Chapter 3:

Asada's Wrath

My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!

The stench of a Monday morning—mixed scents of brewed coffee and business suits still fresh from the cleaners—always had a knack for tickling my nose.

From the wide window ahead of me, a dazzling cityscape whizzed by as the commuter train raced along its tracks. Shadows of passing skyscrapers would occasionally cloak me in darkness, hiding me from the bright world even if just for a moment.

My shoulder bumped against some dude in a suit as I brought out my bento box. Trains at this time of day were always packed to the brim, though nothing I wasn't used to by now. A few teenage girls sitting right across from me giggled as they looked in my direction. Kids these days, man.

I was clad in jeans and a white dress shirt—not my usual style, but it was mandatory for work. The little box of delights on my lap finally tempted me, and I took a peek inside: rice with a heart drawn above in spicy sauce greeted me, alongside two smaller sides of octopus sausages and steamed broccoli. Forget girlfriend, I gotta hurry and upgrade Asagiri to wife. Well, not like she really cared about me anyway. This was all just part of her job.

I placed the lid back on my bento box and shoved it in my backpack behind me again.

Earlier in the morning, Asagiri also cooked homemade breakfast for me. It'd felt weird heading downstairs to see a hot girl in cat ears toiling away in my kitchen, almost surreal. She implied she couldn't cook but those savory eggs said otherwise. 

'You better eat everything, or I'm only making food for Furbolt now,' was what she yelled on my way out. Would have preferred something romantic to send me off, but sass was cute too.

The guy next to me sneezed and didn't even bother covering his nose. Others standing around him awkwardly moved away, while I was stuck planted in my seat. The long-ish train commutes were always taxing but at least I didn't need to wear my work apron in public. Other train passengers—mixes of students, salarymen, and grocery shoppers—almost always wore something that screamed their itinerary.

My dejected face looked at the younger people around me. I wasn't jealous of them, but disappointed with myself and everything I'd not done. When I die someday, what were people going to say at my funeral? What life did I live worth reminiscing about?

If someone perished young, everyone mentioned how that person had their whole life ahead of them; or if she was a girl, the default was mentioning how beautiful she was. Why are we segregated into saccharine categories after we pass? Was the sinner forgiven when they died? Or was death just the beginning of their punishment?

A favorite character of mine once said they'd done things in their past they're ashamed of, but nothing they regret—I was the opposite. Since the fallout with my close friend years ago, I'd done nothing of significance and now regrets engulfed me. If there was a little angel on my shoulder, even he would be applauding me finally buying those sleeping pills. 

I'd be tired of waiting for someone to kill themself too.

The high-pitched squeal of brakes indicated we'd pulled into a train station, and my metallic ride came to a halt. As crowds flowed out, I adjusted my backpack over my shoulder and followed the stream of people.

I wasn't really cynical—not my style, at least outwardly. Everyone sought a balance in their lives, whether it was for money, love, or lifestyle. I'd been complacent with myself and what I'd accomplished, even if it wasn't much, and even if it was probably a lie. Gaslighting myself was pretty much the only thing keeping me away from a noose at this point. 

As I exited the train station, a middle-aged couple handing out pamphlets caught my attention. They were wearing pristine, light-pink suits suitable for church or a formal outing. However, what caught my eye wasn't their clothes, but their uncanny, wide smiles. Unflinching, unwavering, and patient, just like the slick web of a spider. Their crazed eyes met mine and I hustled by them before they could say a word to me. 

I was suicidal but not weak-willed enough to join a glorified cult. Their sweet nothings meant nothing to me, and I could never forgive them for what they almost did to my friend. Unfortunately, large swaths of society had already fallen prey to their words. Empty promises were still promises after all.

The walk to work from my station wasn't far. Hamatsuri was an up-and-coming city trying hard to be another Tokyo. The metropolitan area had developed rapidly over the years, a testament to my own progressing age. Large office buildings nearby looked down on me like modern monoliths, and as reminders of the places my mother wished for me to work at. 

I trekked down a crowded sidewalk as I came to a busy intersection. Large groups of people were waiting to cross, blocking my path forward. I sighed and counted up the seconds. 

Then the phone in my pocket vibrated.

"Hmmm?" Well that's a surprise. I slipped it out and checked what's up. A new text from my slacker coworker, Shinji Nemoto, popped up:


He only ever texted in caps, but someone wouldn't guess he's meeker than a mouse in person. Asada on his ass was preferred over being on mine though. Thanks for taking one for the team!

