Chapter 1:

Invaders of the One-Room Apartment!?

My Life as a Complete Social Recluse Has Come to an Abrupt End.

It had been years since they had seen each other.Bookmark here

So long, in fact, that he wondered if she would even recognize him. Wiping the sweat from his palms, he made quick steps to the place they had promised to meet. He remembered her with such clarity, his heart skipped a beat as she turned to face him with that full, toothy grin.Bookmark here

But that vision of her in his head was only a memory.Bookmark here

There was no way she was still that clumsy and rambunctious girl she was when they last said their goodbyes on their high school’s graduation day. They had moved on since then, went to college and time had slipped away.Bookmark here

But today was a day that they had promised to meet up once again. A pinky promise made as cherry blossoms fell around them. And a surprise phone call from the blue was the only thing that reminded him of that day.Bookmark here

As he walked underneath the archway that led to his old high school, he could not help but be filled with intense nostalgia that nearly took him off his feet. Bookmark here

The bad times filled with frustration and bitterness. Good ones laced with laughter and new found friends. And that awkward moment that they had met. The exact moment that turned his life on its head.Bookmark here

He did his best to fight back a smile as the memories bubbled up around him, but a laugh and grin won out in the end.Bookmark here

His feet kept him on track even though it had been so long since he had walked this path, but each step was so familiar, as if it had been simply ingrained into his very being. Rounding the corner, it came into view.Bookmark here

The tree in the rear courtyard of the main building.Bookmark here

And just slightly out of reach was the branch she fell from.Bookmark here

His heart tried to beat its way out of his chest. Gripping the front of his shirt, he tried his best to calm his nerves but there was no stopping them now.Bookmark here

Not as he laid eyes on the vision of beauty before him. There was no mistaking it. Though she had matured and the years had refined her outward appearance, he knew exactly who she was as she turned to face him and beamed a wide grin from cheek to cheek.Bookmark here

“Hey!” She spoke softly, coming out of the shade of the tree to greet him, “Been a long time, hasn’t it?”Bookmark here

It took him a few seconds to shake himself back into reality, but as he looked back at the now adult woman standing before him, he closed the distance between them.Bookmark here

“Yeah, a bit too long for me,” He chuckled, rubbing the back of his head, an old nervous tick of his, which caused her to laugh, “What about you?”Bookmark here

Stifling her laughs, she looked back up at him, “I agree, it was too long.”Bookmark here

A warm wind blew between the smiling couple, who were no longer able to take their eyes off each other, as the camera panned up to the sun.Bookmark here

“The End”Bookmark here

The words floated on the blue sky as the series came to an end. And filled with intense emotions, the viewer spoke up.Bookmark here

“Whatever,” he scoffed, rolling his eyes as he hit the pause button on the DVD player’s remote. The screen froze on those final words as the viewer fell back with a long disgusted sigh.Bookmark here

“How do people even enjoy series like this?” With tired eyes, he glanced at the ticking clock above the television screen. “15:44” the digital numbers read. When he had started his initial watch, it was only 4am. With a strong yawn, he wondered why he had decided to start the series so close to his bedtime.Bookmark here

He knew he wasn’t going to enjoy the show, but it was demanded of him. He couldn’t disappoint his fans. He had asked them online which series he should review, and “Fall to You” won out over all. Bookmark here

Regretting having let his readers know of his great disdain for rom-com series as a general rule, he grumbled as he mentally digested the slog he had gone through.Bookmark here

The series of a troubled teen boy who becomes injured by a girl at his school falling from a tree and her promising to make him better in more than just physical ways was a heartwarming, and yet hilarious, story for all who read the original manga and greatly enjoyed by those who watched its 24 episode adaption.Bookmark here

All except him.Bookmark here

Normally in most series he was able to get lost in its world and story of magic and mystery, but this was so grounded and bland. Well, excluding the characters who were so far off of real people. They were too likable and everything they did was designed to make you like them more. That artificiality of it gave a sour taste to his mouth.Bookmark here

With another groan, he sat up again and cracked his stiff back. He had been sitting there for the entire time to complete the series in one sitting. The only moments in which he left that position was to eat, the few bathroom breaks, and once to rest his eyes when he was unable to take anymore of the vapid bull he was consuming.Bookmark here

Growl!Bookmark here

Speaking of eating. It had been a few hours since his last cup of instant ramen.Bookmark here

Rocking himself side to side, he slowly worked his way off his floor mat. The more upright he stood, the more his body creaked and ached from lack of use. Picking up the remote control from the floor, he trudged his way to the other side of his dimly lit, single-room apartment and into the kitchen section.Bookmark here

The reason for the lack of lighting was his viewing habits. He would watch shows straight through until it was finished, or until he was unable to keep his eyes open any longer, thus causing him to watch at odd hours of the night. Taking regular naps to keep his stamina up meant sleeping during the day on occasion. To help this, he covered his windows with blackout curtains that he stapled shut to the wall around the windows.Bookmark here

