“I don’t get it!” Ren presses his fingers to his cheeks, pulling down the skin below his eyelids. “This is too hard!”
“It’s just simple math,” Ran teases. “Honestly, Ren.”
Ren glares at his twin sister, and you tisk as you place a hand on each of their shoulders. “Hey, hey! Be nice or I’ll have to tell big brother that you’re fighting again!”
Ren makes a distasteful expression and hmphs quietly. Ran looks up you innocently. “We’re not fighting, Miss Tutor Lady. But please don’t tell Onii-chan. He gives us this creepy smile whenever he wants us to get along.”
“Makoto-san? Creepy?” You turn towards the tall, broad shouldered figure sitting on the couch in the corner of the room. His glasses are practically hanging off of his face as he squints down at his newspaper. “Hmm, that’s hard to believe.”
Ran rolls her eyes. “Oh, by the way, I finished number five. Ren, what number are you on? Three?” She smirks and you sigh as Ren begins to shoot out rebuttals.
The two freeze and look behind them.
“Get along for (y/n)-san, okay?” Makoto shakes his newspaper to straighten out the pages and continues reading.
“Got it, Onii-chan!”
“But we were getting along!”
“Alright,” you say quickly to distract them. “Let’s work on problem six!”
“But I’m still on number two,” Ren grumbles.
You dismiss Ran to go ahead and finish the worksheet while you help Ren through it. Once both twins (or prisoners, as Ren says they are) finish their homework, you put your coat on and pick up your backpack.
“You’re leaving already?” Ren frowns. “Do you wanna play videogames with us like you did last week?”
Ran nods. “It was really fun! You and Onii-chan almost beat us at MarioKart! We could have a rematch, if you want to?”
You glance over at Makoto. His parents are out of the house, off eating a romantic dinner or something like that. The eldest Tachibana child glances up once he notices the break in conservation. “Ehh? What?”
“"Can (y/n) stay longer? Pleeeeease?” Ren’s face screws up in that adorable ten-year-old way. “I’ll do my homework tomorrow!”
Makoto scratches at the back of his neck, his eyebrows knit as he thinks. “You’re supposed to do your homework anyway.”
“But I’ll work extra hard on it!”
“Yeah, you might actually beat us for once with (y/n) on your team.”
Makoto sighs, a small smile prominent on his face. His green eyes shine as he glances at you. “Would it be alright with you?”
You've known Makoto for as long as you can remember, because you're in the same grade. Which is a no-brainer. When you both were really little, you used to take turns pushing Haruka Nanase on the swingset during recess. For the most part, it was the only memory you had from first grade all the way to fifth. That was the year that Rin Matsouka had moved into town. Haru became a glum little sourpuss 24/7 and Makoto was always spending every last drop of his time and energy trying to make sure that he was okay. Neither had much time for you anymore, so you reluctantly started hanging out with some of the girls in your class. They were all really nice (for the most part) but it just wasn't the same. You missed your awkward trio that spent every afternoon talking about flying to the moon by the swingset, until you almost forgot what it was like. Almost. Sometimes you wondered if Haru and Mako already had.
“Yeah. Uh, I have nothing better to do.” You shrug and set down your backpack. “So, what game?”
“Oh! MarioKart!” Ren jumps up and runs over to the TV. Ran follows after him, and the twins begin gathering up Wii remotes lying around the livingroom.
You glance at Makoto with a smile. “So, are you and Haru still on the swim team?"
"Mmm." Makoto nods. "Why do you ask?"
You rub at the back of your neck. "Well, Haru never really did seem like the super-active-club-member type. But that's good to hear!"
Makoto laughs. His eyes widen as Ren presses a controller into his hand. "You're player 4," he says, "e bottom of the screen is the worst!"
"Really? Haru's won on the bottom screen before," Makoto says.
"I'm making popcorn!" Ran calls out from the kitchen.
"I thought mom said that you couldn't use the microwave?" Makoto questions. Ren immediately backs her up, but his stuttering evidence sounds as ridiculous as his math reasoning. All the same, Makoto lets Ran search through every cabinet in the kitchen to find a box of Redenbacher.
After slamming the microwave door shut, Ran skips over in front of the TV and plops down. "Can we play Maple Treeway?"
Makoto smiles. When does he not? "Sure-"
"But you always win on Maple Treeway! We have to do Coconut Mall! It's my turn to pick!"
"Coconut Mall's for girls," Ran sneers. You hold back a snort.
"Hey, hey!" Makoto places a hand of each of their shoulders. "Calm down, or (y/n)-san won't want to come back!" He glances at you and mouths a sympathetic "sorry".
"Why don't you call her (y/n)-chan?" Ren asks. Makoto blanches.
"I- uh, that's not polite!"
"But you have photos of her under your bed," Ren says. Ran buries her face into her sleeves.
You desperately hold back a laugh as Makoto's cheeks flush from embarrassment. "I'm surprised you didn't take them down!" You laugh.
"Eh?" Makoto turns towards you but gazes down at the floor. He lets go of the twin's shoulders so he can rub at his eyes, and hesitantly looks up at you. "Take... Them down?"
You nod. "Oh, come on! Someone was going to see it eventually!"
