Title: I Loved Yesterday
Disclaimer: Story = mine.
Summary: Work, a universal pain in the ass. It’s done because it’s necessary, nothing more. However, as Kazuya passed time at work performing his usual tasks, he would have never expected something so rare and sought-after to find him. He learns that pictures tell so much more than a thousand words, but those words depend on how much insight the viewer holds.
A/N: For charcoalz, the spazztic sister I never had. ♥
Kazuya stood wearily behind the counter. A fake smile adorned his face, as always. This job was something he took just to make some money. That's why people work, he thought, to make money. It may not always be something you enjoy. If people didn't need money to live, then people wouldn't work. But if there was something you could do, and you truly enjoyed it, if there was something you could do, and you truly felt that your day would not be complete without it, if you find this special role that was meant solely for you, what a gift you would have discovered.
However, this rarely occurs.
Of all the people that drag themselves to work every day for the sole purpose of keeping a roof over their heads, their bodies clothed, and their stomachs filled, there are a handful that discover a form of enjoyment that comes along with their job, as there are often situations they can only find themselves in while at work. This handful could be considered 'lucky', because although they may not like their job, they have discovered something to make it worth their while. They are able to wait each day, content, waiting for this special moment to occur.
To be able to wake up in the morning and wear a genuine smile, to be so full of anticipation that your senses have sharpened to the point that you can hear and feel your own pulse beat as if your heart were held by your ear, it is then that you have found a way to live life to its fullest.
This is something most do not experience; this is something most can only ever dream of; and as Kazuya passed time at work performing his usual tasks and making the usual gestures, he would have never expected something so rare and highly sought-after to find him. He would have never guessed that bliss in its purest form would be presented to him, only to slip away so unexpectedly.
"How many sets do you want?" Kazuya asked.
"Uhm... How many do you think I should get?"
How many do I think you should get? Kazuya echoed the question in his head. How should I know? I don't even know what's on this roll of film. Probably more stupid poses of you and your boyfriend. Why do you keep flirting with me if you've got him? Trying to make me jealous? I really can't stand girls like you; I just want to do my work, get paid, and leave.
"That all depends on you," Kazuya answered. "If you think it's a bad roll then I'd just get one. You can always use the negatives to get reprints made later." Kazuya watched the brown haired girl contemplate the matter, a slender finger tapping against her cheek.
"I guess I'll just get one, then." She smiled.
"Right," Kazuya politely replied. He marked down a number one. "And your name?" He kept his gaze on the envelope, the pen hovering just above the name box.
"You don't know by now?"
Kazuya hesitated before writing her name out; he did not have to look up to know she was smiling all the while.
Kataoka Akahana; she was a regular customer. She would drop off a roll of film almost every week. She was the camwhore type, and very social. Her pictures generally had several people in them, group shots. If not, they consisted of her and her various boyfriends. Kazuya was debating whether or not she had picked up a new one. He actually found her quite cute. Her auburn locks spilled out over her shoulders and across her back; her bangs veiled a side of her pale face. She had big brown eyes and an innocent smile, child-like. Kazuya had treated her kindly during their first few encounters, however the girl seemed to receive that kindness in a way Kazuya hadn't intended it to be received. Now whenever he saw her figure approach the counter he would try and avoid her by running into the photo lab. On the more unfortunate days however, Kazuya would find himself looking up from the counter, and without meaning to, would establish eye contact with the girl, in which case he most certainly could not retreat into the lab. She took no notice of the change in Kazuya's behavior. This didn't surprise him in the least.
"When do you want these by?" Kazuya asked as he dropped the roll of film into the envelope.
"Not any time soon. I'll pick them up next week, when I finish off another roll."
Akahana turned and walked away from the counter as Kazuya tossed the envelope into a bin containing other rolls of film waiting to be developed. He guessed the number of envelopes the bin held, then began to count them silently. There wasn't much for him to do to pass time. There wasn't always a constant stream of people coming in to drop off their film. Sometimes it was hours before someone else came, sometimes it was five minutes. Yesterday only five people came in. Kazuya took his time. He processed all the film, and printed photos within an hour. He hated yesterday. He almost wished that Akahana would've shown up and tried to chat him up again.
Kazuya had been working at the photo lab for a little over two months now. He never held much of an interest in photography. It was just a procedure for him. Process the film, print the enlargements. He didn't take the additional time to make any adjustments. He could've cared less about the quality of the prints, just so long as they looked decent. If no one complained, why put in the extra effort? It's not as if he'd be paid more for it.
Kazuya read the ads placed on the countertop each day dozens of times as he waited to assist anyone that would come his way. His job was so dull. Waiting. That's all he did half the time; wait. He supposed that he shouldn't be complaining too much since he was still getting paid for doing nothing, but he couldn't help feeling restless. He didn't even have any coworkers stationed with him.
