Reads: 31

Later that day, Kentaro and Haruki sat in the shade on the tier benches near the sports field; with Haru sitting two benches higher than Ken. It was already lunch and the two had just arrived, though they hadn’t taken out their lunches yet.

“So uh... what's with the glasses?” Haruki was more than curious. He'd been caught a little off guard by his friend’s new look earlier.

After that mess with those three seniors, Haruki had finally returned to his usual cheery-self again after learning that Ken’s injuries weren’t all that serious.

They were also lucky to find that though the school clinic's door wasn't locked, the school nurse was unavailable at that time. It would have been troublesome if Haruki and Kentaro had been questioned about the cause of Ginger's injuries.

“I thought you’d have guessed,” Kentaro responded, though his mind seemed a little occupied. “Since you always made fun of my duck writing."

Haruki chuckled.

“I only wrote bigger words to avoid wearing glasses all the time,” Ginger explained

“Have you ever considered wearing contacts?”

He hadn’t. But putting that aside, Kentaro changed the subject, “Do you enjoy brawling?”

Haruki’s smile faltered when he suddenly was asked that. He failed to give an immediate response.

“I’m only curious to know.”

Haruki pretended to admire nature, “I-I don’t know. Maybe sometimes...”

“Did you really want to beat them all up?” Kentaro asked again.

The other person scratched his head, “Uh...”

“If I hadn’t stopped you, would you have really done it?” Ginger persisted, his hands tightening round his satchel straps. Haruki didn’t respond again, leaving Ken to continue with a, “It’s just that... you seemed so different. And during the entire time we were in the nurse’s office, you never said a word.”

“Oh that,” Haruki laughed, “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of me now.”

He’d only meant it as a tease, but seeing the kid flinch made Haruki very anxious.

“Wait... are you really?”

Kentaro had been read like an open book. But he quickly denied it, “No, I was just concerned.”

“For them?”

“No, for both sides,” Ginger refused to look directly at Haruki. “It wouldn’t have looked great if everyone was injured.”

After a while of quietly observing the other person’s speech and actions, Haruki finally puffed a snicker, “Yeah, you’re right. It probably would have ended badly.”

Kentaro breathed.

“So in the end you decided to attend this school. You could’ve given me a head’s up you know,” it was Haruki’s turn to change the subject, to Ken’s relief. He’d taken out an apple from his bag and was already helping himself.

“I’ve been busy. That’s why I didn’t communicate or visit. I was out of town.”

“Huh, really? Where to, back home?” Haru asked in between bites.

Kentaro nodded, though his expression didn’t seem too ecstatic.

“At least now I know you haven’t been ghosting me,” Haruki felt very relieved and prepared to take out his lunch. However, he suddenly noticed how Kentaro just sat there with no clear intention to eat. “You’re not eating?”

“I’m not hungry...” Kentaro denied before his traitorous belly complained. The situation immediately became awkward.

“You sure?” Haruki smiled, having already figured out that his friend was starving.

“I forgot to buy lunch,” Ginger finally admitted.

Haruki suppressed his laughter. He still couldn’t get over Ken's comic cuteness whenever he felt embarrassed.

“Why didn’t you mention it earlier? We could’ve gone to the cafeteria,” Haruki mentioned while rummaging through his own bag.

“I didn’t know there was one,” Kentaro’s voice was almost inaudible. He turned his head when he felt a nudge at his shoulder, and his eyes were met by a black rectangular container being pressed to his face.

Haruki was offering him his bento.

“This, this is yours,” Kentaro simply looked at him.

“And I’m giving it to you,” Haruki waved the container around, urging him to take it already. “My hand’s getting tireeeed.”

After much reluctance, Kentaro finally accepted the lunch box and stared at it for a while. It seemed he was still a bit hesitant on opening it.

Just when he was about to do so, Ginger felt movement near him, only to find a hand placing a can of grape juice beside him. He turned to stare at Haruki again. 

The other person had already retaken his seat and looked to the away, acting as if nothing had happened.

