When Kei awoke the next morning, Akio wasn’t there. He assumed the energetic blond was already busy micromanaging his other teammates before the bus ride to Tokai University. His lips curved into a smile when he noticed the sound of classical music playing softly in the room. He recognized the song instantly. Serenade by Schubert, a piece that Akio often listened to when he was lounging in their room. Kei shut his eyes and let himself enjoy the sound of the orchestra. He could never call himself a classical music enthusiast, but the idea that Akio had turned it on for him to wake up to made him appreciate every last note and beautiful crescendo.
The music continued to play as Kei climbed out of bed and headed to his closet to grab his clothing. He had always been subtle with his style, never wanting to stand out in a crowd. So it was no surprise that he opted for a simple black shirt, dark washed jeans and an understated olive hoodie to complete the look. Contented with his appearance, he grabbed his eye contacts, toothbrush and face wash with the intention of cleaning up a bit before he joined his team in the cafeteria. He stopped at the door when he laid his pretty green eyes on a garment bag hanging on the door handle. There was a sticky note on the bag with his name on it, written in Akio’s elegant handwriting. “First costume of the year,” Kei mused fondly as he opened the garment bag to see what his gymnastics leotard looked like.
Stunning. Maybe Kei was biased because he knew Akio was the designer, but somehow it seemed like he outdid himself with every costume design. The base of the full body velvet leotard was black with beautiful red, white and teal Swarovski crystals, sparkling in a unique pattern that began at the neckline and cascaded down the costume all the way down to the ankle. Kei admired all of the intricate details on the garment for a few moments until he figured he should probably get going. After all, he’d be wearing it at Tokai University soon enough and could appreciate it then.
After washing his face and brushing his teeth, Kei found himself putting in his brown eye contacts with a steady hand. He hated his natural eye color. It was the focal point of many awkward conversations and a reminder of his mother who had passed away when he was young. For whatever reason, people seemed to treat him like some sort of exotic creature because of his rare eye color, so he chose to wear dark contacts to blend in with the rest of Japanese society. Akio on the other hand loved to stand out with his outspoken personality. The two had an unlikely friendship, but because they had practically been raised together and grown to appreciate their differences, they had a very close bond. Before leaving the changing room, he carded a hand through his mid-length hair a few times just to make sure he looked presentable. With that, he left the room, quickly returned his toiletries to their rightful place, and headed to the cafeteria to meet his friends.
The cafeteria was always a vibrant scene at all times, but especially during breakfast. Somehow it seemed like everyone was a morning person as soon as they entered the inviting area. Some students focused on homework completion while they ate in silence, and others would be competing to talk over each other. It was newly renovated the previous school year with a brand new stainless steel kitchen, new flooring, tables and seating. The large space was always immaculately clean. Each and every metal oblong table neatly lined across the room, giving off a faint smell of lemon cleaner. Kei felt fortunate to be able to attend a university that prioritized cleanliness, and even more fortunate to be able to be there with his long time friends.
Everyone was already deep in conversation over breakfast at their usual table by the window when Kei arrived.
“M-morning Kei…” Yuuta greeted, adjusting his glasses.
Kei furrowed his brows. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s nervous,” Jiki, another one of Kei’s teammates chimed in, smirking at the cowardly looking boy seated next to him.
Kei took his spot next to Akio who acknowledged him with a smile and then returned back to his conversation with Hideo and Daichi, the two remaining teammates. As usual his breakfast was already waiting for him at the table. Akio always made sure that Kei was fed, another sweet gesture that he appreciated. Today the nutrient dense morning meal included a small steak, seasoned spinach, a small omelet, miso soup and a side of rice. Kei cracked open his chopsticks, placed some of the spinach on top of his rice and dug in.
“Yuuta,” Kei said after swallowing his first mouthful. “There’s nothing to be nervous about. You’ve competed so many times and you’ve done great every time.”
Yuuta smiled lightly at the encouraging words. “I know, I know… I’m just overthinking I guess.”
“He should be nervous,” Jiki cut in. “I might drop the little piggy with extra weight he’s been carrying lately.”
“I only gained three pounds!” Yuuta cried out, his face going red with embarrassment.
Kei reached across the table to place his hand on Yuuta’s. “Ignore Jiki, he's only messing with you.”
Yuuta swallowed and nodded.
“You’re not the one who has to lift that fat ass,” Jiki deadpanned. “So stop being an enabler, Kei.”
“Um, I think I’m going to my room until we have to go…”
“Don’t go,” Daichi reassured, grabbing Yuuta by the arm before he could stand up and make his escape. “You’re fine. Besides, your ass is cute and probably the best ass Jiki will ever touch.”
The table erupted into light laughter at Jiki’s expense, and, to everyone’s surprise, he didn’t even bother with a crass retort like he usually would. Instead he stood up and announced that was going to hit the showers before they left. As Jiki walked off, Akio reminded him not to take too long as they only had an hour before the bus left the lot. Jiki brushed off the request with a quick hand gesture and grumbled that he’d meet them on the bus.
“Anyone else need to do anything before we leave?” Akio inquired when Jiki was out of sight.
“I just need to grab my bag and costume,” Hideo replied.
“Same,” Kei and Daichi answered in unison.
“Yeah… same I guess.”
“Yuuta,” Akio said again in a more sympathetic tone. “Just stop stress eating like a camel and Jiki won’t be able to insult you. Also, you should start exercising more.”
“You’re like a nagging mother, Akio,” Hideo observed, side eyeing him with a look of disapproval.
“It’s my job to be honest as your team captain. Anyway, I’ll be the gymnasium with Hirato if anyone needs me~.”