After half an hour, Kazuya found himself stifling a yawn. His elbows rested on the edge of the counter with his hands placed on either side of his head. Should go to the mini-lab, he thought. At least that way he could stay busy and prevent himself from falling asleep. He placed his hand on the cold doorknob, turned it, and took a step inside.
What perfect timing, Kazuya thought sarcastically as he shut the door. He pursed his lips and faced the counter. The man that called for him to wait appeared to be in a rush, his dark hair slightly disheveled. He stood catching his breath and waved a film canister in his hand.
"Could you help me with this?" he asked.
What, you think I'm gonna say no or something? Kazuya entertained himself with the idea of actually saying this, curious as to what the response would be. He nodded his head as he pulled an envelope out from beneath the countertop. "How many sets do you want?" he asked, taking the pen up in his hand.
"Let's see... I guess... one?" he replied, unsure. "Or maybe I should get two... Yeah, I think I'll get two."
"What's your name?"
"Ah, Jin. Akanishi Jin," the man answered.
A-ka-ni-shi Jin, Kazuya repeated in his head as he wrote out the name. He had never seen this Jin character before. Must be new here, Kazuya thought. He hadn't seen the man in any pictures he printed before, so he assumed no friends or relatives of the man's frequented the drop-off store.
"When do you want these by?" Kazuya continued with his routine questioning, obtaining the usual information after receiving Jin's address and phone number.
"Any idea around what time?"
Jin bit his lip as he pondered what times would be convenient for him.
"Never mind," Kazuya interrupted. "They'll be ready by tomorrow. You can pick up your pictures whenever you want."
"Thanks," Jin smiled.
Kazuya had not meant his words to sound as if he were doing the man a favor. The fact was that he could process all the film that had been dropped off today, so there was no need to ask for a time. All the pictures would be ready by tomorrow.
As Jin walked away, Kazuya remained behind his counter watching the man's back until it disappeared. After a few minutes, he lifted the bin from the floor and made his way back into the photo lab.
"Let's see... who should I do first?" Kazuya wondered as he sifted through the envelopes. "How about this one?" He pulled a random envelope and cringed at the name. "Akahana," he whispered to himself. "Just my luck."
Processing the film proved Kazuya's initial theory to be correct. Akahana posing with some other guy Kazuya had never seen. He couldn't understand her. She was so beautiful, why couldn't she find someone to keep longer than a week? Then again maybe she was just a flirt, not serious about anything. Maybe he should be sympathetic toward the guys in her photos instead of her. Kazuya didn't know. It's not like he could ask about it, either. He just developed the film. He didn't get involved in anyone's life. It wasn't part of the job.
Family portraits, sunsets, weddings, newborns, Kazuya had seen it all within the couple of months he was hired. Whenever he walked into the photo lab time flew by without him realizing it. Several scenes flashed by his eye as he watched the prints pile up. A glance toward the bin and he saw there were only three envelopes left.
"Almost done," he said to himself. My shift is almost over, he thought. Maybe I should just leave them for Charan...
Kazuya crouched down beside the bin. "Hmm," he mumbled as he playfully tilted the container, watching as the envelopes slid to one side. "Ah!" Akanishi Jin, he silently read. That new guy, he thought. "Ten minutes," Kazuya said gazing at his watch. "Not enough time," he sighed as he stood up and walked out from the photo lab. I don't work overtime for free, he thought.
The next day Kazuya found himself at the counter playing with a slinky some kid left there from another department in the store. He stared in boredom as the spring jumped from one hand to the other. Yesterday was boring, but at least Akahana had stayed a while. Even if he didn't like her company, anyone was better than no one.
Kazuya's eyes instantly darted to the familiar voice. It was that new guy. "Ah, sorry, I'll get your pictures," he apologized as he placed the slinky onto the counter. "What was your name again?" Kazuya asked as he reached for a bin beneath the counter only to realize it was empty.
"Akanishi Jin," the man answered.
"That's right," Kazuya remembered. "They must be in the back, hold on a minute." Kazuya made his way into the photo lab and found the bin full of developed photos on a table. "Couldn't even bring them out front," he muttered as he set the bin out on the counter. Jin was still there, waiting. This time he was the one tossing the spring from one hand to the other.
"Akanishi Jin," Kazuya repeated under his breath as he flipped through the envelopes. "Ah, here."
"I love these things," Jin laughed to himself.
"Hai," Kazuya said as he handed Jin his photos.
"Anytime. Now give me back my spring." Kazuya held out his hand.
"Hai," Jin laughed as he placed the slinky into Kazuya's palm. "Thanks again," he said before turning to leave.
