Rin slid the door closed, leaving the chatter of the izakaya behind them. Though the night was cool enough to chill, he didn’t button his coat, only shoved his hands into its pockets. The lights of a passing taxi illuminated his face, particularly his eyes, which darted up and down the sidewalk.
“How about a walk before we go home?” he asked.
Haru’s feet were sore from standing in a kitchen all day and he wanted a bath, but something had been off about Rin’s behavior all evening. Even his earlier dinner invitation, while not out of the ordinary, had a nervous edge that made Haru uneasy. He’d expected Rin to drop a bombshell during dinner—Rin had acted the same way before the Olympics, worried Haru would be upset—but he’d only drunk more than usual and stuffed himself with meat.
“Sure,” Haru said. A walk would relax them both. “Can we stop at the convenience store?”
“Are we out of something?”
“Milk. I don’t want to hear you complain in the morning.”
Rin laughed and took an exaggerated step in the direction of the store. “Fine. Convenience store it is.”
“Was there somewhere else you’d rather go?”
“Nah. Just felt like stretching my legs after all that food.”
They didn’t speak again between there and the store. To look at him, Rin didn’t appear upset. He kept smiling to himself and glancing up at the sky. A new sponsor? Or maybe he was going abroad to train again and didn’t know how to tell Haru they were giving up the apartment. No, Rin had an unusually euphoric expression, like a child bringing home goldfish won at a summer festival. If he didn’t know better, Haru might have suspected that Rin met someone, but Rin rarely went anywhere except the swim center and the cafe where Haru worked, both close to the apartment.
Inside the convenience store, Rin browsed magazines while Haru bought milk and bread and a new brand of toothpaste, since their usual was sold out. Rin would complain the taste was different, but mint was mint. Haru hid the toothpaste under the bread so Rin wouldn’t see the label and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Did you want one of those?” he asked, gesturing to the magazines. “I already paid.”
Rin’s cheeks were flushed. “What? No, I was just looking.”
Haru frowned. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You look like you have a fever.”
Rin dismissed his concern with a laugh and stepped around him toward the door, taking the shopping bag from Haru’s hand. He peered inside. “I thought you were only getting milk? Hey, you bought the wrong toothpaste again!”
“They were out of yours.”
“We could’ve gone to another store.”
Haru smiled behind Rin’s back and followed him out. It seemed he was always chasing after Rin, first to a short-lived competitive career after college, then back home, and most recently to Tokyo where they’d lived for two years. Rin still trained, but Haru was content going to a sports facility a few times a week and preferred a steady income. He walked in Rin’s shadow for several blocks to the park across the street from their apartment building.
Rin set down the bag and sat on a swing, curling his hands around the metal chains. He bent his head. Figuring that Rin was drunk and too proud to admit it, Haru took the swing next to him.
“It’ll be winter soon,” he said, rubbing his arms. When Rin said nothing in reply, Haru frowned. “Is something wrong? There’s been a weird feeling all evening.”
Rin sighed. Cheeks pink from the beer and the cold fall air, he gazed up at the moon.
“Hey, Haru. What do you think about me?”
Taken aback by the question, Haru stalled for time. “Why are you asking?”
“I want to know.”
“I think you’re stubborn,” Haru said.
Rin laughed. “Eh? Is that all?”
“But you’re reliable. You always bring in the laundry before it rains.”
“You’ll never let me forget the time I forgot it in a typhoon.”
“My underwear were in a tree.”
“I still have nightmares.”
Haru let out a sigh and continued. “You always buy the right toothpaste. Your egg sandwiches are delicious—they’re popular at the cafe. And I like your swimming.”
“Are you praising me?” Rin preened, leering at him.
“I know.” Taking a deep breath, Rin raised his face to the moon. “I love you. I love you so much, Haru.”
For a few seconds Haru didn’t move, knocked sideways by Rin’s declaration. Was this a joke? No . . . no, Rin looked serious. His hands were locked on the chains, back straight the way he held himself in interviews. Haru gulped.
“Rin—” he began, but before he could say anything more, Rin dissolved into musical laughter, covering his face.
“I’ve always wanted to say that,” he said. “Ahh, I’ve been so nervous!”
Haru wet his lips. “Is . . . is this a confession?”
“Are you surprised?”
Uncertain what to say, Haru pressed his lips together and nodded.
“Yeah, I guess you don’t really think about things like this.” Rin cast his eyes down. “You don’t have to answer right away, but I didn’t want to leave town again without telling you.”
“In the morning. I’ll be gone through the weekend. When I get back, maybe . . . maybe you can answer me then.”
“Why do we have to change things?” Haru said and immediately wished he hadn’t. Hurt slashed through Rin’s expression, the corners of his mouth twitching as though he would cry at any moment.
“That’s right,” Rin said. The joy had left his voice. It had a harsh edge, like weathered concrete. “You’ve never liked change, have you.”
“You’re wrong,” Haru said as he reached for Rin. “That’s not what I meant to—”
Rin slapped his hand away before standing from the swing with a bitter laugh. He turned his face in the opposite direction. “Sorry, but I want to be alone for a while. Go home, Haru. The milk is getting warm.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m gonna clear my head.”
“Don’t follow me.”
Avoiding Haru’s eyes, Rin shoved his hands in his pockets and disappeared into the park’s shadows. Haru jumped up from the swing. He knew better than to force things. If he ran after him or called his cell, they would only fight. Rin would come home once he’d cooled off and they would talk calmly.
“What do you want for lunch tomorrow?” Haru called after him, desperate for routine.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rin said without looking back. “I’ll buy something at the airport. Don’t wait up.”
“I’ll heat the bath for you,” Haru said, but Rin kept walking.
Warmth on his shoulder—a hand. Someone was shaking him awake. His legs and back ached from sitting upright so long on the molded plastic chair. Shielding his face against the harsh fluorescent lights, Haru opened his eyes, running his tongue over his teeth to clear away the stale taste, and rubbed the crick in his neck.
“Makoto?” he said. His voice came out thin, dry, too real for this to be a dream. He cleared his throat.
Makoto had taken the seat next to him in the emergency room. The crowd had thinned since Haru had rushed in after receiving Miyako’s frantic call. The hospital staff had told him very little, only that Rin’s condition was stable and it would be a while before Haru could see him. He had refused to leave the hospital, determined to wait, and must have fallen asleep. He sat forward to relieve the building pressure in his lower back.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“A little past one. Here, drink this.” Makoto passed him a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Haru accepted it out of obligation.
“How long have you been here?” he asked.
“I just arrived. I took a taxi. Are you alright?”
Haru felt splintered, on the verge of tears. “Did they say if he’s woken up?” he asked.
“Not yet, but they told me his injuries were minor. He won’t need surgery, just rest. Have you already called his family?”
Haru nodded. “They’re taking the first train in the morning.”
“Are they staying with you?”
“Have you eaten?”
“We went out.”
“You and Rin?”
“Yeah.” The surging guilt left him nauseated. Haru covered his mouth and took a moment to compose himself. “What if he doesn’t wake up?”
“The doctor said it may be a few hours. Why don’t you go home and sleep? I’ll call you if anything happens.”
“The cafe is closed tomorrow. Today,” Haru amended, remembering the time.
“Oh, right. Ren mentioned that he had the day off. He wanted to come with me but he has school in the morning. What happened?”
“I don’t know. We’d . . .” Haru mentally edited the evening. “After dinner, Rin went for a walk. He was supposed to leave for a competition in a few hours. I knew he was upset about something. I should’ve gone after him, but the groceries—”
“Haru, it’s not your fault.”
“They found him on the tracks. I don’t know what he was doing at the station. The hospital called his family in Iwatobi, and his mother called me. They said it was a mugging, that he was pushed. At least he had his insurance card.”
Makoto rubbed Haru’s shoulder. “I’m sure it’s a relief to Miyako-san that you’re here.”
Was it? Haru was the reason Rin had run off. If he’d considered his words before speaking, Rin would be packing for his competition right now, not unconscious in a hospital bed. Haru understood, perhaps better than anyone, Rin’s sensitivity. How someone with Rin'’ fierce competitive drive, his unrelenting nature, could be so tender had always baffled him. Haru had never been affected by much, but show Rin a beautiful sunset and his eyes would turn to glass. What if he never opened them again? What if the last words they ever said to each other—
Haru drowned the thought in bitter coffee.
Rin regained consciousness around five in the morning. It was still dark outside. Makoto had fallen asleep, but between the coffee and his nerves, Haru had spent the last few hours staring at the grid of tile seams on the hospital floor. A physician came out to see them. Rin’s condition was good, she said. He was responsive and able to speak, but would be kept several days for observation. The police were sending someone to interview him about the attack. Haru explained that he was Rin’s roommate, that the Matsuoka family wouldn’t be arriving for a few hours, and was given permission to visit him.
Rin had been moved from the emergency floor to a shared room. Rather than wake Makoto, who had fallen asleep in the waiting room, Haru took the elevator to Rin’s floor by himself. He needed to see him alone, apologize. A nurse on that floor allowed him inside. Rin’s room was quiet but for the sounds of breathing, the hum of machinery. Another patient, the one closest to the door, snored behind a curtain pulled across the foot of the bed. Haru walked softly across the room.
