I think it was late March – or maybe early April. I was never all that good at keeping track of the date. I always knew what day it was – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – but I could never remember the date.
Ken Ichijouji transferred to Odaiba High on a Wednesday.
My life got totally flipped around.
But that’s just the summary. The real thing was way more interesting…
"Hey Dai?" The petite, pretty brunette walking next to me looked up long enough to smile. "We’re going for ice-cream after school. Want to come?"
Hikari Yagami. To her friends, Kari. To the school, our Special Events Coordinator, girlfriend of the captain of the basketball team, and the most popular girl in school. To me – and half the guys in school – a dream brought to life. And she happened to be one of my best friends, the person I walked to school with every morning.
Dreaming about her and hanging out with her were two entirely different things.
"Can’t," I said regretfully. "I got soccer tryouts after school, and they won’t put me on the team if I skip ’em. Today’s the first one."
"That’s okay. We’ll see you at lunch anyway." Kari suddenly looked up as a tall, lanky blond approached us from another direction. "Hey TK! Over here!"
"Hi guys!" The blond walked over, with a friendly smile for both of us. "Get your math homework done yet, Daisuke?"
"Er… almost." Math was after lunch. I could do it while I ate, right? "How about you, TE? Got it all done on time as usual?"
"You know it. And it’s TK. Short for Takeru." He grinned. "Remember?"
Takeru Takaishi. To his friends, TK. To the school, Student Council Sports Rep., captain of the senior basketball team, and the boyfriend of every guy’s dream date, Kari Yagami. To me, my biggest rival – and my best friend. But then again, TO really had a knack for getting along with almost anyone.
"Yeah, yeah. I got it." I pretended not to notice as he and Kari slung their arms around each other in that casual gesture of affection. "TA, right? Course I remember."
"Mind like a steel trap," Kari commented, with a smile to show she was teasing.
"You’re just jealous because the gift for thinking up snappy comments is mine and mine alone," I told her, over-exaggerating as usual. I grinned at them.
"Sure Dai." TK laughed. "Don’t dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back, okay? Then who’d lead our school soccer team into another season of near-victories?"
"Ha ha, very funny." I was about to reply, but we reached the school’s front doors at that point, and the three of us had to go in different directions for homeroom. "See you guys at lunch!" I called out, over my shoulder.
"Later, Dai!" TK called.
"Have fun in class!" Kari laughed.
Yeah right. Fun in school? I laughed a little at that one myself. What could possibly happen in school that could make it fun? Making it through my homeroom door ahead of the bell, I sank into my seat, dropping my bag beside the desk.
Daisuke Motomiya, that was me. To my friends, Dai, Daisuke, or just Motomiya. To the school, twice captain of the junior soccer team and probably at least co-captain of the senior team as well. Generally, though, I was an okay person to hang out with – but not half as popular as TK and Kari. Believe it or not, that was good enough. I kinda liked where I was at just then.
Even though grade eleven math left something to be desired.
The teacher cleared her throat, and the talking in the classroom settled down to a low hum. "We have a new transfer student from Tamachi," Ms. Kimura announced. Well, that was new. I actually looked up at the front instead of down at the sketch I’d been doodling on my binder. The new kid was tall and thin, with semi-long dark hair and slanted violet eyes. His skin was so pale it looked like he’d never seen the sun.
"He’s gorgeous!" I heard the girl behind me squeak quietly to her neighbor. I looked up again. There was something about him… the eyes, maybe… I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, for some reason.
"This is Ken Ichijouji," Ms. Kimura introduced him. "I trust we’ll all make him feel welcome. Ken, you can sit down in one of the empty seats around the class, while I take attendance. All right?"
"Fine. Thank you." His eyes swept over the class, and then met mine… sort of. I think. Just for a brief second, anyway, but it made me feel funny again. Then he started down the aisle – my aisle – and without another word, sank into the empty desk beside mine. He didn’t turn and look at me, though, instead staring straight at the front of the class as Ms. Kimura took attendance.
Wow. He’s sure friendly. I noticed a few people around me eyeing the new kid too, but all he did was stare right ahead, straight at the board. As if no one else was even there.
"Hey." I leaned over across the gap between our desks, just slightly. "My name’s Daisuke," I told him, smiling in as friendly a manner as I could manage when his eyes turned toward me. "Welcome to Odaiba."
Ken stared at me for a moment, and I felt like those cool violet eyes were sizing me up. "Thanks," he said shortly – not rudely, but not in a way that invited further conversation, either. "Nice of you to say so."
His cold reaction wasn’t lost on the other kids around me.
"Yeah, well…" I sure wasn’t going to be a quitter. "If you need someone to show you around the place, you know…" I shrugged, then grinned at him. "I wouldn’t mind."
"Thanks, but that won’t be necessary." He turned back toward the front again, away from me. "I don’t need a guide to find my way around. Thank you anyway."
"Oh." I blinked, taken aback somewhat. "Uh… okay."
Ken didn’t talk any more during homeroom; he just sat there looking straight ahead the whole time. And during that period, I watched him. I think he knew I was staring, but it didn’t seem to phase him. I even ignored my doodling, because for some weird reason, I found him utterly and completely fascinating. Like a mystery.
The buzzer went off for us to switch classes, and I almost jumped. Ken got to his feet gracefully, before I could even move, and then looked down at me for a moment, and smiled.
"Nice meeting you, Daisuke," he said simply, and turned to walk out of the class.
Needless to say, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Ken Ichijouji.
"He was in my physics class this morning," Kari confirmed, setting her tray down at our usual table. "He didn’t talk much – except to answer questions. But he’s real smart. I think he might be too smart for our class."