“I’m not thirsty,” Kentaro said flatly.

“I never said you were,” Haruki carefreely resumed enjoying his apple.

Ginger was a little helpless, “What will you eat?”

“Aren’t I eating already?”

“... Fine,” Ken took the can and stuffed it in his bag before turning back to Haru with the bento box in hand. He handed it over, “Then you take it.”

“I gave it to you,” Haruki refused.

“I don’t want it.”

Haruki’s expression turned pitiful, “Don’t you like my cooking anymore?”

“That’s not it—”

“You hate me?”

Where is this even coming from??? Kentaro dropped the idea and simply kept the bento to himself. He then mumbled a, “Thank you for the food,” before opening the box, taking out the chopsticks, and eating quietly.

Haruki dropped his pitiful act in satisfaction and leaned back against the bench behind him. He watched as Ken wolfed down the food, looking like someone who hadn’t even had a decent breakfast. Just then, Haru realized something and casually asked, “Do you always buy your food?”

Kentaro nodded without thinking.

“All the time?”

The ginger-haired kid nodded once more.

“Hmm,” Haruki's curiosity was piqued, “Then the nanny isn’t doing her job.”

Only then did Kentaro recall what he’d told the other person once and he almost froze.

Haruki pretended not to notice and went on, “Is she taking care of you properly?”

“...Yeah.”

“Yet she doesn’t cook for you?” he raised a brow.

“She doesn’t need to,” Ginger's tone was stiff.

Oh really?  “I’d like to meet her someday,” Haru suddenly expressed.

“Why?”

“Just curious to know what she’s like.”

“There’s no need,” Kentaro continued to eat his food, but made sure to carefully choose his next words.

“Come on...”

“It doesn’t concern you.”

Now Haruki was very much concerned.

“Ginger, be honest, is that housekeeper badly treating y—”

“Why don’t you just drop it?” Ken interrupted with a suppressed voice. “I already told you that it’s none of your concern.”

“This again,” Haruki furrowed, “You always get so cold whenever we talk about you.”

“Since it’s nothing new to you, you should have long since gotten used to it,” Kentaro glacially said.

This ingrate, Haru felt genuinely annoyed by that. “What’s that supposed to mean, Nomura?”

“Lay off me,” Ken placed the empty box on the bench and stood up to leave. “Thanks anyway.”

And with that he left the half-baffled, half-irritated Haruki sitting alone on the tier benches.

What the hell? 

Haruki grew more annoyed as he watched Ginger's retreating figure, but still couldn't bring himself to stop him.

As soon as Ginger was out of earshot, Haruki clicked his tongue in displeasure before grumbling a few complaints to himself. 

I get that you’re secretive, but how long do you plan on being that way? When will you understand that you’re not alone anymore?

***

Following that meeting were a few days of discomfort and awkwardness between the two.

Haruki still couldn’t get his mind off what had happened that day at the benches, feeling as if a lot of things had been left unspoken.

Even though Kentaro behaved as if nothing happened, he’d grown a little withdrawn. It was much worse since the two of them were in different classes, so they rarely hung out. Whenever they did meet, it would only be for a few minutes for lunch before parting ways again.

In the end, Haruki grew a suspicion that Ginger was doing his best to keep his distance. However, he still seemed interested in interacting with Maki and Akashi Fukuda and even paid them a few visits after school before heading to his own home.

“Did something happen between you and little Ken?” Maki had stopped her son one day before he’d headed to his room after coming home from school. Akashi wasn’t around during this mother-son confrontation, since something had delayed him at work.

Haruki already knew what his mother’s words meant, “Ginger came here again?”

The woman nodded, her face full of concern, “I rarely see you together these days. He only comes to greet us before leaving again.”

“It’s understandable,” Haruki obviously didn’t want to talk about it much. “I have after school activities and he doesn’t, so he leaves school earlier than me. By the time I get home it’s already in the late hours so,” he finished off with a shrug.

