Chapter 11:

Anyone Can Be A Heroine!

Anyone Can Write A Light Novel!

Another hot summer day, where only the breeze from the open window keeps us from being roasted alive. I spend too much money on printing services, so I could never afford to get myself a fan. I just bear with the heat with a thin T-shirt. It seems Tsukishima’s got the same idea as she’s wearing— Hey, that’s my shirt! Ungh, never mind, I’ll forget this even happened. It wasn’t a good shirt anyhow.Bookmark here

As I went over my draft of Rosaria, trying to figure out where I was supposed to slot heroines into the story, a thought crosses my mind that had slipped the other day.Bookmark here

“Tsukishima.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“What’s a tsundere?”Bookmark here

The air falls silent, only the stridulation of crickets accompany us.Bookmark here

She wipes a sweat off her brow with the back of her hand. “If you really need to be asking that, you should give up on Light Novels.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, answer the question, dammit.”Bookmark here

Her pencil drops on the table. Straightening her back, she replies, “How should I put this… It’s a type of character. They’re outwardly hostile towards others and seem unapproachable, but inside they’re a huge softie. The magic comes from how different the character is when you compare how they usually are and how they really are.”Bookmark here

“So.” My nail taps on the side of my head as I process that. “They’re bipolar.”Bookmark here

“No, no. It’s more like…” Her hands flail about randomly as she tries to form the words. “They’re shy. Like say, this girl really likes this guy but she’s too embarrassed to show it. So she acts all aggressive towards him to hide it. But sometimes, that affection shows and she becomes really soft, like till you want to cuddle her. Am I making sense?”Bookmark here

A girl like that sounds like a pain. You have to jump through hoops to make sense of what she’s thinking. And even if you guess right, she’ll lash out at you and deny it. You’re going to need some form of psychic ability to keep up with her constant mood swings. And if you confess to her, it’s not like she’ll ease up on you. She’ll deem her behaviour as acceptable, and you’d have to live the rest of your life with a ticking time bomb.Bookmark here

But I should give the thought of it more consideration. Say there really was a girl like that. Someone who treats you badly but sometimes does something nice to counterbalance her bad behavior. Like say, she always makes fun of you and your life, but then she turns around and treats you to ramen… Uhhh…Bookmark here

“Tsukishima, by your definition, aren’t you a tsundere?”Bookmark here

“What, me? What makes you say that?!”Bookmark here

My finger points to the ceiling as I try to mold the words in my mouth. “You’re always treating me like crap, but when I ask you about all this otaku stuff, you always answer me properly even though you’re working.”Bookmark here

“Conversing helps me cool off. And everything I say is common knowledge in my area, so it doesn’t rack up brainpower.”Bookmark here

“Okay, but why did you treat me to ramen that one time?”Bookmark here

“I had the money! It’s nothing special, okay?”Bookmark here

“That’s exactly what a tsundere would say!”Bookmark here

She chokes on her own saliva, gargled noises screeching from her throat. Gulping down, she points straight back at me, exclaiming, “If anything, I think you’re the tsundere!”Bookmark here

“Me?! What’re you talking about?!”Bookmark here

Her hand pushes against her chest. “You’re always getting mad at me about everything, but when I got sick for just a few days, you were all…” She deepens her voice to mimic my own, with a mocking babying tone carrying her impression. “Oh no, Tsukishima! Don’t go back to work already, you must be sooo exhausted. Take a break, I’m so worried about you!”Bookmark here

“Hey!” I hunch over the table, about ready to flip it over. “Not everyone comes home to find a corpse in their room! And you think I want to call an ambulance every month for you or deal with your parents? No thanks! Eat well and get lots of sleep, so I don’t have to take care of you!”Bookmark here

Her hands stretch outwards, as if she heard something obvious. “Are you even listening to yourself?!” She makes another impression of me. “You should take care of yourself, cause if you don’t, I have to do it! Dummy! Hmph!”Bookmark here

“Just because I don’t like you doesn’t mean I wanna see you die! Sheesh!” I cross my arms, turning away with a puff. “It’s just basic human decency.”Bookmark here

She imitates my posture, puffing away all the same. “And my ramen treat is a simple thanks for letting me stay. I think it’s human decency to show your gratitude every now and again.”Bookmark here

“If you were so grateful, you could say something nice about me every now and again.”Bookmark here

Her lips pout, eyes darting about as she spent ten seconds thinking. “You managed to nab yourself a pretty girlfriend.”Bookmark here