After putting a kettle of water from the sink onto the portable stove on his counter, he turned to his television and turned the channel from the DVD input to a local news channel.Bookmark here

“…this warm spring weather will luckily continue well into the weekend.”Bookmark here

The viewer didn’t really care much about whatever the newscasters were going to tell him. It was only extra background noise to help rest and refocus his tired mind. He had a review to type up later, and it would not do him well to publish a poor excuse of his thoughts due to the show killing his energy.Bookmark here

A small pain was building behind his eyes. He knew it was from lack of sleep, and that was fine. After finishing his dinner, he would lay down on his futon and sleep it off.Bookmark here

It’s not as if he had anywhere to be or anything.Bookmark here

As the sound of whistling from the kettle was clear in his ear, he took the pot off the heat source and carefully set it on a hot pad. Moving to the cupboard, he grabbed the first cup of ramen and read the flavor out loud. “Chicken.”Bookmark here

Taking the lid off and removing the flavoring packets, he went to toss the waste into his trash can. Unfortunately, it was already slightly overflowing.Bookmark here

That’s alright, he thought to himself, I’ll take out the garbage the next time I need to run to the store.Bookmark here

With the ingredients now mixed together, he took out a pair of plastic chopsticks from the sink and poured the remaining hot water over them, drying them off, of course, with his shirt and walking back over to in front of the television screen, food and remote control in hand.Bookmark here

While he slurped the first bite of noodles, his feet kicked up dust on the floor and pushed bits of trash with each step. With a free hand, he moved a tied-off bag of trash away from the table that he ate all of his meals at.Bookmark here

Kneeling down, he reached out the remote control and turned the volume up a bit. The newscasters had changed from the very generic Weather-woman to the equally generic Head Anchor.Bookmark here

“With the recent passing of the ‘Anti-Withdrawal’ Bill by the Japanese Parliament, a crackdown by all law enforcement has been seen across the country.” This was what had caught the viewer’s ear and caused him to increase the volume.Bookmark here

“Withdrawals”, or social recluses as they were known, were a part of the population that had, as the name suggested, withdrawn from society as a whole. With the ever-increasing demand to work long, hard hours, go out drinking with your boss afterward and then have to spend the remaining time keeping up personal relationships with family and loved ones, the stress was just too much for some. And instead of facing their problems, they secluded themselves, retreating to a world of their own filled with anime, hentai games and other time-wasters.Bookmark here

That would be fine, they wouldn’t cause anyone any harm by doing that. But they were taxing on society. Without being a part of the labor force and still consuming the welfare of their families, they were draining the economic reserves of countries all over the world. And in Japan, whose economy was still recovering from the last recession, there was estimated to be the most Withdrawals per capita than anywhere else in the world.Bookmark here

In order to solve this, the sovereign nation of Japan passed into law the “Anti-Withdrawal” Bill. This allowed local authorities to, in essence, round up anyone who fit the description of “an individual who has withdrawn from society” and “reform” them.Bookmark here

In short, imprisonment.Bookmark here

But that didn’t bother him at all. Those who were unable to handle their lives and hid away from it were pathetic. And those who were caught got what they needed.Bookmark here

They needed to get taken away from their hiding spots and forced into the sunlight.Bookmark here

That’s what he thought, at least.Bookmark here

Rolling his eyes at the continued newscast, showing videos of successful raids and several mug shots of depraved souls looking tired, miserable, and malnourished, he slurped up the last of the noodles and broth while aiming the remote towards the television to silence the newscast by turning it off.Bookmark here

Just as he was about to press the power button, a sharp knocking came from his door. His tired eyes blinked rapidly in confusion.Bookmark here

“Who could that be?”Bookmark here

All of the packages he had ordered had arrived already. He hadn’t been too disruptive to have annoyed his neighbors. His rent was caught up. He didn’t have any bills to be collected on. So who the hell was it?Bookmark here

As he continued to wonder silently to himself, another knock came from the door. With a long-drawn-out sigh, he began hobbling to his feet once more, calling out, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”Bookmark here

But before he could even begin walking to the door, it burst open from a powerful force. The faux wood door slammed so hard into the wall that it caused the whole room to shake. Through the doorway came bright, still early in the day sunlight, lighting the dimmed room, and hurting the viewer’s sleep-deprived eyes.Bookmark here

Startled by the extreme turn of events, he began to back up quickly, tripping over an empty ramen cup and falling backwards onto his back. Even through the pain of banging his head against the floor, he quickly came to his senses and propped the upturned table towards the doorway and against his back for protection.Bookmark here

In an instant, several armed men in white jumpsuit-like attire came rushing through the open entrance. Before he had realized it, he was completely surrounded.Bookmark here

Behind the armed men, several more entered his apartment in full white Hazmat suits with strange equipment. It was hard to see what exactly they were doing, since his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the grand change in lighting, but it seemed as if they were running a test on his DVDs and figure collections that lined his walls and bagging them in plastic baggies.Bookmark here

