by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
illustrated by _reirei
On the first day after summer vacation, Sakata comes to school in a gakuran.
Nakajima is sitting at his desk that morning before class, doodling idly in one of his sketchbooks, when the bland, everyday noise of conversation around him takes on a new urgency.
“Hey! Isn’t that…” whispers the girl behind him to her friend.
“It is! It’s Sakata-san, right?”
The boy sitting behind her says something he can’t catch, but he hears “gakuran.”
“What’s up with her?”
So he looks up, and entering the classroom is Sakata, just as they said. The uniform is new and clean, the collar starched and only the top button undone. Sakata’s previously long hair has been cut, too. It seems unbelievable that a change in wardrobe can make such a visual impact. Sakata is half a head shorter than even the shortest boy in class, and of course has a slight, girlish figure, even without visible breasts, but seen standing tall in a gakuran she is undoubtable, perfectly, a teenage boy.
Understanding crystallizes inside Nakajima. So that’s what it was about her – him – all along.
“Good morning,” says Sakata to the room in general as he takes his seat, two desks from the back in the right corner. There are a few hushed replies before the room descends into silence and furtive glances. Nakajima, too, has to glance back for a moment.
Sakata doesn’t seem aware of the attention. He unpacks his bag contentedly, oblivious to the discomfort his entrance has caused. The homeroom teacher must have been told something about this in advance. When he comes in he begins roll call with barely a glance in his direction.
When Nakajima looks down, he finds his sketch has taken on the appearance of Sakata.
For that whole first day, no one talks to Sakata at all, not even to mock him. It’s as though something has entered their classroom that is too mysterious, too vast to comprehend, and so must be discarded from consciousness at once. Sakata doesn’t seem to notice one way or the other. More than anything, there seems to be a halo of confidence surrounding him that no malicious whisper or stare of disbelief can penetrate.
As soon as he leaves the classroom at the end of the day, though, the whispers start anyway.
“What the hell does she think she’s doing?”
“Is she…” Nervous giggles.
“It’s weird, right?”
“Yeah, it’s weird.”
It makes Nakajima sick. The next day at lunch he walks straight up to Sakata’s desk as he’s getting up and says, “I’m going up to the roof to eat. Wanna come?” Terrified Sakata will misinterpret his words as hostile, like he’s taking him to go get beat up or something, he stammers like an idiot all the way through.
“Yeah,” answers Sakata, “absolutely. Just let me get my stuff.” His speech pattern is neither overtly masculine nor feminine, although he’s switched personal pronouns with ease.
Together they make their way down the hall, up the stairs to the roof, where there are a few benches for students’ use. There are a few other people eating here already, and as they walk past them to an empty bench, Nakajima can almost feel them staring.
Now that they’re alone together, he isn’t quite sure what to say. He’s not used to reaching out to other people like this. Besides, he’s barely even talked to Sakata before. All the things he knows about him – for instance, that before summer vacation he was on the girl’s baseball team – are no longer safe topics of conversation. Even “how was your summer” sounds like fishing for information.
He settles on “Did you get all your homework done?”
“Barely,” responds Sakata, with a rueful smile. Out of his bag comes what looks like a homemade bento. “I did all my reading, but the math work was so boring, I could hardly stand it. I had to stay up and do it last night. You?”
“Same here. And I was working on something for club, so…”
“Oh! You’re in the manga club, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Nakajima, slightly embarrassed, nods.
Instead of laughing, though, or making a joke, Sakata seems pleased. “I think I saw the book you guys put out last year. You do the lineart, right? You’re really good.”
They chat a bit more about nothing in particular, until finally Sakata says, “You know, you can ask, if you like.” He gestures to indicate the gakuran, his haircut. “I don’t mind.”
“Oh, um, no, I,” Nakajima babbles, unsure how to answer. “I, um, looked stuff up on Wikipedia last night, so… you’re transgender, right…?”
Sakata nods. “Since the start of summer break – well, I mean, I’ve always been, but the start of summer break was when I talked to my parents about it for the first time. I’ve been seeing a therapist since last year, so they knew there was something going on.”
