Philophobia is the fear of love, falling in love, or becoming emotionally connected to another person. It can negatively impact the quality of life of its sufferers. While, for most people, love is a deeply satisfying integral part of their lives, it can cause sufferers to avoid taking emotional risks out of fear, shunning intimacy. In many cases, they are not able to form close, intimate relationships, and can be seen by others as very adept at small talk but equally adept at avoiding discussion of anything of a personal nature.
—Insight of an anonymous sufferer
At lunch, Kato looked up to see Murata approach the table. Murata avoided eye contact with Kato and put his tray down and sat. Kato looked down at his food. He didn’t know what to say.
He looked over to the line and, as expected, Takahashi’s three companions were last. But there was no Takahashi. As the last three were served their food, Takahashi came jogging in just in time to grab his tray. Kato’s heart skipped a beat. Then his heart became sad as he noticed that Takahashi had a swollen bottom lip that was black and blue. The injury robbed Tahakashi of that smile that Kato liked so much. Takahashi looked over once, and then sat down and started talking with his companions.
Kato began to eat. He still didn’t know what to say to Murata. But he figured he would try. He looked at Murata.
“I’m sorry I’m a stuck-up ass,” Kato said quietly.
“Finally realize it, eh?” Murata inquired.
“Well, I have a lot more to think about, especially with what you said to me. But I can concede that I’ve been a bit self-centered.”
Murata sighed. “Yeah, but I’m not the one you need to say that to. I’ve already let it go.”
“I see.” Kato spoke.
“I’ll tell you something else that you might need to hear.”
Kato was rather worried that he would be yelled at again, but he still asked, “Yes?”
“After all that, you’re still a likeable person, Kato-san. I can see why Takahashi-san likes you.”
Kato was confused. “Wait, what do you mean ‘likes’?”
“So dense,” Murata laughed to himself.
“Huh? Okay, so I’m dense. I don’t understand things quickly like you. Just tell me what you mean,” Kato complained.
“I think he is developing feelings for you.”
“What? Like romance?”
“Yeah. I’m sure he doesn’t know it himself at this point, but it seems pretty evident to me.”
Kato was shocked. He just didn’t know what to think. He was also a bit sorry for Takahashi. He already knew in his heart that he could never return such feelings.
“What should I do?” Kato asked sincerely.
“Be careful. I think, right now, you are in the unique position to either make Takahashi-san very happy or break him. If you do the latter, it may be a mortal would that I wonder if he would ever recover from.”
Kato sighed, “I didn’t ask for this.”
Murata reminded him, “Stop. Remember? Don’t be self-centered.”
Kato replied, “Sorry.”
“Nobody asks for such things. Do you think Takahashi-san asked the heavens for an uke like you?”
Kato was slightly offended, but he also understood what Murata was saying. “No.”
“When you start thinking about yourself, force yourself to think of Takahashi-san instead. Put his needs before your own. That’s what love is.”
“Love?” Kato almost choked on his food. “What? I’m not in love with him.”
Murata chuckled. “You don’t have to be in love with him to love him.”
“I still don’t get it. Yes, yes, I’m dense, don’t even go there.”
Murata smiled and continued, “A true friendship is based on love. I’m not talking about romance. I’m talking about genuine feelings and concern for the other person. This love motivates people to make sacrifices to improve the quality of life of the ones they love.”
“So, what you’re saying is—”
“I think Takahashi loves you.”
“Fuck me,” Kato quietly spoke. “Wait. You just said you think he likes me. How does he love me now?”
Murata laughed. “I think he loves you in that he thinks highly of you, he wants to be your friend, he puts your needs ahead of his, and he makes a lot of sacrifices to make you happy and improve your life. But this love he is showing you, I believe soon will turn into a romantic love.”
“Great,” Kato glumly thought.
“Ah, Kato-san. Why is it so hard for you to just accept this? That someone could love you?”
“I dunno. I just didn’t think it would be a boy who first loved me.”
Murata chuckled. “Yeah, well, gender doesn’t have anything to do with it. Love is love.” Murata pointed over at the other table, “And there is the proof of it, sitting right there. And you don’t have the heart to accept him.”
Kato sighed, poking at his uneaten food. He remembered when food made him happy, but it wasn’t working now, and he wasn’t sure why.