“Wh-What?” Bookmark here

He tried to make sense of the absurdities currently taking place in his apartment, “What’s going on?”Bookmark here

“Minato Kinoshita!” a voice answered loudly, calling out the viewer’s name from the broken doorway. Hearing the voice, the circle of armed men parted, leaving an opening to the source. Still blinded by the light, Minato could barely make out a black shadow figure entering his home.Bookmark here

“You have been deemed a burden on society,” the shadow began talking with a serious voice, one that told him to be quiet and listen or face the consequences. Bookmark here

“Therefore, we, of the Anti-Withdrawal Rehabilitation Project, are placing you under arrest. Do not resist!”Bookmark here

Incapable of answering properly, his body moved of its own accord. He knew what he was doing, but he didn’t know what he was thinking.Bookmark here

He was rising to his feet and attempting to make a break for it to the bathroom nearby. There he could shut and lock the door, and jump out the window. It was only the second floor, he would be fine.Bookmark here

But what the hell was he thinking? There was no way that was a good idea.Bookmark here

Just those thoughts connected in his head, it was already too late. Before he even tried to make it to a running position, two of the armed men jumped him and forced him to the ground. Their weight was more than enough to keep him in place.Bookmark here

In fact, they were kind of crushing him, which was quite uncomfortable, he thought.Bookmark here

The shadowy figure moved in closer, finally out of the bright light, to where Minato could see clearly its identity. It was a woman, an older woman to be precise. Wearing a slim fitting black business suit and stylishly matching white blouse. All of which clung tightly to her body.Bookmark here

Her hair, silky and a luscious brown color, was pulled back into a long ponytail. Bookmark here

Her bangs were cut into a perfectly straight line across her brow. Every hair precisely in place.Bookmark here

From the breast pocket of her suit jacket, a gold badge hung. Though it was too hard to read what the badge said, it was obviously not a toy, but an official piece.Bookmark here

With a gentle smile and softly closed eyes, she leaned down into Minato’s face and began to speak again, this time much softer. “I told you not to resist, didn’t I?”Bookmark here

Terrified by her presence, Minato looked away to protect himself. His eyes fell upon the television screen.Bookmark here

At some point, the channel had been changed back to his DVD input. The still paused blue screen shivered from the slightly weakened connection with the words still legible.Bookmark here

“The End”Bookmark here

Suddenly, the screen turned black, revealing Minato’s confused face to him in its reflection, as two of the Hazmat dressed men hoisted the television from its stand.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Bright.Bookmark here

The room was bright. White walls reflecting the white fluorescent lights from the ceiling and an absurd amount of orange setting sun twilight pouring in through the windows along the wall opposite Minato were hurting his eyes.Bookmark here

He hadn’t any time to recover yet from earlier in the afternoon. The government had raided his apartment. They hadn’t cuff him and led him out of his house, as was customary during normal arrests. Instead, they tossed him into a body bag, like he was a corpse, and carried him out with a lot of jostling.Bookmark here

All of his belongings were bagged and removed from his apartment, leaving it bare and empty. His landlord was probably thinking he was dead and swift at work finding a new tenant to fill it. The greedy old man.Bookmark here

But Minato wasn’t dead. He was very much alive. Currently being detained by the government, but alive nonetheless.Bookmark here

Minato rested his chin in his hand propped up on the silver, metal table in front of him, eyes listless. Across the table, the older lady from the raid was seated with her eyes still softly closed and that terrible, gentle smile across her lips.Bookmark here

Several moments had passed in silence, neither moving nor making eye contact. Bookmark here

Though Minato knew even if he wasn’t able to see it clearly from the way her eyes were cut, they were staring right into him. Watching. Analyzing. Learning.Bookmark here

Suddenly, she coughed softly, clearing her throat, and pulled a pair of glasses from her other breast pocket on her business suit. Steadying the glasses on the bridge of her nose, she cleared her throat once more while opening a folder and skimmed through its contents with an outstretched finger.Bookmark here

“Minato Kinoshita.” She started, glancing between the file in her hand and the person sitting in front of her. She compared the mug shot in the file with the slouching slob. They matched. But that was no coincidence, since the photo was taken roughly an hour earlier.Bookmark here

“Age: 23. Sex: Male. Height: 172 cm. Weight: 59 kg. Blood type: A+. Dental record: Clean. Health: Clean as well. Good for you. Likes: Anime and Hen- “Bookmark here

Slam!Bookmark here

She had been reading off his personal information as if they were stats on a character profile page. It was infuriating, and Minato had enough.Bookmark here

He smacked the palm of his hand down firmly on the metal table, causing her to stop reading.Bookmark here

“You seem to know a lot about me,” he said as calmly as possible, but was unable to keep his frustration in. “But it seems you have failed to introduce yourself, Hm?”Bookmark here

