(Title – 競合 – Kyōgō – Rivalry)
“Shirō!?” Kichirō exclaimed. His eyes opened wide then he continued to asked: “What are you doing here?”
Shirō noticed Kichirō’s surprised look. He was also surprised seeing him in that place but he was secretly glad that he got a chance to see Kichirō again. He gently smiled then chuckled: “That’s what I wanted to ask you, too.”
Kichirō bowed his head down and looked dejected: “I’m lost.”
The other boy took a step forward toward him then he placed the bentō on top of the table. He reached out and ruffled Kichirō’s hair: “I see you’re still the same old you. The chibi-tan  that I used to like.” The delightful smile that was plastered on his face suddenly disappeared. He knitted his brows then heaved a deep sigh.
( “Chibi” can mean “shorty.” “-tan” is a variant of “-chan,” a form of endearment.)
“What’s wrong?” Kichirō noticed that the other boy was frowning so he asked out of concern.
Shirō paused then took a seat. He urged Kichirō to sit on the chair in front of him, then replied: “Nothing. I just remembered something. Want to have some of these?” He dodged the question then pushed the bentō on top of the table toward Kichirō.
Kichirō looked at the bentō then back to Shirō: “Oh… You’re Mr. Policeman’s cousin? What a small world. He he,” he chuckled then suddenly frowned because he felt his stomach growling again.
Shirō heard this so he flashed a side-look glance at Kichirō. Kichirō realized that Shirō heard his stomach growling so he had no other option but to look the other way. He was blushing just like a ripe peach, to the point that his ears were even red. Shirō cleared his throat then said: “Yeah. Small world. He’s my elder cousin from my mother’s side of the family. Eto~ I can tell that you’re already hungry. I have some miso yaki onigiri  here if you like some.”
( Miso-glazed grilled rice balls.)
“Eh? No… I’m fine. Ryū… Ryū’s going to drop by later to pick me up anyway. I can eat later. This is your cousin’s,” Kichirō hesitated to mention Ryū’s name as he declined Shirō’s offer. He felt really awkward as of the moment.
Shirō, being the observant guy that he was, took note of this awkwardness in Kichirō. He knew very well how shy Kichirō was. It turned out that he was still the same old boy: “Oh no, I insist. There’s actually enough for two here so you don’t have to worry. Besides, I have some strawberry juice that you like.” It was a good thing that Shirō’s cousin also liked this flavor.
His eyes glimmered like the radiant silver moon at night as he swallowed hard upon hearing this. So you’re insisting huh? Well I don’t mind at all. Give me some of those! He thought to himself.
Seeing that Kichirō was delighted, Shirō was happy in his heart. He would do everything he could to win him back, especially now that he and Ryū made an agreement. When they were unpacking the meal, his cousin came out of the restroom. He was rubbing his belly and looked like he was in distress. “Oh gosh, I think my stomach didn’t like that ika sashimi  I ate earlier. Oh! Shirō, you’re here!”
( Japanese dish made up of fresh squid.)
“Nīsan, konbanwa. Sorry if I was a bit late. Yuichi asked me to help him with something. Here’s your meal. I hope you don’t mind sharing this with Kichirō,” Shirō greeted.
Shirō’s cousin looked at Kichirō and Shirō who were in the course of preparing their food. “You know each other?”
Shirō blushed then gently nodded. “Yeah, he’s the one I told you and Yuichi before. The one I met in Shinjuku..”
“… Oh… Oh! He’s the one that got away!?” Shirō’s cousin exclaimed.
Shirō, who was munching on some fried mixed vegetables almost choked: “What… What are you saying!”
Kichirō chuckled when he noticed how flustered Shirō was. “I never knew you easily get embarrassed, too.”
“I don’t! Oh, by the way, Ki-chan. He’s my elder cousin from my mother’s side, Gosho Tajiri,” Shirō used this introduction as a way to change the topic.
Kichirō stood up and bowed at Gosho: “It’s nice to meet you, Tajiri-san. My name is Kichirō Ishikawa. I’m Shirō’s friend.”
“Heh, you don’t have to be so formal. We’re like family anyway. You can just call me Nīsan. So you’re friends huh? I heard a lot about you from Shirō,” Gosho teased then gave Shirō a side-long glance.
Kichirō blushed again, but decided to respond with “yeah.” This time, Shirō was coughing hard. It seemed that he was really choked this time because of the food he was eating. Kichirō took a glass of water and offered it to Shirō: “Here, drink some. Be careful when eating, okay?”
