by Yamanashi Moe (山梨もえ)
The sign in the window says ‘Madame Suzu: Fortunes, Potions, Love Spells.’ Nozomu first noticed it when he was walking home from school a few weeks ago. He didn’t pay it much thought at the time. As the days went by, though, he found himself thinking about it more and more, until it started to distract him in class. He just couldn’t help wondering. Finally he gave up, found all the money he could spare, and made the dimly lit walk from his apartment to the shop.
He feels guilty, because it’s utterly selfish of him to want to manipulate someone else’s feelings, but he can’t stop now. In any case he doesn’t want anything big. Even an hour would do. Just enough to see… to see what it would be like.
As he opens the shop door, bells jingle and a middle-aged foreign woman looks up from behind the counter. Her lipstick is very dark red. Her hair is tied back in a flowered scarf.
“Welcome,” she says, in not quite natural Japanese. “I am Madame Suzu. What is your desire? You want your fortune? Or perhaps a spell?”
Nozomu says something very quietly.
“What was that?”
“I,” Nozomu repeats himself, a little bit louder and more nervously, “I’d like a love spell, please.”
Madame Suzu takes a good look at him: he feels uncomfortably conscious of himself, a skinny, mousy-looking boy with dark hair and glasses. Awkwardly ordinary. She must see people like him all the time. “A love spell, eh?” she says. “Good. Very good. Who’s the girl in question?”
“Actually, uh…Ijima Seiji,” says Nozomu. He swallows. “He’s, um, a Second year at Kaisen High.”
To his relief, Madame Suzu makes no comment. Instead, she turns to the shelf behind her and brings down a lacquered box. Inside are a number of strange objects, which she lays out side by side on the countertop. “Do you have anything that belongs to this person?”
Nozomu was prepared for this. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out an eraser he took – stole – from Ijima’s desk. “Is this enough?”
“If it’s his, it will do,” says Madame Suzu, putting it between a round stone and what looks like an eggbeater.
“And… how much for the spell?”
“The price varies depending on the strength of it. I can make him love you for years and years, but frankly, there’s no way you can afford that. I can give you half an hour of passion, if that’s what you’re looking for. How much are you willing to pay?”
“I, have, uh,” says Nozomu, and quotes a price.
Madame Suzu looks very unimpressed. “You won’t get much for that amount.”
He shakes his head vigorously. “No… No, I mean, I don’t need much. Even a few hours would do… and it doesn’t have to be very strong, either. I mean, I wouldn’t want him to do anything that he would regret…”
Madame Suzu nods, deep in thought, and then smiles. Her face crinkles like crumpled paper. “Okay. You’ve got yourself a deal, young man.” She takes his money in her bony hand and counts it into the cash register. “I will make you a spell, and from sunup until sundown tomorrow, this boy will be a little bit in love with you. But just a little bit, you hear?”
“It doesn’t have to be that long-”
“Now go. I work now. I need peace and quiet for my work.”
“Alright,” says Nozomu. “Thank you very much.” As he leaves the shop, he looks behind him to Madame Suzu. She is reordering the objects on the counter and chanting under her breath in another language.
It occurs to him that he hasn’t wondered once this whole time if the spell will work or not. He almost wishes it won’t, despite the money he would be wasting. It doesn’t matter much. The end result will be the same either way. The day after tomorrow, nothing will have changed.
His mother is already asleep when he gets home. He leaves his key on the hook, goes upstairs, and gets undressed quickly. He spends the night staring at the ceiling trying not to think about Ijima, his eyes, his smile, his hands.
The next morning he walks to school in a daze. People say hello, occasionally they even try to engage him in conversation. He barely notices. There is a feeling between anticipation and anxiety in the pit of his stomach. He thinks he may have made a mistake.
When he climbs the stairs to the second floor, Ijima is leaning on the wall outside his classroom: a tall boy with brown hair and a gentle, confident face. He looks completely out of place among the First Years. His eyes search the crowd, and he calls Nozomu over. “Hey. You’re, uh, Fujimoto-kun, right?”
“Yeah,” says Nozomu.
“Ijima-sempai, right? From the soccer club?”
