"Did you know," Inui said, "that the Japanese Spider-Man adaptation popularized the custom of the protagonist battling the enemy first hand-to-hand and then again in a giant robot?"
"No." Kaidoh poked his fork into his cake, leaving a row of neat little holes in the white icing. He didn't even know that there was a Japanese Spider-Man adaptation.
"It was in 1978. Spider-Man's robot was called Leopardon." Inui pushed his glasses up his nose. "It transformed from the spaceship Marveller."
Kaidoh tried to think of something to say. He looked at Inui's fingers curled around his coffee mug. The scrape on Inui's knuckles was scabbed over. Kaidoh remembered Oishi painting it with disinfectant and telling Inui to be more careful.
"His car was the Spider Machine GP-7. There were forty-one episodes."
The skin around the scrape was red and Kaidoh wondered if it would be warmer than the rest of Inui's hand. He wanted to touch it to find out. "Is it a good show?"
"I've never seen it," Inui said and pushed his glasses up again.
"Did you know," Inui said, "that pericardial fluid is secreted by the serous membrane on the pericardious sac on the outside of the heart?"
"No." Kaidoh looked at Inui's knuckles. The scrape looked better now, except for one place where the edge had pulled away and the skin was raw.
Inui picked up his fork, then set it down again. "It cushions the heart." He adjusted his glasses. "If there's too much of it, it's called a pericardial effusion."
Kaidoh looked down at his plate. Strawberry cake today. He took a bite and swallowed, but it stuck in his throat and he had to wash it down with coffee.
"It can be caused by a viral infection." Inui wrapped his hand around his coffee mug. He never used the handle. Kaidoh wondered if Inui's fingers were cold a lot.
"Oh," Kaidoh said, because he couldn't think of anything smart or interesting. His own hands were clammy and he rubbed the palms on his pants. He rested his hands on his knees, fingers folded up, hidden below the table.
"The symptoms are pressure and chest pain," Inui said. He pushed his glasses again. Maybe the arms were loose.
Kaidoh thought about reaching across the table and pulling them off, carefully, and Inui leaning forward because he needed to be closer to see. The hair on Kaidoh's arms prickled and he looked back at his cake.
"It usually goes away on its own," Inui said.
"Did you know," Inui said and his shoulder bumped against Kaidoh's.
"I'm sorry," Kaidoh said. He tried not to walk so close, so he wouldn't be in the way.
"Did you know the rules of soccer are called the Laws of the Game?"
"There are seventeen individual laws." Inui slid his glasses up. "The current version was adopted by the International Football Association Board in 1997."
"Oh." And they bumped again. Their hands brushed together and a shock ran up Kaidoh's arm and chased down his spine. He jumped away. "I'm sorry!"
"Kaidoh, I--" Inui pushed at his glasses, pinning them to the bridge of his nose and hiding half his face.
The back of Kaidoh's neck got warm and he looked down the block, at the shop signs and the people walking. "I'll be more careful."
Inui didn't say anything until they stopped at the corner. "The laws were first drawn up in 1863."
The walk sign came on. "There's an optician." Kaidoh pointed. "You can get your glasses adjusted."
"But they fit perfectly," Inui said.
"Did you know," Inui said, "that salt is one of the few minerals commonly eaten by humans?" He was sitting backwards in his desk chair, leaning over the top and looking down at Kaidoh on the floor. "Salt is one of the basic tastes."
Kaidoh remembered sneaking into the kitchen when he was younger, sprinkling salt into his hand and licking it off, the flavour spreading over his tongue. He wondered if Inui had ever done that. He wondered if it would be salty now, if Kaidoh put his tongue on Inui's palm. His skin tingled all over and he pulled his knees up to his chest.
"Salt's preservative ability was a foundation of civilization." Inui raised his hand, like he was going to touch his face, then dropped it again. He didn't say anything else and his eyes slid away from Kaidoh, onto something behind him.
Kaidoh could almost see the silence in the room, curling through the air like smoke off dry ice. He wrapped his arms around his knees and tried to think of something to say. He'd made a list of facts, from a science website, so Inui wouldn't think Kaidoh was boring. But the list was in his math book and his math book was in his bag and his bag was by the door, underneath his jacket. There was something he could almost recall, about the moons of Jupiter, probably. "Did you--"
"Kaidoh, I--" They both stopped. "Go ahead, Kaidoh."
"No, senpai, you were first."
Inui looked down at Kaidoh. "I..." He pushed up his glasses. "I didn't have anything to say."
"Did you know," Kaidoh said, and swallowed. But he couldn't remember anything about the moons of Jupiter. "It's nothing." He dug his fingers into his arms. "Never mind."
"It's late anyhow," Inui said.
"Did you know," Inui said, "that Velcro was invented in 1941 by Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer?" He shifted on Kaidoh's couch and their knees bumped, just a bit. "He thought of it after he took a close look at the burdock seeds that stuck to his dog's fur."
Their knees were still touching. "You told me last week," Kaidoh said.
"Oh." Inui's hand was on his thigh, his little finger almost against Kaidoh's leg. "I'm sorry." He fell silent and Kaidoh could feel that cold smoke again, twisting around their ankles and raising goosebumps on Kaidoh's arms.
"Please tell me more," he said and put his hand on his leg, next to Inui's, not quite touching.
"You don't want to." Inui jerked his hand back. He pulled his leg away.
"I do." Kaidoh clenched his hand into a fist. "Please, senpai, I want to hear more."
Inui jumped to his feet. "It's crap." He walked away with sharp steps that cut the air. "It's just a bunch of stupid crap." He stopped in front of the closed door with his head down. "You shouldn't have to listen to it."
Kaidoh scrambled over the back of the couch. "No!" His chest hurt and it was hard to breathe, like he'd sucked in the carbon dioxide and it was burning his lungs with cold. Like he had pericardial whatever. "I like it." He faced Inui, but Inui shrugged, turning away. "I like it when you tell me things."
"You don't have to." Inui's voice sounded hollow. "You don't have to pretend."
"I'm not pretending, idiot!" Kaidoh shoved Inui, knocking him into the door. "Oh, shit, I'm sorry, I didn't mean...I'm sorry."
Inui stood up. His glasses were askew, slipping down his face and one arm hanging free. He just stood, completely still, and looked down at Kaidoh. Kaidoh looked back. This time the silence between them was alive, full of jumping lines like a monitor machine, speeding up with Kaidoh's heartbeat.
Kaidoh reached out and he almost pulled back because he'd never been more terrified, more ready to cut and run. But he made himself keep going, and, slowly, he pushed Inui's glasses up his nose and tucked the arm behind his ear. Then he waited, his pulse throbbing in his throat so he could hardly take a breath.
And Inui held out his hand. Kaidoh took it. Inui's fingers were warm.
Inui gripped Kaidoh's hand tight. The breath huffed out of Inui and he laughed, even though nothing was funny that Kaidoh could see. Kaidoh brushed his thumb over Inui's knuckles. They were smooth now, only a faint scar left. And Kaidoh was fizzing, inside and out, like bubbles in a soda, like a firework in the summer sky. He squeezed Inui's hand and Inui squeezed back.
"Did you know," Inui said.
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