Shirō nodded then took a sip of water. “Sorry,” he said.
Gosho wanted to laugh but he composed himself: “Should I leave you guys here? I feel like I’m a third wheel, he he.”
Everyone laughed heartily.
“So does that make me the fourth wheel?” A voice suddenly came over from the entrance.
All three of them stopped laughing. Kichirō and Ryū were both stunned when they heard this familiar voice. Kichirō looked toward the door and saw Ryū’s frowning face. Kichirō’s lively face immediately turned deathly pale: “We were just joking around, Ryū. It’s not like we really meant what we said.”
Ryū gave a disgusted look at Shirō then frowned at Kichirō. He crossed his arms, and before he was about to turn to leave, he said first: “I’m sorry if I was crashing on your party. I’ll leave you guys alone then.”
As soon as he was about to take a step out of the kōban, he felt a warm touch on his shoulder, seemingly wanting to stop him from going. He smirked and turned around, thinking it was Kichirō — but he got disappointed when he found out it was Shirō: “Wait, Ryū. Please don’t misunderstand what’s going on. It’s not like Kichirō’s cheating on you.”
Ryū slapped Shirō’s hand away. “What do you know about how I feel? Stop calling me by my first name. Did I give you the permission to do that?” He coldly said. “Bench Boy, let’s go. Your family’s looking for you.”
Kichirō did not even bat an eye at Ryū. He was really displeased by Ryū’s actions so he pretended to be just like a little brat: “I won’t go with you until you apologize.”
Without even thinking about it, Ryū responded: “Suit yourself.” When he was about to turn to leave, Kichirō ran after him.
“Ryū, please don’t be like this. I’m doing my best to make it right for everyone,” Kichirō tugged on his sleeve and was at the brink of crying.
Ryū put on a straight face. He wanted everyone to see that he was unaffected by this matter, yet he could not deny the fact that seeing Kichirō’s crying face pulled on his heartstrings. He was indifferent, cold and sarcastic: “Make it right for everyone? Your indecisiveness is what’s making it hard for everyone. If you could at least be firm about your decisions and be clear about it, I’d be more than happy to accept whatever decision you’ll make. I won’t let you take me for a fool.” After saying this, he flung Kichirō’s hand away then left.
Kichirō was taken aback by how Ryū treated him. He plopped on the ground and helplessly cried.
Gosho, who silently stood at the side, came forward and tried helping Kichirō up: “Are you okay? I don’t know what’s exactly happening but I somehow get what’s going on.”
Kichirō refused Gosho’s help and did not respond. He continued to silently cry and covered his face with his hands.
Shirō could not idly stand there at the side. He was helpless and infuriated at the same time. In fact, he did not know what to feel anymore. Without hesitating, he chased after Ryū. When he caught sight of Ryū walking away, the first thing that came into his mind was to give him a punch on the face. He dashed forward toward Ryū and stopped him by his shoulder. When he was about to take aim to punch him, someone suddenly stopped Shirō’s fist from flying toward Ryū’s face.
Ryū and Shirō were both shocked when they both saw who it was — it was Akihiko. “I didn’t know my son could be a good opponent for Helen of Troy, ho ho ho,” he chuckled.
Shirō was flustered and hurriedly apologized: “I’m sorry Ishikawa-san. I just wanted to help your son…”
Akihiko smiled and waved his hand: “Nonsense. Don’t be sorry. This is something expected from both of you and Ryū here. How about we try to test my son? Let’s see who he’ll choose in the end.”
Ryū knitted his brows. Out of curiosity, he asked: “What do you mean, Otōsan?”
“Don’t play dumb, Ryū. I know you’re smarter than my stupidly cute son. You know what I mean. I wanted to know who Kichirō will choose in the end. Will it be the current boyfriend?” He looked at Ryū. “Or will it be the one who got away?” Then he looked at Shirō.
“What do you have in mind, Ishikawa-san?” Shirō asked.
“Hmm… let’s see. How about you let us sleep in your place tonight. Let’s see how my son responds.”
Ryū refuted: “Otōsan, that’s too much. I don’t want to. As much as possible, I want to stay away from this pathetic guy.”
“Who are you calling pathetic, loser?!”
When the two was about to hit each other, they were both rapped at the back of their heads by Akihiko. “Baka, you’re both acting like some uneducated delinquents. Just follow my plan. I know at some point you two also made an agreement about my son.”
How the heck did he find out?!? The two thought.
“Now, you know what I’m saying. Shirō, let’s pick Kichirō up and take us to your place,” Akihiko smiled.
To be continued…