The well-dressed lady blinked a few times, and turned her head upward, as if to contemplate deeply on what he had said. For several moments, her only reply was a limp “Hmm…”Bookmark here

Then her deep, brown eyes sparkled. They moved quickly to rejoin him and continued to shine in the room’s light. She began to smile. This one was different from her earlier smiles, which had filled Minato with either fear or disgust. This was… warm?Bookmark here

“Oh my!” she answered with a soft clap of her hands together near her cheek. “You are quite right. I seemed to have forgotten to do exactly that. My name is Saki Sato. Pleased to meet you, Kinoshita-kun. I am a member of the AWRP and a Recovery Sponsor. Please take good care of me.”Bookmark here

As she finished, she gave a small playful, almost bounce-like motion in her seat, making her ponytail and bangs swish softly side to side.Bookmark here

Minato felt his hand slip and his chin speed dangerously close to the table’s surface. The words following the initial introduction made his eyes grow wide.Bookmark here

It was nice that she introduced herself in a very pleasant manner, but “kun”? They definitely weren’t on that level of knowing each other. Was she just trying to be really friendly right off the bat?Bookmark here

Then, there was the “AWRP”. He knew what that was. It was the task force set up by the government to round up the Withdrawals. And the Recovery Sponsor part, he could guess what that was supposed to mean. But still, what did that have to do with him? He wasn’t a Withdrawal. Far from it.Bookmark here

The most astounding part was how she ended her introduction. What did she mean, take good care of her? Wasn’t that something you said to someone when you first started working with them? Was she playing with him? Trying to mess with his head? Or was she really planning on working with him in some capacity?Bookmark here

“Oh, are you alright?” Sato-san asked with a tilt of her head. She had removed her glasses and gave a concerned look, pouting her lips.Bookmark here

“Like hell, I’m alright!” he exploded in response. His head was hurting, again. He was still struggling to keep his thoughts clear due to the lack of sleep and the bright lights. But her jumbled up words masquerading as an introduction were his final breaking point. “None of what you have said made any sense!”Bookmark here

“You didn’t understand the part where I said my name?” She tilted her head in the other direction.Bookmark here

“No, that part was the only thing that made sense…” Minato sighed, settling back into his slouch. He had put all of his energy into biting his tongue from calling her something too obscene. It wouldn’t be good to have that as ammo against him if things turned south. He began to rub his temples in an attempt to quell the raging storm behind his brow.Bookmark here

Sato-san sat there for a moment with a blank stare before a light bulb clicked behind her wide eyes. “Ah!” she clapped her hands softly again, “I understand what you are trying to say.”Bookmark here

After returning her glasses to her breast pocket, she laced her fingers together and rested her hands on the table in front of her. The surrounding air had changed once again, Minato felt it. This was similar to when she had sauntered her way into his apartment, yet somehow, less threatening.Bookmark here

“As I said, I am a member of the AWRP, which stands for the Anti-Withdrawal Rehabilitation Project. Also, as I said, I am a Recovery Sponsor. That means I am the one who watches over those brought into my custody by the AWB, or the Anti-Withdrawal Bill, and gently help them in the rehabilitation from recluses into being productive members of society once again. I guide them to see the errors of their ways and discipline them. Only when necessary, of course. In other words, I am their correctional officer.”Bookmark here

The more words she said, the more her lips curved upwardly into what Minato was only able to describe as a devilish smile.Bookmark here

But still, there was a problem with what she was saying.Bookmark here

“So, what does that have to do with you breaking into my apartment earlier and me being here now?”Bookmark here

Sato-san raised an eyebrow in confusion. For a moment, she sat silent, eyes studying him.Bookmark here

“When was the last time you left your apartment?” she finally answered in the form of a question.Bookmark here

This took Minato by mild surprise, as it took him a few seconds to think back that far. A palm moved to his chin as he recounted his days in reverse chronological order.Bookmark here

“It was a mon- No, wait, three weeks ago exactly. I had run out of ramen cups and quickly ran to the supermarket down the street.” He nodded at his answer with a satisfied smile, knowing that was correct.Bookmark here

In response, Sato-san chuckled as quietly as she could, rolling her eyes. “Do you know what it means to be a Withdrawal? It literally means to-”Bookmark here

But Minato cut her off, “To seclude oneself. I am well aware of that, but I still don’t see why you have arrested me. I haven’t broken any law.”Bookmark here

Yet another moment of silence as Sato-san sat motionless in her seat. Then her devilish smile returned with frightening speed. She rose from her seat, in a manner that didn’t seem to move the chair or table in the slightest, but soon she was slowly rounding the table towards the far end of the room.Bookmark here

“Oh, but you have, Kinoshita-kun.” Bookmark here

There was that “kun” again, burning Minato as his teeth gritted silently when she said it. Bookmark here

“You have been living on a welfare check for quite some time and haven’t had a job of any sort for almost as long. Nor have you had any real human contact in the same period of time. Or at least nothing we were able to trace.”Bookmark here

