by Zetto Rio (ゼット 理央)
Sometimes, usually after someone’s done something to provoke it, Jordan feels like he should have done more with his life. College had not been for him; he liked the lifestyle just fine, but even when he abstained from drinking and running every single GSA event on his own, he couldn’t make sense of enough of his classes to do anything but come out the other end with a transcript filled with low marks. In a world where grad school was becoming necessary for any job that paid more than a living wage, he was stuck among thousands of people like him, and sometimes, giving up felt easier than competing.
He loves his job, though, or rather, both of them. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, he drives the clockwise H54C. It’s a ten hour day, including the breaks the TWA had fought for but which just made the day feel longer, at first anyway. The route takes him and his bus from the depot past two major hospitals and the rehab centre, the public-funded retirement home, the mall and the free clinic on South before he ends up back at the depot for his toilet and lunch breaks. Someone drives the other way, and Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays he gives his bus to someone else, who is obsessively neat and always moves his paper map and timetable to the left of the wheel where it reflects into the windshield if he doesn’t notice before he drives. Moving it back is almost a habit, but not quite.
“Good morning, Miss Govers,” he says on this fateful Wednesday, when he’s feeling just low enough that his regulars are asking him if he’s all right and it is just the wrong side of annoying. And how many regulars he has! He would swear up and down that some of them cross the road and wait for him to take them home the long way rather than take his opposite’s route. It’s one of the things he thought he’d like about the regular route, and normally, he does.
But not today.
Miss Govers clucks over the circles under his eyes and he can feel time slipping away and his route going off schedule as she fusses; he can’t pull the bus back onto the road until she sits down. Just another thing to make a bad day worse, another little thing that slides under the radar until it’s on him and compounding the self-pity party he didn’t ask for.
He’s just about to close the doors, though, when he catches movement from the corner of his eye; someone’s crossing the road from the rehab clinic, and having a time of it. He would have to wait at the crossing, anyway, and he wouldn’t be back for an hour (more, if the delays pile up and the TWA rep is there to enforce his break). This guy doesn’t look like he could sit at the shelter for an hour; he’s limping badly enough that it slows him down, and his arm’s tied up in a sling such that his pack hangs from his shoulder, swinging in a way that it bangs into his side and looks most uncomfortable.
And so Jordan waits, his bus idling angrily until the man is at the door. Jordan lowers the ramp for him and stands from his seat, but the man waves away help and his good arm somehow stands up to the strain of pulling him up the rail and onto the bus. The temporary disability pass around the man’s neck means Jordan doesn’t have to chase him down when he sits in the nearest seat to the door without paying, so Jordan doesn’t learn his name or see anything more than stringy brown hair from under a baseball cap. He raises the ramp and braces himself for the moment the bus itself shifts back to being even.
The man gets off two stops past the mall, having ignored all of Miss Govers’ questions and waving at Jordan with his sling instead of saying “thank you driver!” Jordan is grateful for that; he hates it when people call him by his task when they’ve been on his bus long enough to have read his tags and know his name.
His bad mood is gone for the rest of the day. For some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something important has happened, that things are changing, but he doesn’t put it down to the man with the cap and the sling and the limp; he just hopes that he’ll get the chance to find out more and moves on.
Jordan’s other job is boring, but it brings his pay up to the point where he can afford things he likes, so his mother is the only one complaining. He’s the one posting those fakely enthusiastic sayings on company Facebook pages in an effort to keep them both relevant and visible. Occasionally he gets a larger writing job for a website or magazine, but it’s the social media that gets him the regular deposits in the bank. He spends an hour skipping from page to page on Tuesday afternoon, just after midday when most people will be on their lunch break and checking for new posts, and he’ll be posting right to their tablets or whatever. His heart’s not in it today, even as he searches out pictures of cats and pastes inspirational sayings on them to go on some of his more enlightened clients’ timelines.
He doesn’t realise it until he has them all posted and his feed is full of them, one after the other, but in between ads and discussion posts, he’s posted seven cat pictures with quotes about helping others in need and overcoming adversity.
The man is on time for the bus, and seems happy to get away from Miss Govers’ questions and one-sided conversation. Jordan tries to catch the name on his card this time, glances quick enough to compare the photo to the man under the cap. His hair is clean today, but it still hangs unkempt, probably because he normally has it in a ponytail and, Jordan knows from when he used to have longer hair, that’s something hard to do with one hand. The reason for the cap becomes evident, though, when the man looks up as if in response to Jordan’s searching eyes. There’s a bandage on one cheek, and around it an impressive mass of red and blue and purple. Road rash, Jordan’s mind supplies, recalling a picture in a textbook from one of his electives, back when. It explains the limp and the sling, and the rehab.
