Chapter 7:

Anyone Can Eat Well Every Day!

Anyone Can Write A Light Novel!

Tsukishima’s laughter resounds across the four walls of my apartment. I can hear the neighbors banging on the other side, but she only laughs louder as if to get back at them. She falls to her knees, clutching her sides as she does everything in her power to stop herself from toppling over. At the center of my coffee table lies Hypnosis Harem, Getting Revenge On The Women Who Wronged Me, an explicit manga with content too extreme for me to describe. I protect my eyes from its spiteful presence by placing my laptop between myself and the book. While she laughs, I scour the internet to look into these web novel things.Bookmark here

See, web novels are no different than a regular novel, they’re just published on the internet. But just from a quick skim, I can say—Bookmark here

“What was all that harping on about being better than otakus?! You actually brought something wayyyyy worse! Hahahahahahaha!”Bookmark here

I can say—Bookmark here

“Hey hey! If you’re gonna put it to use, do tell me! I’ll stay outside so you can do your business!”Bookmark here

I—Bookmark here

“And hey, maybe if you want some more stuff like this, you can always go to that Takahara for more recommendations! You filthy otaku!”Bookmark here

“Shut up!” My fists almost slam against the table, but the emptiness of my wallet creates the infinite space between them and the wooden top. “I told you, I couldn’t refuse it since he was being really nice about it! If you want to know how I feel about it, I’d say I want to throw it into the trash!”Bookmark here

“Then go ahead and do that! But no, you took it all the way home!” Her hands grip on my shoulder, her chest pressed against my back. She whispers into my ear with a cold chill, “And why’s that?”Bookmark here

“I can’t discard somebody’s goodwill.”Bookmark here

“Or maybe you’re a little lonely?”Bookmark here

“It’s rude to throw away a gift.”Bookmark here

“Or you’re severely lacking in erotic material, given how boring your shelf looks.”Bookmark here

“That’s over the line!” I nudge at her with my elbow to get her off me. “Don’t you have a job to do?!”Bookmark here

She snorts, falling prone. Her legs are folded, one vertically and one horizontally aligned with the floors. Her reddening eyes roll about as she does a few stretches.Bookmark here

“I’m almost done hitting this week’s quota. Trying to bask in the excitement of hitting the home stretch.” Her heels start digging into my back. “What are you searching up anyway? More explicit content?”Bookmark here

“No.” I try not to overreact with my answer to stop her from teasing me. “Doing my homework one these web novels. Turns out, the publishers source their books from here, as a sort of scouting zone. It’s the source from which all current Light Novels are born.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I knew that. Everyone knew that.”Bookmark here

Her deadpan reply agitates me, just a bit. “If you knew, why didn’t you say anything?”Bookmark here

“You didn’t ask. And besides, you’re the literary expert here. Why wouldn’t you know about web novels?” Her foot rises, and she drops it on my upper back. The stinging pain rushes up from my spine to my head, though it didn’t feel bad. “You really are just an old man!”Bookmark here

“Quit trying to piss me off!” I snatch her leg and sling it over my shoulder, trying to get it into some kind of hold. “If you’ve got nothing good to say, go back to slaving yourself away to your 200 yen frames!”Bookmark here

“You!” She wraps her free leg around my neck, and attempts to choke me through via the bend of her knee. “You just think you’re better than everyone and everything! Get a reality check already!”Bookmark here

To be honest, I don’t think we’re hurting each other at all. We’re not exactly pro wrestlers. This double submission hold just feels like an excuse to get physical.Bookmark here

“The reality is that I am better! Just look at these web novels they’ve been pulling from. None of them have been proofread. They’re full of typos and bad prose. Clearly, any company that pulls from here doesn’t really care about the quality of a work! So anything I do would exceed their expectations!”Bookmark here

“You just keep finding excuses to look down on people…!” She holds both knuckles against the sides of my skull. “Can’t you tell that they see the underlying potential in those works! Least those things go…” She starts spinning her knuckles about rapidly. “Somewhere!”Bookmark here