“Why were you seeing a therapist?” Nakajima bites his tongue. “No, sorry, never mind-”
“It’s okay,” says Sakata, with a reassuring smile. “I told them I needed someone to talk to, because I was depressed. Which was true, but mostly I went because I wanted a diagnosis, um, so I could do stuff like start testosterone.”
“So you told them? What did they say?”
“Actually, they took it okay, once I explained it to them.” Sakata sounds a little bit sheepish. “I almost felt stupid for scaring myself about it all this time. They were worried people would give me a hard time if I started transitioning now, but I told them I would rather stand out and be myself than fit in and be miserable.”
For the first time, but not the last, Nakajima is struck by what an amazing guy Sakata really is, and how different they are. “Are you, um, taking it, then?” he asks, rather stupidly.
“Yeah. It’s going to take a while to start working, but this way, I’ll get to have a growth spurt and everything.” Sakata smiles, disarmingly. “Pretty cool, huh? My sister wants me to restart my growth chart on the wall, next to hers.”
“You have a sister?”
“Yeah, she’s nine.”
“What does she think?”
“Oh, she had no problem with it. She said she had always wanted a big brother anyway. Which just goes to show that this is the way things should be, I guess?” Sakata shrugs his shoulders, then breaks out into laughter. After a second, Nakajima starts laughing with him.
They have lunch on the roof together every day after that. Nakajima is the only person who talks to Sakata on a regular basis; to the rest of the student body, he may as well not exist. Even the teachers are careful not to expose him to attention by calling on him during classes. The whole thing makes Nakajima intensely frustrated, especially since Sakata is such a nice guy about it all, refusing to complain about the silent treatment.
“Well,” he says, thoughtfully, when Nakajima brings it up, “Some people might be doing it to be cruel, but I think most of them just don’t know how to respond. It’s like if an alien suddenly transferred to your school, right?”
“You’re not an alien,” says Nakajima, maybe a bit too sharply.
Sakata shrugs his shoulders in a resigned way. “I know that. But not everyone does.” Nakajima opens his mouth, and he sighs. “I know. Look, it bothers me too. Maybe not as much as it should. I guess I’m still kind of processing that all this is finally happening.”
Nakajima decides to change the subject so they don’t argue about it again. Not that the arguments have been particularly heated, but they always end up just where they started. And there are worse things people could do to Sakata than ignore him.
“How’s baseball?” he asks, slightly cautiously. A couple of weeks ago Sakata mentioned that he had joined the boy’s team. He seemed excited, but he hasn’t said anything about it since.
Sakata shakes his head, confirming Nakajima’s worries. “I’m, uh, not really going anymore.”
“What? Did the other guys…”
“No, nothing like that.” Sakata’s smile disappears, replaced by a frown. “Actually, it was the supervising teacher. He took me aside and asked if I would stop coming to practice for a while. Until everyone got used to things.” The frown deepens. “He said he thought that would be the best thing for me, too. So I said okay. It’s not like I was doing anything but picking up balls.”
Nakajima starts to say that if it was really Sakata the teacher was concerned about, he could have talked to the other club members instead – but he’s sure Sakata’s already thought about that, and probably a lot of other things, too. “That’s awful,” he replies, instead. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not giving up – I’ll wait a while, but I’m going back, no matter what.” Sakata’s hand clenches into a fist. “Just let him try and stop me.” Then he relaxes, and his smile returns. “But we don’t need to keep talking about this stuff. How are things in the Manga Club?”
“Um, pretty good. We’re working on a new book that we’re selling at the Cultural Festival.”
“Ah, so that’s what you’ve been drawing during class.” When Nakajima flushes, he shakes his head. “No, I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with that. Mind if I take a look?”
“Sure, if you’d like…”
He pulls out his sketchbook and hands it over. Sakata leafs through the most recent pages. If he notices that the design of the samurai character is pretty clearly based on him, he says nothing about it. “You’re really good, you know.”
“No, I’m serious. Do you ever enter your work in contests? I think you could win.”
“I… um, yeah, a few times. They said my art was good but my stories needed work.” He hadn’t been surprised. Writing never came naturally to him, especially when it came to the characters’ interactions with one another. “That’s what I like about the club. Another member writes the script, so I just have to worry about drawing it.”