“Yeah. Listen,” Ijima smiles, a little bit sheepishly, and pushes his hair from his face in what could be a nervous gesture, “I know this is pretty weird, all of the sudden, but… normally, where do you eat lunch?”
Nozomu shrugs his shoulders and keeps his eyes respectfully lowered. He hopes he doesn’t look as stupid as he feels, then remembers that it doesn’t matter, today. “There’s no place in particular…”
“Then, if you don’t have plans, would you eat with me today?”
“O, okay. Where?”
“I’ll wait for you at the front door.”
It’s as simple as that. As Ijima walks away, Nozomu makes an effort not to stare, but can’t help it. His pulse is racing. It was worth it after all.
A friend of Ijima’s has come from upstairs to meet him. His eyes fall on Nozomu, and stay there for several seconds. Then Ijima says something and the friend looks away. I’m sorry, thinks Nozomu, hit with a pang of guilt. He must be acting a little odd today. Don’t worry. He’ll be back to normal soon.
In class that morning he manages to act as usual. A few people ask him about Ijima, and he says it was nothing, because he doesn’t know what else to tell them. They leave him alone after that. It’s not that he doesn’t have friends, but people don’t often concern themselves with him.
He spends the time before lunch chewing furtively on the end of a pencil, concentrating half-heartedly on his work, and waiting. His mind and the school must be running on different times. It seems like forever until the bell rings and he can leave the classroom.
“You’re in the photography club, right?” asks Ijima, taking another bite of his lunch.
They are sitting on one of the benches outside the school, side by side, talking to one another freely and easily. It’s as though they’ve been friends for a while. Nozomu is incredibly happy, but at the same time, deeply nervous. Any second he expects Ijima to snap out of it and wonder who he is. “Um, yeah,” he says.
Ijima nods. “I saw one of your photos during the Cultural Festival exhibition. I don’t know anything about pictures, but I thought it was
“No, not at all…” Nozomu smiles shyly. “I was lucky, because the lighting was good in the room.”
“Who was that woman? Your sister?”
“My mother,” says Nozomu, who is used to people assuming they’re siblings and has never really been bothered by it. “She got married when she was young. She started working again when they divorced, but, ah, she came home early that day because I wanted her to model for me.”
Ijima smiles at him; Nozomu tries to memorize it out of the corner of his eye. “Sounds like a wonderful family. My mother is at home, but she’s busy with my brother’s wedding, so I don’t see her a lot anymore.” He looks down at the lunch in his lap. The sausage is cut into octopus shape, like in picture books. “Well, she does make my bento, though.”
“I buy mine on the way to school,” admits Nozomu. “My mother and I, we can’t cook very well… your brother is getting married?”
“Next month, to a girl from his office. She’s nice, but her mother and mine are going a little crazy.”
They talk about family for a little while, and then move on to talking about the weather. At some point Nozomu becomes aware that Ijima is edging closer and closer to him on the bench. He stops when they are just close enough that their hands touch.
Nozomu wonders if he should move his hand. He doesn’t know what Ijima will think tomorrow, whether he will write this off as something strange on his own part. Maybe he won’t remember at all. Either way, it would be wrong to let him do something awkward that he might regret.
“Fujimoto. Are you doing anything after club?” asks Ijima.
There is a moment of silence. Ijima looks as though he is steeling himself for rejection. “Then… maybe, we could get dinner together. Or something.”
Nozomu’s throat dries up. The most he had expected was to see each other at school; he hadn’t imagined the spell would work so well. Madame Suzu did a very good job. He should thank her the next time the store is open.
“I’d like that,” he manages, a little hoarsely.
His hand stays where it is. It probably wouldn’t move even if he tried to make it.
After school he skips club to watch Ijima play soccer. This is something he has done often in the past, but it may be for the last time. He is careful that Ijima doesn’t see him. There are a few other spectators, mainly girls with a crush on someone on the team. Not that he’s any better than they are.
Ijima runs for the ball, makes a pass, and watches as his teammate scores. Everyone cheers, even the other side. Ijima grins. He’s one of the best players on the team, but always lets others make the goals. He’s really amazing.