Now this is painful. I can feel the electrolytes scrambling in my brain from the hurricanes smashing together. My hair’s getting ruffled in this mess. I hurriedly release my grip and tap on her knee. “I give, I give!”Bookmark here

She releases her chokehold, causing the weight of her body to swing her off my shoulders and roll to the floor. She stops on the back of her head, her spine leading up vertically with her butt at the highest point. Her legs fall to the floor, her knees aligned with her face. Another loud groan escapes her lips.Bookmark here

“I want to do anything but draw…” She mumbles under a breath.Bookmark here

“Do what you want. I’ve seen enough web novels to know what I’ll be doing.”Bookmark here

“Ryuji, let’s go on a date…”Bookmark here

“No.” Bookmark here

My refusal comes out dryer than a desert. I can’t even bring myself to feel embarrassed when it’s Tsukishima asking me out. With a woman as manipulative and abusive as her, no physical contact or nudity will sway me to play into her hand.Bookmark here

Her voice rises a single octave. “You know I don’t have to pay rent anymore, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, cause you’re a freeloader.”Bookmark here

She forms an OK sign with her hand and waves it sluggishly toward me. “I got a bit of extra cash. If you tell me where the best ramen in the area is, I’ll treat you.”Bookmark here

~~~~~Bookmark here

Ichiroku Ramen. It is five minutes from my place on a bike, twenty on foot. The curtains dangling at the entrance read the shop’s name, but the patterns are fading out. The building is stacked together with a dozen other shophouses, the white paint on its walls stained brown with age. The history and age lining these walls prove its prestige. This isn’t a place you go when you want to impress a girl. This is a place you hunt when you want to experience the greatest flavors the world could offer.Bookmark here

Yes, I caved to Tsukishima. Shut up.Bookmark here

Whenever she left, she would make sure to apply makeup and get dressed. This time, she went out with a tracksuit, not a second spent dolling herself up. It tells me that she doesn’t really see this as a date, and doesn’t want to give anyone the impression of it. Though I lived with her for about a week, I never got a good look at her ordinary face. Her attractiveness takes a major hit when she’s all natural. Contrast to Mana who looked like a fashion magazine cover even when fresh out of bed.Bookmark here

There is no light in her green eyes. She crosses her arms with an pessimistic scowl and asks me, “Did you bring Mana here?”Bookmark here

“No, she dragged me here. As soon as she sniffed the broth, she just had to eat here.”Bookmark here

A sigh leaves her breath. “Sounds like something she’d do.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah…”Bookmark here

I push aside the curtain and gesture at her to step in first. She raises an eyebrow as if it were uncharacteristic of me to do so but shrugs it off. The inside of the restaurant is as unimpressive as the outside. There were no personal tables to speak of. All of the stools were lined up against a long table with the chef’s workspace situated on the other side. There was barely any foot space. A claustrophobe’s worst nightmare.Bookmark here

Since we arrived just before dinner hours, we secured our seats without difficulty. It would normally be a warzone to eat here. I hear a loud grumble, and I figure it was Tsukishima making noises again. When I turn to her, she frowns at me with a red face.Bookmark here

She spins her head the other way around with a pout. “Yeah, I’m hungry. So what?”Bookmark here

“Oh, that was your stomach?”Bookmark here

“What else could it be?” She rests her elbow on the table and drops her chin into her palm. “It’s been cup noodles for me for the past year. Anything that smells halfway decent is bound to get me going.”Bookmark here

I close my eyes as my chest expands. The rich, meaty aroma that is packaged with the fragrance of onions, scallions, garlic and ginger stings my nose like a swarm of violent hornets. That alone makes it worth it to brave the discomfort of sitting amidst the heat. I call out to the chef, two fingers up, and then order an equal serving of pork bone ramen. A minute silence befalls the two of us before Tsukishima breaks it.Bookmark here

“So. What’s your plan now? Going to go with the web novel route?”Bookmark here