"Bye." Kazuya directed his gaze back to the spring; he carefully raised a hand, the spring gradually uncoiled itself and jumped to the lower hand. He caught himself smiling as he recalled what Jin said; I love these things. Childish, he thought.
The following days progressed in the usual manner. Kazuya waited to assist anyone that needed to drop off their film, and then he would make the enlargements until his shift was over. Akahana came back sometime during the next week to pick up her photos as she said she would; she also left another roll behind. I'll let someone else have the privilege, Kazuya had thought when he carried it into the photo lab.
A few days after Akahana's last visit, Kazuya encountered another familiar face. He was buried in his work, busy writing his name on the envelopes he developed the film for when his pen decided to die. "Come on," Kazuya mumbled as he shook the pen and pressed it against the envelope again, only to succeed in making an impression.
"Do you have a pen?" Kazuya asked unconsciously before he looked up and realized where he was at and what he was doing. "Err, sorry, didn't mean to ask that," he apologized. It was Jin, standing there and smiling at his question.
"I got something for you," Jin said with an outstretched fist.
"Wonder what it could be... Oh, wait, let me guess. Film."
Jin flipped his fist palm-side up and opened his hand. There was nothing. Kazuya raised a brow in question.
"Just kidding," Jin said before reaching into a pocket and drawing out a canister.
"Akanishi, right?" Kazuya asked for confirmation as he pulled out an envelope.
"Hai," Jin answered. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on top of the counter, then watched with a knowing smile as Kazuya took up the pen.
"Ahh, stupid thing," Kazuya complained as he tossed the pen into the trash. "I know there's another one here somewhere," he said as he glanced around. Kazuya made his way into the photo lab, scanned the tables, then came back out with a frown on his face. Lying across the top of the envelope was a pen. He looked at Jin with a thoughtful expression before shaking his head, and then continued filling out the boxes.
"Do you work here by yourself?"
"Hai," Kazuya answered as he took the film from Jin's hand. "When do you want these by?"
"It must get boring, huh?"
"I mean working here alone, no one to talk to. It must get boring, right?"
Kazuya slowly nodded as he closed the envelope and slipped it into the bin. "Well, yeah. But it's work. The purpose of work isn't to have fun, right?"
"True," Jin agreed. "Though even so... Does it have to be so boring? Though, I'd rather be bored than alone."
Kazuya didn't understand what Jin was trying to say. "Yeah? Well I'm always alone, and for the most part, very bored. Lucky me."
"Ah, sorry, I wasn't trying to-"
"No, it's fine," Kazuya interrupted. "That didn't come out right. I'm not looking for pity or anything. I mean it's work, I wouldn't have it any other way." He laughed a bit.
"Right," Jin nodded with an unsure smile.
"So when did you want those by?"
"Ah, tomorrow, please."
When Kazuya went to the photo lab later that day, Jin's envelope was the first he pulled from the bin. He read the man's name and thought of their few brief encounters. He remembered the first day Jin walked toward the counter and said, "Could you help me with this?" to which he thought it would be amusing if he had said no. Now when he looked back on that day, Kazuya didn't think Jin would have done anything. Maybe frown a bit, maybe furrow his brow in confusion wondering why not, but he wouldn't have questioned it. He would have turned around and walked away. That's the kind of guy Kazuya saw in Jin.
Processing Jin's film revealed who Kazuya could only assume to be the man's girlfriend. There was one of those classic poses with the two of them kissing, the girl holding the camera out in a free hand to take the picture. Jin's face held an amused expression as he smiled into the kiss. There were several other shots of the girl alone, though they were all natural poses with an artistic view. They weren't the usual 'bull's eye' shots of people that Kazuya saw where the subject was centered in the middle of the frame. She was often placed to a side, the scenery around her creating a mood that accented her expression. Half the time she wasn't even looking directly at the camera. There were pictures of her back facing the photographer, profile shots, shots of her even sleeping like a child. Kazuya stifled a laugh when he saw a picture of Jin by her sleeping face throwing a peace sign, his other hand trying to steady the camera as he smiled like an idiot. Carefree and happy, that's how Jin appeared in all of his pictures.
When Jin came to pick up his photos the following morning, Kazuya was getting ready to carry a bin back into the lab.
Jin's greeting was met with a resonant crash. His eyes widened as he watched Kazuya's head lower, gaze at the ground littered with envelopes, then turn around to stare at him with a blank expression.
"Hey," Kazuya mumbled.
Jin's lips parted, but no words came out. He just stood there looking stupid, not sure what to do. Part of him wanted to laugh, or at least smile at the startled boy's reaction, but the other part felt sorry. Jin couldn't read Kazuya well. When he came back to his senses however, he quickly walked around the counter to help clean up the mess he caused.