Rin was sitting upright, looking out the window. His face and hands were bandaged, nose swollen, both eyes black. Haru’s instinct was to rush to his side, take him into his arms, but he did neither, rooted in place by shame. At the sound of Haru’s footsteps, Rin turned his head. For a few terrible seconds he said nothing at all, only stared.
Haru found his voice. “How are you feeling?”
Rin scowled. He continued to stare at him, and finally, with a bewildered expression, spoke.
As he’d thought, Rin was angry if he was avoiding first names. Taking a breath to steady himself, Haru approached the bed.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I was surprised. I never realized . . . About what you said, I’m happy.”
Rin said nothing.
“We can talk more about that once you’re out of the hospital,” Haru continued, growing flustered. “I’ve spoken with Miyako-san. They’ll be here in a few hours.”
Rin’s eyes narrowed. “Why would you talk with my mom?”
“She called me,” Haru said.
“Huh? Why does my mom have your number?”
“What are you talking about? I’ve been friends with your mother for years.”
“Is this a joke?” Rin said, seeming to draw into himself. He gathered the thin bedsheet against his chest.
Haru lowered his head. “Rin. I understand you’re still mad at me, but stop messing around.”
“Mad? What do I have to be mad about?”
Was he pretending the confession hadn’t happened, that Haru hadn’t just accepted it? Fine. Rin was the injured one here. If forgetting was what he needed right now, Haru would go along with it. He concealed a fist in his pocket.
“How’s your head?” he asked.
“How did I get here?”
“No, to Japan.”
“What do you mean?”
“The last thing I remember, I was in Australia. Then I woke up here.”
“We haven’t been to Australia in months,” Haru said.
“We?” Though he’d practically spit the word, Rin’s voice warbled. He sounded like he was on the verge of tears or a tirade. Haru had a terrible thought.
“Rin . . .” he said slowly. “What year is it?”
Rin’s answer drained the blood from Haru’s face. He shivered, legs suddenly weary. He didn’t react, waiting for Rin to admit the joke, and when he didn’t, Haru kept still out of shock. This was the sort of thing that happened in manga. People didn’t lose whole years from falling onto the train tracks.
“I’ll . . . I’ll be back,” Haru said, stepping away, relieved to escape Rin’s accusing glare. He rushed downstairs to the waiting room and collapsed into the chair beside Makoto.
Haru shook his shoulder. “Rin’s awake,” he said.
Makoto smiled and rubbed his eyes. “Thank god. Have you seen him? How is he?”
“He thinks he’s just back from Australia.”
“Did he have a competition there?”
“No, I mean he thinks we’re still in high school. He didn’t understand why I was visiting him.”
“What did the doctor say?”
“I . . .” Haru rubbed his temples. “I didn’t tell them yet.”
Makoto gave him a reassuring look. “I’ll go speak with them. Wait here.”
Once he’d walked away, Haru caught his face in his hands. Was it really possible that Rin didn’t remember all of the time they’d spent together, that his last memory of the two of them was beneath the tree outside of Iwatobi middle school? Haru should’ve gone after him last night, no matter what Rin said, no matter how angry he got. He should’ve dragged him back home. What if Rin never remembered those years? How was Haru supposed to face Rin’s family? He drank the lukewarm dregs of the coffee and failed to get his heart under control.
Makoto returned after a while and had Haru come with him to Rin’s room. “The doctor is in with him,” he said as they stood outside.
“Have you gone in?”
“Not yet. They think it’s retrograde amnesia. Apparently it’s rare but possible following a head injury.”
“Is it permanent?” Haru asked.
“They didn’t say. For now, they want us to be supportive. I thought we could tell him about himself, show him some pictures. I have a few on my phone. Do you have any?”
“Rin’s the one who takes them.”
“Maybe he emailed you one?”
Haru opened his phone and scrolled through miles of messages from Rin. He saved a few recent pictures to his phone before a doctor emerged from the room. Haru didn’t register what she was saying, but he heard Makoto’s confirmations and felt a touch to his arm. Usually, Makoto’s soppy looks were comforting, but the expression on his face made Haru itch.
“Ready?” Makoto asked.
He wasn’t. He wanted to run away from that place, to bury himself in bed and wake up to find Rin in the next room.
Like before, he was staring out the hospital window. The sun was crawling up behind the city. Rin caught their reflections in the glass.
“They tell me I’ve forgotten a few years,” he said.
Haru hung back, lingering by the curtain. Makoto pulled a chair beside Rin’s bed and sat down.
“Tachibana, right?” Rin said. “You got tall.”
Makoto laughed. “We all did, apart from Nagisa. Is there . . . is there anything particular you want to know?”
“Why is it the two of you?”
“We live together,” Haru said. “You and me.”
“You’ve been roommates for two years,” Makoto added. “You live here in Tokyo.”
“How old am I?” Rin asked.
“Twenty-six,” Makoto said.
“Do I still swim?”
“Yes,” Haru said. “Every day.”
Rin finally looked at him, eyes sharp. “What about you?”
“When I can.”
“We have an apartment?”
“It’s small, but it’s near where you train. I work at a cafe nearby.”
“You’re a chef?” Rin said, frowning.
“Well, sort of. I make simple dishes.”
“Haru’s food receives amazing reviews,” Makoto said. He took out his phone and rose from the chair, holding up the screen so Rin could see. “Here’s a picture of us at New Year’s. And this one is your birthday. Haru made the cake. That was taken in your apartment. Oh, this is the cafe where Haru works. Haru, show him the pictures on your phone.”
Rin stared with intent at all of the photos, his brow furrowing.
“Does anything look familiar?” Haru asked, watching Rin’s face for any sign of recognition, but Rin shook his head.
“Where’s Sousuke?” he asked.
“He lives near Nagoya. He’s training to be a physical therapist. I sent him an email last night. I’m sure he’ll contact you.”
“Rin, is there anything you need?” Makoto asked. “Anything we can bring you? The hospital store should be open.”
“Toothbrush,” Rin said absently.
Haru patted his bag. “I brought yours. Oh . . . but maybe you’d prefer a new one?”
“It’s fine. Thanks, Nanase.”
Haru gave a halting nod and set the bag on the second chair. “There are clothes too. I brought your favorites.”
He stopped talking when Rin’s frown reappeared, both hoping and dreading that he’d remembered something from last night, but Rin only made a noise in acknowledgement.
“You’re probably tired. I’m writing down my number and e-mail address,” Makoto said as he scribbled on a piece of paper that he set beside the room phone. “Call if you need anything. I have my mornings free.”
“Your family should be here soon,” Haru said. “I can wait with you if you want. I don’t have work today.”
“I’m fine.” Rin studied his bandaged hands. “They said you’ve been here all night. I’m sure you want to get home.”
Haru couldn’t find the words to protest.
Outside in the hallway, Makoto turned to him. “Should you have left your number too?”
“I doubt he’d call me,” Haru said. “Anyway, it’s stored in his phone.”
“What are you doing now? Should we get breakfast? Don’t tell me you’re not hungry.”
“I was going to wait for Rin’s family.”
“They’ll still be a while. You can eat and come back. If you don’t want to leave the hospital, we can get something in the cafeteria.”
From down the hall, two uniformed police officers were heading in their direction. Sighing, Haru turned away from Rin’s door. “A walk would be good.”
The third chair at the counter remained empty even though it was nearing lunchtime. Behind the counter, Haru yawned, swaying on his feet. The manager had gone to the grocery store to restock eggs after Haru had dropped a carton. He’d offered to go himself, but she’d left him in charge since the day was still early and ordered him to make himself a strong coffee. They’d already filled the to-go orders—breakfast sandwiches for the morning rush, Rin’s idea after so much travel abroad. They were popular with salarymen. Only one patron remained, a woman reading a book in one of the small tables against the cafe’s window. It wouldn’t be busy again for another hour. Ren Tachibana had finished wiping down the tables and was crouched behind the counter playing a game on his phone.
“You’re not supposed to have that out while you’re working,” Haru reminded him.
“I’ll put it away if someone comes in.”
Haru didn’t have the energy to argue. He blew on the surface of his coffee and drew in a sip.
“How’s Rin-san doing?” Ren asked. “My brother won’t let me go see him.”
“Makoto probably thinks the bandages will scare you.”
“Then can I go with you to the hospital?”
“Sure,” Haru said. “I’m going after my shift.”
Ren beamed at him, then returned his eyes to the game in his hands. “Hey, is it true he forgot us?”
“He’ll remember you; he’ll just remember you as smaller.”
“It’s boring without him here.”
Haru smiled a little. “He would have been traveling today anyway.”
Opening his mouth to reply, Haru realized he hadn’t asked. “I don’t know.”
“I tried sending him pictures but he hasn’t responded.”
“I’m not sure his phone is working,” Haru said.
“Can you use a cell phone in the hospital?”
“I think so. They changed that rule a few years ago.”
“We should bring him all of his favorite foods. Manager won’t mind. She likes Rin-san. You should have seen her face this morning when I told her he’d been hurt. Do you think they’re going out?”
“No,” Haru said more quickly than he should have.
“If someone as cool as Rin-san is single, there’s no hope for me.”
Haru’s mind replayed the image of Rin smiling at him from the adjacent swing. Squeezing his eyes closed to clear it away, he set the coffee aside and washed his hands so he could prep chicken for the lunch crowd. Without thinking, he set aside a portion for Rin like always, but remembering he wasn’t coming to the cafe today, returned it to the tray and seasoned it with the rest.
“Rin is focused on other things,” he said.
