Per Diem

Chapter 10

"How many times are you going to sigh today?" Kawafuji asked, a bit grumpy over Handa's mood since he had gotten to Tokyo.

"Huh? Oh... sorry..." Handa mumbled, leaning against the car door.

"You know you didn't have to come to this exhibit - right? I just brought it up, but I didn't really expect you to catch a plane and see it," Kawafuji loosened his grip on the steering wheel.

"I just really needed some time to think... and contemplate things. I figured looking at other people's calligraphy might help me out," Handa explained, looking out the window.

"Really? Last time you couldn't wait to return to that island, now you want a break from it?" Kawafuji took a right turn.

"N-Not quite..." Handa paused for a moment. "I just thought seeing all these pieces in person would be the thing I need to motivate me for my next work."

"Hmm," Kawafuji tapped on the steering wheel waiting for the light to turn green. "Whatever works for you, I guess. As long as I'm getting my paycheck."

"Yeah, yeah, I know that's the only thing that matters to you," Handa grumbled.

"Hey, don't say it like that! Of course I care about my friend - especially since you're a friend that makes me money."

Handa just rolled his eyes and continued to look out the window. The day was looking a bit gloomy; it might actually rain.

He knew deep down the only reason he was in Tokyo was because he ran away like a coward. Kawafuji just so happened to tell him about a calligraphy exhibit and he took the opportunity as an excuse to avoid Hiroshi.

If he had any sense, he would've just turned Hiroshi down right then and there. He had no business dating a high school student - a guy, no less.

But he resisted. And he resisted because he wasn't sure if turning him down was what he wanted to do. It was a strange. He had turned down girls asking him out before - quite easily, in fact. So why, with Hiroshi, was it so difficult? It wasn't like he had anything against two men being together, but he never imagined himself being put in such a situation.

And he knew there was something about Hiroshi that made him hesitate, but he wasn't sure exactly what it was. Maybe it was his look of desperation, maybe it was because of how close the two had gotten. Maybe it was because, when he thought Hiroshi was dating Miwa, he felt a bit of spite over it... and the fact that when he found out it wasn't true, he felt a strange sense of relief.

Handa let out another short huff of a sigh and he could tell Kawafuji was starting to get irritated, but he didn't care.

A single drop of rain fell on the window he looked out of.

Flawless strokes of the brush filled Handa's mind. Everywhere he turned there was one masterpiece after the next. It nearly felt like he was drowning in them, but it wasn't overwhelming. It was almost... comforting.

Before he went to the island, he had the burning desire to be the best. Anything but first place was not an option, and playing by the book was the ideal. It was perfect, flawless. But he soon realized that maybe all of that wasn't entirely true. Maybe breaking the mold was what the calligraphy world needed. Tradition was still king, but... maybe they needed something new.

Handa could feel every piece conveying the artist's emotions, their feelings. It wasn't simply something they copied straight from a guidebook or a manual. No, it was something they wrote from deep down inside themselves - something he only recently discovered he could do himself. And with that, he was happier with his calligraphy.

Now all he wanted to do was go back home and paint...

"Hey, Handa, find any inspiration yet?" Kawafuji walked up next to him with a glass of wine in his hand.

"Yeah, I think I might have," Handa said with resolve. "And I hope that's the only drink you've had."

"I'm not stupid, of course it is," Kawafuji said before taking a sip. "Well good, maybe you could get something done before going back to the island?"

"Yeah, maybe," Handa nodded and looked back up at the piece he was in front of.

"That one's pretty passionate, huh," Kawafuji commented as he looked at the big canvas as well.

"Mm," Handa nodded. He noticed the soft, flowing, curves of each stroke that seemed to have been painted so delicately yet so confidently.

"Maybe they're in love," Kawafuji added, downing the last of his wine. "Strange how you can almost tell a story about the artist just from looking at their calligraphy."

Handa didn't speak a word and continued to look forward.

"Well," Kawafuji patted Handa's shoulder. "I think we should be heading back soon. Don't want you losing your motivation while you still have it."

It was the fifth day since Handa had arrived in Tokyo, and besides going to the exhibit he spent most of his time holed up in his room at his parents house. Once in a while Kawafuji would come to check up on him, but he couldn't quite get out a piece he was 100% confident in. He had already gone through so much paper and ink that it was starting to seem hopeless. He knew what he wanted to do, yet every time he tried he was never content with the outcome.

And it didn't help that he couldn't stop thinking about the situation with Hiroshi, and the fact that he was pretty much in Tokyo because of it too. Running away to Tokyo was definitely not the best way to deal with it, but he wasn't sure what else he could do.

Handa set down his brush and shuffled over to his bed, flopping down on it face-first.

Okay, maybe he really did have to clear his mind and really think about how he could solve this whole problem. Maybe then he could actually focus on his calligraphy.

Hiroshi... what did he think about him, really? Tama had asked him once, but he answered under the impression that Tama had a thing for him.

Well, at first Handa wasn't so sure about him. He heard about how he was sort of a delinquent with a baseball bat and dyed blond hair to top it all off. And even after their first meeting he was left a little intimidated, but it didn't take long for him to realize that Hiroshi was actually a caring person. He wasn't sure if that was all just because Hiroshi thought of him as a helpless guy, but Hiroshi could've very easily just ignored him and never bothered him again.

Hiroshi even began to cook meals for Handa himself. He'd even cook something per Handa's request. There was even that time when he and Hiroshi, along with Naru, went on a picnic. That was honestly a fun day, even if Handa did get pinched by a huge beetle when they went with Naru on her beetle hunt. Handa remembered feeling so grateful to Hiroshi for that since he was in a bit of a slump at that time.