"Sorry," Jin apologized. "Didn't mean to startle you."
"You're fine," Kazuya replied as he placed the bin back on a table. "I'll get your pictures for you."
"Nice out, huh?" Jin asked conversationally.
"The weather, it's been nice."
He's talking about the weather of all things, Kazuya thought, the 'original' topic starter. He almost couldn't suppress the urge to smile at this attempt at a conversation. "Yeah, it has. Here," Kazuya said as he handed Jin an envelope.
"You're..." Kazuya looked down at his nametag and then back up at Jin who had already begun to walk away. "Kame..." he repeated to himself.
Jin became a regular customer and Kazuya found the man approaching the counter more often than Akahana within the next couple of months. Their conversations never lasted too long, but they were nice, short, pleasant moments for Kazuya that helped to make his day more enjoyable. Jin's lighthearted presence almost never failed to make Kazuya's heart smile in one way or another, be it from the man's playful personality or his childish gestures.
"You weren't here the other day," Jin pouted.
"I was, but you came in during the afternoon. I only work in the mornings," Kazuya explained. "I thought you knew that by now."
"Well I didn't."
Kazuya continued flipping through sealed envelopes trying to find the name 'Akanishi Jin'. "...Well, now you do."
"I guess so."
"I guess so." Kazuya's eyes flew up as he held out Jin's pictures and they exchanged an awkward glance. Jin made no move to take the envelope from Kazuya's hand, so it remained there, raised in the air until both started laughing at their stiff dialogue.
"It was weird," Jin said. "I'm always used to seeing you, but there was someone else. For a minute I thought I came to the wrong place."
Kazuya shook his head. "Nah, that's just the other part-timer. What's her name... Charan? Yeah, Charan."
"Ditzy?" Kazuya inquired. "She does seem out of it often. Finds everything funny, laughs for no apparent reason."
Jin nodded in agreement as Kazuya went down a list.
"Sometimes her boyfriend visits her while she's working. Some foreign guy... Yunho? I end up processing most of the photos." Kazuya grimaced. "But... she's not too bad," Kazuya finished. "She has a nice smile... Good with people..." Kazuya suddenly wondered why he was going on about his coworker; surely Jin didn't care about such things. He felt the need to talk about something though, like there should be an endless stream of chatter between them.
With the visits that followed, Kazuya realized that he didn't care what they talked about so long as it prolonged Jin's stay. At first he had thought this selfish, but then Jin himself would walk over and find a place to lean or sit as if implying his visit would be a lengthy one. It was always a misleading action. Jin never remained more than ten minutes, though the drop-off store did one-hour photo processing. He could have easily waited out the hour. Kazuya had taken note that not many people took advantage of this service however, and opted to retrieve their photos the next day.
Jin had once tried to follow Kazuya into the photo lab, though only to have the door slammed in his face. "Heeey, come on Kame," he had laughed, "let me in!" Kazuya just laughed back; "No way, you'd ruin everything in here. Go home or something."
There was one day, however, that Kazuya recalled the man's visit lasting three times longer than usual. Jin wasn't himself then, or at least not the Jin Kazuya knew. The man was abnormally quiet, and when Kazuya had handed over his pictures, Jin had said the most curious thing to him.
"I'd rather be bored and surrounded by people than be alone and have all the fun in the world."
Kazuya hadn't known what to make of the statement. He stared confusedly into Jin's dark eyes searching for something he couldn't find. Out of nowhere Jin smiled, and without another word, he took his photos, tapped Kazuya on the head with them, and walked out. After that day, Jin returned to his usual disposition. His pictures reflected nothing that could help Kazuya understand Jin's somber mood from then.
It had almost been a year since Kazuya had first processed film at the photo lab. Jin's photos continued to impress Kazuya; his favorite was still the one of a sunset. The warm, rich tones blended in a swirl of red and yellow and orange; silhouetted leaves were strewn across the sun. He has a real talent for photography, Kazuya had thought. The effort it took to capture each moment perfectly, the way everything was positioned in the frame so that it conveyed the intended meaning, it was all there.
Somewhere between all the camwhores and newborns, something hit Kazuya. These rolls of film people left him with, the latent images they paid to have revealed to them, they were priceless. They weren't just pictures, they were precious memories, things people never wanted to forget. Photographs have the ability to freeze time, to capture a single moment and preserve it for a lifetime. They were proof that someone had existed, that something had happened. They were so much more than he had previously thought.
Kazuya had started putting more care into his job without even realizing it. He surprised himself when he woke up the next morning not dreading the day ahead of him. Akahana's presence didn't even agitate him anymore; he actually grew somewhat fond of her. He wondered if this was because he didn't see her as much nowadays. Instead of every week, Kazuya was lucky to see the girl once a month.