“Hey.” Sakata points to a page. “This is me, isn’t it?”
Thinking he’s talking about the samurai, Nakajima looks down to see a sketch he had forgotten was in this book.
The picture is of Sakata – the old Sakata – in an empty classroom, wearing her sailor uniform, sitting awkwardly behind her desk and looking out the window. Only the very corner of her face is visible, but a feeling of longing seems diffused throughout her whole body.
“Oh,” he says, embarrassed. “Um, yeah. I, uh…”
The truth is that he had been watching Sakata since the beginning of the year, when they were in the same class for the first time. Something about her caught his attention – there was always something about her that was different. The way she moved, the way she talked, were those of someone profoundly uncomfortable with their own being. Like him, she seemed to have no close friends, and although she talked to the other girls in class, there was a halting manner to her speech.
They had exchanged only a few words through the whole first semester, but Nakajima felt connected to her somehow, in a way he couldn’t describe even if asked. He had thought about starting a conversation with her once or twice but never quite managed to work up the courage.
“What am I looking at?”
“I could never figure it out,” answers Nakajima, relieved that Sakata apparently doesn’t find it creepy to have been drawn without his knowledge. Gently, he takes the book from Sakata’s hands and a pencil from his bag. “Here, I’ll finish it now.” He sketches a reflection in the window – Sakata, wearing a gakuran, and smiling. “There. What do you think?”
“I think it’s awesome.”
“Would you, um, like to have it?”
Sakata looks startled. Then he smiles, and Nakajima is pleased to note that he did better than he thought in capturing the overwhelming honesty of Sakata’s smile. “Yeah,” he says, “I’d love to have it. Thank you.” Carefully he tears it out of the book and slides it into his bag.
“You’re welcome,” says Nakajima whole-heartedly.
“Hey, by the way, what’s your number?”
“Your cellphone number. So I can text you?”
As Sakata pulls his cellphone out, Nakajima notices that there’s a little pink Hello Kitty charm dangling from one side. He doesn’t say anything, but his eyes must give him away, because Sakata glances down at it. “Sorry,” he says, with no idea why he’s apologizing.
“Cute, huh?” replies Sakata cheerfully. “I have like twenty at home. I’ve always liked Hello Kitty.” He looks Nakajima in the eye as he speaks. “There’s no reason for that to change now, right?”
There’s something about the way he says it that is so powerful a statement it makes Nakajima’s heartbeat quicken. He turns away, looks down at the schoolyard, without even knowing why he can feel himself flushing.
Nakajima always sort of knew he was gay. In elementary school, he never felt the sort of tension that seemed to mark other boys’ relationships with girls. He longed to be with other boys but was terrified of getting too close to them. Getting older only taught him the name for what had been inside him all along.
He’s never told anyone.
It doesn’t bother him or anything. It’s just that he’s never really had a lot of – any – close friends, and he’s fine with keeping his head down if it means he won’t be picked on. His crushes have been brief, painless attatchments that he wouldn’t even want to confess.
Life will be different after high school; he’ll feel more comfortable coming out to his parents when he’s no longer living in the house. He’s not in any big hurry to date right now. It’ll probably be easier to meet guys once he can actually go to bars. And maybe when he’s older he’ll lose the fear that still keeps him away from others.
In any case, these are the things he tells himself to make it easier.
Actually, last year a girl confessed to him and he thought he might say it and get the whole thing over with. It was on the tip of his tongue: “Sorry, but the truth is, I’m gay.”
Then he started thinking too hard about it. It wouldn’t be so bad if she told everyone, but he had no way of knowing whether she would. Maybe she would tell everyone and the whole thing *would* all be over with. But maybe she would only tell her friends, and then they would mention it some time later to their other friends, and it would spread through the school slowly and he would never, at any given time, know who knew and who didn’t.
The way that thought unnerved him was probably a sign he was just cowardly. Maybe egotistical, too – after all, he wasn’t very well known around the school, and maybe nobody would even care about his sexuality.
But he still couldn’t say it.