Maki pursed her lips into a thin line.

“And besides, it’s not like we don’t see each other at school every day,” her son added.

“You don’t even meet up on weekends,” the woman reminded him, “During the vacation you guys met up every day. You were practically inseparable.”

“We’re both really busy these days.”

Maki didn’t look convinced in the slightest, “Then why don’t you invite him over for dinner today? I’m sure he’d like that.”

He won’t agree to it if I’m the one saying it, Haruki thought then came up with a decent lie, “I asked him to come earlier today but he said he’d be eating out with his mom, since she came for a visit.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, bummer.”

“Alright then,” Maki turned to head back into the kitchen, leaving Haru to continue up the staircase. He stopped in his tracks when she suddenly expressed, “I know that you’re hiding something from me Rue-Rue, and it’s not just you. Even Kenta-chan’s acting as strange as you are.”

Haruki was about to joke around when he turned to face his mother again, but all those intentions vanished when he saw her expression. She’d crossed her arms over her apron, one hand holding a wooden spoon, looking truly disappointed. It was rare for him to see his mother this bothered.

So in the end, he kept silent. He couldn’t come up with anything.

“You won’t talk to Ayame, and now you won’t even smooth things over with your friend.”

Haruki, “...”

“Am I wrong?”

“N-No...” But how am I supposed to help the guy if he won’t let me? Haru's hands subconsciously tightened around the staircase railing.

Maki continued when it looked like her son wasn't going to say anything else, “Personally, I like Kentaro, and I’d hoped that you guys would’ve been friends for a very long time. I can tell you’re happiest when you’re together. It’s too soon for you guys to end your friendship. It’d really be a waste if you didn’t—”

“Mom.”

Maki sighed, “I won’t say anymore,” and with that, she finally headed into the kitchen, leaving Haru to ponder alone on the staircase.

.

Haruki slumped onto his bed while facing the ceiling, his mother’s words still lingering in his mind. She’d told him that she liked Ken, and so did he.

But their current relationship was just too hard to comprehend. He didn’t know what that kid was thinking at all.

As he sat upright, he shuffled out his phone from his jacket pocket to check out his inbox, a little curious to see if Ken had finally started sending him some again, but to his dismay, he didn’t find what he was looking for.

Nevertheless, he still scrolled down to see if there was anything interesting.

His hand stopped when he came across one with a familiar name, and it stayed there for some time while he continued to stare at the screen.

Ayame.

He hadn’t spoken to her in a while now. The only times he had done so had been because his mother had always managed to throw her mobile at him while she’s been on the phone with her, which would ultimately force Haru to say something as well.

Otherwise he’d never been the one to initiate conversation.

He opened up his sister's unread messages and browsed through them.

She hadn’t written much, only sharing how she was doing at her new College and how she wished he’d talk to her more. After all, they were supposed to be close.

Had he really decided to ignore her just because she’d left without saying a word? She was still his sister. He couldn’t ignore her forever.

After much hesitance, he finally decided to dial her number and patiently wait for her to answer.

I hope I won’t regret this.

“Hello? Haru?” she'd picked up immediately.

Haruki was a little at a loss, “Hey, Mei.”

She sounded excited, “You finally called first!”

“... I could just hang up instead.”

“No, no, no, I was wrong, don’t hang up.”

She’s way too excited, he thought. Haruki then took a deep breath in preparation. “So listen, I’ve got something to ask you.”

“You need help with something???”

“No, I...” he’d been about to deny it but decided against it. “En, you’re right.”

She squirmed at the other end, feeling greatly honored, “Okay, okay, I’m listening. What’s it about?”

“It’s about this friend of mine....”

“Kentaro Nomura?”

“How did you-” he’d been genuinely surprised at first, considering that he’d never told her about him. But then he remembered he had an interesting mother who liked sharing a little too much. “Never mind. Yes, it is about Ken.”

“Let’s hear.”

Thus for the first time in a while, he told her everything.

~~~~~~


Submitted: January 25, 2023

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