Akahana's photos revealed less group get-togethers, and if Kazuya wasn't mistaken, the same guy had been in all her pictures for quite some time now. This suddenly reminded him of Jin; Jin always had a few shots of his girlfriend. Kazuya had never asked about her. He wasn't supposed to mention anything seen in the photos he processed. Whatever he saw wasn't his business unless it contained evidence of some criminal act.
Something strange began to happen, though. Kazuya wasn't quite sure when it all started. The changes were subtle; minor details had been overlooked. Smiles became less frequent, and when they were caught on camera, they were forced. It puzzled Kazuya. There were clear signs of distress upon the posed expressions. Was it as simple as a lover's quarrel? Jin never brought up the girl in his photographs, though it was obvious she was a significant part of his life. This is why Kazuya found himself immensely troubled when she disappeared wholly from Jin's pictures. He looked through the roll of film again thinking he must have missed it, that it was definitely in there somewhere. Two prints must've been stuck to each other and when he flipped through them the first time, he didn't catch it. That was all. No big deal. This wasn't the case, however. No matter how many times Kazuya looked through the photos, there was no sign of her. Maybe she's off having a vacation somewhere, Kazuya thought. Surely her face would come up later when Jin dropped off another roll.
Kazuya never realized how much one could learn about another just by looking at their photographs. Each picture captured a special moment that someone had thought important enough to want to save forever. Each picture had a story behind it, a reason behind it. A person could look at it and think one thing, yet another could look at the same picture and draw forth a different perspective. The people within the photo however, the person who even took the photo, who knows what thoughts crossed their minds at that moment in time? Who knows why the photographer wanted to see that moment forever? Who knows what the one photographed was feeling at that time? They may be smiling, but were they truly happy then?
Kazuya never saw Jin's girl again, and Jin never spoke of her.
"How many sets do you want?" Kazuya asked, though in his mind, he thought 'two'. Jin always wanted two sets.
"Two," Jin replied, though he furrowed his brow shortly afterward and changed his answer. "Actually, Kame... I think one will be enough."
"Oh?" Kazuya nodded and made the change.
"I don't think I'll need two sets anymore. Just one will be fine. No sense in keeping one for myself anymore." He smiled.
Kazuya of course wanted to ask why, but for some reason he felt the question inappropriate and kept it to himself.
Jin's words became rare. They meant nothing beyond the usual pleasantries. His smiles became like those in his photographs, forced. His eyes were always vacant. Something was going terribly wrong.
Beyond his photographs and their short conversations over the past year, Kazuya didn't really know Jin; yet, he couldn't help feeling connected to him. He practically watched over the man's life for the past year. It was only natural that he would feel concerned; this is what he told himself.
I should ask, shouldn't I? Kazuya didn't know. He didn't want to impose.
A month had passed and there was no sign of Jin. Kazuya spent his days wondering what the other was doing. For some reason, he felt worried. He wondered if he would ever see Jin again. Another month went by, and Kazuya figured that Jin must have dropped his hobby of photographing, or maybe he went somewhere else now. Kazuya hoped it wasn't the latter, though he couldn't see why it would be.
Most of the time he dwelled in the photo lab now and avoided the counter. He used to like how it isolated him from the rest of the store once he closed the door, but now the calming silence made him paranoid. He began to bring an mp3 player with him to work and blasted music through the headphones while he processed film. Sometimes he would walk out of the lab and find that Akahana or someone else had dropped by and filled out the information envelope themselves. Other times he never left the lab. He sat in a corner while prints were being made and fell asleep. Management rarely ever checked on him.
"Ne, Kamenashi," Akahana said one day. "You don't look so good. You okay?"
"Fine," Kazuya replied.
Kazuya nodded. "Just tired. Haven't been getting much sleep lately."
"Well if that's all... See you later then." She waved.
Kazuya retreated back into the lab and found his corner before closing his eyes. A soothing melody flew from the headphones snug around his ears, and he drifted off to sleep. He didn't know what kept him from getting a full night's rest. He was always so tired lately, yet he would wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep.
Kazuya heard something in his sleep, some noise. It was insistent and continued to sound, but Kazuya wouldn't let it win. He ignored it and it died away, though soon afterward the left side of his face burned. He shuddered. He began to hear voices, but they were just the voices from his headphones. They're just the voices from my headphones, he unconsciously thought. Nothing to get worked up about. But since when was his name a part of the song? Since when did 'Kame' become the repetitious lyric that played over and over as if a broken record? The noises had left, but this voice wouldn't, this blazing touch wouldn't leave him.
"Kame, Kame, Kame..."
