Chapter 10:

Anyone Can Make Others Proud!

Anyone Can Write A Light Novel!

Two days had come and gone since my meeting with the editor. Tsukishima’s stuck in the hospital. Her absence from my home didn’t seem to have changed anything. The time she stayed here was no better than the haunting of a ghost, ever present yet ignorable. I felt nothing but relief to have her off my hands momentarily.Bookmark here

Still, when I saw her out cold, I was in such a panic that I carried her all the way to the hospital. Haha, no. That’s dangerous. I called an ambulance like any sane person would. Followed her to the hospital, handed over my contact info and then went home. Whatever happens from then on isn’t any of my business.Bookmark here

Isn’t any of my business… I really want to say that. So why do I have a message from an unknown number that reads, “Ryuji ,it’s me. Bring over a change of clothes and my phone. Try to look sharp. If people get the wrong idea, I’d want them to think I made a good catch. I’m at K-23.”Bookmark here

Two comatose days, and she wakes up acting like she has any right to order me around. Well, she can bite me. I’m not gonna bother doing anything for her when she treats me however she wants. Let her run home naked, since she’s too cool to care. See how she feels about it.Bookmark here

… Although, thinking on it clearly, if I don’t bring this stuff over, who will? All of her belongings are with me, so if I ignored her message, would she end up calling someone over to help? Like say, someone from school? Or even worse, Mana?Bookmark here

In the end, I found myself at the hospital lobby, pitifully holding a bag with everything Tsukishima asked for. They weighed on my shoulder like a collar tugging on a dog, restricting its movements, forcing it to obey. Even when she isn’t physically present, Tsukishima’s chains bound my every movement.Bookmark here

One step out the elevator and I’m on her floor. Seeing as she’s on the upper end of the poverty line, there’s no way she’d find herself in a personal ward. The hall stinks of that smooth stench that all medical centers have, a result of regular sanitization. Even though it’s full of sick, bedridden people, silence does not fall upon us. The visitors chat their hearts away, not caring about the old man slowly decaying into a vegetable across. Some cries can be heard from the other end of the hall, clearly a child that isn’t being reined in by their parents.Bookmark here

I follow the number till I find that familiar bed of dyed hair rested over one of those beds. An IV drip’s wired to her arm, and she stares aimlessly at the ceiling. An old man and an old woman accompany her by the bedside, whatever they’re saying being lost to my ears in this cacophony of noise.Bookmark here

I wave my hand to catch her attention, and life flashes back in her emerald eyes as she calls back to me with, “Ryuji dear! You’re finally here! I’ve been waiting for you!”Bookmark here

Dear…?Bookmark here

Her arms are spread wide open, hollering me to come closer as her lips spread into the widest grin I’ve ever seen from her. But in her eyes, a deathly glare fires at me, shocking the pillars of my soul as if to yank at the imaginary chains binding us together.Bookmark here

I sheepishly make my way to her, unable to question her motivations. The moment my hand enters the range of hers, she pulls me in by the wrist and pecks me by the cheek with a loud and clearly faked squeal. As the sound leaves my ears, I catch a message as she pulls her head back.Bookmark here

“Play along or you’re dead.”Bookmark here

Haunting. Not just the whispery storm of violence brewing in her voice, but the aura of dread looming over my shoulder. I hear the aged bombard questions any young man would fear.Bookmark here

You’re Natsuha’s boyfriend?”Bookmark here

“What do you do for a living?”Bookmark here

“How long have you been dating?”Bookmark here

“What car do you drive?”Bookmark here

It’s different. When I was dating Mana, I eventually had to meet her parents. They welcomed me warmly, wishing me and her for a long-lasting relationship. Tsukishima’s parents, however, are the monsters you dream about the night before dinner with the girlfriend’s family. Bookmark here

Gazing upon them over my shoulder, the father sports a casual shirt but the well-ironed fabric is clearly high-end cotton. Not to mention the golden designer watch round his wrist. The mother is even more terrifying. The hair’s cut shut short but expands outwards in a style popular in the 90s. A hairdo that needs regular visits to the salon to maintain. The silk blouse is accompanied by diamond-laddened jewelry, nothing like the fake accessories Tsukishima wears. And the scariest topping to the spoilt mom sundae is the leather bag branded with the Shanel logo.Bookmark here

I’m dead certain. Tsukishima didn’t need a change of clothes or her phone. This was all a trap set to make me take care of these demons beside her bed. I don’t need to be told anything to know what the situation at hand is. A girl past her twenties working a dead-end job, met with the piercing glares of her outrageous parents. She just wants to deflect the question they’re hundred percent likely to ask.Bookmark here

“Mom, dad!” Tsukishima calls, quelling the questioning hurricane. “Slow down, he hasn’t even introduced himself!”Bookmark here

You owe me one for this…Bookmark here

“Mr. and Mrs. Tsukishima! I didn’t think we’d meet like this! My name is Ito Ryuji! I’ve been dating your daughter for a year!”Bookmark here