“Do you love Nakamura-san?” Kato thought to turn the tables on Murata.
“Yes.” Murata admitted.
“What?” Kato’s mouth was agape.
Murata smiled. “I’m not in love with him, romantically. But I do love him in the sense of putting him first. He really is a nice guy. And, who knows, maybe someday I may develop feelings for him.”
Kato looked over at Takahashi. He watched him eat for a few moments. Takahashi looked up and met Kato’s eyes for a mere moment, then went back to eating his food.
“If you want my advice, lower your guard. Stop resisting. Let Takahashi-san in. Love isn’t an evil thing. He only wants what is best for you and he’s willing to fight for that.”
Kato thought for a minute. “I will try,” is all he said.
“That’s all anyone could ask,” Murata concluded.
Kato had hardly eaten anything. He ended up giving some of his food to Murata and the other boys at the table. He got up with everyone and made sure to follow Takahashi.
“Takahashi-san,” Kato spoke up as he put his hand on his back.
Takahashi let out a loud hiss and pulled away, whipping around. “Ouch, dammit!”
Kato was completely surprised by his reaction. He didn’t understand what just happened. He looked up at Takahashi, feeling a swell of pity at his injury. He saw a glint of anger, and perhaps pain in his eyes. He wasn’t sure why, but he gently reached out to touch Takahashi’s lip, but Takahashi bat his hand away.
“Knock it off,” he said. Then he turned, put his tray on the stack and walked out of the chow hall, leaving Kato there, rather stunned.
Murata walked up to him. “Put your tray on the stack. Let’s go.”
“What did I do wrong?” Kato whined.
“Well, my guess is he got caned.”
Kato got mad suddenly, “How the fuck is that fair? He gets beat up and then they cane him?”
“Shh, now. Let’s just go.” Murata pulled Kato by the arm and they left the chow hall.
Kato wasn’t sure what to do this afternoon, so he wandered out to the Sport’s Complex for the afternoon. He was hoping Takahashi would be out here. He went to the baseball diamond, but Takahashi wasn’t playing today. So, he retraced his steps from yesterday. He stopped by the pool first, nobody was there. He went to the picnic spot, nope. He went to the track and walked around it once. Finally, he went to the bleachers to watch the boys play soccer.
Takahashi never came. Kato thought a lot about what Murata had said but he still came up with no conclusions. He just didn’t know where to proceed from here. It was all good advice, but he couldn’t seem to understand why anyone would do something for Kato without expecting something in return.
He thought about it some more and concluded that he would do something for Takahashi; figure out how to give him a gift of some sort, something that could not be returned.
The chime announced that the Sports Complex would be closing soon. Kato had no option but to return, alone.
When Kato returned, he hunted down Higashihara. “Hey, do you know of any artists on this wing? I would like to borrow a couple pencils, and eraser, and two sheets of paper.”
“Sure,” Higashihara replied. “I know someone. I’ll get that stuff for ya.”
Kato went to his room. Tachibana wasn’t home yet. He cleared off a small part of the desk and heard a knock.
Higashihara handed him the requested items, “Just give them back when you’re done. No rush.”
“Thank you, Higashihara-san,” Kato replied. Higashihara smile and walked away as Kato shut the door.
He thought for a minute of what to draw. He always fancied himself as nothing more than a doodler, but his mom and some of his friends praised him. It did come rather easy to him. It was one of the few things in life that he felt he had any talent for. He could see it in his mind, and then apply it to paper. So, he began drawing.
After about thirty minutes, Tachibana came in. He looked down at what Kato was drawing and gave a small whistle. Kato looked up and smiled, then went back to drawing.
Kato didn’t even go to dinner. There was plenty of food in the bag that Takahashi gave him. So, he kept working on his little project. He still went to take a shower, like an obedient roommate. He was questioned from Higashihara about what the art supplies were needed for, and Kato responded noncommittally, “Just doodling to relieve stress.”
After showers, he returned to his project. Tachibana was out doing something, somewhere, so Kato didn’t have any interruptions.
Kato folded up the sheet of paper he drew on, and then wrote a note inside it. Then he folded the second sheet into an envelope and placed the drawing inside. He was all done before Tachibana returned for the evening.
Kato was spent. He crawled up on the bed, rolled over and fell fast asleep.