They actually went to the same junior high, but he doubts Ijima knows that. He really didn’t know it either. It was only after Ijima graduated that he met him.
He was coming home from school one day when he lost his glasses. They slipped off maybe only a little while before he noticed, and by the time he realized it, it was getting dark and he thought he wouldn’t be able to find them. It was cold out and he was worried. As he crouched down to the sidewalk, someone tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey. Are you alright?”
“I, um, I lost my glasses.”
“Okay, I’ll help you look.”
“You don’t need to-”
But the boy had already taken his arm.
It took fifteen minutes, at most. When they found them, Nozomu put them on and the world became clear again. He stuttered out his thanks, face flushing. Ijima walked him part of the way home. He had recognized him, a little bit, and recognized the Kaisen uniform. Ijima probably hadn’t recognized him. If it weren’t for the love spell, Ijima probably wouldn’t recognize him today.
The sunlight is making a ring of light around the edges of Ijima’s hair. It would make a perfect photograph. Nozomu looks away, feeling his chest tighten painfully. He’ll never get a chance to take that picture.
That incident is a precious memory to him, but to Ijima, it is nothing. He is trying to remember that.
After club they go to a nearby fast food place and get burgers. Ijima asks to pay for his food, but Nozomu says it’s alright. Almost the last thing he wants to do is put him out of any money. They eat at a slightly greasy table by the window, facing each other.
“You’re, uh, really good at soccer,” says Nozomu, hoping his voice sounds enough like simple admiration.
Ijima shrugs and shakes his head, but he smiles a little. “Everyone’s good at something. Do you like soccer? I see you at all the games.”
Surprised that Ijima ever noticed him at all, Nozomu chokes on his pop and coughs. He’s probably blushing. “Um, yeah,” he replies, after he recovers, “I sort of like it, but I’m no good. I can’t kick very well.”
“I could, uh, teach you sometime, if you’d like. It’s not hard if you know what you’re doing.” Ijima gives him a friendly grin. His eyes are warm. He touches Nozomu briefly on the arm. If Nozomu could choose a moment from this day to keep forever, this would be it. “You could do it easily.”
Nozomu wonders, not for the first time, if he will remember any of this tomorrow. Will this whole day be a blank? Or will it just have no
significance? “I’d like that,” he says. Maybe he’ll be lucky and Ijima will still feel obligated to teach him. It wouldn’t be like this, but at least it would be something.
The rest of the meal passes without much happening. The garbage gets thrown out, but they stay at the table, talking quietly. They have been there for almost an hour when Nozomu remembers to look out the window and check for the time. The sun is already sinking beneath the city skyline. He doesn’t have very much left.
“I’d better get going,” he says, rising from his seat. “It’s getting late.” Then, feeling selfish but unable to help himself, he adds “If it’s not too much trouble… would you like to walk home with me?” He might as well enjoy himself a little while longer.
Ijima looks as though he can’t believe it. He nods, surprised but happy. “Of course.”
It’s starting to get cold out. As they walk, Nozomu tracks the position of the sun almost constantly, fear settling in his heart. Maybe he won’t have enough time. Maybe he should have asked for two days – it’s a terrible thought, but he doesn’t want things to end like this.
In the morning there will be school, and maybe he’ll see Ijima there. Maybe he will glance at him for a few seconds while looking for someone else. Of course, that’s the most he can expect. This day will never be allowed to happen again.
Suddenly the world seems like a colder place. He pulls his jacket tighter around himself.
They reach his apartment building just as almost all the sunlight has left the sky. Ijima looks nervous for some reason. “Listen, Fujimoto, about today…”
Oh, thinks Nozomu, turning to face him. It’s already wearing off.
Then Ijima leans down and kisses him on the lips.
Nozomu is too surprised to do anything. Ijima’s hand settles lightly on his shoulder, and he instinctively relaxes into the feeling of being kissed. Then something shifts inside him. He looks up, and the sun has set, and this is all wrong. He pushes Ijima away.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and keeps repeating himself. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Ijima looks terribly disappointed. “No,” he says, bitterly, “I’m the one who should be apologizing. I thought-”
Nozomu shakes his head. If this isn’t anguish in his heart, it is the closest he will ever come. “I… I bought a spell,” he says. “To make you like me. Because I, I’ve liked you for a long time. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you do anything you would regret,” he bows his head deeply, “I don’t… this is enough, so I won’t trouble you again. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
A hand lifts his chin up.