Though what she had started saying was the truth, there was no denying that, what did it matter? It wasn’t as if that was a crime, right? Only being a “societal withdrawal” was “illegal” now.Bookmark here

He wasn’t shutting himself off from the world due to fear. He was working, watching and reviewing the series he watched for internet points. Not the same.Bookmark here

But what annoyed him the most was the accusation he was receiving about his interactions. He had talked to people. Plenty of them. His reviews garnered an average of 300+ views per posting. He was practically famous in online circles. How rude of her to say he hadn’t had any human interactions.Bookmark here

Jeez.Bookmark here

“So, what would you call that?” She asked with a sense of authority as she finally stopped at the corner of the table where he sat. Placing her hand on the table, she leaned in to hear his answer.Bookmark here

He scoffed at her. “I call it a man living his life the way he wants to.” He turned to sneer back at her with his nose turned up.Bookmark here

Her smile softened for the slightest moment, then contorted back to its natural evil curl. “You either don’t listen to me or yourself when you talk,” She snickered to herself, shaking her head in mild disgust, as her ponytail and bangs danced along.Bookmark here

“Whatever,” was his only response, and he turned away to not have to view the sight of her cruel humor.Bookmark here

“Oh, come now, Kinoshita-kun. What’s with the poor attitude?”Bookmark here

His head turned back instantly with eyes narrowed, staring daggers at her. “Oh, I don’t know.” His words dripped with sarcasm. “Maybe I would be more willing to play along if I wasn’t treated like a prisoner.”Bookmark here

As he said this, he raised his arms and shook his hands slightly. A soft clinging sounded from the metal cuffs around his wrist. The cuffs were sliding around on the metal armrests of the chair. The chains were long enough to give him some reach, but for all intents and purposes, he was strapped to that chair.Bookmark here

Sato’s smile grew more crooked as she stood and answered, “It’s to keep you from running away. I mean, since it seems you don’t learn your lesson the first time around, that is.”Bookmark here

“Actually, I am a fairly quick learner.” Minato argued, giving a small shrug as if to gloat about it. He then raised his hand enough to point his thumb over his shoulder behind him. “Besides, the large men at the door seem to have me outmatched easily. It would be smarter for me to stay here, for now at least.”Bookmark here

“Oh, ho? How smart of you,” she said, her voice as mocking as his was just moments earlier. “But I can see it in your eyes.”Bookmark here

As she spoke these words, she leaned in closer this time. The tip of her nose was only a few centimeters from his. Eyes cold, staring deep into his. This close, he had at that moment had realized she had a mole just below her right eye.Bookmark here

Being this close to her made him more nervous than he had felt in a very long time, turning his face warm with a shade of red as he looked back into her eyes. At this vantage point, he thought she was kind of able to be mistaken for being… cute?Bookmark here

But Minato knew it was only an act. Once she probably used it many times before to bend weak-minded men to her will. But he was not weak; he would not yield to her.Bookmark here

“You have probably thought that you could do a back flip out of that chair and use it as a battering ram or some other weapon. Like a ninja or something, am I right?”Bookmark here

Minato flinched ever so slightly, but scoffed it off as soon as it came. “I had thought of something similar to that. But, I am not as athletic as I once was, so I quickly dismissed that idea.”Bookmark here

He gave a smile that was supposed to read, “see, outsmarted you already”. And for a moment, it seemed to work. Her eyes grew wide and deeper than her cheeks were tinted pink with a blush.Bookmark here

But then she made a strange sound. Minato had thought he was mistaken in thinking she had made any noise, but Sato’s shaking shoulders and the sound steadily increasing in volume told him he hadn’t misheard. She was snickering.Bookmark here

She pulled back quickly and bent her spine at a harsh angle as she laughed. The deep, almost howling, laugh that she was producing was scaring Minato. He never expected her to laugh like that ever. She was just too… stoic. And evil.Bookmark here

“Wow! You really are such an otaku! Hahaha!!” She had to hold her sides to keep them from hurting due to how hard she had been laughing.Bookmark here

Minato growled in his throat, gripping the arms of the chair until his knuckles turned white. With a furrowed brow, he glared as hard as he was able to muster at her.Bookmark here

How insulting was she planning on continuing to be? He was no otaku. He didn’t spend all of his time watching anime and all of his money on manga. Not that he didn’t enjoy such things on occasion. But, still. He was a reviewer. Completely different. What was with her, to even insinuate that they were anything alike?Bookmark here

He wanted to grab her collar, push her against the wall, and make her eat her words. Preferably with a witty and well-worded argument. But, he knew that he was restrained and wouldn’t get far. Plus, attacking a woman for any reason would not look good now. And, there were still very strong looking men behind him, as well.Bookmark here

With a very bitter sigh, he calmed his thoughts and tried to bring everything back to his real problem. “So, what do I have to do to get out of here in a timely fashion?”Bookmark here

Using all of her energy, she steadied her laughs and wiped a tear from her eye. Bookmark here