“Hey, Haru-senpai . . . is it true Gou-san is in Tokyo?”
“She came up with Miyako-san.”
“Do you think we’ll see her at the hospital?”
Haru hid a grin. “Probably.”
“Is she staying with you? Let me come over!”
“They stayed with me the first night, but they found a hotel closer to the hospital.”
“If you’re lonely, I can stay with you until Rin-san comes home.”
“You just want his video games.”
Ren flashed a smile and put his phone away when the cafe’s phone rang. He jumped to his feet and leaned against the counter to take down the order. Haru glanced at his tidy handwriting—the one thing Ren had in common with his older brother—and set the chicken aside, going to the refrigerator for ingredients. He was halfway through chopping an onion when Ren leaned into his field of vision and waved to get his attention.
“What?” Haru asked.
“You’re crying,” Ren said.
Surprised, Haru looked up, eyelashes fluttering. Sure enough, tears spilled down his face. “It’s the onion,” he said, hoping Ren would let it go, but he winced at the strain in Haru’s voice.
“He’s strong,” Ren said. “He’ll be better soon.”
Haru nodded to himself. Ren went to the sink and washed his hands, then held one out for the cooking knife.
“Please let me finish that, senpai. I’ve been practicing like you taught me, and it’s no good if you chop off a finger.”
Haru relented and relinquished the knife, standing at Ren’s side to oversee his work. “You’re getting better,” he said as Ren shredded half a cabbage.
“You said I should learn if I wanted to impress someone. Is that why you started cooking?”
“No. My parents moved away when I was in middle school, so I lived alone.”
“Ah. Well, Rin-san sure loves your food. I’m sure it’ll help him remember.”
Haru patted Ren’s shoulder and finished his coffee. While Ren was cooking the meat, which sizzled pleasantly on the large grill and sent a delicious flavor through the cafe, the door chimes rang. In walked a couple, who smiled at Haru’s greeting and claimed two of the counter seats. Rin’s stayed empty.
Rin came home after a week in the hospital. Haru was in the kitchen preparing a light lunch for himself when he heard a noise at the door, the brush of it opening. Thinking it was Makoto, he went to the genkan to greet him and was shocked by the sight of red hair. Rin was bent over untying his shoes.
“Shit,” he muttered, unsuccessfully pulling at the laces.
When Haru said his name, Rin’s head snapped up. The bruises around his eyes were still dark but had a greenish tinge they hadn’t a few days ago, and some of the swelling in his cheeks had gone down. Bandages covered the lacerations on his forehead. As he stared at Haru, Rin’s face reddened and he angled it toward the floor.
“Do you need help?” Haru said.
“No,” Rin spit out, then sighed. “Yes.”
Haru knelt down and untied Rin’s shoes, helping him to slip them off, and lined them up beside his own.
“I would have picked you up,” Haru said.
“I wanted to find the place on my own.”
“Where’s your family?”
“Shopping. Their train’s in a few hours.”
“I’m making lunch if you’re hungry.”
Rin nodded. “Sorry for intruding.”
Haru hid a wince. “Welcome home,” he said. “Lunch will be ready in a few minutes.”
“I didn’t think the key would work. When it did, I didn’t think you’d be on the other side.”
“I’m sorry,” Haru replied, not sure what to say. “Should I leave you alone?”
Rin shook his head. “Where’s the washing machine?”
“In the bathroom. You probably want a bath. I’ll heat the water for you, so just relax until then.”
Leaving Rin in the entry, Haru switched on the tub heater and returned to the kitchen. The mackerel he’d been cooking was over-seared, but Rin had never liked mackerel much anyway. Haru retrieved last night’s fried rice from the refrigerator and transferred it into a pan to reheat.
He could hear Rin walking through the front of the apartment, opening the door to each of their bedrooms, the bathroom, the narrow storage closet. He emerged through the frosted door and spent a while exploring the living room that overlooked the kitchen where Haru was standing. He watched Rin linger over the framed photographs they kept near the television. Rin picked one up, scrutinizing it with a confounded look. Haru kept quiet and roughly chopped lettuce for a salad, stealing glances at Rin’s progression. Eventually he came into the kitchen.
“What are you making?” Rin asked.
“Pan-seared mackerel and a salad with sesame-honey vinaigrette. Oh, but there’s fried rice if you don’t want fish.”
“I’ll try it. The doctor said it’s good for my brain.”
“I cook a lot of it.”
“Thanks for the bentos in the hospital. They were loads better than the food there.”
“Sure,” Haru said.
Rin opened the refrigerator. He didn’t remove anything, only studied the contents, then closed the door and opened each of the kitchen cabinets in turn.
“Why do we live together, Nanase?” he asked, taking down a cat-shaped mug they’d gotten at a 100-yen store.
“It’s cheaper than living alone.”
“But why you and me? I figured you’d live with Tachibana.”
“Well . . .” Haru considered how to explain it. “I wanted to be closer to the training facility. You suggested sharing an apartment.”
“It was my idea?”
“Your sponsorships offset part of the rent.”
“My coach came to see me in the hospital,” Rin said. He frowned and crossed his arms. “He said you don’t compete anymore.”
“I tended to overwork myself and ended up straining a muscle. I got a job cooking to pass the time while I was recovering.”
“But you still swim?” Rin asked.
Haru nodded. “I even train with you. Sometimes I let you win.”
The laugh he’d expected from Rin didn’t come. From down the hallway, the bathtub chime signaled that the water was hot.
“Why don’t we eat first?” Haru said, turning away from Rin, and busied himself looking for two clean plates. He divided the fish between them, giving Rin the larger portion and a generous scoop of rice. He looked up to see Rin standing beside the table debating between chairs.
“You usually sit on the left,” Haru offered as he brought over their plates. Rin gingerly lowered himself into the seat.
“Nice table,” he said.
“Ikea. We built it.”
Haru poured two glasses of tea and joined him, feeling slightly awkward to be sitting face to face. Rin thanked him for the food and brought a large chunk of fish to his mouth. Haru pretended not to watch him eat, surprised when Rin swallowed it with a neutral expression.
“It’s pretty good,” he said.
Haru raised an eyebrow. “You usually complain I make it too often.”
“Do we normally eat together?”
“Unless I’m working late or you’re traveling.”
Rin shoveled rice into his mouth. As he chewed, his eyes widened. “I think . . . I think I’ve eaten this before.”
Haru held still, waiting for him to say more, but like clouds covering the sun, Rin’s face gradually darkened. With his plate half full, he laid down his chopsticks.
“Thanks for the food,” he said. “Sorry, I don’t have much of an appetite right now. I’ll eat the rest later. Is it alright if I use the bath?”
“Of course. Be careful of your stitches.” Haru swallowed. “Do you need help getting undressed?”
Pushing back from the table, Rin stood and walked toward the bathroom. The door slid opened and closed. A minute later, Haru heard the sound of the washing machine begin its cycle. He finished eating without tasting much and covered Rin’s plate, putting it into the fridge for later. Frustration pooled under his skin. Times like this, he’d usually head to the swim center to exhaust himself, but he couldn’t leave Rin alone in an unfamiliar apartment without saying something, and Rin would probably be angry at the reminder he wasn’t allowed to swim yet. No point in trying to conceal it; he was like a shark when it came to sniffing out chlorine. Haru would tire himself with a run once Rin was out of the bath, then clean up for work. A couple of weeks out of water wouldn’t kill him.
While Rin bathed, Haru researched brain injuries but came up with scarce practical advice beyond giving Rin time and support. How much should he tell him, or was it better if he waited for Rin to ask? Was it cruel to keep the details of their last evening from him, or was Haru being kind to let him forget it, at least for now? What was he supposed to say—days, weeks, even months from today—when those memories returned? The Rin in the bath was, physically, the same person, but would he even believe Haru if he told him about the confession? To him, Haru was someone he’d left behind in middle school. Rin didn’t remember meeting again, or the relay, or their spontaneous trip to Australia. Those years competing in college. Rin’s incessant travel photographs. Messaging back and forth at odd hours when they were both awake in different countries. Their comfortable life together.
The way he’d cried on the swing set.
Haru couldn’t tell him that. Rin, his Rin, would surely agree.
Rin was already in bed when Haru returned home from working an evening shift, but the sight of his shoes in the entry gave Haru a second wind. The manager had let him take home leftover soup and rice, which he put in the fridge for Rin to eat later. Wired from the cappuccino that Ren had prepared for him, insisting it would help his focus, Haru laced up his running shoes and crossed the street. He preferred running on sidewalks, but after what had happened to Rin, despite the police’s assurance that the incident had been a random mugging, it felt safer close to home. For half an hour, he jogged the lighted perimeter of the small park, keeping his eyes on the ground in front of him, though it was hard to ignore the playground’s accusing silhouette.
Worn out and panting, he went back to the apartment for a bath. Rin had left his wet towel on the floor, a habit Haru had tirelessly tried to break, but the sight of it filled him with relief. He hung it on a peg to dry and soaked in the tub until he was tired enough to sleep.
He worked through his usual evening routine: prepping their breakfasts, bringing in the laundry Rin had hung to dry earlier, switching off the lights. On his way to bed, Haru noticed a glow underneath Rin’s door. Was he still awake? A week ago, Haru wouldn’t have thought twice about going in to switch the lamp off—Rin had a tendency to fall asleep reading—but today he put his ear to the door. Nothing. Haru turned the handle but paused and let it rise back into place. Rin might have purposefully left the light on. He might be troubled if he woke up to find Haru in his room. Haru touched his forehead to Rin’s door, letting it rest there for a while, and went to his own.