After I crossed the intersection and walked further along, a large outdoor shopping plaza came into view. It was horseshoe-shaped, and its center area housed an elegant water fountain surrounded by lavish gardens. The scenic sights combined with popular shops kept a constant flow of pedestrians coming along throughout the day. 

As I strolled by neighboring stores, I couldn't help but imagine bringing Asagiri to the gardens sometime. This place looked nice for couples, but I wasn't keen to let coworkers learn I had a government-issued girlfriend.

My shop was in the plaza's upper west wing. Knowing I was early, I took my time taking in the sights until I reached a shop logo that read "Kamikawa Books".  Glass doors displayed hours indicating we'd open in forty minutes, while other stores around already thrived with early bird customers.

"BAAAHHHH! Nishikata!" A black-haired loli pressed herself against the glass from inside our shop. Her little fists banged violently yet harmlessly as pure anger seethed up towards me. 

"I'm on time, aren't I?" I said with an innocent smile. Happiness was that girl's kryptonite. 

"I'll kill you, Nishikata! You left your stock a mess last week!" She promptly gave me the middle finger. "I'll kill you and then I'll fire you!"

“Might wanna adjust that order for best results.”

The blue-aproned loli growled and unlocked the glass door. “We got yesterday’s partial shipments coming in, so I’ll let you live today.”

“Thanks. Your shrine in my closet gets an offering tonight.”

“D-D-Dumbass! Stop your jokes and get to work!”

I held the door open for us as we both walked in. We were greeted with a large room adorned with dozens of rows of colorful bookshelves. Our shop offered everything from gardening magazines, to novels, to manga. Art Deco stylings gave the bookstore a distinctive, American atmosphere, amplified by a robust number of offerings from America itself. 

“Is Nemoto alright?” I asked Asada as we made our way through several aisles. Numerous colorful anime and book promos fought for our attention.

“I thrashed him for not clearing out deathbed mangas yesterday," Asada replied. "Now he’s gotta figure out how to cram all his new arrivals on his shelves.”

Deathbed books were stock the store’s been unable to sell and were scheduled for return to publishers or wholesalers. Organizing them was one of our least favorite tasks. “Splitting apart volumes and having incomplete sets—not really me and Nemoto’s thing. It hurts, you know?”

“If you don’t pull your weight today, I’ll hurt you even more.” Asada bared her cute fang.

“Careful, I’m into that.”

"Shut up! RAAaaaah!"

The tsundere loli was actually my assistant manager, Rin Asada. She looked about 12-years-old but was actually 22. The top of her head barely reached my chest, and I always imagined her like a permanent ball of anger trying hard to make up for her small size.

As we waltzed past our manga section, we reached a back door that read "Employees Only." Asada invited me inside.

“I’ll clock you in,” she said. “Get changed. Tell Nemoto I’ll unleash Kikuchi on him tomorrow if he doesn’t orientate himself.”

“Hmmm? Tomorrow? Is Kikuchi off?”

“Yeah. Kamikawa said she called in sick—lucky you.”

Sweet relief instilled itself within me. “At least I don’t gotta worry about getting assaulted today.”

“Your ass cheeks are safe, but your arms aren’t. You and Summers will be covering her sections."

Summers was the single hottest coworker here, and also literally single. “Uhhh, no problem here! I do as I'm told!"

“Kamikawa decided, not me," Asada grumbled. "He spoils you way too much.” 

We were a small, independent bookstore, so management let us be a bit outlandish. All seven employees were eccentric one way or another, for better or worse.

“Wish Summers would spoil me too,” I replied with a smirk.

Asada kicked me in my shin and blew the silver whistle around her neck. “Get in there and work! Humph!” She stomped off towards our distant office door.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Dang loli! Honestly, she tended to unload tons of flack, but I respected her tons as well. After an assistant manager vacancy opened, Sir Kamikawa himself handpicked Asada for the role and also appointed her as one of two Section Chiefs—a leader that assigns others their own sections. She took this job more seriously than anyone, even though high shelves were her Achilles heel.  

I opened our creaky door to the employee backroom. An open window shined light towards racks full of new books that spanned multiple rows. Off to the side rested shrink wrap stations and a tidy break table for employees, alongside fridges and cubbies to store our belongings. My eyes shifted towards piles of boxes on the room's opposite end, carefully stacked to resemble a throne.