“Oh, dear, Kinoshita-kun. You aren’t getting out of here.”Bookmark here

“.Bookmark here

..Bookmark here

Bookmark here

…. Hehn?Bookmark here

She hadn’t said that, right? His ears were playing tricks on him. She couldn’t hold him here indefinitely… Could she?Bookmark here

“Hmm, maybe I didn’t say that well enough.” She put her index finger to her chin and turned her eyes upward once again in deep thought. “It’s closer to ‘you are not getting out of this situation’.”Bookmark here

Because that made it sound so much better…Bookmark here

He struggled hard to keep that thought only in his head.Bookmark here

“What are you trying to say, Sato-san?” Minato asked, eyes still narrowed, but struggling to keep his cool and sound polite.Bookmark here

Without warning, there was a soft hand on his shoulder, making him nearly jump out of his own skin. Scared and shaking, Minato glanced up to see Sato-san’s slender hand there, holding him very softly.Bookmark here

Her eyes were hidden from the light by her bangs and the angle her head was tilted down at, thus obscuring what look she was giving him. Making matters worse, the smile she was giving was impossible to read. Another new one he didn’t know she was capable of. It was soft and almost pleading, as if he had done something foolish, and she was trying to show him the right way, in a motherly fashion.Bookmark here

“First,” she answered, making him jump once more, “There isn’t anyone in this room you should be calling ‘Sato-san’, understood?”Bookmark here

Sweat started to bead on his brow. He didn’t know how, but he had just royally screwed up.Bookmark here

“Y-yes, m-m-ma’am!” was his the only shaky thing he could come up with.Bookmark here

“Ah, ah, ah,” she gently scolded him, wagging a finger in front of his face, “Nor are there any ‘ma’am’s’ here either. Try again, once more.”Bookmark here

Now, he was more confused. Was he not being formal enough?Bookmark here

“Uh, yes, Sato…s-sama?”Bookmark here

“Oh, no. You’re getting colder, Kinoshita-kun.” She was still smiling, but her hand on his shoulder started to grip harder and harder.Bookmark here

But there was his clue. She had been acting overly friendly with him, so maybe she wanted the same? It was worth a shot. But calling her Sato-kun would be really awkward. So that left only a singular choice… and it might be the worst of them all.Bookmark here

“Alright.” He bit his lip and tried to force it out with all his might. “Um, S-Sato… Sato-chan?”Bookmark here

She froze. Yet another eternity passed in a moment, and she didn’t move, even in the slightest. Had he broken her? Did he get it so wrong this time that she might-No! He didn’t even want to think of what she was capable of doing to him.Bookmark here

She let go of him and stood up straight. Her movements were so quick, that Minato ducked under his arms in defense of the world of pain that was sure to come to him.Bookmark here

But there was no pain?Bookmark here

She just stood there, closing her eyes tightly and raising both hands in fists covering her mouth.Bookmark here

Then, strangely enough, there was a loud, high-pitched squealing sound that enveloped the room and stung Minato’s ears.Bookmark here

Has something gotten stuck in the ventilation system? He thought as he was trying to stop the ringing in his ear.Bookmark here

“That’s as close as we are going to get, I assume?” Sato-san’s, or rather Sato-chan’s, voice cut through Minato’s thoughts. She had regained her composure and was fixing her skirt at that moment.Bookmark here

“Um, yeah.”Bookmark here

“So, then, we move on to point number two.”Bookmark here

Was the right honorific that important to her that she got this distracted?Bookmark here

Sato-chan cleared her throat and quickly crossed the room back to her seat again. As she took her seat, Minato noticed she was blushing again. What did he do this time?Bookmark here

“You aren’t leaving. At least not yet.” She had finally recovered her normal persona, the one that disgusted Minato. “You first must make a choice.”Bookmark here

“Oh? So, I finally got a choice?” Even Minato had noticed that being snarky was his default attitude when she was being her normal self. Probably. Maybe this was his normal self? Nah.Bookmark here

“Yes, you do,” she replied with an equally snarky tone, cutting him on the inside, “but first, I need to explain something to you now.Bookmark here

“You have been charged with the crime of being a burden on society, and therefore are under arrest. I am only repeating this because you never seem to listen the first time around.”Bookmark here

Instinctively, Minato rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure, and I want to see my lawyer about this.”Bookmark here

“Ah, yes, about that. Too late.”Bookmark here

Minato’s eyes sprung open in confusion. He studied Saki’s movements to see if she was bluffing in any way.Bookmark here

“You were already appointed a lawyer, and lost your case.” As she spoke, she flipped through his file from earlier and pulled out a paper, “Here is your warrant for arrest,” she finished and slid the paper across the table to him.Bookmark here

With lightning fast hands, he snatched the paper up to verify its authenticity.Bookmark here

Everything looked official; it even had a seal. He didn’t know enough about legal documents to tell if it had been forged or not, so he slowly lowered it and sighed heavily in defeat. “Fine.”Bookmark here