He’d had difficulty falling asleep while Rin had been in the hospital, but knowing he lay on the other side of the wall had Haru awake half the night. The next morning, thoroughly exhausted, he offered to take a day off of work to help Rin settle in, but Rin rejected the offer.
“Tachibana’s taking me to lunch,” Rin said casually, looking past Haru as he drained a tall glass of orange juice.
It was the first Haru had heard of it. “I see.”
“He emailed me this morning. And Sousuke’s taking the train on Wednesday. I might go stay with him for a few days.”
“Sure.” Haru swallowed an uncomfortable feeling in his throat. “I brought home food from the restaurant last night. It’s in the refrigerator. Feel free to eat it for lunch if you’d like.”
He stood from the table to finish getting ready for work. As he was pocketing his keys and phone, he noticed a message from Makoto sent earlier that morning.
I have this morning off, so I’ll stop by your apartment and check on Rin.
“Makoto has a spare key,” Haru said to the back of Rin’s head. He’d moved to the couch and was watching the weather report with the television muted. “Do you have your key in case you go out?”
“The shop where I work isn’t far. If anything happens, call me and I’ll come home.”
“What’s going to happen?” Rin asked, looking over his shoulder.
“Nothing,” Haru tried to reassure himself. “Well, I’m off.”
“Have a good day,” Rin echoed, so unlike his usual sing-song rhythm that Haru was paralyzed by disappointment. He steadied himself with a breath and forced his legs to work, hands shaking as he tied his shoes.
Things were quiet at the cafe until the lunch shift, and then so many people poured through the door that Haru didn’t have time to wonder what Rin was doing, if he was alright, if he’d remembered anything. He cranked out entrees like a machine, and by the time he’d filled the last ticket and stepped outside for a break, it was almost three o’clock.
Makoto had sent updates on his outing with Rin. They’d had lunch and gone to a bookstore in another part of the city. He’d taken Rin home before meeting his students.
He was subdued but he ate a lot, Makoto wrote.
Did he eat fish? Haru asked.
On the walk home, he stopped to buy more mackerel and fresh greens. Coming into the apartment, grunts floated to him from down the hallway. Thinking he’d interrupted something private, Haru flushed and put his hand on the door handle. He’d wait outside for a couple minutes, then reenter more loudly. He had a foot out the door when he realized the grunts were frustrated rather than passionate and Haru forgot about Rin’s feelings. He took off his shoes and hurried toward the sounds.
Rin was in the living room attempting sit-ups, his face a furious red. From the sweat gathered at his hairline, he’d been at it a while.
“I’m back,” Haru said.
Rin flopped backwards and covered his eyes with a bent arm. “Welcome home.”
“Are you hungry?” Haru asked.
At the rise and abrupt fall of Rin’s shoulders, the grocery bag on Haru’s arm seemed to double in weight. This isn’t his fault, Haru reminded himself and went to the kitchen. He tied his apron and cleaned the fish, deciding on a simple miso sauce for dinner. Rin usually ate that one without fuss, and if he didn’t eat any tonight, he would have it tomorrow. As Haru worked, Rin continued to struggle on the floor and finally stood, face turned away from Haru, who raised his eyes from the filet knife in time to see Rin slip into the bathroom.
As an athlete, nothing was more frustrating than your body betraying you. Rin would need several more weeks to heal, weeks he wouldn’t be allowed to train. Even if he threw himself back into an intensive regimen over the winter, he’d already lost his narrow edge. Haru understood as well as anyone the disillusionment when your future slipped away, but there was nothing he could say to Rin, not like this. Haru undoubtedly reminded him of the same lack of confidence that had shrouded Rin in high school.
Haru had finished his own dinner by the time Rin emerged from the bathroom, calmer but still avoiding his eyes. He sat at the table and cleaned the plate Haru had left him, and sat on the opposite side of the sofa when Haru put on a movie. Something without water, without swimming. They watched in silence. At one point in the story Rin choked up, and Haru caught himself trying to float a hand to stroke Rin’s hair, but he couldn’t do that anymore. Even when Rin was better, he’d probably given up the right to do that anymore. Haru lowered his hand and passed him a tissue instead.
For days, they continued this awkward shuffle around each other. Rin refused Haru’s offer to go with him to his medical checkups. He went to stay with Sousuke for two nights but was even gloomier on his return. Days when Haru had an early shift, Makoto would often meet with Rin for lunch or to take him for a checkup. Within a week, Rin was back to calling Makoto by his first name, but Haru was firmly Nanase or Nanase-san when Rin was especially prickly.
He seemed to cheer up when the stitches came out. Rin covered the cut on his forehead with a bandage, and wore a hat and mask when he went with Haru on errands. With each day, the bruises faded more and the abrasions on his hands healed to the point he didn’t have to cover them. The police had caught the muggers thanks to security footage. They called to let Rin know the morning of Haru’s next day off. It was raining, so he suggested the aquarium.
They took the train to Sea Life Park, which Rin had readily agreed to once he learned Makoto was coming with them. He’d always tolerated their frequent trips to Sunshine, but getting to that point had taken months. Haru had expected the same friction. Rin sat by Makoto on the train, and walked on Makoto’s other side up the path leading to Sea Life’s jellyfish-shaped glass dome. While Makoto and Haru bought tickets, Rin stayed outside gazing past the still pool and fountains, across the bay toward Chiba.
“Should we visit Disney sometime?” Makoto asked when they found him.
“Is that what that is over there?” Rin said, putting his back to the water.
“You and Haru went last year to celebrate.”
Rin’s head shot up. “What?”
“Your medal,” Haru said. “You bragged on TV that you were going to Disney.”
“Haru even wore the ears, look,” Makoto said.
He found the photograph on his phone and held it out to Rin. Rin stared at it for a moment, and then dismissing the photo with a thin laugh, walked with his hands deep in his pockets inside the dome. Haru and Makoto followed him down the escalator. Rin’s head was bent so low to his chest that Haru could see little more than the back of his neck.
As they stepped off of the escalator into the dark lower level, approaching the initial tanks, Rin cast fleeting looks of interest everywhere but at Haru. Makoto should have been just as alien, but the two of them were laughing over something in a tank as though they had been the inseparable ones before the accident. Haru paled, unused to being on the outside of Rin's affection.
He kept a distance, walking several paces behind them. Sometimes he caught Rin looking back as if to check that he was there, but he glanced away whenever they locked eyes. Haru tried not to feel hurt. There would have been tension between them anyway, even if he’d managed to properly apologize. Rin had never been good at letting things go. If—no, when. When Rin regained his memories, he might still ask Haru to leave the apartment, or Rin might leave himself.
The thought gutted him. Haru had never found it necessary to fill the silences between them. Being together had been easy, as effortless as swimming, but nerves loosened his mouth. He inserted himself between Rin and Makoto, reading curious facts from the exhibit signs out loud (“large areas of the deep sea have not been explored”) and pointed out the giant isopod before Rin had reached that tank, watching his face for the little smirk he always made.
“Oh. My sister loves these,” Rin said blandly and sent her a picture. Then he went to the next exhibit.
Undeterred, Haru caught up to him in front of the massive tuna tank that rose up around them like a circular wall. The school of fat, silvery fish shifted right and left, right and left. Rin had pulled down his mask and tilted his head back, gazing up at them. The blueish lights from the tank outlined his face. Though he wasn’t smiling, the corners of his mouth were slightly raised. The sight tugged at Haru’s heart. He had only to move his hand a fraction and could touch him. He stared at the void between them until Rin walked away.
It was a relief to go outside, hidden behind a pair of sunglasses. The three of them leaned against the railing overlooking the penguin exhibit. A noxious fishy odor wafted up from the water and Haru wished he’d brought a mask. Families crowded on both sides, holding children up so they could see the penguins that bobbed on the surface and dived underneath. One launched itself out of the pool, shaking water from its black feathers as it hopped along the faux rock wall.
“Penguins eat fish,” Rin said. “Seems strange to have them at an aquarium.”
“Ah, that is a little odd,” Makoto said. “I’ve never thought about it, though they have dolphins at some aquariums. They eat fish too.”
“But they live in water.”
“Penguins are aquatic,” Haru said.
“If Haru were a bird, he’d be a penguin,” Makoto said, earning a laugh out of Rin. Haru frowned.
“They say penguins mate for life,” he murmured.
Makoto made a sound of appreciation and nodded as he considered the fact. On his other side, Rin scowled.
“I need the bathroom,” he said, walking away. “It stinks out here. I’ll meet you two back inside.”
Haru stared after him, then noticed Makoto watching him.
“Haru, is everything alright?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m just tired. I haven’t been sleeping well. Sorry for making you worry.”
“Is it Rin?”
“Is what Rin?”
“Why you’re not sleeping. Are you still blaming yourself for what happened?”
Despite his sunglasses, Haru squinted into the glare off of the water. “It’s crowded here. Let’s talk about it another time.”
“Sure,” Makoto said with a resigned smile.
They finished looking at the indoor exhibits and meandered through the gift shop for a few minutes. Haru was drawn to the array of stuffed animals. He picked out the one he thought would make Rin laugh, a frilled shark—such an ugly toy Rin was sure to think it was cute. Haru carried the bag on his arm from the aquarium through Kasai Rinkai park to the Ferris wheel.