That’s not the reason he doesn’t tell Sakata, though. Obviously Sakata wouldn’t say a word about it even if he were the most popular guy in the school. It’s just that for once he feels like he can have a regular, uncomplicated friendship with another boy. It’s really not that big a deal if he tells Sakata or not. Besides, he probably knows anyway. Nakajima’s not that good at hiding his feelings.
In October they are passing through the genkan after cleaning the classroom for the day and all of a sudden Sakata’s eyes go wide.
“Is something wrong?”
For a second he looks like he’s going to stand in front of the shelf so that Nakajima can’t see – as if Nakajima were the one who needed to be shielded. He doesn’t move, though, so Nakajima can peer into the cubbyhole and see that Sakata’s shoes are gone and there is graffiti scrawled all over the walls in black marker.
“It’s kind of funny, actually,” says Sakata, laughing weakly. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me a dyke before.”
Nakajima grits his teeth. “I’ll find them,” he says – ridiculously, because he’s never been in a fight in his life. “Those bastards. How dare they…” He trails off as he realizes he sounds like a character in a cheesy movie.
“No, it’s not!”
“Well, it’s not,” Sakata admits immediately. “But I’m not going to just accept this.” He stares at his cubbyhole, with a distant expression. “I’m going to do what I can. I should have done it earlier, I guess.”
They don’t say anything more about it. Nakajima thinks of offering his shoes, but they would be far too big, so Sakata leaves the school in slippers. The next day, though, he comes to the front of the class during homeroom. In clear, angular katakana, he writes ‘transgender’ on the chalkboard.
“So, everyone’s probably noticed that I changed my uniform,” he says, with an awkward laugh, and standing in front of twenty-five of his peers, starts to explain what he did over summer vacation.
A couple of days into the winter break Sakata calls, wanting to meet up. “I’m getting bored,” he says, “and I need to buy a Christmas gift for my sister… do you want to hang out?” He laughs. “Or is it weird for two guys to go shopping together?”
“No,” says Nakajima, although he’s not sure. He’s never been close enough friends with another guy to know. “I’d like to go.”
They agree to meet at the station closest to both their houses. Nakajima shows up a couple of minutes early and hangs around feeling thoroughly awkward.
When Sakata comes out of the gate, he’s wearing a button-down shirt and men’s windbreaker, but what seem to be women’s jeans and sneakers. Just because he’s out now doesn’t mean he’s had the chance to change his whole wardrobe, Nakajima supposes.
“Hey,” he says, half-jogging up to Nakajima. “Sorry. Were you waiting long?”
Nakajima shakes his head. “No, not at all.”
They go to a nearby mall and browse through the toy store. The girl at the counter gives them a second look when they walk in, but Nakajima doesn’t feel self-conscious at all, even though normally he can barely go into the mall without worrying about how others see him. Being with Sakata makes it easier somehow.
“Would you like this if you were a nine-year-old girl?” Sakata holds up a plush seal. “Or do you think that’s too old for stuffed animals?”
Nakajima shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. I think it’s cute.” As Sakata puts the seal down, he notices that there are bandaids covering the palms of his hands. “Are you okay? Did something…”
“Oh, these?” Sakata looks somewhat sheepish. “The park near my house has a batting cage. I’ve been overdoing it a bit, I think.”
Nakajima admires his dedication, but if he says anything like that he’ll probably sound like a complete idiot. Instead, he says “what about school supplies?”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” Sakata picks a set of coloured gel pens to get his sister, and after a moment’s deliberation buys a Hello Kitty eraser for himself. They leave the toy shop and walk aimlessly through the mall.
“What are you doing for New Years?”
“Not much. We’ll go to the shrine, of course – mom’s going to fix up one of my uncle’s old kimono.” Sakata rolls his eyes, but in a way that suggests he’s pleased. “She’s really excited about it. It’s kind of funny.”
They come to a men’s clothing store, where Sakata pauses, staring at the display in the window. “It’s not that the clothes are really important,” he says. “I mean, I was a guy even when I was wearing girls’ clothes. But this way, I’m not the only one who knows it.” Turning away from the display, he grins at Nakajima. “I just feel so much freer now.”
Nakajima tries to keep a sense of perspective about being a teenager. Things that seem devastating to him now may seem trivial in a few short years – conversely, he may not even remember his happiest moments, the things that kept him going when loneliness or shame threatened to overwhelm him.