“Moving on. As the bill has been written, those who have been arrested are sentenced to serve a jail sentence and partake in mandatory rehabilitation lessons in order to, for a lack of better words, fix you.” Her words were cold and factual, with no room for remorse.Bookmark here

“Alas, for a lack of recent success stories, we have been turning to our Withdrawal inmates and listening to them for what we were capable of doing to improve their moods on the situation. And after much deliberation, we have finally come to a solution.” Her words had finally turned ever so slightly cheer-y, which filled Minato with hope. He didn’t want to go to jail and have that stigma hanging over his shoulder forever.Bookmark here

“And what are my choices?”Bookmark here

“Well, as I have said, our original correctional facilities are still operational.”Bookmark here

Minato shook his head quickly, shooting down the very thought. With his arms crossed in the shape of an ‘x’ in front of him, spoke decisively, “Next.”Bookmark here

Her smile grew bigger and more crooked as her eyes glossed over with a look that told Minato he had made another mistake.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Lampposts sped by in the dark across Minato’s sight as he stared blankly out the window. He wasn’t focused on the world outside, but watched his own reflection with tired eyes.Bookmark here

When did he get such dark bags under his eyes?Bookmark here

He wasn’t really concerned with his looks at this moment, but rather was trying to prevent eye contact with the witch of a woman sitting across from him in the limousine.Bookmark here

Said witch was sitting there with the same twisted smile that turned his stomach more times today than any sickness ever had.Bookmark here

“Are we there yet?” He only asked out of sheer frustration and a desire to end the long day.Bookmark here

“No, not quite,” her voice was still cheery and had remained that way since he had made his decision.Bookmark here

He had already regretted it. Choosing not to go to jail limited his choices down to this, and it was…Bookmark here

“I can’t believe you are choosing to wear that,” Sato-chan’s voice cut through his thoughts. With furrowed brows, he glanced down at what he was wearing. It had been a while since he had looked at how he was dressed.Bookmark here

He had been dressed lightly with a light blue hoodie that had its sleeves cut off. Under that he had worn a white long sleeve shirt to keep his arms warm since it was early in spring and the air was still chilled. Covering his legs were a gray pair of sweats with stains from past ramen spills on his lap. He wasn’t wearing shoes, but instead had just a pair of socks covering his feet.Bookmark here

No one gave him his shoes. Nobody gave him spares. Hell, no one gave him a chance to change since he was arrested earlier that day.Bookmark here

“Not like I had much of a choice.”Bookmark here

“And you haven’t fixed your hair either?”Bookmark here

A hand reached across the limo to touch his hair. But right before Sato-chan actually touched him, she reeled back with a thin smile hiding her disgust.Bookmark here

Instead, Minato ran his fingers through it for her. He didn’t enjoy having short hair, as it made him look like every other man in the country living a boring, cubicle-based life. But even if he did cut it short, his hair would always stand up in strange places. His mother often quietly cursed his hair under her breath as she tried to groom it when he was a child.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, his slightly spiky hair obviously wasn’t what Sato-chan was talking about, as his hair was extremely greasy. He bathed regularly, and by that it was in between his no-life bingeing of shows, so once every few days.Bookmark here

“I can’t help that… It’s normally this way.” Bookmark here

Technically, not a lie, he thought, while keeping his eyes avertedBookmark here

Sato-chan crossed her arms before her and gave a long-disappointed sigh, “And here we are on our way to meet your new host housemate.”Bookmark here

And that was what his choice had led to.Bookmark here

Earlier, back in the interrogation room.Bookmark here

“Well, then,” Sato-chan answered with her smile contorting into a new shape, something between normal happiness and a sadist’s evil grin, “I am glad that you have picked this option. One of the first, honestly.”Bookmark here

A red flag had been raised in Minato’s mind. “What do you mean first?” Who would pick jail over… Wait. She hadn’t said what he had agreed to. “What are you forcing me into? You’ve tricked me, haven’t you?”Bookmark here

“Oh, no. You haven’t been tricked,” she pouted her lip again as a concerned look took over, “You only had two choices from the start, and you clearly don’t want to go to jail, do you?”Bookmark here

“No, but…” He wanted to argue, but it was true. That was the last thing he wanted. “But…”Bookmark here

“Then it’s settled.” Sato-chan smiled again as she shuffled her papers together in the file and began to rise from her chair. “I will complete your paperwork and have your belongings transferred immediately.”Bookmark here

“Wait!” Minato tried to stand but was pulled down again by the cuffs on his wrists, “You haven’t told me what I have agreed to.”Bookmark here

He then caught his own words, “Not that I have actually agreed to anything, yet that is.”Bookmark here

A familiar blank look of confusion was back on her face after hearing this. Then a familiar clap near the cheek echoed the confused look. These repeat actions told Minato that she clearly wasn’t taking this very seriously.Bookmark here

“Again, you are correct, Kinoshita-kun!” She seriously needed to stop changing personalities so quickly.Bookmark here