“What is this, a group date?” Rin asked in a tone that meant he was embarrassed, though he took the most photos from the top.
They had lunch at a hotel in the park before catching the train. After placing their order, Makoto left the two of them at the table once they’d been seated and went to wash his hands. Haru held out the bag from the gift shop.
“What’s this?” Rin asked.
Haru shrugged. “Thought you’d like it.”
Rin’s eyes were obscured by the brim of his cap. “Makoto said we go to aquariums a lot, you and me.” Haru thought he detected accusation in his tone.
“We have a membership for Sunshine.”
“It’s dark and air conditioned. You like that you aren’t recognized. Should we go sometime?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Rin said. He took the toy out of the bag with a confused expression. “A shark?”
“It reminded me of Samezuka.”
Rin swallowed. “I see. Thanks.”
Figuring he hadn’t liked it, Haru expected Rin to shove the toy into the bag and forget about it, but he kept it on his lap and even while they ate, to Haru’s relief, idly stroked it.
Haru thought the outing had cleared away some of the awkwardness between them, but in the days that followed, Rin maintained a silent standoff. And when Haru came home from work on Thursday evening, he found an empty apartment and hastily written note saying that Rin had gone home to Iwatobi.
“I swear I didn’t know about his plans. He called me from the station,” Makoto admitted when Haru showed up at his door with a convenience bag overflowing with beer and snacks. Ren, who was doing homework at the coffee table, smiled at him as he came in and waved a pencil.
“Haru-senpai, come to help me study?”
“You don’t want Haru’s help,” Makoto said. He took two glasses down from the kitchen shelf, but Haru had already cracked open the first can and was chugging the beer straight. Sighing, Makoto sat beside him on the couch.
“Can I have some?” Ren asked. Haru motioned to the bag and told Ren to help himself, earning him a scandalous look from Makoto.
“Finish your homework and take a bath,” Makoto said to Ren. “You have an exam in the morning.”
Though Ren made a face, his anger was playful. “Okay, dad,” he said and closed his notebook. “Is Rin-san coming over too?”
“He’s not,” Makoto said with an awkward glance at Haru, who tipped the can farther back. “Actually, Ren, we’re out of bread for morning. Would you run to the store?”
Ren’s eyes narrowed. “You’re trying to get me out of the way.”
“Thank you for noticing. My wallet is by the door.”
“I’m buying snacks,” Ren called on his way out. “Your treat! Haru-senpai, do you want anything?”
“I’m fine,” Haru said. “I brought my own.”
Once the apartment door had closed, Makoto poured some beer into a glass and sipped while side-eying Haru. “Are you ready to talk about it?” he asked.
Haru fixed his eyes on a stain on the ceiling. “Rin’s avoiding me.”
“He’s just confused, I think. This is a lot for him to accept and Rin’s never handled pressure very well. Isn’t it normal to stay with your family at a time like this?”
“He has no problem talking with you.”
Makoto was quiet for a moment. “Well . . . Rin and I don’t have the history you do.”
“He won’t look at me. He hardly speaks. The only reason he came along last weekend is because you were there.”
“Haru . . .”
“Has he said anything to you? About me?”
“Hmm? Like what?”
Haru finished his beer and set the empty can on the coffee table. Resting his elbows on his knees, he leaned forward over his lap. “Rin confessed to me the night of his accident.”
At an apparent loss for words, Makoto upended his glass and drained the contents. “Is—is that so?” he said, wiping his mouth and pouring himself a refill. “Then the two of you . . .”
“We’re not going out. That’s why he was out walking, to calm down after I upset him.”
“You rejected him?”
“More or less.”
“Haru, it still isn’t your fault. You had no idea he’d get into an accident.”
“I shouldn’t have let him go off by himself.”
“What would you have done differently?” Makoto asked. “It would have been cruel to give him false hope, unless . . . do you regret rejecting him?”
“Of course I regret it!” Haru covered his face. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. All I ever seem to do is make Rin cry.”
“If you love him, then why . . .?”
“Because it took years to get where we are. I’m happy living together but there’s no guarantee we’d work as lovers. I don’t want to lose Rin, so I told him I didn’t want to change things. We’d been out drinking. I hoped he’d pretend the confession was a joke and come home.”
Makoto stretched an arm along the back of the couch. “Do you think he actually remembers, and that’s why he’s acting so strangely around you?”
Haru shook his head. “I don’t think so. I thought he might have at first, that he was punishing me, but his mannerisms are different. I can’t get him to laugh. He doesn’t complain about my cooking.”
“He’s asked me a lot about you. He was pretty worked up when he heard you quit swimming.”
“We talked about that the other day.” Haru sighed and reached into the bag for another beer. “Would it be better if I moved out?”
Makoto frowned. “I thought you wanted to be with him?”
“He’s going to remember what happened eventually.”
“Which will give you a chance to fix things. Haru, you once told me you talked to water about your problems with water. Have you tried talking to Rin about Rin?”
“And give him another reason to hate me?”
“He doesn’t hate you!”
Haru closed his eyes and drained half of the new can. “What would you do if you were me?”
“To start, I’d stop drinking so quickly. You’re going to feel terrible in the morning.”
“You’re annoying,” Haru muttered.
“And I would call him.”
“I have. He didn’t answer.”
“This is why it’s taken the two of you so long to get to this point,” Makoto sighed. “You know where he is.”
“Get on a train. Go after him. Tell him what you told me about how you feel.”
“I can’t just leave. I have work.”
“Tell them you have to go home for a few days. You won’t be able to cook like this, anyway. Ren said you’ve been training him. He can help out while you’re gone. You told me the manager used to run the cafe by herself.”
Haru slowly let out a breath. “You don’t seem surprised.”
“About you and Rin? He’s always liked you, and Haru, you’ve never been able to leave him alone. To be honest, when you first moved in together, I wondered . . . I guess you could say, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner.”
Haru mulled over Makoto’s words. “What if he never remembers?”
“He will. But if he doesn’t, then there’s nothing you can do, so there’s no point worrying about it. He’s still Rin. The two of you still need each other.”
“You don’t think it’s selfish of me?”
“Isn’t love always a little bit selfish?”
Ren came home with bread and three flavors of ice cream, which he doled out before settling back into his place on the floor. Spoon dangling precariously from his mouth, he watched Haru with a suspiciously keen expression, as though he knew every word of the conversation they’d had while he’d been away.
“I have to leave Tokyo for a few days,” Haru told him. “You’ll have to manage without me.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to Iwatobi.”
Ren smiled around the spoon. “Can I stay at your place?”
“Not happening,” Makoto said.
Haru took out his phone and composed an email to the manager letting her know that he wouldn’t be coming in for a few days. He checked the message he’d sent to Rin earlier. Read. No reply, but Rin had finally seen it. Haru decided not to tell him that he was coming; it would only give Rin a chance to escape. As he pulled up the train schedule, Haru ignored the identical smug looks the Tachibana brothers cast in his direction.
Up until now, Haru had always thought of trains as a peaceful way to travel. He’d never minded the numbing rumble over the tracks or the quiet chatter of other riders. Whenever he went any distance by himself, he’d spend the time reading or asleep, or gazing out the window at the sky, consistent even as the landscape blurred. But today, he couldn’t stop looking at his phone to see how much time had passed. The voices of the other passengers set his teeth on edge. The sky was overcast, leaving him to stare at a wash of gray.
Rin still hadn’t replied to yesterday’s message wishing him a safe trip, but he’d sent Makoto a picture from his family home, so Haru was confident he’d be there. Sore from the long train ride, he stretched once he’d disembarked at the Iwatobi station and paid a driver to take him to his house rather than walk. The house had stood empty since he and Rin had come back for Obon. Haru cracked a window to vent the stuffy air and shook out the sheet he’d left to dry after his last trip. He hung it on the outdoor laundry line to freshen and showered to wash off the feeling of the train.
It was warmer here than back in Tokyo. Haru dressed in a clean pair of jeans and one of Rin’s college sweatshirts that had ended up in his closet by mistake. He’d packed it without thinking. On the walk to the Matsuoka house, his stomach grumbled. In his determination to see Rin, he’d forgotten to buy breakfast at the station. What was he supposed to say when they saw each other? He’d made no plans beyond getting to Rin’s front door, though he supposed whether he got past it was out of his control.
Rin’s mother answered his knocking, and on seeing Haru, she cheerfully welcomed him inside. He apologized for coming uninvited and held out a plate of cookies he’d baked from pantry staples.
“Miyako-san, I brought your favorites,” he said.
“Rin’s watching TV,” she said, accepting the plate with a forgiving smile. “Go on ahead. Are you staying for lunch?”
“I will, thank you.”
Haru removed his shoes and went into the family room. Rin was facing away from him, laughing at something on TV, a white kitten on his lap. At the sound of someone behind him, he turned, probably expecting his mother, but on seeing Haru in the doorway made a startled face.
“Nanase. What are you doing here?”
“Your mother invited me for lunch. May I come in?”
Rin shrugged and turned back to the TV. On his lap, the kitten stretched its paws. As Haru settled near him, he spotted the plush shark he’d given Rin from the aquarium on the floor beside his legs.
“I was worried about you,” Haru said.