“No way.” I lean back as far as I can balance on this stool, keeping the chef on watch. “That place is completely unregulated. I could tell I’ll easily make it big if I put anything there—”Bookmark here

“You’re really full of it…”Bookmark here

“—But if it’s so easy to do it, then it’s not worth my time. I’m not aiming for peanuts, I want to shoot for the stars. And I’ve gotta jump through fire if I want to make it there. If I can succeed without running through any assessment, then it’s the same as failing.”Bookmark here

“Your standards are too high for yourself.” She opens a box in front of us and takes two sets of chopsticks. Without a word, she hands over one of them to me.Bookmark here

“And so what if it is? When it comes to my dreams, I won’t ever settle for mediocrity.” My hand pinches the chopsticks together to get a feel of it. “I need my works screened by a professional before I dare put my name on anything. Keep the quality intact.”Bookmark here

“Sheesh, you don’t have to be a big star to live. I animate so many frames but no one even knows me. Sure, my name is in the credits, but no one reads that. Worst come to worst, they skip it. But I don’t mind. A name’s just a name, what you can really be proud of is the product you put out. That’s what will be remembered.”Bookmark here

“The industries are way too different to be compared. You’ll always get work as long as something needs to be made. That’s the corporate studio life. As for me, I’ll die if my name has no price tag on it. There isn’t a job for a writer with no demand.”Bookmark here

“You could try journalism. They’re always in demand.”Bookmark here

“I’m not interested in writing some milquetoast article that’ll be forgotten in a week.” I feel a vein popping out of my temple. “What are you, my mom? Why are you so obsessed with pushing me away from becoming a novelist?”Bookmark here

She flicks the chopsticks between her fingers, spinning them across her bandaged hand. She answers with a blank tone, neither hostile nor sympathetic. “I just can’t understand why anyone would strive for something for ten whole years when it isn’t giving them results. I tried to get into Shonen Leap as a manga artist, but it didn’t turn out. So I went into animation instead. A sane person would grab at the crumbs if the bread doesn’t turn out.”Bookmark here

“You need tenacity to realize your dreams.”Bookmark here

“Uh huh, but is it really just for your dreams?”Bookmark here

“… Do you really have to ask? Or are you trying to provoke me into saying it?” I frequent this shop whenever I have cash, so I try not to throw a fit. “Of course I’m doing this so I have something to show Mana when I get back with her. She stuck by me for seven years, how could I show my face to her now after achieving nothing?”Bookmark here

Her mouth gapes open, but no words leave her mouth. Her eyebrows furrow while her eyes gawk at me. As soon as I hear a sound from her, two bowls of ramen drop right in front of us. Her attention leaves me to focus squarely on the meal.Bookmark here

“You do you, then.”Bookmark here

The answer that she gave me didn’t feel like the answer she wanted to give. It was an answer that was apathetic to me, an answer that wanted to wash its hands off my nonsense. I don’t mind. She doesn’t have any place meddling with my life.Bookmark here

I lift the bowl with one hand and take a sip of the broth. The deep flavor of the pork bones that had been melted down shoots up to my brain, like a batter hitting a homerun. It invades my tongue as if it were the American army locating oil in an obscure country. When it flows down my throat, the aftermath of the flavors singe the back of my tongue. If this is the fallout of a nuclear bomb, my throat is ground zero.Bookmark here

That was from a single sip. My eyes glance over to Tsukishima and she was already wolfing down her bowl, any attempts to be ladylike be damned. She stops for one moment and gazes back at me. Simultaneously, we nod. We have reached the same conclusion.Bookmark here

We will never enjoy cup noodles for the coming months.Bookmark here

As I take my first slurp of those yellow noodles, I feel in my mind that I’ve done enough research to envision my plan of action. The masterpiece that is to bear my name was an old relic of the past, one that can easily be written to fit into what is considered a Light Novel. As soon as this bowl empties, I will return to my domain and begin realizing that vision.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.