"Welcome to my kingdom, the Kingdom of Nemoto," Nemoto said as he rested upon his impromptu throne like a king.

My partner in crime looked straight at me with a dead, unyielding expression. Permanent bags under his eyes emphasized an always-tired nature, while spiky, white hair that drooped over his face looked more flaccid than banana peels. 

"The door to darkness opens out there in thirty minutes," I said while laying my backpack on a counter. "Slacking off won't save you from Asada."

"Point taken. Guess I'll grant capitalism my services." He stood up and started rearranging the boxes. His voice was comically monotone, devoid of emotion like a sleepy zombie.

I took out my own blue apron and shoved my backpack into a cubby. "Be honest, do you actually like it when Asada's foot is up your ass?"

"Dunno. It's usually so small I barely notice. She was really peeved about those deathbed books I left out yesterday, but I had good reasons."

"Which are?"

"I was tired and my shift was almost over."

“Seems legit. Aren't you always tired though?"

"Not true." He looked down and fiddled with gamer pins on his blue apron. “I get into it when we play Semtex Legends, don’t I? Random teammates always suck so we gotta pull off big miracles."

He sounds lifeless whether he’s energetic or dead asleep. “We could hit up Mogami to join, but you know he’s usually doing gym stuff."

“Mogami's not the best, but still way better than randoms, right?"

I finished tying my blue apron around me. A nametag was located beside my chest, near a stitching of our shop's name which completed my uniform. "He'd probably be a lot better if he played more often."

"Hehhhhh." Nemoto yawned as he pulled out a water bottle from his cubby. "You’d think he’d be top tier though since he used to oversee gaming here.”

“He has a life unlike us. We’re just outclassed.”

“Right? Forget redistributing wealth, redistribute his chad energy instead.”

The sound of a sharp whistle blew outside in the lobby—Asada's warning to hurry up. But it wasn't quite loud enough to necessitate haste.

“Mogami keeps Kikuchi at bay," I continued the conversation. "Don't think we can complain about him."

"Chad Incarnate versus Horny Queen," Nemoto dramatically said. "Immovable object meets unstoppable force."

"Both get one-shotted by Asada though, haha." I slid my emptied backpack into my cubby. There was a changing room we could use, but it was mostly just for those who weren't willing to wear the dress shirt in public. We only weren't allowed to wear the apron out in society.

"Speaking of Asada, I'm gonna start slaving away now," Nemoto said, making his way to the door. "Don't wanna get eaten alive by a loli. Guessing she told you to sort your stock already?"

"Something like that, yeah. Holler if you see her running over."

"Yup. Don't think either of us wanna die young."

"Y-Yeah. See you out there!"

With another tired expression, Nemoto opened and closed the door behind him.

Not many people knew how nihilistic I was on the inside, and that was the desired intention. Just keep letting everyone believe the facade.

I slipped my phone out to check the time—9:30. Asagiri's cat-girl cosplay wallpaper spread a huge smile across my face, but I was on the clock now. Time to get serious!

Our employee backroom was where we sorted most of our inventory. Each person got assigned stock racks that mirrored their shelves' themes outside. My own book rack was a mess— side effects from anxiety about commencing the GiG program last week.

I fiddled with some light novels and neatly stacked them in piles. We would probably receive new shipments today, so I needed to make extra room or face Asada's wrath.

"Huh? What's this?" I murmured. My hands found a lone copy of Dominion's Paradise Volume 1. "I thought these all sold out! Sucks for that one guy that asked for it."

Calling myself a fan of Dominion's Paradise was an understatement. I lived it, breathed it, and decided to work in a bookstore just to be around it more often. Every released volume rested on my shelves at home, snugged away like precious treasures.

"Shit, Asada's gonna wanna know we figured out the discrepancy," I said to myself. "At least she can't get madder, right?"

I snatched the book and hustled to the door. Actually, thinking about it, this was probably a series I should recommend to Asagiri. Did she even read books though? I hardly knew anything about her besides her personality, and the fact she was destined to be a huge mooch.

Best case scenario, I turn her into an otaku. A gamer girlfriend would be nice too.

It was gonna be a long day at work, and honestly, I wasn't sure how much I trusted Asagiri to be left alone. Who knew what I was going to come home to?

I imagined the worst, but it couldn't have been that bad, right?