I grimace, “That sounds like an insult to me…”Bookmark here

A sigh escapes her. “Anyway, what is this about? Another thing about your book?” Her eyes widen as if something flashed into her mind. “Oh! I forgot to ask, how did your meeting with the editor go?” Before I could answer, she talks over me. “It didn’t go well, did it? That’s why you’re asking weird questions again.”Bookmark here

“No. In fact, my editor said he quite liked my manuscript.” I say that with a puffed chest and a proud smile. “It’s just that—”Bookmark here

“He won’t publish it because it’s not very marketable and he wants you to add women to it?”Bookmark here

My mouth gapes, freezing solid at that instant. Unable to slink my words around her deadly accuracy, I have no choice but to answer, “… Yes. He actually told me it’d be more worth it to write a whole new book since I’d have to rewrite Rosaria from the ground up.”Bookmark here

“Told you so.”Bookmark here

“I’d like it better if you didn’t kick me while I was down.”Bookmark here

That catty grin is plastered on her face as she shrugs. “So, what’s the next step of your grand master plan? Finally going to give in?”Bookmark here

“I’m not giving in. I’m simply going to change my method of approach.”Bookmark here

“By giving in.”Bookmark here

“It’s not—”Bookmark here

“Just write something more standard, come on. Why are you so adverse to the idea of writing a heroine anyway? You don’t like women?”Bookmark here

“That’s not it! It’s just!” I clench my fist, raising it over my head. I feel my throat drying up as the thought enters my brain. “It’s just that…”Bookmark here

It’s not as if I had never written any heroines all these years. A dozen of my written works feature a female lead of sorts, some even starring them. No, the problem I encountered was that I freeze in my tracks whenever I tried to pen any female character down. And the reason for that was because any writer would model their characters based on people they know. I’m no different. So when I try to picture a heroine in my mind…Bookmark here

“I always end up using Mana as the model for my heroines, and it hurts me every time I do it. I freeze in my tracks when I try to describe them or write dialogue.”Bookmark here

Tsukishima’s lips curl down into a frown. “Oh. I should’ve saw that coming. You didn’t seem like the type who spends his time with many women.”Bookmark here

“Is that an insult?”Bookmark here

Ignoring me, she balances a pencil with only her upper lip. “Sounds to me like what you need is inspiration. Maybe you should use someone else as your model. Someone who, I don’t know, is witty, pretty, talented…”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Has a good fashion sense, entertains your weird questions…”Bookmark here

She better not be talking about herself her. Bookmark here

“Someone from say, your past that you haven’t talked to for a long time… But I wonder where you’d find a girl like that~”Bookmark here

“Hm, I wonder. Definitely not around here.”Bookmark here

Her pencil drops on her lap when she realizes I didn’t get the memo. “Hell-o? Right here? C’mon, lots of guys would kill to date a girl like me. Don’t try to pretend that I’m not a good model.”Bookmark here

“If that really were the case, you wouldn’t be crashing here, would you?”Bookmark here

She grits her teeth, making Tsukishima noises again. She barks, “What’s your deal?! How long do you think you want to get stuck being unable to write anyone except Mana?! You need to broaden your horizons, expand your mind a little. If you can’t take the first step into that company because of this block, you’ll never get back with her!”Bookmark here

As much as I hate to admit it, she has a point. It’s a terrifying loop. I can’t write a heroine because I’m not together with Mana, I can’t get published because I can’t write a heroine, I can’t get Mana back because I can’t get published. If this keeps up, I’ll be stuck in this crappy apartment for another ten years…Bookmark here

I throw my weight back and fall to the tatami mats. Spreading my arms out, I reply back, “You’re right. I need to take that step if I’m to have any hope of entering Sawamura Aki’s company. If it’s a heroine they want, it’s a heroine they’ll get. So…”Bookmark here

She brushes her hair aside, beaming cockily. “I’m not exactly the showy type, but I’ll answer any questions you have about me earnestly. Just don’t use too much of me, I don’t want to become too famous, after all~”Bookmark here

“I’ll interview the landlord.”Bookmark here

Her expression dulls. “The landlord? That ex-yankee? That woman’s pure evil! She keeps barging in, asking me if I want to learn to play mahjong!”Bookmark here

I let out a sigh. “You too, huh?”Bookmark here

“Why would you think she’d make a good heroine! She’s clearly villain material! No one would go goo goo ga ga if you used someone like her as a base!”Bookmark here

“She’s a mother of two. I’m sure she’d have something interesting to tell than a girl who works below minimum wage.”Bookmark here