Rin cast his eyes down. “Sorry,” he said, coloring along his cheekbones.
“After lunch, can we go somewhere together?”
“Nothing. I just want to spend time with you.”
Rin frowned, but after considering it a moment said, “Okay.”
They didn’t speak again until Miyako-san summoned them to the table where they could not escape looking at each other. She’d seated them in opposite chairs, though Rin made a point of keeping his head lowered so Haru couldn’t see his eyes. After the meal, Haru offered to help with the dishes, but Miyako-san swept them out of the house with a shopping list. As long as they were going to walk around, she said, they could make themselves useful. Haru folded the list in his pocket.
He and Rin walked together alongside the ocean. Though it had been years since Haru walked this path, it had hardly changed except for the shops across the street. Several familiar names had closed in his absence; others endured with updated signage.
“Is there anything you want to see?” Haru asked.
Rin frowned. “Why?”
“I wasn’t sure what you remembered.”
“I grew up here.”
“Oh,” Haru said, feeling foolish. “Right. Has anything come back from being home?”
Rin shook his head. “My mom said the swim center reopened?”
“While we were in high school. Coach Sasabe runs it now. Do you want to see it?”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t swim yet anyway.”
“You’ll be able to in another week or so.”
“Not soon enough.”
The wall of wind off of the ocean was a biting cold. Haru hid the lower part of his face in his sweatshirt, but Rin didn’t seem to notice the change in weather. Hands shoved in his jacket pockets, he walked with his head uncovered, red hair whipping around his face.
“Should we get tea?” Haru asked.
“What’s with you?”
“I thought we could get out of the wind.”
“It’s not bothering me.”
“Your face is red.”
“You were the one who wanted to go out,” Rin snapped. “Do what you want. I’m going to the beach.”
Haru followed him to the swimming beaches at the coast. Rin removed his shoes and walked on the cool sand barefoot, dangling his shoes from his fingertips. Haru followed suit. Near the water, they sat a safe distance from the waves. Farther down the beach, a couple was playfully squabbling over photographs. The taller of the two, a muscular man with auburn hair, beamed as they went past. His partner scowled but nodded. Rin was staring straight ahead.
“This reminds me of Australia,” Haru said. “Sitting with you like this.”
“I can’t remember,” Rin said.
“You showed up at my house with a plane ticket. I flew down with a backpack.”
“Where did we stay?”
“I don’t remember the name. Some hotel. There was a mixup with the room and we ended up sleeping in the same bed. You were pretty worked up about it.”
Rin rubbed his neck. “I thought we might have stayed with Lori and Russel.”
“We had dinner with them.”
“Why did I take you there? To Australia?”
“To show me possibilities,” Haru said, hugging his knees. “I didn’t think I’d swim competitively after graduation, but you wanted us to take on the world.”
“Then why did you quit?”
“After I finished rehab, I’d fallen behind. My times were slower. I knew I’d push myself too hard again, that I’d get injured again. Maybe one day I wouldn’t be able to swim at all. So I gave up competition and swim when I want. I’m happy just to be in the water.”
“That’s always annoyed me about you,” Rin said, making a disappointed sound with his tongue. “At least you talk more now.”
“We should go back sometime, to Australia. My English is better. I can take you around this time.”
“Is Makoto coming too?”
Haru couldn’t read his tone. “If you want.”
Rin picked a stone from the sand and flung it at the water. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I took a day off.”
Some of the tension around Rin’s eyes eased. They sat in silence for a while listening to the waves.
“Sorry for leaving so suddenly,” Rin said.
“My mom said we usually come home together.”
“The two of us?”
“Makoto and Ren come too sometimes, but normally it’s us.”
“How was your visit with Sousuke?”
Rin shrugged. “Good. Strange.”
“Like I’m making my final turn but everyone else is already out of the water. It isn’t that I don’t believe what people tell me, but it’s hard to accept some of it.” Rin took a deep breath. “I didn’t know our cat had died.”
Haru suppressed the urge to squeeze his shoulder. “A few years ago,” he said. “I didn’t think to tell you.”
“Hey, Haru, do . . .” Rin’s eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks. Haru held his breath, anticipating his next words, but all Rin said was, “Do they still have a squid festival in the summer?”
Haru blinked. “Yeah. You made me go last year in yukata.”
“You?” Rin laughed.
“You probably have the picture on your phone. You asked someone to take it.”
Rin took out his cell. A few minutes later, he was grinning at a picture of the two of them, though it was laced with something Haru couldn’t define.
“We could go again,” he said. “Next summer.”
Putting the phone back in his pocket, Rin stood and brushed the sand from his pants.
“Let’s get tea after all,” he said. “Your lips look blue.”
He offered Haru a hand to help him up, withdrawing it as soon as Haru was on his feet, and pulled his cap down over his eyes. On the promenade, a couple of teenagers on skateboards were racing each other. Rin stared after them, then shook his head like he was trying to erase the sight.
They found a cafe a block inland and bought drinks to warm up. Being a blustery day, the shop was busy with townspeople escaping the wind and a few teenagers huddled at tables. They whispered as Rin and Haru went past them toward the exit.
“They probably recognize you,” Haru said, hoping to stave off another of Rin’s dark moods, but Rin shrugged it off.
“Maybe they think we’re a couple,” he said offhandedly but with enough disdain to sting. Haru’s eyes widened. “Just kidding,” Rin added and pushed open the door. A blast of wind off of the water pushed back.
Haru threw his shoulder into it to escape the stares. They’d attracted attention that day in Disney too, but Rin hadn’t minded a bit and Haru had only minded for his sake. Rin’s euphoria from his win had been infectious and Haru found himself going along with every whim: two parks, mouse ears, the plunging elevator ride that had so thrilled Rin, he’d clung to Haru’s arm even when they were safely outside again. That’s when they’d had their picture taken. It had been like that at the festival last summer too. First the yukatas, then masks, the goldfish that would enjoy three days in their apartment before a sudden funeral, Rin’s arm around his shoulders as he held the camera out.
They sipped tea as they wandered around Iwatobi. Eventually they came to the fence surrounding the elementary school and Haru felt guilty being glad that Rin didn’t remember their last fight here. Students loitered around the yard, so the two of them stayed outside of the fence but stopped to gaze at the large tree that had already shed its leaves for the season. Even at a distance, the bricks they’d decorated as kids were visible.
“The tree,“ Rin murmured. “I thought it might . . .”
“Anything?” Haru asked, but Rin shook his head. Haru allowed himself one touch, a hand between Rin’s shoulder blades. In his peripheral vision, he could feel the intensity of Rin’s eyes. Worried he’d overstepped, Haru finished his tea.
“We should buy Miyako-san’s groceries,” he said, turning away from that place, away from Rin.
When they came home with arms laden with grocery bags, Miyako thanked them with more tea and a tray of the snacks Haru had baked. He gratefully accepted her dinner invitation so that he had an excuse to stay with Rin longer. As they chatted over coffee after the meal, he seemed like his old self, but once his mother had gone upstairs to prepare for bed, the atmosphere changed. Rin spoke to the floor or to the kitten. His responses dwindled to grunts. Sensing his discomfort, Haru made an excuse about catching an early train back to the city. Rin walked him to the front door and came outside, standing with crossed arms and staring down at the welcome mat.
“Thanks for today,” he said.
“Sorry for coming so suddenly.”
Rin nodded in acceptance of the apology. “Can I ask you something?”
He swallowed, as though he hadn’t expected Haru to agree. “About me . . . no, that’s not what I want to say.” Frowning, Rin cleared his throat. “Why did you follow me here, Nanase? What was I to you before?”
A place deep inside of Haru’s chest ached. “A friend,” he said sincerely. “You’re probably my best friend, Rin.”
Rin nodded slowly, the relief Haru had hoped to give him absent from his face. He looked on the verge of shattering.
“I know you don’t think about me that way,” Haru continued, hoping to stall it. “But none of this is your fault. You shouldn’t worry about the way things were before. Focus on getting better, on your swimming. I’ll always support you. You don’t have to force yourself to spend time with me. I promise I won’t do this to you again.”
“Is that how you see this?” Rin asked, his voice rising. “That I’m forcing myself?”
“Isn’t that why you came back here alone?”
Rin finally looked at him. The glow from the porch light threw his face into silhouette but couldn’t disguise the shine in his eyes. Haru went cold. This was a mistake. Coming here had been a mistake. He’d only wanted to clear the air, but the distance between them felt miles greater than what it had been in the hospital. Angry tears coursed down Rin’s face. Haru opened his mouth to apologize, but Rin spoke first.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said and went inside, leaving Haru on the doorstep.
It was a brisk, overcast morning as he packed to return to Tokyo, the kind of morning he would’ve spent in the tub a decade ago, wishing the sun would hurry up and warm the ocean. Haru had woken early to wash the sheets. He put clean ones on the bed and left the wet ones to dry indoors. His parents had no plans to return to the house, so it didn’t matter that bedsheets hung like ghosts around the bathroom. He’d take care of them on his next visit. He and Makoto would probably come home for the New Year.
He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Rin’s question yesterday, the look on his face when Haru had told him the truth. What Rin meant to him—he’d never put it into words before, never thought he’d have to. Grief hit him from all sides. He’d pushed too hard. Of all people, he should’ve known the danger. He rubbed a phantom ache in his shoulder and zipped his travel bag closed.