Jordan nods, forcing himself to smile and hoping it doesn’t look too creepy. The man is still attractive, in spite of or because of his injuries. The man nods back and sits behind Jordan, away from Miss Govers. Jordan hides a snort beneath the sound of the engine as he accelerates away from the curb.
The man gets off at the mall, and Jordan watches him disappear into the after-school crowd while he waits for his passengers to sort themselves out. He gets possessive over his regulars; he learns their names, sometimes even those of their kids and friends, and if they’re absent, he notices. If they need help with a big bag, he’ll get out and lift it for them, carrying it up the steps and putting it in the parcel tray, and lifting it back out for them at the other end. He knows this about himself and he prides himself on it, but he doesn’t feel like that about the man. It’s something different that’s woken up in him, that he put aside when he graduated and didn’t have time while he found work and dealt with not having school to keep his days in line. I want to take care of you, he thinks.
But he knows he can’t just do that, step into this man’s life and take over, or even offer; he’s just the bus driver, and he’s barely met the man.
It’s the last circuit of the day, the quietest, because it’s the last run and once most people get off, nobody else gets on. People go home from the hospital, they don’t catch the bus there, and from the mall they can get a bus that goes closer to their house, but waiting at his stop at the interchange is the man. Jordan remembers that last week he got off two stops past, but he’s still surprised. The man has two plastic bags in addition to his pack, and Jordan doesn’t even hesitate before engaging the parking brake and jumping down the steps to grab them. The man tries to wave him off, but Jordan ignores it; he would do this for anyone, and there’s not enough room in the door for the man to struggle with the railing and his shopping both. He doesn’t say anything, just puts the bags next to the disabled seat, where the man sat the first week and where Jordan can see him. The man sinks down on the seat a few minutes later, clearly exhausted.
“Look, man, it’s the last run of the day and nobody else is here. If you want, I can drop you closer to your house.” Jordan has done this before, and while he didn’t get in trouble, he was told that it was very important to make all the stops on time and detours were only for accidents and roadworks.
He doesn’t care, though; he provides a service, and he can make this man’s life a tiny bit easier. The man doesn’t say anything, though, and Jordan sighs. There’s not much else he can do.
He pulls over two stops up, but when Jordan goes to pick up the man’s bags, the man puts a hand on his arm. He has the timetable out, and he’s pointing to the map. This is the closest stop to the spot the man is pointing to, three blocks back from the main road, but that’s a hell of a hill, and Jordan knows it from when he can be bothered to go running.
“No problem,” he says. The man doesn’t let him go though; he touches Jordan’s arm again and then his pass. Jordan lifts it up and crouches just enough that he can read it.
“Takihiro?” The man winces, and pinches his thumb and finger together. “Taki?” The man nods.
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jordan. I drive Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so you get this bus on those days, you’ll have me.”
Taki blushes, and Jordan grins. “Let’s get you home.”
Taki’s house is basically what passes for a renovated garage, but it looks well-cared for, and there isn’t anyone waiting outside, so Jordan takes the bags right up to the door before saluting Taki and heading back to the bus. Taki is still standing by the door as Jordan pulls out, not fiddling with his keys or the bags, just watching. Jordan sees him wave in the mirror as he turns onto Belmont and back towards his route.
It becomes a thing, every Wednesday. Miss Govers has learned not to comment, and Jordan is absurdly grateful for that. Taki gets to rehab on his own, but he’s always at the 3:37 stop and gets off at the mall. Jordan picks him and his bags back up at 4:46 and takes him home, and Taki never speaks. Jordan figures it must be painful to try, with his face banged up like that, so he doesn’t press, even as the sling disappears and the limp improves.
He talks enough for both of them, and the day Taki smiles at him, brilliant and wide and with the skin around his eyes crinkling until Taki winces, is the day Jordan decides to hell with everyone else, he’s doing a good thing here. The times of self-doubt seem to have gone away as well, and he gets a new contract for his Facebook posting because the happy sayings he posts are bringing more fans.
Taki’s helping him too, even if he doesn’t realise it.
It’s been months, and the bandage on Taki’s cheek is the only sign left that anything happened, though Jordan can still tell if he looks hard enough. Today it’s raining, and Taki’s cap is wet through. Most people didn’t come out, so the bus is quiet but for Miss Govers and Taki as they get on at their usual stop.
“Hey, Taki? If you want, you can give me a list and I’ll bring it over when I’m done with my shift. Saves you dragging the heavy stuff and waiting for me in the rain. And anything you can’t normally get because it’s too big, I’ll grab that too.”
He ignores Miss Govers’ look at him in the passenger mirror. He knows she would just love for him to meet someone so she could tell everyone it was her idea, although she stopped setting him up with her granddaughters after they got married to people of their choosing and moved, he hopes, very far away.