"I offered to show him around, but he said no." I set my own lunch tray down across from her. "I guess he didn’t like me much."
"I don’t think it’s you, Dai," TK cut in, taking the seat next to Kari. "I have a friend who was in Psychology with him this morning too, and she said he hardly talked to anyone during the whole class. And when he did, he was real cold. I guess he’s kind of stuck-up."
I shook my head. "It didn’t seem like that to me. I think he just doesn’t like to talk lots. He wasn’t really acting unfriendly, you know. Just… distant."
"Who’re we talking about?" A tall girl with glasses and long hair sat down beside me. "Sorry I’m late. Everyone’s already taking up class time talking about grad. Our teacher made us stay later to make up for it."
Miyako Inoue. To her friends, Miya. To the school, the Computer Club president, and not as generally popular as Kari, though she had an active social life. To me, one of my best friends and the person who I could count on to be totally honest with me, no matter what. Definitely a valuable person to have around.
"There’s a new kid in our grade, Miya," Kari explained. "He just transferred here from Tamachi, and he’s already got a reputation for being unfriendly."
"He wasn’t being unfriendly!" I insisted.
"I heard he’s a real genius, though," a voice said from Miyako’s other side, as a short eighth-grader set his tray down next to hers. "But he won’t let the teachers skip him up a grade."
Iori Hida. To his friends… well… Iori. To the school, still new, though I heard he was doing well in some Chess Club thing and he studied kendo at home. To me, someone to trust – once you told Iori a secret, anyone else would have to pry it out of him with a stick. I also knew that I could trust him never to lie to me.
He, Miyako, and TK all lived in the same apartment building, and he’d joined our group more or less by default. That was the first year he was at the same school as us, though.
"I can believe it," Kari said, smiling. "He’s way ahead of our class."
"Way ahead of every class, from what I’ve heard," TK added. "Apparently, he’s really impressed the teachers. Not many of the kids I knew seemed all that fond of him, though."
Miyako shrugged. "Well, sure, if he ignores everyone the way you said. Everyone probably thinks he’s a stuck-up spoiled brat."
"Except he’s not," I retorted.
She made a face at me. "How would you know, Dai? You’ve only just met him – I mean, there’s no way you could possibly know if he’s stuck-up or unfriendly or what!"
"Well, I’ve got a feeling about him, that’s all." I gave them a half grin to cover the fact that I didn’t really know what I was talking about, either. "I just think he could be a nice guy if he opened up more to people, you know?"
Miyako sighed. "Sure, sure, whatever you say. So why don’t you try and make friends with him, huh, Dai?"
As usual, I responded to that needling automatically. "I would but he’s not here!"
"Yeah right." She smirked at me. "You don’t want to be near him because he’s too unfriendly, just like everyone else. Admit it, Motomiya!"
I knew that wasn’t true the moment the words left her mouth – don’t ask me how. "I would admit it if it was the truth," I told her defiantly, crossing my arms over my chest. "But since it’s not, then I won’t!"
"Miya, Dai, stop arguing," Kari interjected. Always the voice of reason. "It’s not important, anyway. Let’s just talk about something else."
Miyako took up the new challenge eagerly. "Ooh, Kari, that reminds me! I saw the single most gorgeous man alive with I was shopping yesterday! Want to hear?"
Iori, TK, and I exchanged dismayed looks. "Well," I said, unenthusiastically. "Time to bring out the math homework."
Soccer tryouts for the senior team happened after school. I was totally psyched for the season, since I’d only been on the junior team before. I was one of the best players in school, so I didn’t have any doubts about making the team. The question I was wondering about was, would I be good enough to be made captain?
I was hoping I would be. It was a lot of fun, and my team members actually liked me for it.
Guess I should just give it my best shot, then! I left my bag with the others and went out on the field to join in the warm-up exercises. And I’ll find out soon enough. I turned away from the school for a moment to see who was trying out. Hey, it looks like we’ll have a pretty good team this year. Maybe we’ll even win a few tournaments.
When I turned back again, Ken Ichijouji, dressed in soccer shorts and cleats, was walking across the field toward the rest of us.
He plays soccer? I stared at him for a moment, blinking in astonishment. His eyes met mine, for real this time, and he smiled faintly – I think. Wonder if he’s any good.
I found out soon enough that he was. Very, very good.
That guy is unbelievable! I watched with my mouth open – much like the rest of the players – as Ken proceeded to fly through the drills with all the practiced ease of a natural-born soccer god. With him on our team, we’ll be unstoppable!
"Okay!" Coach Kitimura blew the whistle to indicate the end of the drill he’d had us doing. "We’re going to pair up and try some passing practice. I’ll be standing in goal, and I want you to try and fake me out of position." Next to impossible. Kitimura was a former goalie himself, and he was good at it. "Motomiya, Ichijouji!" He smiled slightly, and I had a feeling he was looking forward to seeing how that went. "You’re up first."
I started with the ball first, waiting for the signal to start. This should be good. Ken and I both had the same, more offensive style. Both on the front line. I was good at playing as a team member, and I knew it. Was Ken? I glanced over at him, just as he was glancing over at me. This could wind up being pretty important – if we didn’t work well as a team, we might never end up on the same line-up during a game. I didn’t want that to happen.
The whistle blew.
Ken was off before I could react, sprinting down the field. He didn’t look as I sent the ball sailing smoothly in front of him, but focussed on what was ahead. Speeding ahead to the goal, he made a move to shoot and missed, kicking the ball with his heel and the outside of his foot toward me. I’d never had such a perfect pass, so I took the opportunity to shoot, knowing Kitimura would block it but hoping for a good angle on the rebound.