His statement made Kei think back to last night, and the promise he made to himself. That he would confess to his feelings at some point today. When would be best? He could follow him to the gymnasium now and maybe take him somewhere private to talk? No, he quickly decided. It would have to be at some point after the gymnastics competition had ended. Akio deserved to have a clear mind on such an important day. The more Kei planned about how he would go about it, the more he started to feel anxious.
“Not going to eat, Kei?” Daichi asked, shaking Kei out of his thoughts. “Space Cadet.”
Why were his friends always so perceptive? Daichi especially.
“Oh um, yeah,” Kei stammered, offering a nervous smile. “I was just thinking about the competition.” He felt a little bad for lying, but he’d never hear the end of it had he been honest. In an attempt to avoid any more suspicion, he refocused on his food before anyone could ask more questions.
“I see you’re wearing your contacts,” Hideo added to the conversation.
Kei simply nodded, his eyes fixated on the food, hoping the two would let him eat in peace.
Daichi and Hideo exchanged glances and then their eyes went back to Kei.
“Remember that time we hid his contacts?” Daichi reminisced.
“Yeah, he refused to go out with us.”
Kei ignored their banter, finished his meal and got up. Over the years, Kei had learned to never let himself become a victim to the teasing the way Yuuta did. “I’ll see you guys on the bus,” Kei said curtly, “And Yuuta, try to keep your head up.”
With only about thirty minutes left to spare before the trip, Kei decided he’d hit up the gymnasium to see what Akio and their team coach, Hirato were up to. It was a quick journey from the cafeteria to the gymnasium. The only thing that slowed down the process was the abundance of students that littered the halls, socializing with peers and preparing for their morning classes. Kei pushed open the uncomfortably large doors leading to the gym and was instantly greeted by Akio who looked to be on his way out.
“Hey! Perfect timing,” Akio exclaimed, grabbing Kei’s hand, suddenly leading him away from the gym.”
Kei looked at the hand and then back at it’s owner. “Where are we going?”
“To our room,” Akio informed his best friend.
“Why?” Kei said quickly.
Akio abruptly stopped walking and turned around. “I want to talk to you? Is that okay?”
For a split second Akio knitted his brows, sensing an awkward air about his best friend but didn’t question it further.
The entire walk to the dorms was done in complete silence, and when they arrived at their room, Akio pulled Kei inside, locking the door behind them.
“Sit,” Akio demanded, lightly pushing Kei towards his computer chair.
Kei raised his hands in submission and did what he was told. “What’s this about?” Kei asked once he was seated.
Kei instantly felt sick. “What about last night?”
“I wanted to see where your head was at today. You did make a pretty big declaration after all. I feel like we barely scratched the surface.”
“Um, this might not be the best time,” Kei laughed nervously. “The competitio—"
“My best friend is finally discovering himself. I want to be there for you like you were for me. I’m not worried about the competition.” Akio closed the distance between them, sitting on Kei’s lap to give him a hug.
“Why are you like this?” Kei said on impulse.
Akio pulled back from the hug to ask, “What do you mean? Like what?”
“Sorry,” Kei tried to correct. “I mean... can we wait until tonight to talk?”
Akio frowned while considering what Kei asked, but after a few moments of thinking his features softened into a smile. “Sure, we can talk tonight… but can you do me a favor right now?”
Kei blinked. “What?”
“Take off your clothes,” Akio said as he removed himself from the chair, waiting for Kei to oblige.
Did Akio want to get intimate? Here? Right now? As unbelievable as it sounded, Kei didn’t want ruin a chance to get closer to the person he had feelings for. He got up from the chair, fumbled with his zipper on his hoody, but eventually unzipped it. Once the hoody was removed and set aside, he quickly took off his pants and shirt. Kei hesitated when his hands reached for the waist band of his boxers. “Akio… I’m nervous.”
Akio raised an eyebrow. “Nervous for what? To try on a costume?”
“T-Try on a costume?”
“Why else would I tell you to undress?” Akio turned around, grabbed the garment bag and handed it to Kei.”
“…Ah,” Kei was an undeniable shade of red. As embarrassed as he was, he was a little relieved. He wasn’t ready for intimacy and he knew it. He couldn’t stop his hand from shaking as he reached for the garment bag, and Kei’s nervousness didn’t slip past Akio.
“Why are you shaking?” Akio asked, expressing concern on his face.
Kei had to think quickly. “The—um, competition?”
“Was that meant to be a statement? Or a question?” Akio shook his head. “Never mind, you’re being weird. Just put on the leotard. I want to see how it looks.”
“Of course,” Kei replied, offering an awkward smile. He removed the pretty leotard from the bag, lining it up against his body. “You really did an amazing job with this design, Aki.”
“Thanks,” Akio smiled. “I was inspired by a painting I saw that had a similar aesthetic.”
“The fabric feels really nice too! I can’t remember the last time our costumes were velvet.”
“I figured this was a special occasion. Our first university level competition. We ought to look our best.”
Kei slipped into the leotard, carefully running his hands down the soft material and then looked up at Akio for his opinion.
Akio clapped enthusiastically at the sight of his friend in the costume. In his excitement he flew into Kei’s arm’s from where he was standing, causing the pair to fall backwards into the chair. “Oh my god!” he squealed. “It looks incredible on you, Kei!”
Kei laughed at Akio’s response, a little winded from the sudden tackle. “Relax, you’re being extra.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Akio repeated excitedly, getting off of Kei again to admire the leotard. “Stand up! Stand up!”
Kei continued to laugh, making it slightly harder to do what his friend was asking. He got up from the chair and attempted to model, spinning around slowly to please Akio’s eyes. “Happy?”
“Very happy! It looks so pretty against your skin.”
“Everyone will look great in it,” Kei mused. “As much as I’d love to stand around admiring your creation, I think we should head to the bus.”
“You’re right,” Akio smiled. “Let’s go.”