“Yeah, okay,” Taki says; his voice is deep and scratchy, and the words aren’t quite clear because Taki only moves one side of his mouth. Jordan nods, choosing not to comment. Taki’s taken to carrying a pen and paper, and not getting off at the mall was a sign that he had accepted Jordan’s offer, but Jordan stops at Taki’s old stop, two stops past the mall, because Taki has pulled the bell.
“Don’t be silly,” Jordan says, and drives up to Taki’s door. He’ll drop Miss Govers at her house too, the one she shares with two other older ladies who don’t want to admit that they’re that old. He doesn’t want anyone getting a cold after being out in the rain, after all; they’d bring their germs onto his bus. The other driver has put a bottle of hand sanitiser in the hollow under the ticket machine and the TWA sent everyone a pamphlet about shots. This is his contribution, and the one time they put an auditor on his bus everyone fell over themselves to tell him how nice a young man Jordan was. Or, at least, Miss Govers did.
Jordan will tell Taki that later, but right now Taki is shooting Miss Govers a wary look, as if he’s not sure what she’ll do with the knowledge of where he lives. Just to be safe, Jordan doesn’t wait for Taki to wave before turning off back to his route and his next detour. Taki had slipped him a piece of paper on his way out.
“Such a lovely young man,” Miss Govers says, when Jordan pulls in at the corner nearest her house. She lives on a cul-de-sac, and she knows he can’t turn the bus around in there, so this is their wet-weather compromise. “You look out for him, Jordan,” she says, and sweeps down the ramp before Jordan can come up with a reply.
The last circuit is devoid of passengers so he makes up the time without anyone at the depot’s being the wiser; they assume he missed his break because of the weather, and they get fined if buses are more than two minutes late, so the TWA are hamstrung on the short breaks. Jordan’s pleased enough; he could do without being social today. He drives the bus into the service bay, where it will be looked over before he picks it up again in the morning, and walks to his car in the drivers’ lot. It used to be his dad’s, so it’s nothing special, but it’s his; nobody else rearranges the glove box or adjusts the seat, and he treasures it for that.
And today, he will park it in the driveway leading up to Taki’s house. Taki’s list is short, and surprisingly neat since it was written on a bus. Jordan knows most of Taki’s regular shopping is pre-prepared meals and bananas, but Taki’s added that he’d like some orange juice.
Jordan avoids the mall and instead heads to his local shops, in part so he can grab some things of his own without worrying about mall parking and the crowds, but also because he knows he can get better quality fruit and juice there, and it’s a bit cheaper. Taki has insisted on a receipt, so Jordan’s not worried about being paid back, but he thinks Taki’s only doing the mall because it’s easy. He would do the same.
He puts Taki’s things through separately at the self-checkout, so they’re bagged together and he gets a receipt with the exact cost. It’s not that he doesn’t want Taki to know he’d be shopping anyway, or that he wants to keep his brand of shaving cream a secret, but it just seems the easiest thing to do. Although, as he pushes a trolley back to his car, grateful for undercover parking, he does wonder how Taki would have gone carrying this all himself, and what things were like before. Taki seems to like stir fry and pasta, and while Jordan didn’t know that microwave stir fry existed before now, it seems that it’s one of those things that Taki might have learned to cook from his mother or grandmother, and easily prepared.
The explanation is clear enough when Jordan pulls in to Taki’s driveway. It’s covered, so he gets the bags out and puts them on the ground as he rearranges his and locks up. There’s a new addition, a rather new-looking Kawasaki Versys resting on its kickstand. He can almost see how Taki would look sitting astride it, with heavy jeans stretched out over his crotch and perhaps a weather-beaten leather jacket to match the shiny black paint of the bike. However, the bike shows no sign of being ridden; while Taki would be the type to care for his things, the tyres have no discernible wear, the seat and footrests are unscuffed, and the paint is glossy and even, reflecting the last of sunlight into Jordan’s eyes. Jordan closes his mind to the images that run through his head, guessing at how Taki came by his shattered cheekbone and limp. Instead, he walks past the bike and knocks on the door. There’s a muffled sound, so Jordan tries the handle and finds that the door is open; he brings the bags in one by one and closes it behind him, then goes searching. Taki is upstairs, in an open-plan living area that is like a bedroom and living room all together, and he’s struggling to put a shirt on over his head. Jordan passes him a worn dressing gown hanging from the stair rail.
“You don’t need to dress up for me,” he says. Taki nearly breaks down and collapses on the sofa, which had been left still pulled out and made up as a bed.
“I wanted to,” Taki says.
“I know all this. You don’t need to hide it from me.” Jordan says. He sits next to Taki, on his good side.