They're not voices, Kazuya thought to himself in his drowsy state, it's one voice. The music had stopped playing.
"Is this a part of the job?"
"...Oh really, now?"
There it was again, that touch that burned. It was centered on his forehead and Kazuya raised an arm to push it away. He woke himself with the movement and found himself still on the floor, Jin crouching down before him with a smile on his face.
"You don't have a fever, do you?"
Kazuya blinked. He closed his eyes for three seconds and opened them; Jin was still there, he wasn't hallucinating. Jin was sitting right in front of him staring with his deep eyes and smiling.
"Hey, I'm talking to you!"
"You're not supposed to be in here," Kazuya lazily replied, though he knew Jin couldn't have missed the 'Employees Only' sign nailed to the door.
"I don't think you're supposed to be sleeping in here, either."
Jin furrowed his brow. "Huh?"
"I can sleep in here."
Jin cocked his head to the side and then laughed. "Come on, I need to drop off my film."
"You could just fill out an envelope on your own, you know. That's what other people do."
"I tried that. Your pen is dead."
Kazuya remained silent as he reminisced. "Give it here." He held his hand out and waited until Jin placed it into his palm. "There. Now you can go," he said as if he were granting Jin permission to leave as a parent would a child.
"Hey, are you okay?"
"I told you already, I'm tired."
"You didn't tell me that..."
"Ah, that's right. That was Akahana. Sorry about that."
"Ohh, her. So she still comes here?"
"I see. So you're not going to ask what I've been doing while I was gone?"
"What were you doing?"
"Secret! You'll know once you develop my film anyway." Jin smiled. "I think," he whispered under his breath.
"Why bother asking..." Kazuya mumbled as he stood up and moved around before leaving for the counter.
"You're so out of it," Jin laughed.
"What's your naaame?"
"It's been a long time. I have other customers, you know."
Jin frowned. "But I'm special."
"Yeah. I talk to you every time I come in. I've known you for over a year now."
"So you're about up to par with Akahana."
Jin's jaw dropped. "You're comparing me to that woman you so strongly despise?" he said in a mocking voice.
"She's not that bad. One set?" Jin nodded and Kazuya marked the envelope accordingly. "You picking these up tomorrow?"
"You still have to ask?"
"I'm not going to be here all morning tomorrow, Charan might be here when you come for pickup."
Jin cringed. "How long you gonna be here in the morning then?"
"Hmm... About six till eight." Kinda stupid, Kazuya thought. Almost no one comes in that early.
"Ahhh, I wanted to sleep in," Jin moaned.
"Then don't come in," Kazuya smiled. "You can pick it up another day."
"Nope! I'll come in tomorrow. I always come in the next day, you know that. Besides, I want to see how my pictures turned out."
"Whatever you want. You're the customer."
"Exactly. And I will be here tomorrow. Maybe even before you."
"Right," Kazuya smirked.
"Right." Jin smiled.
Fake smiles, Kazuya thought. It was so obvious to him, to someone who had seen this man's smiles for the past year. There was still a tinge of sorrow in his expression. "I'll ask him tomorrow," Kazuya finally decided as he strolled into the photo lab. "Let's see what's on this," he sighed as he took out Jin's roll of film.
"What the-" Kazuya jumped as he spun around. "Charan?"
"Ehhh? Your shift's over. Want me to finish that for you?" the girl offered.
"Nah, I've got it."
Charan stood in the doorway with widened eyes. "Working overtime? Are you okay?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that today?"
Charan laughed. "I'll be at the counter then," she said, and the door shut leaving Kazuya to himself.
"Hmm... Shuffle, I think," he decided. Kazuya raised the volume of his mp3 player and left the headphones hanging around his neck as he listened. He went about processing Jin's film, occasionally singing along with whatever song that played. Charan only interrupted him once to see if it was really him she heard singing; apparently he had a talented voice. "Why did I think this room was soundproof?" Kazuya said to himself.
Once the film had been developed and the negatives were ready to be cut, Kazuya wondered if he had done something wrong, or if the lab equipment was defective. The roll of film only had three exposures. "What happened with the other photos?" he whispered, not wanting Charan to hear him and consequently barge in thinking he had lost it. Then again, he thought, "What kind of pictures are these?" Kazuya furrowed his brow. He was utterly confused.
In one negative he could see a girl; not the one that had been the subject of Jin's photos previously. Kazuya instantly took a disliking to her, wishing that Jin's former girlfriend was standing in her place instead. This new girl reminded Kazuya of Akahana when he first met her. She had one of those stupid poses. Her hands were held up in front of the camera, her fingers formed a heart. The way she was centered in the frame bugged Kazuya. Jin almost never centered his subjects. Why her?
