My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
Something smelled good and it wasn't Asagiri's panties, but the stench of a Monday morning was lessened anyway.
I bumped my shoulder against some dude in a business suit to bring out my bento lunch. Commuter trains at this time of day were always bustling, though nothing I could do about that.
Within my little box of delights, rice with a heart drawn above in spicy sauce greeted me. On the two smaller sides: little octopus sausages and sliced, steamed broccoli. Forget girlfriend, I needed to hurry and upgrade Asagiri to wife. Well, not like she really cared about me anyway.
I placed the lid back on my bento box and shoved it in my backpack again.
Earlier in the morning I was tempted to peek at Asagiri's grub. It had felt weird heading downstairs to see a cute girl in cat ears making breakfast for me. She implied she couldn't cook but those eggs said otherwise.
'You better eat everything, or I'm only cooking for Furbolt now,' was what she yelled on my way out. Would've preferred something romantic, but sass was cute too.
The guy next to me sneezed. Long-ish train commutes were always taxing but at least I didn't need to wear my uniform to work. Blue jeans and long-sleeve flannels were my signature getups. Other train passengers—mixes of students, salarymen, and grocery shoppers—almost always wore something that screamed their itinerary.
I looked at the younger people around me. I wasn't jealous of them, but disappointed in myself. When I die one day, what were people going to say at my funeral? What life did I live worth reminiscing about?
If someone died young, everyone mentions 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'm the opposite. Since the fallout with my close friend years ago, I've literally done nothing and now regrets engulfed me. Even the little angel on my shoulder applauded me finally buying those sleeping pills.
I'd be tired of waiting for someone to kill themself too.
We pulled into a train station and my metallic ride came to a halt. As crowds flowed out, I swung my backpack over my shoulder and followed the stream of people.
I wasn't really super cynical; not my style, at least outwardly. Everyone seeks a balance in their lives, and that's probably why lots started flocking to a mega cult that popped up a while ago. Empty promises are 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 here had developed rapidly over the years, a testament to my own age. Large office buildings looked down on me like modern monoliths. I trekked down a crowded sidewalk as I came to an intersection, waiting to cross.
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:
'HEY! ASADA'S ON MY ASS MORE THAN USUAL! SAVE ME!'
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.
As I walked underneath the structure and strolled by neighboring stores, I couldn't help but imagine bringing Asagiri here sometime. This place looked nice for couples, but I wasn't keen to let coworkers learn I had a government-issued girlfriend.
My store was in the plaza's west wing. A shop logo that read "Kamikawa Books" beamed down on me in plain font. Glass doors displayed hours indicating we'd open in forty minutes, while other stores around already thrived.
A black-haired loli pressed herself against the glass from inside. Her little fists banged violently yet harmlessly as pure anger seethed up at me.
"I'm on time, aren't I?" I said.
"I'll kill you, Nishikata! You left your stock a mess last week! I'll kill you and then I'll fire you!"
“Rain check please.”
The blue-aproned loli growled and unlocked the 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. Art Deco stylings gave the bookstore a distinctive, American atmosphere, amplified by a robust number of offerings from America.
“Is Nemoto alright?” I asked Asada as we made our way through aisles. Numerous anime and book promos fought for our attention.
“I thrashed him for not clearing out deathbed mangas yesterday. Now he’s gotta figure out how to cram new arrivals on his shelves.”
Deathbed books were stock the store’s been unable to sell and scheduled for return to publishers. “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.”
“Careful, I’m into that.”
This 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 to make up for her size.
We waltzed past a manga section as we reached a back door that read "Employees Only." Asada invited me inside.
“I’ll clock you in,” she said. “Get changed and 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.”
“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 together.”
Summers was the single hottest coworker here, and also literally single. “Uhhh, no problem at all!”
“Kamikawa decided, not me. 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 on the whistle around her neck. “Get in there and work! Humph!” She stomped off towards a nearby office door.
Honestly, she tended to unload tons of flack, but I infinitely respected her as well. After our last assistant manager was promoted to manager, Sir Kamikawa himself handpicked Asada to be a successor and also appointed her as a Section Chief—a leader that assigns others their own sections. She hustled and took this job seriously even though high shelves and heavy boxes were her Achilles heel.
Commitment was something I admired in people, because it's something I've historically lacked; but maybe that's for the best. Too much commitment towards my nihilistic dogmas wouldn't have exactly served me well.
I opened our door to the employee backroom. An open window shined light on racks full of books that lined multiple rows. Off to the side rested shrink wrap stations and a clean break table. 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.
My partner in crime looked straight at me with a dead, unyielding expression. Permanent bags under his eyes emphasized an emo aura while spiky, white hair dropped over the side of his face.
"The door to darkness opens out there in thirty minutes," I said. "Giant rats 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 zombie.
I took out my uniform 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."
"I was tired and my shift was almost over."
“Seems legit. Aren't you always tired though?"
"Not true." He fiddled with anime and video game 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 miracles, and I get bigggggg hyped.”
Nemoto sounded lifeless whether he’s energetic or sleepy.
“We could hit up Mogami to join," I said, "but you know he’s usually doing gym stuff."
“Mogami's not the best, but still better than randoms. You’d think he’d be top tier though since he used to oversee gaming.”
“He has a life unlike us, we’re just outclassed.”
“Right. Forget redistributing wealth, redistribute his chad energy instead.”
I finished putting on my white dress shirt and tied a blue apron around me. It had my name tag and store’s name stitched on it. “Mogami’s existence keeps Kikuchi at bay. I don't think we can complain."
"Chad Incarnate versus Horny Queen—immovable object meets unstoppable force."
"Both get one-shotted by Asada though." I slid my spare clothes back in my backpack. There was a changing room we could use, but heck if I cared if Nemoto witnessed some skin.
"Speaking of Asada, I'm gonna start slaving away now," he 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."
Nemoto opened and closed the door behind him.
Not many people knew how I actually was, and that's how I intended to keep it.
I slipped my phone out to check the time—9:30. Asagiri's cat-girl cosplay wallpaper spread a big smile across my face, but I was on the clock now.
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 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'd 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 this series 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. "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?