But he won’t forget this moment. There’s no way he could. He wishes he had brought a sketchbook, just to capture the expression on Sakata’s face. He keeps being surprised by how much Sakata’s smile affects him.
“I’m glad,” he says, finally, trying to sound normal.
“Yeah. Me too.” Sakata reaches out, as if to take his hand. But then instead he points to the French bakery across from them, smiling sheepishly. “So, uh, would you be totally embarrassed if we went in there? I want a cream puff.”
“No problem,” replies Nakajima. It was probably just his imagination.
Nakajima doesn’t realize that it’s Valentine’s Day until he gets to the school. On the way through the gate, one of the girls from Manga Club comes up to him and shyly hands him a cellophane bag of chocolate.
“Thank you,” he says, as she hurries away. He’s forgotten her name, he’ll have to ask later.
A couple of other girls give him chocolate when he reaches the classroom, but only the ones who give something to all the boys. Considering how uncomfortable it makes him when he does receive chocolate, he’s glad of it.
Kimura, the class rep, comes towards him with a package in her hands. At first he’s confused – she was in his class last year, and he doesn’t remember her giving chocolate to anyone – but realizes after a second that the chocolate isn’t for him.
He steps aside and Kimura strides past him to the doorway, where Sakata is standing.
The chocolate is tastefully wrapped, but store-bought, and not particularly expensive-looking. Clearly it’s obligation chocolate. But it’s chocolate all the same.
“Please accept this,” she says.
An expression of bewilderment appears on Sakata’s face. “Thanks,” he replies, and takes the chocolate with a little bow. He puts the package on his desk as he sits down.
There is a sudden flurry of activity in the classroom as, following Kimura’s example, other girls reach into their bookbags for similar packages. They form a ground around Sakata’s desk. Cynically, Nakajima wonders how many of those chocolates were intended for other boys, but as they present their chocolates one by one, he can’t help but feel moved by the sincerity of the gesture.
“Looks like someone’s popular,” their homeroom teacher comments dryly. The whole class laughs.
By the end of the day every girl in class has joined in. The word is out around the school, too, judging by the girls from other classes who have come to visit. There’s a small mountain of chocolate on Sakata’s desk, threatening to topple over onto the floor.
“There’s no way I can eat all this,” says Sakata, with dismay. “I can’t even fit it in my bag.”
Nakajima has to laugh. “If that’s an offer,” he says, although he’s never liked chocolate all that much, “I’ll help you out.”
The next day there’s a subtle difference in the attitude of the classroom. People aren’t exactly lining up to talk to Sakata, but a few people say hi to him as he comes in, and Kimura engages him in a conversation about cleaning duties.
Sakata seems heartened by the change. Approximately a week and a half later, he comes to the men’s changeroom with his gym bag for the first time, instead of heading to the nurse’s office and joining the rest of the class afterwards.
Nakajima has been suggesting that he do this even if he uses a stall, but now that it’s happening, he’s terrified for his friend. The image of those words in Sakata’s cubbyhole still haunts him.
“You don’t have to,” he says, wincing at how cowardly he sounds.
Sakata nods. “I know. But I need to do it sometime, right? I might as well just get it over with.” Then he grins. “Besides, I’ve got you on my side.”
Despite knowing that he will be useless if anything happens, Nakajima feels a brief flush of pride. He goes in first.
The changeroom is uncomfortable for him even without Sakata to consider. Of course he would never so much as glimpse at another guy, knowing the possible consequences, but the knowledge that he could makes him both excited and ashamed. He stands by as Sakata enters the room and takes a deep breath.
For a second, nobody notices anything. Then, as Sakata pulls off his jacket, revealing a crisp white shirt, the room falls silent. Now everyone in the changeroom is watching. Nakajima scans their faces: mostly they look surprised, or incredulous, but some are openly hostile. He moves closer to Sakata and tries to look tough.
It’s Saitou, captain of the soccer team. At first Nakajima thinks he must be talking to Sakata, and prepares to tell him off, but after a second he realizes Saitou is glaring at the rest of the boys around them.
