side. Yannagi breaks the silence first.
“So… a library mouse, eh?”
I just give him a glance, out of the corner of my eyes. “Yeah. It’s quiet. I like it there.” I look down at my feet, wishing I lived in the other direction.
“Maybe I’ll come disturb that quiet one day, now that I know a friend of mine is holed up in there.” There’s a wink, and I refuse to acknowledge that my heart rate has sped up against my will.
I avoid the library now, not for any particular reason other than my doctor recommended I get more sun. I sit with Eric on the unused football field outside–the school had to have been playing an elaborate prank on us when it was built–I’d never seen anyone use it other than the RC club and their exploding trucks. Sometimes Yannagi joins us, and at these times, our circle invariably grows larger as people drop by to say hello and don’t leave when they’re done, much to my annoyance.
There is one boy, the sturdy, athletic type that holds a mutual avoidance and dislike with me by unspoken law – we might as well be different species, after all – who calls Yannagi by his first name. I thinks it fits Yannagi; just the sound of ‘Annin’, the way it rolls off my tongue, fits the boy better than a name should. Sometimes I wish I were the one saying it.
Eric calls Yannagi by name, social customs be damned. He is an American–he can get away with it. I envy him, so try it once, just to see what will happen. We are sitting at a picnic table outside between classes, just wasting time. Yannagi is doing homework, or at least, he is supposed to be. He and Eric and another boy are rolling a baseball across the table. Sometimes it hits my book – I don’t need to be studying right now, but as I have the hand-eye coordination of a drunken sheep, I need something to do so that they won’t try to pull me in. I pick it up and roll it back, aiming at Yannagi. I don’t need to fake the terrible aim; it misses Yannagi’s hands by a mile, and he is forced to go running after it.
“Shit, Tama, no wonder you never join in, your aim is terrible!” He’s laughing, but Eric picks up the joke and runs with it, slinging an arm around my shoulder and pretending to coddle me.
“Annin! Such terrible things to say to our Tamashiro! It’s not his fault he is so handicapped!”
This is my chance, and grasping at it, I take it. “Yeah, Annin, I was born clumsy, no need to rub it in!” Everyone stares, and as if realizing what I have just done, my face goes hot, and I look down to stare determinedly at my book. Well, that turned out even worse than I could’ve predicted.
I can feel Yannagi’s eyes on me as me breaks the silence. “So… about that game of catch…” And without another word or terrible comment, they go back to rolling the baseball, and, thankfully, we all pretend that I hadn’t made that mistake.
Later, as we stand outside the convenience store, eating our rice balls and sandwiches, Yannagi stands next to me, and as Eric and the boy from earlier engage in a heated debate about which region has the best baseball team, he nudges my arm and slips something into my hand. It is a bar of chocolate, one with almonds in it. My favorite, the one I buy as a treat for myself, especially when I’m having a rough day. His words barely register as I stare at it in my hand.
“Don’t worry about earlier, I know you didn’t mean to.”
I want to respond, but my throat closes up, cutting any words off. I just nod and give him a weak smile.
I savor the chocolate bar.
The only time I visit the library now is when it rains. I don’t see much of anyone on these days, purposefully picking spots that are almost maze-like in their paths. After the first week into the rainy season, I stop turning around at every footfall I hear, wondering if it’s Yannagi and just bring my headphones and turn up the music.
I jump out of my chair the day Yannagi does come, banging my knee on the desk, and toppling the chair over. He breaks out into laughter, and I drag him off to another part of the stacks to avoid getting kicked out. Or worse, glares from my fellow students.
“Oh man, you should’ve seen your face! You’d think I was a horde of zombies, coming to get you!”
My fist connects solidly with his arm.
“Dammit, it’s not funny! I need the people in here to be the one group that doesn’t move away from me when I walk into the room.” I look to the side, not really meaning for it to have come out that way. For it to have sounded like I was quite that much of a loser. I turn, abruptly, and start back to where my stuff is waiting, but I’m stopped by his words.
“Wait. I’m sorry.”
He’s suddenly behind me, turning my face back towards him.
“I just wanted to get you to loosen up a bit; you’re always so quiet and tightly-wound. I wanted to see if I could get past that.” He presses his lips to mine softly.
I go even more rigid. I don’t respond. I can’t. After a moment, the grip on my face loosens, and I step away. His face is unreadable; I’m positive mine is an open book. I back away and run, only going a few stacks over, half-hoping he’ll follow.
I’m a wreck the next few days. I’m pretty sure Eric knew something was up, no matter how hard I protested that I was fine. I don’t see Yannagi. I keep telling myself I don’t want to, and that it’s for the best. I eventually convince myself it would be okay to want to see him – if only to explain exactly why I could never see him again – but still no sign of him.
Eric invites me out more often now, as if to make up for having lost a member of our circle, and I can’t help but hope we’ll run into Yannagi wherever we go. I catch a glimpse of him every now and then, but can’t meet his eye. I’m used to being a coward, but this time, it grates on me more than I feel comfortable with.
So, the next Monday, two weeks after he kissed me, I purposefully sit down next to him in marketing, abandoning the comfort and anonymity of the back row for ‘Yannagi’s row’ in the front. It is only the fact that we both get to class absurdly early, before anyone else, even the professor, that I can even gather up the courage to do this.
“So…I haven’t seen you around lately–finally decided to stop hanging with the losers?” Foot, meet mouth.
He gives me a sharp, confused glance and doesn’t say anything, but there’s a hint of amusement there.
“Alright, then did you finally wake up, smell the coffee, and realize you didn’t like me?”
He outright laughs then, and I am glad we are alone so that no one else can witness my embarrassment. His laugh is loud, and I can’t help but start to join in.