In another negative was Jin himself, and what a surprise, he had another 'smile'. This one wasn't so much fake as it was unsure. He looked hesitant about something, almost worried. It looked like he was holding his hands behind his back, the way people try to restrain them from movement when they're nervous to prevent them from moving all over the place and making unnecessary gestures. It made him appear restless, just standing there like he wanted to shout out something that he had been holding in. Kazuya was often amazed at how much information could be contained in a single rectangular box. Pictures said so much more than a thousand words.
The last negative Kazuya raised a brow at. "Is he trying to make a joke?" He stared down at the picture that was so out of place, a picture of a turtle. Kazuya laughed, "This totally doesn't belong with these other two," he thought aloud. "How's this supposed to tell me what you've been doing? It tells me nothing, baka!" Kazuya laughed again, and then disposed of the negatives that held no exposures. After he made the prints, he left.
The next morning Kazuya arrived at six, and Jin was nowhere to be seen. Jin being who he was however, Kazuya wouldn't have been surprised if the man was there.
As Kazuya organized the counter, straightening stacks of envelopes and placing the bins in their proper spots, he could feel the seconds tick by. Time began to countdown as the anticipation built. It was already seven.
He flipped through envelopes until he found Jin's and glanced at the photos once more while shaking his head. "These photos suck," Kazuya commented. Maybe the girl took the random picture of the turtle, he thought. That would make more sense. It was such an amateur shot. Then again, assuming Jin was the one who took the picture of the girl, maybe Jin really did photograph the turtle.
Kazuya didn't know when he became so critical when it came to photographs. To see Jin's talent suddenly dissipate between the previous roll and the three shots he was looking at now though, it annoyed him.
So then, maybe there's another point to these photographs, Kazuya thought. Maybe it's not so much the positioning, the lighting, the emotion that Jin was so good at capturing with the click of a shutter button. Maybe it was something much more simple.
Kazuya felt the sudden urge to look at a clock. He didn't want to, fearing it would read eight. But if it did, and Jin still wasn't here, what could he do about it? He restrained himself and just focused on the door Jin always walked in through. When Charan made her way toward him however, he knew what time it was.
I'll wait another five, Kazuya thought. Maybe he's running late. Maybe his alarm or something didn't go off. Maybe there was an emergency and he's coming now. Kazuya continued thinking of all the excuses he could come up with until another hour had passed.
"Kame, is something wrong?" Charan leaned over the counter beside Kazuya.
"No... I'm gonna leave now," Kazuya replied.
"Okay, have a nice day!"
"I'm not one of your customers," Kazuya smiled.
I guess he really did sleep in, Kazuya thought as he slipped on his jacket and stepped outside. "I don't blame him," he said as he looked up into the sky, a light spring shower sprinkling over the paved parking lot. "I'll just ask him about his pictures another time."
Kazuya went in the next day and waited for Jin to pick up his photos, but Jin never came back. He disappeared again. Every day Kazuya went in and checked the bin for the man's photos thinking he may have picked them up when Charan was working, but they were always in the same spot he left them. The seconds, minutes, and hours, became days, weeks, and months. Kazuya returned to work with the same empty feeling he had when he first started the job. He hated yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. He wished he could say differently.
But then Kazuya saw someone familiar. He saw someone he had never really seen, knew someone he didn't really know. "It's her...?" he had whispered to himself when he saw her unsure figure make its way toward him. What is she doing here, Kazuya wondered.
"Uhm, I would like some reprints made from these," she spoke.
"You... You, you're the girl from Jin's pictures," Kazuya said as though he didn't believe it himself. It really was her, the one Kazuya had seen so many times before.
"He came here?" she asked, her voice sounding hopeful to hear Jin's name.
"Yes," Kazuya answered. "He used to come here regularly..."
"I see... So then, you've probably already seen these," she said, referring to the negatives she had brought.
"Probably..." Kazuya reached for the envelope and wondered why Jin had given the negatives to her. "How many sets do you want?"
"Just one. Oh, and this..." She reached into her pocket and produced a roll of film.
"One for this, too?"
She nodded, again unsure.
"When do you want these by?"
"Okay," Kazuya answered. "They'll be ready."
It wasn't until after Kazuya had entered the lab and the girl had left that he realized he didn't ask for her name. "Stupid," he told himself. He couldn't very well write 'Jin's girl' in the name box. But did it matter in this case? She would be back for them in just an hour. He didn't even need to put them in the bin.
She wants reprints... Reprints of what, Kazuya wondered as he lifted the flap of the envelope and removed the negatives. He carefully placed his fingers on the edges and held the strips up, letting the light fall through the translucent images to reveal pictures he had never seen before.