“What do you guys think you’re doing, staring at another guy? Weirdoes.”
The tension is broken. Sakata is left in peace to change into his gym uniform, just like anyone else. Nakajima turns away. He knows he should be happy for Sakata, but Saitou’s words have caused a queasiness to rise up from his stomach. His words were a demonstration of acceptance for Sakata, but for Nakajima, they are just another reminder that he is different.
That night he has the kind of dream he thought he stopped having a long time ago.
They’re on the couch in his living room. Sakata’s hands – smaller than his, callused from years of holding a bat – roam the length of his body. His own hands are working clumsily at the buttons of Sakata’s shirt. Sakata strokes the small of his back and he whimpers, shivers under the touch.
“Shh,” whispers Sakata, pulling him in for another kiss. While he presses his tongue into Nakajima’s mouth, his hands undo Nakajima’s fly, rub his already-hard cock through his underwear. When he breaks the kiss it’s only to ask “want me to jerk you off?”
Nakajima can’t form the words to reply, but he pulls down his pants so eagerly it’s embarassing.
“I’m kind of new at this,” says Sakata, almost teasingly, as he wraps his hand around Nakajima’s dick. It doesn’t matter. The feeling of Sakata rubbing the head of his cock with his thumb, jerking him off with a slow, steady hand, is unbearably good. He’s sure he won’t last long, and he doesn’t. In a matter of seconds he cries out and spills into Sakata’s hand.
“Sorry,” he manages to croak.
Sakata just grins. “You don’t have to apologize,” and he brings his hand up to his mouth, and actually licks the semen off his fingers, his gaze focused on Nakajima.
Light-headed, Nakajima realizes he desperately wants to do something like that, something daring, that will make Sakata feel the way he felt just now. He pulls away to slide off the couch and kneel between Sakata’s legs.
“You don’t have to-”
“No, I, I want to do it.” He looks up to see surprised pleasure on Sakata’s face . “Please.”
“Okay. If you want to.”
In his dream, Sakata’s cock is shorter than his, but thicker, uncircumcised. It’s already hard. When he takes it in his mouth he feels a shock through his whole body. Nervously, desperately, he tries to swallow it deeper, but gags and has to stop.
“It’s okay,” says Sakata. His fingers curl possessively in Nakajima’s hair. “Just go slow.”
But he can’t stand to go slow. He tries again, and this time finds a rhythm that allows him to keep going. Steadying himself on the couch with one hand, he uses the other to cup Sakata’s balls. Above him Sakata groans.
“That’s good.” Sakata’s voice is lower than usual. “Wow. You really enjoy this, don’t you? Sucking my dick.” Rather than mocking, he simply sounds curious, maybe a little amazed.
“Yeah…” Hard again already, Nakajima barely pulls away before answering, and the word comes out muffled.
“Do you want me to fuck you?”
He wants it more than anything. But before he can repeat himself, he wakes up with his heart in his throat and dirty sheets. He can’t remember the last time he felt so depressed.
Valentine’s Day and the incident in the change room are the two big moments of truth. From then on, Sakata is more or less accepted as just another boy by the whole class. If anyone is bothered by this they at least have the courtesy to keep their mouth shut. The teachers, visibly more relaxed, start calling on him in class. He goes back to baseball club practice without a word of comment from the supervising teacher, becomes a centre fielder, and starts hanging out with his teammates.
Of course Nakajima doesn’t begrudge him any of this. Actually, he would be whole-heartedly delighted by Sakata’s success, except for one thing.
Lately Sakata and Kimura have been spending a lot of time together. Not so much that Sakata is spending less time with him, but they talk to each other in the classroom several times a day, and go home together sometimes. Rumours have already started circulating in class. Pretty soon they’ll start going out for real. He’s trying his best to prepare himself for it.
He knows his jealousy is small-minded. In his darker moments Nakajima wants to ask Kimura where she was when Sakata had no-one to talk to, when they scrawled insults in marker across his cubbyhole, but he knows that’s not fair. She was, after all, the one who made the first gesture of acceptance to him, and inspired others to do the same. She seems like a good person.