No changes in expression detected. Even while I am mustering my best smile amidst the oceanic pressure, I do not sense a growth in affection toward me, not by one percent. If anything, my outward positivity only serves to intensify their stares.Bookmark here

“Ito. Your occupation?”Bookmark here

A gulp runs down my throat. It’s a simple question, but a powdered keg waiting to blow. The calm demeanor to which they asked me said question visualizes the mass array of ballistics to come. For example, if I bluffed and said I owned a business, they’d ask me the name of the business, then they’d press me for more and more details until it’s clear I’m lying. That’s why Tsukishima, sorry, not sorry, but it has to be this way.Bookmark here

“I work at Dawson.”Bookmark here

They croak. The intense aura that was oppressing the atmosphere shatters like glass. Despite their already aged faces, I can see more wrinkles forming on their foreheads. They try to maintain that posh air they so held up, but it’s clear their wrath is about to strike upon this world like a thousand meteors. Fortunately, there’s nothing they want to do with me.Bookmark here

“Ito. We would like to discuss some matters with our daughter in private.”Bookmark here

I give them a solemn nod and step past them. With a glance over a shoulder, I’m met with the petrifying glare of Tsukishima. There’s a saying that goes, looks can kill, but I don’t think it relates to eyes that scream bloody murder. I’m dead certain my next encounter with her would be a bloodshed. But so be it, I’m not here to do her favours. Serves her right for thinking she can keep me on a leash. Instead of hightailing it like a coward, I fork over a devilish wink and a thumbs up to wish her luck.Bookmark here