Ken got the good angle instead, ball bouncing off his chest to drop to the ground, ready for a clear shot. He made it plainly obvious that he was going to, then feinted as if to pass back to me and took the shot unexpectedly. Our coach blocked it, barely, and I got the rebound. Without waiting to play sneaky, I kicked the ball straight up and headed it back to Ken – perfect angle. He took another shot and was blocked again, but recovered the ball right away. I knew what he was going to do, then, and moved forward.
It almost seemed, for a second there, like we were dancing, in sync. The rest of the world faded out and we were moving together on the soccer field, perfectly matched, almost rising up above the ground more with every step, every kick… Breathing hard and rushed, legs and feet manipulating the ball to some little scheme we’d worked out together, hearts pounding hard… almost… at once?
Ken kicked the ball sideways toward me and I caught it with my foot in mid-air, sending it sailing into the goal, despite Kitimura’s attempt to grab it.
The whistle blew again.
The coach looked impressed with us. "Good job, you two." He looked up toward the rest of the group, all of who seemed to be staring at us in astonishment, and called out another two names. Ken and I moved back to the rest as the new pair stepped up. He didn’t talk to me during the rest of the drill, and we didn’t get another chance to play together.
"That’s enough for today, guys," Coach Kitimura announced, as the last two finished up. "We’ll end this practice with a scrimmage, all right?"
Naturally, the response to that was enthusiastic.
"Excuse me, coach?" Ken stepped away from the group. "Would it effect your decision of whether or not to put me on the team if I left early today? If I continue to try out, it would only be this once."
The coach raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "All right, I’ll excuse you. But only this once. I need commitment from my players, understand?"
"Yes sir. You’ve got it." Ken turned and left the field.
I watched him go. What does he mean, if he continues to try out? He’s the best player here – why wouldn’t he try out? It didn’t make much sense to me – but then, neither did Ken.
"Darn it!" I pushed my chair away from the small desk in my room, scowling in frustration. The piece of paper on the smooth brown surface seemed to be mocking me – it displayed an image that was vaguely like Kari’s face, but not anywhere near looking like she did.
Why couldn’t I draw her?
Drawing was my hobby – it was what I did whenever I had nothing else to do. I didn’t ever show anyone else the drawings I did, but I had pictures of all of my friends. TK, Miyako, Iori… They all turned out all right. I glanced down at the papers scattered on the floor and caught a glimpse of TK’s smiling face. He looked just right. TK was easy to draw.
Kari was not.
For the life of me, I couldn’t seem to draw the girl of my dreams. She was elusive, shrouded in undrawable mystery. It wasn’t fair! I was madly in love with her, right? I should be able to draw her, easy. Why couldn’t I?
I frowned at the paper, raising my pencil over it again. There had to be something I could add… something to make it look more like her, and less like someone I didn’t even know. Something…
For some reason I found myself thinking of that new kid, Ken. He had the perfect face for drawing, pale and well-defined, with those slanted violet eyes… It made my fingers itch, for whatever reason. I idly sketched eyes onto Kari’s picture, not even realized what I was doing until I looked down again.
And saw Ken’s violet eyes on Kari’s face.
"Argh!" I crumbled up the paper and threw it viciously into the trash can beside my desk. "I give up!" Geez, what was it about that Ken kid that made him so interesting? I decided to give up trying to draw for that night. Kari didn’t seem to be working, and I didn’t feel like drawing anyone else.
"He showed up for the Computer Club meeting as well," Miyako told me the next day at lunch. "About halfway through, still wearing his soccer clothes. I see what you guys were talking about – he’s pretty unapproachable." She sighed, almost regretfully. "Really good-looking, though."
"Chess Club, too," Iori added. "Our meeting was later, so it wouldn’t have interfered with the others. He’s an excellent chess player, though, I can tell you."
"And a genius," Kari added.
"And a computer expert," Miyako put in.
"And he’s a big soccer star." I shook my head, amazed at the long list of Ken’s attributes. The guy’s super-human or something. "Man, is there anything that kid’s not the best at?"
"Making friends," TK answered, with a half smile. "He seems to have a knack for keeping people away from him. A lot of kids don’t like him."
"That’s stupid." I frowned. "I’ll bet he’s a really nice guy. People should get to know him before they say stuff like that. You know, give him a chance?"
"Well, here’s your chance, Dai," Kari told me, looking over my shoulder at something behind me. "There he is now."
I turned. Ken Ichijouji, lunch tray in hand, was walking through the lunch room, glancing around at tables that were either full or had people sitting at them who were trying to make them look full. Didn’t look like anyone wanted the new kid sitting with them.
That made me mad. Who were they, to judge this new kid like that, as if they were so high and mighty? They didn’t even know the guy! I decided to put a stop to it.
"Hey! Ken!" I waved a hand over my head and grinned, attracting at least half a dozen incredulous stares. Ken looked at me, face expressionless, and I gave him my friendliest smile. "Come sit over here!"
"Are you crazy!?" Miyako hissed, but it was too late. Still without any kind of expression, Ken changed course and headed for our table.
"Hey!" I said cheerfully, as he took the empty seat next to mine. "You remember me?"
"Daisuke," he answered, simply. "You were at soccer practice."
"I sit next to you in homeroom," I added, just to be sure he remembered. "How are you liking the school so far, anyway? Good as the last place you were at?"
He had already started eating, and finished chewing before answering me. "About the same. I was more or less expecting it. You aren’t bad at soccer," he changed the subject.
I beamed. Compliments worked well with me. "Thanks! But you were the best player I’ve ever seen! How come you didn’t stay for the full practice?"
"I wanted to attend the Computer Club meeting." His answer was short and to the point. "I only plan to join one thing. I don’t have time for more."