“Du-dude, you’re the one who’s been avoiding me”
“I have not!” I refuse to classify my voice as a shriek, but I can’t help but notice how high it gets at the end there. “I’ve just been busy. What’s your excuse?”
“You ran away. Most people take that as a no; I was just gracefully backing out.” He gives me a mocking half bow, as best he can while sitting in our awkward lecture chairs.
The blush is back, and it takes all of my willpower not to touch my lips. I turn and look intently at my notes instead, and am thankfully saved by the professor walking in.
Yannagi then takes the rest of the class as an opportunity to tease me mercilessly. He pokes me with his pencil only to look entirely intent on his notes or the lecture whenever I glare at him, he kicks my foot with his, and I have never been more glad of the metal casing that falls all the way to the floor on the front of the desks.
My heart rate has finally settled back to a normal pace when he writes on the top of my notebook, “I’m glad we’re friends again. I was worried I’d made it awkward between us. ”
My heart rate all but stops, and my stomach sinks. Of course. I force a grin on my face, and write back, “Me too.”
After about a week of this, I can’t take it anymore. We haven’t discussed that day, at all, and his “teasing” during class has gotten more and more intimate, without either of us really noticing it. We were both equally surprised today to find our neighboring legs intertwined with each other for the past few minutes. We’d hastily unwound them, but we didn’t even so much as look at each other after that.
Yannagi finally begins to tap my foot with his again, and I relax slightly, but my heart is still doing double-time. I can’t even focus on the lecture anymore, and with horror, I realize that I’m growing hard.
I think of everything, anything to stop it–kittens drowning in ice, missing the last train in the rain, that man who dances in his underwear with maracas in Shibuya, there, that helped a bit, being caught in a snowstorm, being interrupted in the library, shit, Yannagi does that.
Giving up, I stand up, babbling something about a stomach flu and throwing up, hastily gathering my notebooks and running out the door.
Behind me, I hear Yannagi’s voice, “Permission to make sure Tamashiro-san is fine, sir?”, and then I hear footfalls behind me.
My arm is grabbed again, but this time, we are both running, so we fall, books and papers scattering in a mockery of our first collision.
“What the hell, Tama?” He is lying on top of me, and I almost stop breathing. He has to be able to tell, how could he miss it?
His head is too close, everything is too close, and things can’t get any worse, position-wise, so I start to wiggle, trying to get him off of me. At the hitch of his breath, I stop abruptly and just look away, hating myself.
Yannagi climbs off of me, and I look up to see him offering me his hand. He jerks me up to my feet quickly, and as a result, I stumble into him. His arms tighten around me and he kisses the crook my neck, then pulls back to look at me. His eyes have gone from a rich brown to black, and then he is kissing me, and that’s all I can focus on.
It’s not hesitant like last time, but still gentle, and with nowhere to go, I find myself responding, albeit awkwardly; I am nothing if not awkward in everything I do. His lips and tongues are soft against mine, but even I can tell he’s holding back, and suddenly, I don’t want that anymore.
I wiggle my arms free and once they are, grab his lapels, and drag him into the stairwell, the door clanging behind us. I lose the rhythm of the kiss as I try to deepen it, but he picks up what I’m trying to do and makes it that much better. He slams me back against the wall of the stairwell, and the angle my back has to tilt back to reach the wall past the railing tilts my hips that much more into his, and I can’t breathe anymore.
Thankfully, he seems to be doing a good enough job for the both of us. I’ve never been in a relationship that went past my getting a hand up a girl’s shirt before she slapped it back down, or a guy’s hand down my pants before I backed out, too scared to continue, but I’m drowning in this. His hands slide – one to cup my head, one to wrap around my waist. Mine are all over the place – moving from his head to digging into his shoulders like a cat, and from the sounds I can hear, that’s probably not the most far-off comparison.
The hand on my waist dives beneath the bar, kneading my ass and pushing my hips even further into his. My hips start a rhythm, following the one he set with his mouth and becoming more and more frantic the harder I get. I can barely think, but the last coherent thought I have is ‘Well, at least one of us knows what he’s doing’ before I jump on him, my legs twining around his waist, closing whatever millimeters of space there was between our clothed dicks.
He laughs, but it quickly turns to a groan as I start gyrating–a motion I didn’t even know my hips could do until this moment, but it feels so good that I discard any thought of where this hidden talent came from and focus on contact. My head hits the wall again as he stumbles into me, but as it causes his dick to ram into mine, I really could care less.
We both keep moving, frantically, jerkily, noises spilling from lips and echoing off the stairwell walls, until I cry out, most of the sound swallowed by Yannagi’s mouth, but it’s enough that I feel him shudder as well, and we slide down the wall. I vaguely wonder where we’ll get new pants from, but far more pressing is the fact that I can hear the sound of the end-of-class bell.
Yannagi stands up quickly, knocking me to the floor, but as soon as he’s up, he extends a hand down to me, and I smile–the warmth from his hand seeming to spread throughout my body. We make it down the stairs in record time, and I barely notice the half-walk, half-run to the station. The people and trees all sort of rush and blur together, and if I had been more aware, I would’ve punched out Yannagi for dragging me outside in that state.
We stand on the platform–thankfully in the middle of the day, it is empty. His hand brushes against mine, and if I were anyone with more of a spine, I would’ve twined his fingers in mine, but instead, I whisper, “Yannagi-kun, we can’t do that here.”
“Annin. I think we’re close enough, besides, I can’t wait to find out what your gorgeous voice sounds like crying out my name.”
My face goes a shade of red I didn’t think was possible, and high school girls across the tracks be damned, I slip my hand into his and duck my head.
“Then call me Ryousuke.”