“This is a new procedure that we have come up with to combat the unwillingness to change your reclusive ways.” She then winked at Minato as if to somehow reassure him, “You will be living with a host family who will be making you happy as all Withdrawals want to be.”Bookmark here

That was what she had said and left in a hurry, leaving Minato confused and stammering trying to find any words.Bookmark here

What had he done recently to cause everything in his life to go haywire? He was arrested, kicked out of his home, and now he had to live with… “others”. Ones picked by Sato-chan.Bookmark here

If that was the case, they would probably be equally as twisted and sadistic as her. Minato shuddered at the thought.Bookmark here

“Feeling unwell, Kinoshita-kun?”Bookmark here

“Stop calling me that. And no. Well, yes.” He struggled with his own thoughts and how to keep on Sato-chan’s good side, beside continuing to call her that even in his own head, as well as show his discomfort for the situation he was being thrust into. “I am just wondering what kind of people my host family are going to be. Hopefully, they aren’t like you.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you will wish they were as good as me, Minato-kun.” He noticed how she had skillfully taken things a step further and was now calling him by his given name. “But, it’s ‘person’, not ‘people’. You will be living with a singular person.”Bookmark here

Whoa… Minato’s mind started to race, One person? Only this person will be watching over me and making sure I don’t run away or something. This must be one brute of a guy I am going to be living with.Bookmark here

“Ah! We’ve arrived.”Bookmark here

Sato-chan’s voice startled Minato’s thoughts as he wearily turned his eyes outside the limousine. Though it was late at night, and he hadn’t been paying much attention to where they had been traveling to, he could easily distinguish that they had left the city behind and had arrived deep into a suburban neighborhood.Bookmark here

All the tall buildings and skyscrapers were gone, leaving only small family homes neatly packed into rows on the streets. All seemed to be calm and quiet, a drastic change from the constant sounds of the inner-city life. It was a bit too quiet and peaceful for Minato’s taste.Bookmark here

Once the limo had come to a stop, Sato-chan quickly opened her door, letting in the cold night air and stepping out. Minato, now cuff-less, hesitated for a moment before Sato-chan called back in for him to get out.Bookmark here

With an annoyed groan, Minato got out of the idling limo and took in his surroundings. All the yards were neatly trimmed and lined off with fences and gates. The concrete sidewalk was clean and free from trash or debris, and cold on Minato’s shoeless feet.Bookmark here

“Well, what do you think?”Bookmark here

“It’s cold,” he answered with a scoff, “that’s what I think.”Bookmark here

Sato-chan didn’t seem to enjoy his answer, as she quickly grabbed his shoulders and turned him sharply to face the house they had parked directly in front of. “What do you think of your new home?”Bookmark here

The house before him was very plain. A stone fence and wooden gate surrounded the small green yard. The house was a simple two-story suburban home, probably enough room for a family of 4 to live in peacefully. The paneling on the house was painted white and did little to make it stand out amongst the other cookie cutter houses on the block. There was a synthetic fluorescent light coming from the windows even though the curtains had been pulled over most of them.Bookmark here

His only response to it was a very flat, “Eh”.Bookmark here

Before he could dwell any further on the thought, Sato-chan had already stepped away from him and pressed the doorbell attached to the stone part of the gateway. A bell softly chimed from the electronic box as a static-y voice echo from the speaker. “Hello? Who is it?”Bookmark here

Minato was unable to tell anything about the owner of the voice by how distorted the speaker had made it sound, but Sato-chan had already bent down slightly to answer the box.Bookmark here

“This is Saki Sato of the AWRP. We spoke earlier on the phone.”Bookmark here

“Oh, yes!” the distorted voice answered excitedly, “please hold for a moment. I am coming!”Bookmark here

There was a click from the box and Sato-chan rose up again, “Isn’t it nice to be expected, Minato-kun?”Bookmark here

There is no winning over honorifics with her, is there?Bookmark here

But he couldn’t answer her, because as soon as she finished saying those words, a large ruckus was heard from inside the house. It was as if a crew was going through and pounding on the walls and floors and random areas inside the house as a distant voice kept calling out randomly.Bookmark here

Finally, the noises began to die out as a soft voice called over and over again.Bookmark here

“Coming! Coming!”Bookmark here

With a loud clack of a lock unlatching and a front door light being flicked on, the owner of the voice came bounding out of the doorway with heavy breathing. “Coming! Welcome!”Bookmark here

Under the soft, white light stood a slender figure. One dressed in a loose-fitting pink top with open sleeves draping over her thin arms and light blue-layered skirt that ended right at her knees. A person with long flowing curled hair pulled back by a bright pink bow. One who was distinctively female.Bookmark here

With a bright smile on her face so big that her cheeks pushed her eyes shut, she spoke with a gentle, but warm voice, “Please. Come in.”Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
Arashi Sensei
Marshall Eastman
You can resume reading from this paragraph.