He skipped breakfast, deciding to buy something on the train, and did a quick check on the house before locking up. He could’ve called for a cab, but with plenty of time before his train was scheduled to leave, he wanted to think and stretch his legs. Once upon a time, a part of him had believed he’d live in this town forever. If Rin did ask him to move out, Haru could always come back here, work at a family restaurant or open his own cafe. His parents would front him the money. They might even let him sell the house for the profits.
He called Makoto on the walk to let him know he was returning home, and messaged the cafe’s manager to say he’d completed his business. He’d be back to work after the weekend.
The day didn’t warm any during the walk to the station, and by the time he arrived, Haru’s hands and neck were cold. Thirteen minutes until his train. He bought hot canned coffee from a vending machine and sat on a hard bench to wait. His focus was so fixed on the tracks that he didn’t hear his own name the first time it was called. It was only when he noticed someone standing in his peripheral vision that he registered his surroundings and bolted up, coming face to face with an out-of-breath Rin Matsuoka who looked like he’d been running.
He was wearing his red and black high school sweat pants and a gray Brisbane t-shirt. Around his face, strands of his hair had come loose from the elastic he’d used to tie it back.
“Rin? What are you doing here? Why don’t you have a coat?” Haru removed his scarf and wrapped it around Rin’s neck.
“I forgot to put it on,” Rin said and dropped onto the bench where Haru had been sitting. “I have a lot on my mind.”
“You should have called. My train leaves soon.”
Rin shook his head. “No. I needed to see you.”
Haru unzipped his bag and took out the sweatshirt he’d worn yesterday. “Put this on.”
Rin did without fuss. “Thanks,” he said, flipping the hood over his head and pulling the ties so it hugged his chin.
“What did you want to talk about?” Haru asked.
Rin laced his hands together and stared at his lap for a moment before he spoke. “I couldn’t sleep last night after you left. My mom has these old pictures of us from the relay. You’re not smiling in any of them, but I can tell you’re happy. You’re making that serious face you always did.” He frowned, pausing for a breath. “The pictures in the apartment, in my phone . . . they’re not like those. You’re smiling in them, even the one of us at Disney.”
“Is that right?” Haru said, embarrassed.
“I don’t remember you like that. The last time I saw you, we were kids. You didn’t smile even when we won the relay, but . . .”
Haru didn’t understand what Rin was getting at. He’d stopped talking and was looking at the ground, fists tight on his knees, but from the tension in his mouth it was clear he was struggling with the words.
“That’s in the past,” Haru said. “Maybe I was a strange kid.”
Rin shook his head. “It’s only me. You don’t smile like that with Makoto.”
“It’s different with you.”
“I don’t know. Because you’re Rin.”
“Then why won’t you look at me like that now?”
Haru’s voice stuck in his throat. He said Rin’s name to dislodge it as the station announcement came over the speakers. The train was approaching. Out of habit, he stood and checked his pocket for the ticket.
“Should I take a later train?” he asked.
Rin shook his head. He loosened the sweatshirt hood as though he would remove it, but Haru stopped him.
“Keep it. It’s actually yours.”
Rin’s face twisted with something like grief. “This is what I mean,” he said.
Haru felt lost. “I don’t understand.”
“Why do we live together, Haru? Why did you give me that shark?”
“I . . . I thought you’d like it?”
Wind swept through the station as the train rolled to a stop and opened its doors. Haru stared at Rin, not knowing what to say.
“I’ll call you when I’m home,” he said. “Okay?”
Though he was scowling, Rin scratched his neck and nodded several times. He stood back from the yellow line but didn’t leave the platform. The few other passengers had already boarded. With no time left, Haru stepped onto the train but remained in the open doors.
“Haru,” Rin said, raising his chin. “Ever since I’ve woken up, I’ve dreamed about you. I can’t remember what we were like before, but I know there was something between us. I’m absolutely certain. I don’t believe what you told me last night. If you’re trying to protect me, stop.“
“I’m not lying,” Haru said.
“I’m saying I love you!” Rin’s voice echoed across the platform.
Between them, as though in slow motion, the train doors began to close. Haru launched himself forward, shoving them open with his shoulders. He dragged his bag through and heard the train depart behind him. Bent forward at the waist, supporting himself with his hands on his thighs, he rang with laughter.
“Rin, you’re amazing,” he said. Haru drew a full breath and blew it out toward the sky, taking a moment to calm his heart before he looked at Rin again. “That’s the second time you’ve confessed to me.”
He expected that Rin would smile or cry or even become angry at the revelation, but he did none of those things. Rin, utterly silent, stared at him with a shocked expression. As the seconds ticked past, it didn’t change. Straightening, Haru took a nervous step toward him.
“Rin, please don’t be upset.”
That was all it took to start him bawling. Rin dissolved into frustrated tears.
“You’re so unfair,” he cried. “If we’re going out, why didn’t you tell me? Do you know how confused I’ve been, trying to figure it out? Why would you lie and say we were only friends?”
“I didn’t lie, but there’s more to it than what I’ve said.”
“Why? Did we break up? Are you dating someone else?”
“No.” Glancing around them, Haru took Rin’s hand.
Rin wiped his eyes. “Then, you . . . about me . . .”
Though he was still crying, Rin let out a ragged, relieved breath. “Sorry you missed your train,” he said.
Haru squeezed his fingers. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”
Haru was afraid to let go of Rin’s hand, afraid that if he did, Rin might disappear, that the entire day would vanish like a dream if they stopped touching—that Haru would wake up back in Tokyo alone. He held tight even as they passed familiar landmarks, people they were sure to know. He didn’t care what they thought, what anyone thought but Rin, who, though red-faced and still crying, had not let go either.
Once they had crossed the threshold to Haru’s house and the door slid closed behind them, Haru pulled Rin to his chest the way he should have at the station and the playground before that, the night of the confession; as boys, when Rin had cried in the swim center. For all of those times he’d failed to reach him, Haru put his arms out now.
Rin fit against him and tucked his chin over Haru’s shoulder. “Is anyone home?” he asked.
“My parents live out of town. I thought it would be easier to talk here.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
“Would you rather watch TV?” Haru asked.
Rin laughed, his fingers dipping into Haru’s lower back. “I want a bath. I’m freezing.”
“The bathroom is through there.”
“With you,” Rin stressed. “Have we done that before?”
Rin squeezed him tighter. “I hate that I don’t know what’s real. I hate that I’m jealous of myself.”
“Rin . . . ” Haru took a breath. “The confession I mentioned at the station, it’s not what you think.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I told you before that we were only friends, I wasn’t lying. You and me, we were never going out. You confessed right before your accident. My reply wasn’t what you’d hoped.”
“You rejected me?”
“Not exactly, though you took it that way.”
“What did you say?”
“That I was afraid of changing things.”
“That’s a terrible answer,” Rin said.
“Yup.” Haru held Rin closer, mindful of his injuries, and inhaled his scent. “You stalked off after that, somehow ended up at the station where you were attacked. I kept thinking I should’ve gone after you, explained, forced you to come home. When I saw you in that hospital bed . . .” Shuddering, Haru paused to collect himself. “I didn’t know how to tell you. And if there was a chance you wouldn’t get those memories back, I didn’t want you to be worried about hurting my feelings.”
“Haru, you’re an idiot,” Rin muttered.
“If you felt like this, why did you avoid me back in Tokyo? You wouldn’t look at me. You wouldn’t use my first name.”
Rin hid his face against Haru’s shoulder. His next words were muffled. “I can’t control my expressions around you. Everything you did gave me hope. Do you know how confusing you are, making me food every day, buying me gifts? I thought some distance would help, especially if I was wrong. Then you showed up at my door only to confuse me again.”
“I’m sorry. I do want to get in the bath. I’m freezing.” Haru could feel Rin hardening against his thigh and summoned his self control. “But maybe we should wait until you’re better.”
Rin lifted his face and with a predatory gleam in his eyes, leaned to speak in Haru’s ear: “Heat the water.”
Haru shivered, drawing a breath against Rin’s skin and hoisted him in his arms. Rin giggled. Haru carried him down the hallway and pressed the controls for the tub, then diverted for his childhood bedroom. He set Rin on the bed and took a step back.
“Is there anything you want to ask me first?” he said. “I’ll tell you everything.”
Rin reddened. “Have . . . have you done something like this before?”
“Have I?” Rin asked, averting his eyes.
“I don’t know,” Haru said honestly. “I don’t think so. The only thing you’ve ever talked about is swimming.”
“Ah. I thought, when you mentioned sleeping together in Australia, maybe . . .”
Haru flushed. “Just sleeping.”
Rin looked a little relieved. He removed his hat and set it aside. “Should we . . .” Frowning, he took a deep breath, then stripped off the sweatshirt and threw it on the ground. “Get undressed.”
Haru’s brain was still catching up to Rin’s incredible pace, but his hands were faster, already unbuttoning his clothes. Rin stood and thrust his hands down his own sides, shoving his pants to the ground. Haru momentarily lost the ability to think or breathe. His eyes were wide open when Rin Matsuoka, in nothing but a pair of black ankle socks, pressed his hands to Haru’s cheeks and kissed him for the first time.
Haru’s mind went blank. Rin’s lips were rough from the wind. He held his mouth to Haru’s for most of a minute, exhaling against his cheek.
“You’re supposed to kiss back,” Rin whispered.