With that, I turn my back on the Tsukishima family and make my way home. Like a bad B-movie, the explosion goes off behind my back, one composed of noise from a pair of disappointed parents and a rebellious daughter. I’m washing my hands off this mess.Bookmark here

~~~~~Bookmark here

Another day passes. The time I spent in my lonesome, I used it to go through the Light Novels I have once more. If there was anything I could use to know more about these archetypes, it’s bound to be from the patterns that have been established. From carrying out this research, I have drawn the conclusion that all otakus are masochists.Bookmark here

It seems the main heroine tends to be a vitriolic young woman who’s antagonistic toward the protagonist and physically assaults him at times. Not all of the main heroines follow this pattern, but too many of them do that it has to be trend. One of the books coined them as a tsundere but I have no idea what’s that supposed to mean. I guess that’s something to put on the research menu.Bookmark here

Two knocks sound from my door. From the sharp bam produced, I can confer that it’s either a debt collector or a really angry Tsukishima. And I’m all out of debt. Other than to the landlord. But she has other ways to hound me down. That narrows it down nicely.Bookmark here

I’ve an idea of what Tsukishima would do the moment I open the door. So I slide open the pantry drawer and shuffle through my junk to reach an old baseball glove I haven’t touched in years. Donning it over my right hand, the warm, dusty feeling is nostalgic. I then totter to the door, undo the locks and pull it open.Bookmark here

A hardened fist comes flying to my face in that very instant. Calculated, like clockwork. My gloved hand rises over my face and captures it as a catcher would behind a batter. The knuckles fall upon the leather in a soft puff, Tsukishima growling like a wild animal behind.Bookmark here

Her weight falls on side of the leg as she slams her shoulder against my door, and her open fist comes up from below. It’s so clearly telegraphed that a simple wave of the hand can deflect it out the way. However, when I move my free hand, it’s stopped by the door. And Tsukishima’s body is holding the door open. I pivot my hand around the door but by then, her fist has crashed upon my jaw. Bookmark here

That must have been some sort of weak point, cause as soon as I’ve taken the pain in, I find myself on my butt. Tsukishima stands over me, pupils looking down over her cheeks. She walks over my legs with a puff of air, spouting, Bookmark here

“That was payback for the nonsense you put me through. Next time you pull that stunt again, I’m posting everything up on Intergram.”Bookmark here

I wipe at my chin to chill the sizzling pain. “Don’t blame me. You’re the one who decided to use me to trick your parents. I just said things as they are.”Bookmark here

She flings her bag at me, but it flies just over my head and crashes into the wall. “Because of you, my parents nagged at me all day about how I’m living my life! And I just had to sit there spouting sweet words about you and how I’m sooooo in love with you to get them off my case!”Bookmark here

“It’d be nice if you saved some of that for when you’re staying here.” I stand on my feet, , tossing the baseball glove aside. “That aside, what are you doing here anyway? I figured your mom and dad would take you home if they knew you were homeless.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t tell them. It’ll just make things worse.” She drops her chin on the coffee table, crossing her arms over her face. “Checked myself out while they were away. I really don’t want to rely on them for anything. They’ll just keep pressuring me to do things I don’t want to do.”Bookmark here

“You mean getting married.”Bookmark here

She turns back to me. “How’d you—”Bookmark here

I circle around her, explaining with spread arms, “It’s pretty obvious you’re single since you decided to crash here instead of at a boyfriend’s. And, as you approach thirty, so do the expectations of you marrying.” I drop my weight on the other side of the coffee table, giving her a little smug. “Not exactly a mystery here, Watson.”Bookmark here

She clutches at her waist, letting out another of her trademark groans. “If you figured it out, you could have tried to pass yourself off as a decent boyfriend.”Bookmark here

“Bah, I take one look at them and I know they’d call my bluff. You’ve got to be sharp if you want to strut around wearing designer watches. Better throw the fuel now than later.”Bookmark here

She rolls her eyes. “Maybe. If I ran with that lie all the way, I would have had to pretend to be in love with you for a long time. I don’t think I can keep up that charade.”Bookmark here

“It’s a win-win situation.”Bookmark here

“Till my parents hunt me down, that is. Don’t know when that’ll be, but I’ll use this shoddy house of yours as a hideout.” She pouts, her head tilting so her cheek presses against the table. Bookmark here

“They seem loaded. You sure you’d rather keep running from them? Wouldn’t it be better for you to mooch off them?”Bookmark here

“Why don’t you run off back to your parents?”Bookmark here

I turn away with a scowl. “Don’t want to see them till I have something to show. They’d be upset to know how I’ve been living these past ten years.”Bookmark here

“Hmph.” A vacant stare appears on her face. Her pupils are aimed at me, yet I could tell she was looking through me. “I just want to be my own person. I don’t want to rely on someone else. When I moved to Tokyo, I had a dream that I’d hit it big and show my parents that all the hours I spent drawing weren’t a waste… But all I managed to show was a trip to the hospital…”Bookmark here

“Your working conditions are crazy. That’s not your fault, that’s the industry’s fault for exploiting you.”Bookmark here

“I’m the one who chose to work in it. And I don’t plan of getting out either. Cause, as far as I know, this is what I’ve wanted to do.” Her gaping mouth closes into a smile. “When I first showed Mana a character I drew based on her, she was so excited and kept the drawing on her everywhere she went. I wanted experience that once more, but this time, with the whole world instead. There’s just a deep satisfaction you get when someone likes what you created. That’s a joy marriage won’t bring me.”Bookmark here

I was apathetic to her problems given our volatile relationship. But for some reason, the things she said connected with me on a personal level.Bookmark here

“You know…” I take a deep breath, realizing my voice was softer than normal. “I decided to be an author when Mana read one of my poems and begged me to let her keep it. That appreciation she had for my writing made me really happy. I pranced around on the school roof during recess that day.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s what that was about. I caught a glimpse of it and wondered what you were doing.”Bookmark here

I shudder at the thought, covering up my lips to hide my shame. “A-Anyway, seems Mana drove us into the paths we took just because of how invested she was in our craft. I’m sure if there were a thousand other Manas in this world, everyone would pursue artistic fields.”Bookmark here

She leaves an empty smile for me to see. “That’s if they don’t find out what lies on the road there. The world only cares for the top ten percent who make it to the top. Where does that leave us, the mediocre and the average? We don’t have much a choice but to keep moving and moving, waiting for our time to come.”Bookmark here

“It’ll be there. Some people don’t even become renown until after they’re dead. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”Bookmark here

“At the rate things are going, it might...” She shifts her gaze left and right with a wry smile. “Oi, where did you put my files?”Bookmark here

“In your luggage.” I double take. “Wait, are you going back to work?! You just got out of the hospital!”Bookmark here

“Yeah and the trip put me behind on my deadlines. Those frames aren’t going to draw themselves.” She lies against the floor, reaches for her luggage with an outstretched arm and draws it in closer. Bookmark here

“I think you should take a break.”Bookmark here

“Breaks don’t pay my salary.”Bookmark here

“Even your boss would freak if he knew you went straight back to work after overworking yourself.”Bookmark here

“Called him, told him everything. He just told me to turn my frames in by this week.”Bookmark here

“Tsukishima…!”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

Her hand hovers over the table, her finger’s grip on the files loosening to let them fall on their sides, toppling over to the flat covers. Her baggy eyes spoke of fatigue and stress, yet the glint in her emerald hues hid a passionate flame that refused to die.Bookmark here

I mutter, just loud enough for my voice to cross, “You’re starting to worry me.”Bookmark here

The pencil in her hand dances around her fingers, the catty smile she forced fading for a moment before coming back. “Since when did you care?”Bookmark here

“I mean—”Bookmark here

Her index finger crosses over the table as far as her arm allowed, aiming for my lips as if to hush me. All the times we spoke, there was a dry wit to her tone, capturing the apathy that she masks beneath glamour. But the words that she voiced out, just this once, wore a gentle heart on its sleeve.Bookmark here

“If you won’t let me stop you from becoming a novelist, don’t try to stop me from being an animator.”Bookmark here

As I thought about it more and more, perhaps the reason I can’t stand her is because she and I were birds of a feather. Stubborn people who refuse to give up on the path that’s failed us time and again. Yet we keep moving forward. Till our legs are shattered. Till our bones are dry. Bookmark here

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