Their relationship will be difficult – people are prejudiced, and even though things may seem alright now, there’s a chance that Sakata dating a girl will reawaken hostility from their classmates. He feels like a selfish jerk for it, but he can’t bring himself to wish them success.
When he thought Sakata was a girl, he was fascinated by him. Now… well, being with Sakata is the best thing that’s ever come from high school. He’s never been this close to anybody, really. Maybe that’s why he’s developed these feelings, why his dreams –
It’s better to forget all about it.
What Sakata needs is a friend to support him through a complicated time in his life, not someone who will make that time even more complicated. That he should be the one to be that friend is more than good enough. It was ridiculous to have thought about anything else.
When the bell rings for lunch, Kimura stops by his desk and they exchange a few words. Nakajima watches them talk, noticing for the first time that Sakata is now taller than her. They used to be the same height.
As he looks on, Sakata notices him and beckons him over. “Hey! Come here for a second, Kimura has something she wants to ask you.”
Dutifully, Nakajima joins them. Kimura turns to him with a friendly expression. “Nakajima-san,” she starts, “I’m in the literature club, and we’re looking for someone to do illustrations for a children’s book. I know you’re busy, but Sakata-san said you might be interested…?”
“Um, yeah,” answers Nakajima, with surprise he can’t conceal.
“You don’t have to answer right away, of course. Just give it some thought.”
As they head up the stairs to the roof, Sakata asks “What do you think?” His voice cracks halfway through the question, as it has been more and more often lately.
“…I don’t know.”
“It could be fun. Get to know people outside the manga club – uh, not that I’m trying to tell you what to do…”
“No, it’s fine,” answers Nakajima, with a wry smile. “You’re right. I do need to get to know people.” Especially if you start spending all your time with Kimura, he thinks, but doesn’t say.
Sakata looks relieved, and then curious. “So,” he says, casually, as they reach the top of the stairs and open the door, “Kimura told me that Ueda confessed to you.”
Ueda is the girl who handed him chocolate in the schoolyard on Valentine’s Day. She’s his junior who helps with inking in the club. Two days ago, while he was finishing a page of the new story, she tapped him on the shoulder and half-whispered it to him when he turned around.
“Senpai, I like you.”
Shocked, he tried to think of a way to respond. His first, quickly discarded impulse was, as it had been the last time he was in this situation, to ask why. His looks and personality weren’t anything special. But that would come off as conceited. And of course it was sort of insulting to her as well.
He could just say there was someone else he liked. It was true, but not enough.
All of a sudden, he thought of Sakata telling him how free he felt, finally able to wear men’s clothing. Of how he stood up in front of their whole class and told them exactly who he was even after they ignored and insulted him.
In that moment it seemed the most natural thing in the world to just say it. “Sorry,” and he was sorry, in a way, because Ueda seemed like a nice person, but in another sense he wasn’t sorry at all. “I’m gay.”
Either Ueda and Kimura know each other somehow, or word has gotten out so widely that even Kimura would know about it. Nakajima finds that despite what he’s always thought, he doesn’t really care which it is. Even Sakata knowing seems alright.
“You’re brave,” says Sakata, breaking him out of his thoughts.
He almost laughs. The irony of Sakata calling *him* brave… but it did feel brave to finally say it, even if it’s not that big of a deal, or nobody cares at all.
“So are you,” he answers, stepping out onto the roof. Then, all of a sudden, as though it wasn’t even him saying it, “How are things going with Kimura?”
Immediately he wishes he hadn’t asked. He doesn’t want to know the answer – not yet, anyway. But taking back the question would only make it seem too important. There’s nothing he can do now but have his suspicions confirmed.
Bracing himself, he turns around to find that Sakata just looks confused. “Like what?” he asks.
“Well, aren’t you two…?” Nakajima trails off helplessly. He thought he could bring himself to say the words. Apparently he’s not that much braver than before.
Sakata shakes his head.
“Kimura’s a good friend,” he says, “but I already have someone I like.”
For a moment Nakajima has no idea who he’s talking about. But then Sakata is looking him in the eyes, and he closes the gap between them, and holds Nakajima’s hand in his own. It’s small and callused, like in his dream.
“Oh,” he says, stupidly, just before Sakata pulls him down by the collar and kisses him.