"Oh." I struggled to come up with a response to that one. "So which one do you plan on joining?"
"I haven’t made that decision just yet."
"Oh." Great. Repeating myself. I looked across the table at Kari, who made a helpless gesture, and then at Miyako, who rolled her eyes. Iori and TK had already started a quiet conversation of their own. I was alone on this one. "So," I began again, determined not to give up. "Did you want to come over to my place after school?"
He actually looked up at me. That violet-eyed gaze was really pretty unsettling, I found. My stomach was doing flip-flops. "What for?" he asked – not sounding unfriendly, but not really sounding friendly, either.
"Uh…" I had to think for a moment, and it was really hard to do while staring into his eyes. "You know… just… to hang out. Maybe we could be friends. What do you think?"
"I don’t know." He turned away again and focussed on his food. "Maybe." The tone of his voice was neutral, not entirely promising.
I sighed and concentrated on my lunch. The others had left me to deal with Ken alone; Kari and Miyako were having a conversation, like TK and Iori, that didn’t involve me. And Ken himself didn’t even look at me, just sat there and ate in complete silence. I was watching him as I polished off my meal, little sideways glances, and I think he knew it. But he didn’t look at me. What’ s the matter with this guy, anyway? I wondered. Does he just not like me? If that was the case, why was he sitting with me? It didn’t make any sense.
Ken stood abruptly. "Nice of you to invite me to sit at your table, Daisuke," he said blandly, lifting his tray. Just before he walked off, he added, "I’ll meet you after school by the soccer field."
I gaped after him.
"Sounds like the two of you really hit it off," Miyako noted drily. "Too bad he doesn’t talk much, huh? But then again, Dai, I’m sure you could make up for that."
"Ha ha, very funny." I frowned, still thinking about Ken. There’s something about him… something that draws me… I just can’t figure out what it is!
Ken was already at the field when I got there, standing beside the small set of bleachers that were near the outskirts of it. "Hey!" I called out, jogging toward him. He turned, and the sight of his violet eyes abruptly made my stomach feel funny. I brushed that aside and smiled. "Ready to go?"
He didn’t answer, but instead gave me a question of his own. "How do we get to your place?"
"We walk. Hope you don’t mind." I grinned at him and started off in the direction of my apartment building. "Come on, Ken. It’s this way."
He fell into step beside me, silently.
I was determined not to let this turn into a repeat of the awkwardly silent lunch I’d had to endure. "So Ken," I began, drawing as much confidence as I could around me. "How come you never talk much to anyone?"
To my complete and total shock, Ken turned toward me again, eyes wide. "I…" He stopped abruptly, with a sound something like a gasp, and then looked away. "I don’t like talking much with people I don’t trust," he said stiffly.
"But how are you going to meet people you can trust if you don’t talk to them?" I asked, not quite sure what to make of that brief show of emotion. I think I’d begun to half suspect that Ken was some kind of android or something. But seeing that made me aware that he really wasn’t – my skin tingled in a reaction…
"I talk to them if they don’t judge me on how I seem to be." The glance he sent my way was less guarded than usual; his eyes almost seemed to soften. "Like you."
"Oh." So I had been right. I felt flushed with my success. "In that case, I’m going to be someone you can trust. And then I’ll introduce you to my friends and you can trust them too."
He made a snorting noise. "Sure, Daisuke. The captain of the basketball team? The most popular girl in school? The president of the Computer Club? The grade eight Chess Club champion? What would they want to have to do with me?" He blinked rapidly, then looked straight ahead, more from an instinct to guard himself, I thought, than from that coldness everyone seemed to see in him. "I might… be able to trust you, though." The words were hurried, almost nervous.
"Then we’ll start with that." I impulsively put a friendly arm around his shoulders. "You can’t judge them ’cause of what kind of position they have in the school. Like, you would think the Computer Club president would be a total geek, but Miya’s got about a million guys lined up for dates on Friday nights. And I’m usually captain of the soccer team, which you’d think would make me popular or something, but I couldn’t get a date to save my life! You can’t just fit us into our roles like that. It doesn’t really work."
Ken blinked at me. His shoulders, I noticed, were stronger than they looked, and he was warm – moving, alive. It was a little awkward because he was taller than me, but I felt strangely comfortable like that. His closeness was doing weird things to my system, and I kinda liked it.
He finally sighed, and released me from the compelling pull of his eyes. I hadn’t even realized I was staring. Geez, we could walk into a telephone pole like that! "I’ll have to think about it," he said reluctantly. That cold outer coating seemed to be melting. I was like fire! I could melt that ice prison he’d put himself in, easy!
"So, which one is your apartment building?" Ken asked suddenly.
"Oh… that one!" I let go of his shoulders to lead the way in and felt oddly cold. Like I was missing something, almost. I decided I liked being close to Ken. He made me feel… warm.
"Mom, I’m home!" I kicked off my shoes, motioning for Ken to do the same, and shut the door. "I brought a friend over for the afternoon, okay?"
"Sure, hon!" she called, from the kitchen area. "Just remember, we’re having dinner at six, all right?"
"Yeah, okay." I turned back toward Ken again. "My room’s over here – I’ll show you."
Unfortunately, I hadn’t had time to clean the place up much before Ken came over – then again, I hadn’t known he was coming until lunch time that day, so I hadn’t had much chance. "Sorry about the mess," I apologized, trying to gather up the discarded sketches I had littered all over my floor. "My room kinda gets a little chaotic every now and then."
He beat me to one of the pages – actually, one with a picture I’d tried to draw of Kari. "This is good," he told me, sounding impressed. "It doesn’t look much like her, though. You slanted her eyes a little too much, and shaded her hair too dark."