There's also the times when Hiroshi scolds him for not eating right or working too hard. They've even had arguments and misunderstandings, but Hiroshi still comes to check up on him almost every day.

Handa rolled on his side, tucking a hand under his pillow and closing his eyes. He remembered the times Hiroshi didn't come over for a while. The few times they were angry at each other and the time when Kawafuji was there to visit.

That's right... Hiroshi came to see Kawafuji on his last night there and... Well, Handa didn't really remember it, but he remembered he was happy to see Hiroshi after his absence. He really wished he wouldn't have nearly assaulted him, but again, Hiroshi was so forgiving that he brushed it off as a minor thing.

Handa let out a slow inhale and exhale, and he remembered the feeling he had when he saw Hiroshi and Miwa together. Apparently that was nothing, but he couldn't deny how his stomach churned as he saw them together. It was something that threw him off so much it ended up getting Hiroshi angry at his behavior later that night... again... But of course, Hiroshi came back the next day to mend their relationship back together.

All of these various situations flashed through Handa's mind. The times they laughed, the times they fought, the times they spent quietly together in the same room without speaking a word. They were all dear to him in a way. They all shaped what Hiroshi and Handa were to each other.

And Handa truly didn't know if he would like to change that relationship or not. He found himself seriously considering if this would be something he'd want. If being with Hiroshi... was something...

Slowly, Handa opened his eyes and turned onto his back, looking up at the ceiling.

Maybe... maybe there could be something. But there could also be nothing at all - he wasn't entirely sure. He wished there was something to push him in the right direction. Something, anything.

Handa shut his eyes again. He wasn't sure if he had actually drifted off to sleep or if he only had them closed for a few moments, but the silence was broken by a knock and the sound of his door sliding open.

"Oh, are you asleep?" It was Kawafuji.

"Ah, no..." Handa sat up and ran a hand through his messy hair. He noticed Kawafuji was holding his phone in his hand.

"Well, looks like there's a call for you from the island," Kawafuji held the phone out to Handa.

"They said it was... Hiroshi? Pretty sure I met him while I was over there..." Kawafuji questioned himself.

"H-Hiro?" Handa looked at his friend, a little wide-eyed.

"Yeah, you want to take it?" Kawafuji was still holding the phone out.

Handa hesitated a moment. "Yeah, thanks."

Handa gingerly took the phone and held it up to his ear. He wanted to speak, but he wasn't sure what to say. He looked up at Kawafuji as if to tell him he wanted some privacy and Kawafuji seemed to have gotten the memo and left quietly out of the room.

Handa exhaled slowly and spoke up. "Hello?"

"Ah, hey, Sensei."

It was strange to hear Hiroshi again. The guy he flew all the way to Tokyo to avoid and the guy that had been on his mind the whole time was speaking on the other end of the phone. His voice sounded unusually soft and timid.

"Hey, Hiro, how are you?" Handa asked the first thing that came to his mind.

"'m fine, so 's everyone else," Hiroshi replied casually. "Uh, I hope I ain' botherin' you..."

"No, no, I was taking a break anyway," Handa said, picking at the blanket on his bed.

"Tha's good..." Hiroshi trailed off and there was a bit of growing, awkward silence.

Handa was about to say something, anything, until Hiroshi spoke up again.

"Sensei... 'm sorry..." Hiroshi said in an even quieter voice. "I don' wan' you beatin' yourself up over what I said or anythin'. Sensei... more than anythin' I don' wanna stop seein' you or talkin' to you. I'd be real sad if that happened..."

"Th-That won't happen, Hiro..." Handa could hear the hint of sadness and grief in Hiroshi's voice. He was probably worrying about Handa not wanting anything to do with him this whole time.

"Really? It won'?" Hiroshi's sincere and hopeful voice seemed almost childish.

"Of course it won't... you're a great guy, Hiro. I enjoy spending time with you..." Handa replied, a small lump forming in his throat.

"... Tha's good, I'm glad," Hiroshi said quietly. There was another pause before Hiroshi spoke up again. "Sensei, I really like you. I was serious that time. But I don' wan' you worryin' over givin' me an answer. If... If we're still friends I'll be happy. I really care about you... Even if I can't be together with you."

The lump in Handa's throat seemed to get bigger and made it harder for him to speak. "Hiro..." He wasn't sure what he wanted to say next.

"Well, I best be lettin' you go," Hiroshi continued before Handa got the chance to speak. "Um, I really miss you... so come back soon, alrigh'?"

Handa laid back down on his pillow, "I'll be back soon..."

"And um..." Hiroshi cleared his throat. "Is it... okay if I hug you when you get back? Jus' wonderin'. You don't hafta-"

"Sure," Handa answered before Hiroshi could finish.

"Oh, okay," Hiroshi seemed to sound a little happier at least. "Well, I'll see you then. Good bye, Sensei."

"Good bye, Hiro..." Handa said quietly, keeping the phone up to his ear until the line cut off.

Handa lay on the bed for a few moments, clutching the phone close to him. Hiroshi had called him. Hiroshi had called him just when he was contemplating what to do. He wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but the gears in Handa's mind were turning so fast he could barely keep up.

He slowly got up from his bed and went back to his work, lying out a new piece of parchment in front of him.

He stared at the clean slate in front of him, inhaled a deep breath, slowly exhaling, and picked up his brush.

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