Like he’d heard the starting bell, Haru snapped into action, arms circling behind Rin’s back to draw him closer, and gathering all of the references he’d seen in movies, bent his head.
“You’re terrible at this,” Rin said.
“So are you.”
Rin laughed. “I guess we really haven’t done it.” He kissed Haru again, a hard press of teeth, and tugged at his clothes. “Take these off. I’m at a disadvantage here.”
Haru pulled his shirt over his head, throwing it to the ground, and stepped out of his pants. Breathing hard, unable to look at him, he took Rin in his arms again.
“Embarrassed?” Rin asked.
Haru nodded. “Am I hurting you?”
“I can’t feel the bruises anymore.”
Turning his head, Haru kissed the side of Rin’s neck, the faded bruises on his cheek, the bandage on his forehead. His mouth. Haru bent to kiss the bruises on his shoulder and chest, and lifted each of Rin’s hands to his lips.
Without the heater on, the room was cool enough to raise the hair on Rin’s arms. Keeping hold of Rin’s hand, Haru went to the bed and pulled down the blankets. He forgot about the shock of cold sheets as soon as Rin’s body was pressed foot to chest against his. Haru forgot about thinking. Touching Rin was like swimming. They quickly figured out each other’s rhythm. Haru combed a hand through Rin’s hair and strummed the length of his spine. Rin kept his arms locked around Haru’s neck. His dick was nestled between their stomachs, and as they moved their lips and tongues in unspoken sync, Rin shifted against him and whispered his name.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Good. Too good. You? Is it as good as in your dreams?”
“Shut up,” Rin said, then cried out and stiffened against him before going pliant. Haru stopped moving, content to hold him, but Rin reached a clumsy hand between them to touch Haru directly. It only took a few strokes before Haru was covering his mouth to smother his own voice.
He lay still listening to the two of them breathe, feeling Rin’s heart beat through his skin. Wind shoved against the side of the house, rattling the windows. Slowly, Rin unwound his arms from around Haru’s neck and turned away from him, pulling the blankets over his face so that Haru was left with a crescent of his forehead.
Hoping it was only Rin’s natural reserve returning, Haru propped himself up on an elbow and stroked Rin’s hair. “Do you regret it?” he asked.
To his relief, Rin shook his head.
“Are you alright?” Haru said.
“Rin, won’t you look at me?”
“Shut up,” Rin said weakly.
Concealing his laughter, Haru ducked beneath the covers and laid his head next to Rin’s in the warm, comfortable dark. He kissed the corner of his mouth.
“Will you come home with me, to Tokyo?”
Rin nodded against his temple. Downstairs, the bathtub signaled that the water was hot.
“You go first,” he said.
“I thought we were bathing together?”
Wincing, Rin asked, “Did I say that?”
“You shouted your confession at the station, too.”
“It’s fine if you’ve changed your mind about the bath,” Haru said with a kiss to his forehead. “I’ll go out and buy us something for lunch. What do you want?”
“Will you be here when I get back?”
“I’ll . . .” Even in the dark, Rin hid his face. “I’ll be in the tub, so if you want, you can join me.”
Haru promised he would be quick and slipped out of bed. After cleaning up he dressed and found his wallet, kissing the Rin-shaped lump of blankets before he went out. On the walk to the convenience store, he realized that he felt different—lighter, somehow. His feet seemed to float along the sidewalk, as though something heavy had been weighing on him for years and he’d unknowingly learned to shoulder it. That weight was gone now, blasted away by the same conviction Rin had ten years earlier when he’d shared his dream of a joint future.
Haru greeted the same clerk who had tended the convenience store since he’d been in middle school. She offered a basket he filled with fried fish for himself, a karaage bento for Rin, beer, and an extra toothbrush. Spotting the Rin-approved brand of toothpaste, he added one to his basket. He’d wash their clothes when he got back so they’d be dry for tomorrow’s train. They’d need to stop by Rin’s house at some point to collect his things. Should Haru greet Miyako-san properly? Oh, and they ought to visit Rin’s father’s grave. They could always take the later train.
The walk to and from the store had taken twenty minutes. He worried that Rin had already finished bathing, but as Haru slid open the front door, from down the hallway came the familiar slosh of water. Haru called, “I’m back!” And while it was not the exact one from his memories, Rin’s answer welcomed him through the bathroom door.
Some time later
The storm that had been predicted to hit the Tokyo area was finally visible off of the coast by sunset. Wind had picked up across the city, fluttering the curtains and stirring the chimes that hung inside the living room window. On his knees before the couch, Haru kissed a slow trail along Rin’s inner thigh, beginning with the inside of his knee. By the fifth press of lips, Rin’s hand skimmed the back of Haru’s head—not enough pressure that he was asking to stop, but enough that Haru paused, sucking a mark onto Rin’s thigh where his mouth lingered, and raised his eyes.
“We . . . should go to the bedroom,” Rin said, looking the picture of debauched although he was still fully dressed. Haru had only teased at the hem of his shorts, which he moved back into their proper place before resting his chin on Rin’s leg.
“Rin, no one can see through the windows.”
“I can see through them!”
Haru gave him a placating smile. “But once we’re in bed, I won’t want to get out again.”
“You’ll want a bath as soon as we’re done.”
“Not tonight. Tonight, I’ll hold you as long as you want.”
Rin’s eyebrows ticked upwards at the bait. “What if I ask you to stay home from work tomorrow?”
Haru pretended to think for a moment. “Alright,” he said, watching Rin’s eyes soften.
“Well . . .” Haru skimmed his fingers up Rin’s calves in preemptive apology. “The manager already decided to stay closed tomorrow because of the typhoon.”
He ducked Rin’s playful swat and surged upwards on his knees, kissing him until Rin made a pleading noise in his throat and relaxed against the couch. Complaints forgotten, Haru reached into Rin’s shorts and touched him the way Rin liked. As a streak of lightning crackled and blazed across the darkening sky, Rin shivered against him.
“Cheater,” he whispered.
As he lay with Rin in his arms listening to the storm winds beat against the apartment building, Haru finally had enough of the wind chime’s insistence and sat up.
“Where you going?” Rin asked with a weak hand hooked around Haru’s hip, as though it would prevent him from getting out of bed. “You promised you wouldn’t get up.”
“The laundry. It’ll blow away.”
With a groan, Rin buried his face in Haru’s side. “I’ll get it.”
“I’m already up.” Haru stroked Rin’s hair and bent to kiss his head. “You stay here. I’ll be right back.”
Haru got out of bed and put on the piece of clothing closest to him, Rin’s shorts, it turned out—a little tight in the waist but fine for a modest trip to the balcony. Did he need a shirt, or would the neighbors forgive him because of the weather?
“This doesn’t count as forgetting,” Rin mumbled into the pillow.
Confused, Haru looked at him. “What?”
“The laundry,” Rin said, meeting his eyes. “I didn’t forget it.”
“Rin . . .” Haru cautiously approached the bed, afraid of appearing too eager. “Do you remember the other typhoon?”
Rin’s eyes widened a fraction. They darted back and forth, as though he was reading a display of his own thoughts. The look on his face was not happy or sad, but wondrous, if Haru had to put a word to it. As expected of Rin, the longer he thought, the more his eyes shone. Haru knelt down to brush away the tears before they fell.
“Do you remember the accident?” he asked.
Face twisting, Rin nodded and closed his eyes. Haru kissed both sides of his face.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Rin shook his head. “No.”
If he remembered being attacked, then he probably remembered what had happened before. “Are you angry with me?” Haru asked.
“I’m sorry. Truly.” Haru found Rin’s lips, which were more insistent than he’d expected. Rin grabbed Haru’s head with both hands and kissed him hard.
“Angry that the laundry is getting wet,” he hissed against his mouth. “My favorite shirt is out there. Go get it, then get back here.”
A delighted Haru dashed down the hallway, throwing open the balcony door, and with his eyes half-closed against the wind, he unclipped the laundry from its line at Olympic speed. He piled it on the table and shut the windows completely, obscuring them with curtains. The chime went quiet. Haru ran back to the bedroom, only stopping to strip off the shorts, and dived into the opening Rin created by lifting the blankets.
“Your hands are cold!” he complained when Haru wrapped him back up in his arms.
“I love your honesty,” Haru whispered, nuzzling Rin’s hair. “I love that you’ve never let me be idle. You’ve always, always seen a better person in me than I thought I could be.”
Rin laughed in the way he did when he was embarrassed. “What’s with you?”
“It’s what I should’ve said in the first place. Years ago. I love you, Rin. I’m sorry I made you wait.”
Squirming against him, Rin muttered, “Well, I guess I can forgive you.”
“I want you to come with me to my next competition.”
“You won’t be upset?”
Haru shook his head.
“It’s in Beijing,” Rin added with a note of doubt, as though he expected Haru to withdraw his agreement. “Next month.”
“My passport’s still valid,” Haru said easily. “If you’re the one who asks, the manager won’t mind if I take some time off. Maybe we can stay for a few days after you’re done.”
Against his shoulder, Rin said, “Like a honeymoon?”
Haru detected the note of hope despite Rin’s mocking tone. He held his breath. The future opened up in front of him, endlessly vast like an expanse of sea, and like all those years ago when he’d stood at Rin’s side in the Sydney Aquatic Center, Haru saw only possibility. He found Rin’s hand beneath the covers and fit it to his.
“If that’s what you want,” he said, plunging forth. “Anything.”