"Oh…" I felt my face turn red, and snatched the sketch from him. "Well, I’m… not really very good. It’s just something I do." For some reason, the fact that he’d touched one of my drawings made me feel like he’d touched in on a very private part of myself, and I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with that. I scrambled to get some of the others, but Ken was faster than me.
"Well, these are good," he commented, holding up sketches of TK and Miyako. "They look almost like the real thing." He flipped through some more. "You’ve got talent, Daisuke. It’s only the pictures of that one girl that seem to be off."
"Maybe." I held out my hand for the papers, feeling a little scared of the way he looked at them. It was like he was examining me – like I’d been stripped down and strapped to an examination table while Ken studied very inch of me. That’s how it felt. "Um… can I have them back now? I need to put them away."
He handed them over. The look on his face was kind of an understanding one… like he knew how I felt, almost. "You think that you like her, don’t you? That girl in the first picture?"
I got defensive immediately. "What do you mean, I think I like her?"
He shrugged. "Well, do you?"
"Sort of." I squirmed and felt my face growing hot again. "But it’s no big deal, right? I mean, what guy doesn’t? She’s the most popular girl in school. Plus, she’s hot."
"What about who she is? She’s your friend, right?"
"Of course! And I know who she is. She’s pretty and nice and sweet and caring." I smiled, feeling satisfied. "Just the kind of girl every guy dreams about, right?"
"Well, sure, but you know her," Ken persisted. "So you should be able to do more than generalize what qualities she has. Sure, she’s nice, sweet, and attractive. But what about the things that would tell you you’re really attracted to her? Maybe you like the way she laughs, or what sort of things she gets excited about? How she moves? The emotions that play across her face? The way her eyes display feelings? There must be something."
I racked my brain. What do I like about Kari? What do I like? I like the dreams I have about her… And… I guess she’s pretty… And… "I like…" I felt my forehead wrinkle as I searched through my thoughts and memories of Hikari Yagami. I’d been friends with her forever, almost as long as TK had. I always thought it would be great to be with someone like her. But when we actually hung out together, it seemed… different. "I don’t know," I finished lamely. "I just like her. That’s all."
Ken’s face displayed the first faint hint of a smile I’d ever seen on it before. "Would you draw me, Daisuke?" he asked slowly, catching me completely off-guard with the subject change.
I blinked. "Well… sure, I guess. If that’s what you want." I turned and fumbled for a pencil, wondering why my fingers were shaking like that. I was feeling pretty nervous for some reason or another.
"Did you need me to sit somewhere?" Ken asked, looking around.
"On the bed, I guess." I sat down myself, on the stool by my desk. "I usually draw from memory, but if you’re going to be the model, I guess you should try to find a comfortable spot and hold real still." I pulled a piece of paper from my desk drawer.
I was never one to use models when I drew. Actually, my sketches were usually just plain doodles in my opinion – they didn’t mean much, and they probably weren’t that good. So many years of drawing in my room, all alone, made me get used to the idea of drawing from memory. After the first few glances, I could’ve finished it no problem, from memory.
But I kept glancing.
I had to. I don’t know why. There was something about Ken… His face was so painfully attractive, violet eyes fixed on me. If I’d been standing, I swear my knees would’ve weakened. He was lounging on my bed, looking comfortable… I got a funny feeling in my gut, and my whole body seemed to flush with heat. It was such a weird sensation. I found thoughts leaking into my mind, an image of getting up from that chair, moving to the bed and crawling over Ken. How would he feel against me? I thought that his body would be soft, warm… His hips thin, braced between my legs… Mouth –
"Sorry," Ken apologized, looking like he actually meant it. "But you’ve been looking at me for more than a minute. Is there some kind of problem? You looked a little out of it."
"Uh… no!" For the third time since I’d met him at the soccer field, I felt my face flush. What was I thinking? I’ve never… "Everything’s fine! I just, um, kinda spaced out there! Heh heh… That’s me. Concentrate on something too long, and my brain shuts off."
He seemed to buy it. "Well, you’ve been working for quite a while, Daisuke. It’s almost five-thirty." He pointed at my alarm clock and I tilted my head to see the glowing numbers.
"Sorry about that." I forced myself to think about how much time I’d wasted rather than where mind had been less than a minute ago. "You should’ve said something. I tend to get carried away when I’m drawing."
He shrugged, just a slight movement of his shoulders. But I couldn’t help watching his body shift position… God! I felt that funny feeling in my stomach more than ever, and my skin tingled too. I was so wired, the slightest thing would probably set me off. "I didn’t mind. Have you finished with that drawing yet?"
"Not yet." I looked down regretfully. It really did look good, despite the fact that it was only half finished. "I’ll need a lot longer to finish it. But I could do it on my own."
He sighed. "I should go, anyway."
I felt a surge of disappointment. "Are you sure? You could stay for supper…"
"No, thanks anyway." He smiled a little and stood up. "I really should be going. Unless you think you’ll need me to finish that picture."
I was tempted to say yes. I really was. But… "No, I can handle it from here."
"Will I get to see it when it’s finished?" he asked.
I hesitated. "Yeah, I guess so," I agreed, slowly. "I’ll try and get it finished before school… But I’d rather not bring it out when there are people around." I thought for a moment. "Are you going to be at soccer practice tomorrow?"
"Actually, yes." He smiled again, and my skin felt tingly again. "Since I think I’ve decided to play soccer instead of joining the Computer or Chess Club."
"Great!" My enthusiasm wasn’t faked. "I’ll give it to you after, then, okay?"