“I helped you find your glasses about a year ago,” says Ijima quickly. “I don’t know if you remember. I’ve liked you since then. This morning I thought about it and finally decided that I might as well talk to you and see if anything…”
“…You like me?” asks Nozomu quietly.
“Of course I do. I like you very much.” Ijima steps forward, pulling Nozomu into his arms and holding him tightly. “I had a good time today. I was really happy.”
Nozomu closes his eyes, presses his face into Ijima’s jacket, takes a deep breath in. He doesn’t want Ijima to see his face for a few seconds. He tries to calm down, but he is so glad he feels like he might cry.
“I was really happy too…”
They make it to the couch without letting go of each other, although Nozomu has to fumble with his keys, and it’s hard to get their jackets off. Being so close to Ijima is making his knees a little weak, but any distance between them would be far, far worse.
Nozomu sits down and Ijima follows suit. “You have a nice place,” he says, looking around, with one hand still around Nozomu’s shoulders.
“Thank you,” says Nozomu shyly.
They sit in slightly nervous silence for a while. Finally, Ijima asks “May I?”, hands moving to Nozomu’s glasses. Nozomu nods and they are gone.
Ijima’s lips brush his forehead lightly, trailing down to the corner of his eye, then his cheek, and finally reach his mouth, which opens instinctively. They kiss like that for a long time. Ijima bows his head to make a red mark on Nozomu’s collarbone; Nozomu’s hands settle on Ijima’s chest, where his heart beats. He pulls Ijima’s tie off and tries to undo the buttons on Ijima’s shirt, but his hands are shaking so badly that Ijima has to do it instead.
“Are you alright?” he asks, undoing the last of his buttons with one hand, stroking Nozomu’s hair with the other.
Nozomu nods. “I’m fine.” He pulls Ijima’s shirt open and nestles his face in the crook of Ijima’s neck, feeling the warm skin against his. “I just… I’ve never, uh, done anything like this before.”
The soothing hand on his head retreats, and Ijima pulls away slightly. “We can stop if you’d like,” he says, although his voice is hoarse and Nozomu can feel his erection under the cloth of his pants.
“No!” exclaims Nozomu quickly, looking at him. “I don’t-” Then he flushes red at how needy he sounds. “I mean…”
Ijima only smiles and gives him another kiss. He unbuttons Nozomu’s pants, Nozomu obligingly lifting himself up from the couch and pulling them off. “Good,” he says, and gently takes him in hand.
Often Nozomu has masturbated thinking of Ijima. It was never, ever anything like this. The long, smooth fingers wrapped around his length could never be his own. They move slowly, almost teasingly, in an unfamiliar rhythm that sends shivers all through him.
“Ijima-sempai,” he murmurs, too achingly happy to feel embarrassed. His body trembles, he arches his hips eagerly into that hand, Ijima’s eyes meet his and he loses his breath.
“Fujimoto,” says Ijima, and Nozomu comes, with a whimper, into his palm.
Moments later he can think again and he slips his hand into Ijima’s pants. He strokes Ijima quickly, not wanting to make him wait. Ijima lasts longer than he did, but not by much, and he comes with a little growl deep in his throat that almost makes Nozomu hard again.
“Thank you,” says Ijima, and kisses him lightly on the mouth. Nozomu feels a sense of contentment so deep it almost overwhelms him.
“Fujimoto,” says Ijima, a few days later, “were you the one who stole that eraser off my desk?”
“…Yes. I, um, needed something that belonged to you.”
“What’s so funny?”
“That eraser was Kashima’s. I thought he was looking at you a little strangely…”
“Oh,” says Nozomu, and he laughs too.
“You really should ask for your money back, though. Since you didn’t get what you wanted.”
“I can’t do that!”
“Why not?” Ijima’s voice is gentle, slightly teasing.
Nozomu takes his hand. “I got exactly what I wanted,” he says with a smile.