“Insurance came through?” he says. “I saw the bike.”
Taki nods. He leans into Jordan. “It’s a bit much today. I’m sorry.”
Jordan rubs Taki’s back until the shaking stops and Taki’s breathing settles from hyperventilating to ragged. He knows saying anything would just make it worse, so he waits. This is what he does, caring for people, like his dad after another accident, years ago, that means Jordan’s homework time was spent making sure his mum ate during his recovery and after he died instead of finishing it. He knows.
And he pushes Taki away when the leaning turns into attempts at kissing. Taki starts talking, stops, and Jordan knows it must still be hard when Taki reaches for his pack and his pad and paper.
You’re the only one who gave me a choice. You make me feel like a person and not a burden.
“You don’t have to thank me for that,” Jordan says. “I’m going to put away your food and make you a decent meal.”
He leaves Taki to his tee shirt and his pad and paper and heads back downstairs, wondering how Taki handled them with his limp and whether he should brave curry or just go with his original plan.
Taki comes down after an hour, a button-down half done up and his hair clipped back with a barrette that looks like something a sister would have given him. Jordan has taken the easy way out and set a lump of corned beef to boil with some veggies in the oven. He can add some sautéed greens if Taki’s hungry, but he’s picked the food based on things that would be easy to cut up and eat, and that Taki might not have had in a while. There will be enough beef for leftovers, and Taki can heat it up with his stir fries or eat it on its own.
“I’m sorry,” Taki says. Jordan’s been thinking; he has a whole speech planned, but he doesn’t say it. He drains the beef instead, letting Taki set the table.
“Oh, organic!” Taki says, and reaches across Jordan for a glass from the sink. Jordan smiles; it can wait until after they eat. And Taki eats; Jordan wonders if he should have made more, but Taki sits back and closes his eyes with food still on his plate, which Jordan packs up into a Tupperware for him.
“I didn’t turn you down because I don’t want you,” Jordan says, as Taki points out where the dishes go and Jordan wipes them down. “I want you to know you don’t owe me.”
“I know,” Taki says. “Miss Govers knows, too.” he says, cheekily, although his voice cuts out part way through. Taki mimes holding something to his face, which Jordan works out to be a magnifying glass. He would guess that Miss Govers’ interest in his personal life has extended to setting him up with Taki; while he’d love to know what was said, but he has other priorities right now.
Jordan lets Taki take him back up the stairs and mock-push him down on the bed. You make me feel like a person, Taki had written. Jordan thinks of what he would write on his cat pictures, and doesn’t have it in him to tell Taki to back down.
He would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought of this.
Taki takes the lead, at first, kissing Jordan on the mouth like he’s dessert, licking and nipping down his chest and pulling at the buttons on Jordan’s uniform shirt. But he tires quickly, and Jordan flips him over. On his back, his shirt open, Taki is beautiful. The light clings to the raw red lines down his side and Jordan traces them with his tongue. The new skin is sensitive, and Taki mewls in his throat and bucks, almost hitting Jordan in the neck with his erection.
“I got it,” Jordan says, and slides Taki’s trousers and underwear down, freeing it. It tastes clean, Jordan thinks, as he licks from Taki’s balls up to the head of his cock. He settles with his legs either side of Taki’s own and pushes back until he’s stretched his back out enough to be comfortable as he wraps his lips around Taki and slides them down. He flicks his tongue from left to right along Taki’s frenulum and then lets Taki’s good hand in his hair guide him as to pace, up and down. Taki sets a slow pace, so Jordan can indulge; he hums a bit, lets Taki thrust into his mouth, flicks at the end with his tongue when he can.
It’s almost disappointing how quick Taki is to come; Jordan swallows easily, but he’d just been gearing up to suckle for a few minutes more, when brushing his fingers up Taki’s thighs had sent him trembling and he came with a hoarse shout. Jordan pulls off, knowing how sensitive he is after he comes, and sees Taki grinning at him, lopsidedly.
Jordan crawls up to lie next to Taki and kisses him on the mouth. Taki makes a face and Jordan pulls away, only for Taki to pull him back with his good hand, again. He fumbles with Jordan’s belt, but beams when he gets his hand on Jordan’s cock. Jordan is half-hard already, but that first touch feels a bit like an electric shock that echoes up his body, leaving behind a warmth that settles in his stomach and groin. He finally stops thinking, too; he focuses on Taki’s hand, the way Taki keeps looking up at him as if asking for reassurance, the faint smell of sweat and the taste of salt still on his tongue.
Jordan comes quickly, too, because Taki’s grip may be soft but his hand is fast and sure, but he’s content to let Taki doze beside him once he’s done. After all, he doesn’t think this is a one-time thing, and that means there’s time to work up to more.
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