"Sounds good." He headed for the door and I followed to give him a proper goodbye. "I’ll just walk home; the place we moved to isn’t far from here."
"Okay!" I leaned against the wall and smiled, as he tugged his shoes on. "See you tomorrow, Ken!"
He returned the smile and opened our front door. "See you."
And then he was gone.
I collapsed back onto my bed and stared at the ceiling in silence. Supper and finishing the picture had kept me occupied for most of the evening, but I couldn’t ignore what had happened forever. I had a feeling I’d be up late thinking about it.
I’d thought about kissing him!
And not just that, even… It was the whole thing – pressing myself against him, feeling what his body felt like, tangling my legs around his… That was more than a passing curiosity! I swallowed hard, feeling my body tingle in reaction. And that was just from thinking about thinking about it! What would happen if he actually touched me?
Like that…? I closed my eyes and felt Ken’s long, slender fingers trailing down over my chest, brushing my stomach… What would he look like without clothes? What would his bare skin feel like? My reaction was immediate and predictable, and my skin flushed like it had when I’d looked at him. I felt like I was on fire, and kicked the covers away.
I’m attracted to a guy… Am I gay now? It was always Kari before… I’d never had those kinds of thoughts about Kari, not once. She’d always been a vague dream image, a figure clouded in mist and fantasy. Ken was real; he was immediate. I could see his face clearly, hear his voice, feel how warm he’d been when I put my arm around him. I felt like I was on edge, completely keyed up. I’d never been so turned on in my whole life!
But if I was gay, wouldn’t I have been attracted to other guys, too? Kari had been my crush, and she was a girl! If I was gay, why hadn’t I had a crush on TK instead? I mean, there were a lot of girls who found him attractive. If I was gay, why didn’t I? Was it just Ken that did this to me? I’m so confused now!
I flopped over onto my stomach, ignoring the discomfort that caused, and tried to force myself to get some sleep. I’ll figure it out later. No big deal. Right?
Friday was a bad day.
Well, the morning was bad. I didn’t sleep well, first off, and I felt surly and grouchy. I tried to cover it by being overly cheery and actually hitting on Kari, something I hadn’t done in years. Naturally, she took it bad, and I wound up hurrying ahead of her when it came close to the point where TK would join us. I didn’t feel like dealing with them. The high point of my morning was when Ken walked into the classroom and sat next to me. He was still reserved, but he smiled faintly. It made me feel a lot better. It also made my heart beat faster. I was resigning myself more every minute to the idea of having a crush on Ken.
But what about Kari?
The picture I’d spent hours slaving over seemed to get worse every time I looked at it. Maybe it was just nerves, but… I felt slightly ill when I thought of showing it to Ken. Was it just that I couldn’t draw the people I had crushes on? I didn’t think so – what I felt for Ken seemed so entirely separate from what I’d felt for Kari.
If I’d felt anything for Kari. I was starting to doubt that.
It was that thought that prompted me to take my lunch tray outside instead of sitting with my friends – well, that and the fact that I didn’t really want to face the others when I wasn’t feeling much like trying to be civil. I had my pencils and a pad of paper in my bag, and I wanted to try something that had been eating away at me since the day before.
So I finished my lunch quick, took out my drawing stuff, and started to sketch Kari.
Always before when I drew her, I’d thought of her as my crush, the dream girl, sweet and pure and perfect. This time, I tried thinking of her as Kari, my friend, the girl with the pretty brown eyes and the thick lashes. Brown hair, cut short with long bangs that were pulled back out of her eyes. Mouth a touch too small, petite lips, high cheekbones. Kari who sometimes snorted when she laughed too hard. Kari who was constantly joking with me about my lack of brain power. Kari who confided in me sometimes when she and TK had problems. Kari my friend. Kari who wasn’t mine, and who could no longer call me hers.
Not that she ever had.
I finished the sketch just as the bell rang.
It looked exactly like Kari. That was the first time I’d ever been able to draw her properly.
I took out the picture of Ken and compared the two, silently. Ken’s looked right, too. His face even had the hesitant smile on it I remembered from the previous night. I had him drawn out properly. I had Kari drawn out properly.
And I was going to be late for class.
I got up, clutching my drawings, and sprinted for the door.
"Ken!" I made my way over to the violet-eyed boy, feeling my heart pounding. My drawings were still in my bag, and I was already starting to wonder if showing them to Ken was a good idea. But I did promise… "Ready to see a great work of art?"
He smiled, slinging his soccer cleats over one shoulder. "Keep it in your bag for now," he answered, then managed to completely surprise me. "Want to spend the night at my place?"
I blinked at him for a moment. "I… why… wha…"
"I’ll take that as a yes." He put a hand on my shoulder and started to lead me toward the school. "Come on, you need to call your parents."
Even after I’d gotten permission, stopped at my house to pack some overnight junk, and was walking next to Ken on the way to his apartment, I still couldn’t believe it. I was sleeping over at Ken Ichijouji’s home. Wow. I must’ve really hit it off with him yesterday. I glanced sideways at Ken. He was looking at me, too. I looked away quickly.
"I drew another picture of Kari today," I told him, like it was no big deal.
"Really?" He sounded interested. "How did it turn out?"
"Looked just like her." I grinned, still watching the sidewalk ahead of me. "I’ve got it with me; you can take a look if you want."
"I will, when we get to my place," Ken promised. He gave me another sideways glance. "You know, I’ve been thinking, Daisuke… I really like your name. Dai suki."
"That’s not how you say it," I reminded him. "Dai suki means – "
"To like something a lot," Ken finished. "I know." He smiled a little, one of those ‘I’ve got a secret’ smiles. "It’s a good name. Daisuke… Dai suki… Like Daisuke a lot."