“Hey, you’re not that much better!”Bookmark here

I stand up and dust my jeans, giving her a cheeky wink. Her response is the usual garbled mess of noises that I have no idea what it’s meant to convey. I take my keys and leave the small apartment, looking over the fencing to see the familiar redhead sweeping at the compound, the waft of cigarette smoke faintly in the air. I call out to her as I descend the creaky steps, catching her attention as I approach. Naturally, her first reply is,Bookmark here

“Ito. You got your payment ready?”Bookmark here

“No. Give it another month.”Bookmark here

She scratches at her ear as she takes another puff. “Hahhh? Then what’re you running up to me for? If you ain’t got the cash, you ought to scram.”Bookmark here

She’s direct and straightforward. Attempting to come up with a giant web of lies to get information out of her would prove to be a fatal error. She’d topple the house of cards with her bullheadedness. In these cases, it’s better to be honest with my intentions to prevent any misunderstandings from occurring.Bookmark here

“So, I’m writing a book.”Bookmark here

Her arms cross, a palpable lack of interest emanating from her voice. “Right, you told me you were a writer. I remember.”Bookmark here

“I was looking for inspiration and I thought that you’d have a lot of interesting stories to tell. So I was wondering if we could sit down sometime and talk, if you don’t mind me prying.”Bookmark here

Her blue eyes narrow, her head tilting slightly. “That’s a very odd pick up line.”Bookmark here

Already, she’s formed her own misunderstanding. Like clockwork.Bookmark here

“No, I’m not picking you up. I just want to interview you and see if I could take anything from your life experiences.” I clench my fist, realizing this is probably not the brightest idea I’ve had so far. “You seem like someone with a lot of history.”Bookmark here

“My life experiences, huh…” Her head arches back as she stares into the blue sky. “I see what you’re getting at, but really… What’s in it for me?”Bookmark here

“If you’re not interested, I’ll back off—”Bookmark here

“No, I am interested. It’s just that there’s nothing I get helping you with your book. You get all the information, and what do I get? Don’t you think that’s unfair?”Bookmark here

Unfair. That’s a word that describes the world we live in. Some people just get everything handed to them on a silver platter, some others get the shorter end of the stick. The landlord likes to throw that word around, and whenever she does, it usually leads to…Bookmark here

“I don’t mind doing it for free, that’s if you earn it. If you can win that interview off me, I’ll tell you every single detail of my life, down to my childhood.”Bookmark here

Earning. Whether it be through luck or victory, to get what you want, you’ll have to face adversity to reach it. She only entertains the idea of letting people get what they want, only if they’re deserving of it in her eyes. And in order to be worthy, you have to clasp victory from her iron grip. That's how my rent increased.Bookmark here

“How about it? One game, to the south round. If you take first place once, you win. It’s stacked in your favor, since you’re not asking for cash.”Bookmark here

Of course. This woman’s a gambling junkie. She’ll find any excuse to turn anything into a game of mahjong. Even if it is the matter of a simple interview.Bookmark here

I shake my head. “I’m down on cash. If I raise the rent any further, it’s going to bleed me dry. I don’t think I can do it.”Bookmark here

“Don’t you have a second wallet?” She smirks, nudging toward my room door. “Doesn’t that girl of yours have a job too?”Bookmark here

“She’s not my girl, but yeah…”Bookmark here

“Seems to me that you’re footing the rent allll on your lonesome. It’s awful that she gets to live with you without taking responsibility for anything in your household. Don’t you think she should have to pay some rent as well?”Bookmark here

“I guess? But what’s this got to do with your gamble?”Bookmark here

She pinches her cigarette between two fingers and holds it beside her shoulder. “Tell you what. You’ll be putting your rent on the line once again. But all the added rent from this game, I’ll claim from that girl over there. And if she decides to run away, I won’t hold you liable for any of it. Isn’t that a steal? ”Bookmark here

There are three ways this could go. I win the gamble and get the interview. I lose the gamble, and Tsukishima gets sacked with the cost. If she can cover it, she’ll be upset. If she can’t cover it, she’ll get out of my house. In all states of this game, I’ve secured a victory of some kind. Bookmark here

The landlord may or may not know how terribly Tsukishima and I get along, but I suppose it doesn’t matter to her. All she cares about is the thrill of a gamble. That’s what takes precedence. As for me, if a shining opportunity reveals itself, I’d grasp it with an iron grip.Bookmark here

“You have a deal.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.