Jin, he was definitely in them, but where was he? Was he ill? Was that his family around him?
Kazuya quickly snatched up the envelope again and looked for a date. "Over a year ago..." The negatives had been processed in the very lab he stood. The envelope was from this photo drop-off store. He worked in this store when these photos were delivered. "So then..." Kazuya flipped the envelope around and his eyes easily found Charan's name scribbled in a margin. "So this is the roll that...?" Kazuya glanced at the negatives again in confusion. Why was Jin lying there? Did he make some sort of recovery? So that's why he was smiling then? What was it?
The film Jin's girl left behind completely rendered him speechless. Even as he watched the prints pile up, he couldn't believe what his eyes told him. Jin's name was staring straight at him, so boldly printed, so final.
He didn't want to be seeing this, he didn't want this to be real, because for once, he was actually thinking about the days before, back when he had first met Jin. For once, back then, he could have said, "I loved yesterday," and it would have been the truth. But now he couldn't. He didn't understand.
Kazuya was always left in the dark. He thought there was something there, but was all he saw an illusion? What was happening right now, exactly? He was so lost. "I didn't really know anything," Kazuya realized. He didn't know who Jin really was. Their conversations were never in-depth; they only scratched the surface.
In the days that followed, Kazuya tried to move on. The series of brief encounters were done with, over. He wouldn't see Jin anymore. He still couldn't understand why Jin would stay and chat with him, though. From the talk Kazuya had with his girl, he could only make an inference.
From day one, Jin had seen Kazuya; he had seen how dull the boy was standing at that counter, asking the same questions in the same order day after day in a monotone voice. He had taken note that Kazuya was always the only one around. But it wasn't out of pity that he kept Kazuya company, Jin wasn't that kind of a person. He really had enjoyed their regular chats. In fact, it was Jin himself who dwelled on Kazuya's company, dependant on Kazuya's presence, always hoping that it was Kazuya there standing behind the counter when he needed someone to talk to about the simplest of things. He needed someone that didn't know of his stress, someone that didn't know about him so they could speak freely without his condition in the back of their mind.
But Jin also wasn't one to do things purely for his own benefit. If he had thought for even a second that his extended visits troubled Kazuya, he would've left. Though Kazuya always talked to everyone in a distant voice, Jin knew all the boy really wanted was for someone to make his day. Kazuya wanted someone to show him how even the dullest parts of life could be viewed with anticipation and made into something he could take pleasure in.
Kazuya understood Jin's photographs. He understood why this girl had disappeared from Jin's life and why the sudden swing of emotions came into play. She had explained it before she took the pictures and left.
"What are these?" Kazuya had demanded to know. "What happened? What is this? Where's Jin?" The questions flew out from his mouth, and the answers, though reluctantly given at first, were scattered before him.
He was dying...
...said it was for my own good...
I could see it...
He was so afraid to be alone.
"That's what he meant," Kazuya whispered after seeking solace in the silent lab. "That's the reason he said that..." Kazuya went over everything she had said while it was still fresh in his mind.
Jin didn't stay around after he dropped off his film just for idle chatter. No matter how simple their conversations were, they had meaning, they served some purpose. Just from the way questions were asked or how things were stated, anyone could tell it meant something.
He didn't want me to be alone, Kazuya concluded. Because he was so afraid himself that he'd end up alone, he... He stayed and kept me company because he thought I was alone all this time. Even though he didn't know how long he could keep coming back... Instead of using every minute being with his family, his friends, he stayed. He didn't even really know me. He just decided all on his own. He just decided that he wanted to help me enjoy life. And for these past months, I've just been sulking. Has all his effort gone wasted?
Kazuya shook his head and slouched against the wall until he fell to the floor. The envelope he kept atop one of the tables was knocked over and three pictures scattered before him. Why would he do that? Kazuya wondered. I still don't understand. I don't get it. And why am I crying? This doesn't make sense; none of this makes sense to me. He wiped his eyes glanced at Jin's photos that lay around him. Jin, the heart, the turtle.
Kazuya wasn't sure what to make of his relationship with Jin, but he knew that Jin would no longer be coming to drop off photos. His days at work now passed by with a feeling of indifference. He figured at least he didn't hate work, and in the days to come, for some reason, he knew he'd grow to like it again, like before. One day he'd be able to wake up and say that he liked yesterday, and he loved today.
A/N (Aisu): I suppose I'm a bit obscure in parts of this, so feel free to clarify anything if you don't understand. Hopefully everyone knows what Kame saw in that last roll of film he developed. x)
Anyway, this is the first one-shot under the Two Ways To Take A Picture title, which will consist of... well, two one-shots completely unrelated to the other that involve pictures/photography.
Meet Death is the next to be updated~