I laughed. "That’s cool! I like it when people like me a lot!"
He shrugged, still smiling.
"I’ve gotta warn you, Ken," I began, feeling more like myself and less like some nervous little kid. "I’ve got a stomach like a bottomless pit! Hope you’ve got lots of food…"
"Don’t worry, we’re fully stocked," he assured me. "My mother just went shopping yesterday, and she always buys tons of food. I think she expects me to eat a lot more than I do."
"Great! Got any chocolate ice-cream?"
"Probably. That or butterscotch, anyway."
I grinned. "Well, that’s enough to keep me happy! How far is it to your place, anyway?"
"Actually, it’s over there." Ken pointed at an apartment three buildings from where we were. "I told you, it’s not that far from your place."
"Awesome! In that case, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me." I started walking faster. Crush or no crush, that chocolate ice-cream was calling out my name!
"Hi Mom!" Ken called out, when we got to his apartment. "I’m home! And I brought over that friend I told you about."
"That’s great, sweetie!" I grinned, and Ken winced. Stupid pet names had to be a universal ‘mom’ thing. Mrs. Ichijouji wandered over to where we were just removing our shoes. She was a friendly-looking middle-aged woman with a cheery smile. "I’ve got some brownies in the oven for the two of you, if you’d like."
"You bet!" I burst out enthusiastically. "That sounds great, Mrs. Ichijouji. By the way," I added, as almost an afterthought, giving her a polite nod, "My name’s Daisuke."
"Well, it’s nice to meet you," she said cheerily. "I’m so glad Ken’s made such a nice friend on just his second day of school! But you didn’t tell me you were inviting a boy to sleep over, Ken," she added, glancing at her son a little anxiously.
I glanced at Ken, confused.
"You don’t need to worry about me, mom," he assured her, discreetly rolling his eyes at me. I smiled. "Just relax, all right?"
"All right, dear. Just remember the rules." She gave us another cheerful smile and wandered into another room. "The brownies will be ready in about ten minutes, okay?"
"Okay mom!" Ken turned and opened the door to another room. "Come on. You can show me those pictures while we wait, Daisuke."
I followed him in. Ken’s room was a lot neater than mine, though it had a lot of the same things. His desk wasn’t covered with paper, pencils, and half-finished sketches, though.
"You can put your bag down anywhere," Ken said, setting his down beside his dresser. He pulled a second stool from beside his bed over to the desk. "Here, we can both sit down and you can show me your work. Okay?"
"Sure." I shrugged, dropped my bag, and dug out the sketches. "They’re not that great, though," I added, a bit uneasily, as I sank onto the stool beside his.
He took the papers from my hand and set them down on the surface of the desk before I could protest. I could feel my face growing hot as he examined first one, then the other. A slow smile was building on his face. "You finally got Kari drawn right," he commented.
"Yeah, well…" I rubbed the back of my neck, nervously. "I thought a lot about what you said before – you know, that there should be something specific I like, about her and not my idea of her. I don’t think Kari my friend and Kari the girl I liked were really all that much the same. You know?"
He gave me that same secretive little smile. "I kind of thought that was how it was. So you’ve decided you like her as a friend? Or did you just give up on those illusions?"
"Uh… A little of both, I think." I shrugged, trying to brush the whole thing off as no big deal. "So what do you think of the other picture? That’s you, after all – you should be able to tell if it looks okay. Right?"
His smile shifted a little, and he looked down at the picture again. "It’s excellent, Daisuke," he told me. The words were quiet and sincere, and I felt a wave of happiness and relief. I shivered slightly.
"Well… you can have it if you want." The tone of my voice was light and casual, off-hand. Like it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was, actually – but giving up a piece of my art just felt important. It was like handing off some part of myself.
Ken looked up at me. The smile was gone, but his eyes regarded me solemnly, meaningfully. I think he knows… I couldn’t look away… But he knew… He knew what I was thinking, that I liked him and all. He had to know.
I didn’t care.
I could hardly tell I was leaning forward. It was like some crazy dream, and everything was in slow motion. I felt Ken’s breath against my face, soft, and then… and then…
And then we kissed, and my whole world narrowed right down to that careful, soft contact. I felt like I was up in the air, spinning around, and Ken was kissing me… He was kissing me…
"Ken honey!" Both of us jerked away, almost guiltily. "The brownies are ready!"
"Coming!" he called back, then stood abruptly. "Come on, Daisuke. We’d better go." Without a glance back, he was across the room and out the door.
I put a hand to my mouth and sat there, bemused.
I kissed Ken.
I kissed him.
My fingers jerked back from where his lips had made contact with mine. I didn’t want to spoil that feeling just yet. It hadn’t even been a real kiss, not with tongues and passion and us desperately clinging onto each other. It was soft, barely a touch, and I could feel it all through me. It was incredible.
"Daisuke!" Ken called from the kitchen. "Don’t you want brownies?"
That snapped me back to reality – that and the smell of fresh-baked chocolate wafting through the air. "Yeah, don’t eat them all! I’m coming!" I stumbled out of my seat and made a sort of dash toward that tempting aroma. I could figure out all that other stuff later; right then, I needed food!
"You weren’t kidding about your stomach being a bottomless pit, were you?" Ken commented, watching as I happily stuffed the last brownie into my mouth. "You ate more in ten minutes than I usually eat in a week!"
"He’s a growing boy, that’s all." Mrs. Ichijouji beamed at me and put another plate of brownies in front of us, which I gleefully attacked. "You just don’t eat enough, Ken, that’s why you think it’s so unusual."
