That night, Tadashi threw together a light mixed vegetable pasta for dinner. I helped with the prep work a little but Katsumi soon took over from me, remarking that I clearly didn’t know what I was doing, which was true. Really, I didn’t cook much at home. On normal days I went out to eat, ordered takeout delivery, or bought boxed meals that just needed to be warmed up in the microwave. It was an unhealthy and sometimes expensive habit, but I just couldn’t be bothered to learn how to cook properly. At any rate, Tadashi and Katsumi were both fantastic chefs, especially when working with the fresh ingredients we had that summer. It was another thing I learned to be grateful for.
When the pasta was done, I helped dish it out, and the three of us took our plates outside. We sat around the porch table contentedly. The sun was just starting to set over the trees, and the rich color patterns gave the effect of lighting the lake water on fire. I watched, mesmerized, as we dug in to the meal together.
“It’s so pretty…”
“This needs more salt,” Katsumi exploded after one bite.
Tadashi pushed him on the shoulder. “Your abnormal taste buds will kill you one day. If you’re so obsessed, go salt it yourself.”
“Hey, I think it’s really good,” I said honestly.
“See! Thanks, Chas. Wait until tomorrow and you’ll see how much salt Katsu puts into everything. Take his food with a big glass of water, okay?”
“Take Tama’s food with a salt shaker,” Katsumi replied. Despite saying so, he seemed to be actually quite content with the taste of the pasta. He ate it quickly as it was, and even went back for seconds. I wondered if the complaints were just typical banter between the two.
I finished my plate and ended up declining Tadashi’s offer of a second helping, my stomach being plenty full. I had never been a very big eater. Even with my favorite foods, I could never stuff myself like a normal person. Tadashi dumped the rest of the pasta onto his own plate and asked if I wanted dessert.
“Dessert? Like what?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. But if you want something, tell me.”
I shook my head. Sitting back, I engrossed myself in watching the sunlight fade while the two finished their dinner. When they were done I took all of the dishes inside and washed them in the sink. Tadashi arranged them in the dishrack and watched me while I was working.
“You know Chas, you have changed,” he remarked slowly. “Just a little.”
“Really? How so?”
“The way you move your hands is different.”
He saw the look on my face and laughed. “I pay attention to these things…”
Katsumi came back from the bathroom then. He saw me finishing up and looked at Tadashi. “Want to play something?”
They went upstairs together. I wiped my hands with a towel, hung it up to dry, and went to occupy a couch in the living area. A minute later the two came back carrying twin acoustic guitars.
“Cool…” I murmured absently.
They set themselves up angled towards each other, across from me. Tadashi tuned the guitars by ear. Katsumi tested out his voice for a while and then shook his head with disapproval.
“I’m not good right after eating,” he said. “Oh, well.”
Tadashi struck a chord, brushed his hair back, and sighed. “What should we play?”
“How about ‘Unsuitable’?”
Katsumi tapped out a measure and they launched into the song. They went all-out from the first note, playing with as much passion as if they were on stage before an audience, though of course not nearly as loud. I listened with rapt attention. The first few bars were instrumental, with a deep, throbbing melodic line, and then suddenly Katsumi opened his mouth and started to sing. His singing voice stunned me. It was deep and slightly rough, and that roughness somehow made it a hundred times better. Tadashi backed him in the upper octaves, his voice being naturally higher-pitched. He looked embarrassed to be singing in front of me, but his vocals were smooth and steady. Their guitars interwove supporting harmonies throughout, with Tadashi mostly structuring the rhythm and Katsumi doing the more technical work.
During a break in the vocals, the pair took turns soloing. Tadashi went first. From the beginning he had played with a pick, but now he put it in his mouth and plucked the strings with his fingers. I watched in admiration as he launched into a demonstration of skills I hadn’t known he had. Gazing at him bent slightly over his guitar with his long blond hair masking his face, I thought: wow… I’m glad I could meet him again.
He ended his solo with a dramatic flourish, and then it was Katsumi’s turn. Katsumi played slower and more emotionally than he’d done before, closing his eyes at times as he pieced together an overwhelmingly powerful melody. There was an almost trance-like quality to it. I watched, impressed at the level of contrast and the balance between technique and expression.
In the last part of the song they brought back the chorus. I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the lyrics, but I did now. “Unsuitable”… I wondered about the name. The song was clearly about forbidden love, an oft-used theme, but there were elements of religion and family tied into it as well, and to use the word “unsuitable” just seemed so interesting to me. I wanted to ask about it, but I didn’t. I figured it might be personal for one of them.
They closed out the song with Tadashi alone slowly reiterating the main melodic line. He struck the final note and listened to it fade into silence with a thoughtful, almost sorrowful look on his face. I clapped.
Katsumi smiled wryly. “What an audience…”
“So, impressions?” Tadashi asked me as he set his guitar down.
“Katsumi’s a good singer, but he’s better with you backing him,” I replied. “And I really can’t tell who’s the better guitarist, you’re both great. That was an interesting song! Really sad lyrics, but it was upbeat, something you can jam to. The solos were the best.”
“See, he says I’m the better singer,” Katsumi remarked.
Tadashi laughed. “Are you listening? Only with me, goof.”
“It’s pretty popular, that song,” Katsumi said to me. “Probably our best acoustic. We play it a lot live. I think we found the greatest balance with the solos on that one.”
“Question,” I said. “Aren’t you left-handed?”
“But you play guitar right-handed.”
Tadashi smiled at me. “Hey, you’re pretty observant.”
“It’s cheaper and more convenient,” Katsumi explained. “And it generally looks better on stage, ‘cause Tama’s right-handed. But give me a left-handed guitar and I can play it just as well. I learned and practiced both ways.”
“I suck at the left-handed guitar,” Tadashi confessed. “Just couldn’t ever figure it out. But some right-handed people play better left-handed, and some left-handed people play better right-handed, so the way someone plays isn’t always a given. At least in my experience.”
“Hey guys,” I said slowly. “You think I could learn to play guitar?”
In other words, could you teach me?
It was a strange question, especially coming out of my mouth. I mean, I’d already declared that I had basically nothing to do with music. But I heard these two play for five minutes and I just thought it seemed cool. I’d been meaning to pick up a hobby anyway, and I’d be living with these two great guitarists for months, so it was only natural that I’d jump on it. Worst case, they’d just say no, right?
They glanced at each other for a few seconds. Then Tadashi looked at me and gave me his slow, gentle smile again.
“We’ve got all summer,” he said. “I don’t see why not.”