Makoto had a shrine underneath his bed. Not to any particular celebrity or person, as one might think. It was more like a photo album, capturing all of his memories and holding them tight in a single hidden place. Back in fourth grade during a game of hide and seek, you had crawled underneath his bed and noticed a tackboard held up by the crossbeams of his bed. It was thin enough that you couldn't see it when you checked for space before crawling underneath. There were a bunch of pictures: some elderly ladies and gents with gentle grins, a couple photos of his family, a little montage for his pet fish, and a small picture of you, Haru, and Makoto at his eighth birthday party. You all had icing smeared over your faces, and Haru hadn’t looked particularly happy about it. You had been sticking your tongue out at the camera, and Makoto was simply smiling like the sweet boy he was.
You open your mouth to speak when Makoto tilts his head up. He scrunches his nose and slowly stands up. You hear him take in deep breath through his nose. “Is something burning?” He asks.
“Yeah.” Ran nods. She retracts her face from her arms for a brief second. “It’s the popcorn.”
“Eh? Ahh!” Makoto sprints towards the kitchen as the smoke alarm starts to beep. You clap your hands to your ears and follow Makoto.
“Go outside!” You yell to the twins.
“But it’s freezing outside!” Ren shouts back. Ran grabs him with one hand, (the other protecting one of her ears), and yanks him to the front door.
Fifteen minutes later, you were sitting in the living room with the twins. Each of you had a Wii remote in hand. “(y/n)-san! I got you a shirt!” Makoto calls out from his room. You stand up and shiver as your soaking t-shirt clings to your skin as you move. You don’t know how exactly it happened, but one minute you were filling bowls up with water to pour over the ruined popcorn, and the next…
Well, it could be worse.
“Coming!” You say as you jump up. “Thank you so much, Makoto-san! I’m so sorry! I guess I wasn’t being careful enough with the water!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” He pats your shoulder and his smile falters. “You’re pretty cold! Why don’t I get you a towel too?” He hands you a shirt and disappears into the bathroom.
“No it’s- never mind…” He drapes it around your shoulders and gently kisses the top of your head. You stiffen and feel heat rising to your cheeks.
“Onii-chan! There’s a storm coming!”
“A big, bad one!”
“A storm?” His eyes widen and anxiously folds his hands together. “But then it’s not safe for you to go home.”
You lean around Makoto to glance out the hallway window. The sky streaked with dark grays and navy blues, and obsidian clouds almost completely block out the setting sun. You see a flash of lightning, and seconds later a roll of thunder shakes the house. “No,” you sigh. “I don’t think it is.”
“You could stay here for the night!” Ran offers. Her Tachibana eyes look up at you pleadingly. “We can play more MarioKart!”
You nod. “Yeah. That sounds like a nice idea, if it’s okay?”
Makoto nods back. “I’ll get you some sweat pants. Ren, Ran?” He looks at the twins. “Can you make a spot on the couch for (y/n) to sleep?”
Ren crosses his arms. “But she’ll get scared if she’s all alone! There’s room in your bedroom!”
Makoto flushes and rubs at the back of his neck. “Well…”
“Makoto hates thunderstorms,” Ran adds, turning to you. “He’s a big baby. He might sleep better if you’re there with him!”
“Guys!” Makoto hisses.
You giggle and walk into the bathroom. “Don’t worry, I remembered that from grade school.”
A cacophony of pounding rain and thunder shakes you from your sleep. You slowly lean up and look around. “Where am I?”
“You’re at my house,” Makoto mumbles.
You sit up straighter in shock and glance down at the bed that it definitely not yours. It smells nothing like your bed, and you didn’t remember having a Makoto in your room. Oh wait. It floods back and you glance down at the teen lying on the floor. He’s covered in blankets, albeit his face. “Makoto?”
“Hi,” he whispers.
“Mmm…” You rub your eyes as they adjust to the dark. “Where are your parents?”
“They decided to go see a movie. They won’t be back for at least another two hours.” Makoto recoils as another crack of thunder shakes the room.
“Are you alright?” You slid off of the bed and sit down next to him. Makoto sits up and leans against you like a scared child seeking comfort.
“You’re lying.” You wrap an arm around him and pull him closer. He shakily breaths in and you feel his muscles tightening underneath his shirt. “Hey, it’s okay! We’re safe in here.”
He nods against your neck. You close your eyes, trying to recall how you and Haru comforted him when you were little… You wrap your arms around him in a tight hug. Makoto sighs and shifts away. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” he whispers.
“What? Why not? Did something happen?” You set a hand on his shoulder.
“No…” He stares down into his lap. “It’s just that… I don’t understand.” He pauses for a second. “Why you’re being so nice to me.”
“I ignored you for years. I thought that you’d never forgive me. It was a horrible thing to do and ever since you started tutoring the twins I’ve just felt so guilty… Every time I’m near you. I’ve wondered what would have happened if we were still friends, and I miss the way you laugh when Haru takes off his clothes, and the way you smile when you’re trying to cheer people up. And the way you used to talk about the most absurd things, like growing wings and flying to the moon together once we were old enough to be out on our own.” He pulls his knees up his chest. The room illuminates for a few seconds and he squares his shoulders, bracing for the thunder.
You gently rub his back as it comes and try to stop tears from trickling down your cheeks. “But Makoto,” you murmur, “we are still friends. We’ve always been.”
He nods. “Yeah. We’re friends.” You could’ve sworn that his voice cracked. You tighten your grip around Makoto as he turns his head towards you. He leans forward so slowly that you don’t even realize that he’s about to kiss you until you feel his warm lips against yours. He pulls back after a moment, his hot breath fanning against your heated cheeks. “Are we still friends?” he whispers.
You shake your head. “No. We’re not friends anymore.” You wrap your arms around him in another hug and bury your face into his chest. “We’re something more.”