"Maybe that’s it." Ken sounded skeptical; he was still watching me stuff brownies into my mouth. Absently, he picked up a single chocolate square and took a bite. "Do you mind if we finish these in my room, Mom?" he asked, swallowing.
"Not at all." She smiled. "Your father won’t be home for another couple of hours, so dinner will be late tonight, anyway. "Just let me know if you need anything."
"We will." Ken didn’t bother telling me to follow him; he just picked up the plate and I trailed after him like a puppy, still chewing on the brownie I was holding.
He set the tray down on his desk and started to laugh. "Remind me not to get between you and a chocolate cake, Daisuke," he commented, sinking down onto his seat. "It could be hazardous to my health."
"Youw chus’ ’zagera’ing," I said, still chewing. I swallowed and grabbed another brownie. "I’m just hungry, and these are good." I stuffed the brownie into my mouth, happily absorbing the rich chocolate. "Mmm… yum…"
He grinned at me. "Daisuke, Daisuke… don’t talk in that tone unless you mean it."
I froze in mid-chew, then swallowed. Hard.
"Um… Ken?" I rubbed the back of my neck again, feeling awkward and just a bit nervous. The brownies sat forgotten on his desk. "Are you… I mean, uh… Well… I know that… we kissed, and all… but… are you… do you know if you’re…?" I left the question hanging, embarrassed.
Ken smiled at me. "Daisuke, there are a lot of things I’m not sure of, but I am sure about my sexuality."
His… oh. I felt myself blushing.
"You’re not, though, are you?" he said pointedly.
"Sorta. I dunno. I’m attracted to you," I told him honestly. "You’re the first guy I’ve been attracted to. I mean, it’s never been anyone but Kari…"
"… who you loved as an idea and not a person," he finished for me. He still had that open little smile on his face. "Tell me something, Daisuke: had you ever been kissed before tonight? Really kissed?"
"Not… not really." I squirmed in my seat a little, nervously. "The girls all thought I was kind of a goof. Obnoxious, even."
"They don’t know you well enough." Ken reached out and let his fingers trail over mine, carefully. "I think you’re beautiful inside, under that layer of bravado. You hide it from most people, but I’ve had a look at those drawings of yours, and trust me, I know."
"Beautiful?" I had to say it out loud; the word didn’t seem to make sense, otherwise. "Me?"
Ken nodded. "I can almost… I can sort of see it in you. Well, in your drawings."
I found myself staring into his eyes – so deep, that violet color… "What else do you see?"
"I don’t know." He shrugged, and looked down. "But I like what I do see. He smiled to himself. "For one thing, you’re pretty good-looking."
"I am?" I blinked, though why that should surprise me when I told people the same thing myself at least a million times a day…
"Of course! You didn’t know?" He looked at me again, and reached up to trace the line of my jaw softly with one finger. "For goodness sakes, Daisuke, I haven’t been able to get your face out of my head since the first time I saw it."
"Just my face?" I grinned. "Yeah, well, I’m the best-looking guy at school. Nobody else knows it yet, that’s all. And… well… maybe I thought about you a lot, too. Especially last night."
He leaned forward, bracing his hands on my shoulders. "Can I kiss you again?" he asked softly, when he was just inches away from my face. Oh lord… I could feel my skin tingling.
"You think I’m going to say no to that now?"
He chuckled a little and pressed his lips to mine. I could almost taste the leftover chocolate on his lips, and that wasn’t even the best part. He felt soft, and warm, and it was such a delicious pressure on my mouth, I just couldn’t get enough. It sent shivers all through me.
I decided that the brownies could wait. I wanted more Ken.
He broke the kiss and kept our faces close together, breathing heavily. "Wow," he whispered, almost reverently. "That’s a kiss!"
"What’d you think it was, brainiac?" I leaned in for more.
"Wait a minute." Ken stood, pulling away from me, and moved toward the door. "Sorry, Daisuke, but I don’t think we want my mom walking in on us, do we?" He locked it.
I grinned. "That probably wouldn’t be good. Hey…" I thought back to how his mom had greeted us. "Your mom knows about you, doesn’t she? That’s why she looked so worried that I was a guy."
"Both of my parents know." Ken shrugged, and sat on the bed. "Care to join me?"
I got up right away. "So what were those ‘rules’ she was talking about?"
"No sex in the apartment," he answered, calmly. "Well, she called it ‘indiscreet activity’, but you know what she was trying to get across. Aren’t you going to sit down?"
I sat. "Do you know about… um…" My face was getting hot. "You know… with two guys…?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I know the mechanics. I’ve never done it before, if that’s what you’re asking. But I did take it upon myself to do a little research, considering they aren’t going to teach me that kind of thing in school."
"Oh." I had about a million questions, but decided it was probably a good idea to avoid further embarrassment. "So, if we ever decided to… uh… you know… then you’d know what to do?"
Ken laughed. "Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you? We only just met two days ago… we had our first kiss twenty minutes ago… We should at least hold off for a week or two, don’t you think?"
I don’t like being laughed at. "Sez who?" I asked defiantly, pouncing on him and pinning him down against the bed. "Hah!" I crowed triumphantly. "Got you!" The expression on his face was priceless!
He managed a smile. "Oh yeah?" The words were just a bit breathless. "Well, just what did you plan to do with me, Daisuke?"
Ooh. That was a good question. "Uh…"
Taking advantage of my hesitation, he rolled us over and pinned me down. "Spoils of war," he grinned, and claimed my lips in a kiss. A long kiss. With plenty of sequels.
I was starting to think that maybe Ken wasn’t the only one being drawn out.
Although thoughts like that one hardly mattered when you had a gorgeous guy on top of you with his tongue exploring your mouth.
Particularly when it totally flips your life around at the same time.