My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
"You've gotta be freaking shitting me." Asagiri in her burgundy outfit glared at my local cinema's entrance and then at me.
"What? Don't like the surprise?" I was honestly bewildered. Really wish she would've worn the cat ears though! Apparently she'll only wear them while we're at home!
"How hard did your only two brain cells grind today?" Her finger waggled at me. "Not enough if movies were the best place you could think of for a date."
"What's wrong with movies?"
"Eh, nothing. Just kinda hoped you'd subvert my expectations or something."
"I could've taken you to that love hotel instead."
"You've already fucked me enough by bringing me here. Buy me snacks and I'll forgive you."
"Movie theater food prices . . . " I felt my wallet trembling, or maybe it was my sanity.
Asagiri started jabbing my chest. "You broke or something?"
Augh. "Fine whatever, you win. Just don't go too crazy in there."
Her scowl flipped into a smile and she ran ahead. "Come on then!"
My girlfriend is probably looking forward to their food more than the movie.
A large lobby greeted us, dotted with movie posters along every wall. Aromas of freshly baked popcorn filled the air mixed with hints of sugary treats. Arcade machines besides toy dispensers jingled and glittered in the background, while Neo Art Deco architecture similar to my bookstore comprised most of the theater's aesthetic.
Asagiri waved ahead from rows of terminal kiosks. "Over here, Nishikata!" She yelled over the crowds.
Embarrassment swept over me, like I was escorting a little sister more than a girlfriend. I passed by several couples. Wonder if they're legit or fake?
"You picked out a movie yet?" I asked her.
"Don’t really care about any of these, you pick one."
"Sure." I looked down at the panel's touch screen. Movie selections scrolled with my finger. "What genres are you into?"
"Lovey lovey-dovey romance!"
"No. Give me horror."
I sighed and looked down again. "Well, there is one hype anime horror out now."
"What's it called?"
"Feed of the Honeybees 2. I saw the first a while back, but it was just whatever."
She came up close to me and poked the listing for details. "Oh yeah! My friend fangirled for this! Might as well see if she was onto something."
"Do you know what it's about? Since you haven't seen the first."
"Hmmm . . ." I rubbed my chin. "Story goes like: one day tons of humanoid, anime girl bees swooped down to Earth and tried enslaving everyone. But three bee girls defected and fought back alongside humans."
"Sounds like furry porn."
"It's not furry! Lemme just finish: the leader of that bee trio was named Bubbly, and she was like the charismatic and intellectual member; probably the prettiest bee girl too."
"Dear God, can't be weirder than crushing on ship girls at least."
"Heh. Next bee girl was Cevenz, who's kinda the trio's anti-villain. She had a constant craving for human flesh, especially feet, so Bubbly was always holding her back."
I got a look at some guys passing by who clearly checked out Asagiri's ass. A grin spread across my face as they shot me that jealous beagle look I always gave dudes with hot girlfriends.
"Huh? What is it?" She turned around.
"Oh, nothing." I calmed myself. "Anyway, the last member was Volfie, a really wholesome bee girl liked writing stories and could play guitar. All three girls were super strong and by the end of the first movie, they slayed Queen Bee!"
"If they killed her, how do we get a part two?"
"Queen Bee kinda resurrected in the after credits . . ."
"Howdy-do, a forced sequel. Sign me the F up." Asagiri rolled her eyes.
Well that was easy. I tapped on the Japanese dubbed listing for two tickets. More prompts popped up. “There's a showing in twenty minutes so we'll nab that one. You care about seats?"
"Whichever ones have a brick wall between us, pick those."
She latched onto my arm and beamed a flirty smile. "Kidding. Wouldn't be much of a date if I didn't play hard to get."
"I-I'll just choose two in the back then." After I picked, several options for prices appeared. "Don’t suppose you still count for a student discount?"
"Only if you count for a senior discount."
"Yeah, I'd hope not. Adults it is."
After declining a membership option, I slipped out my credit card to pay for us. Asagiri gave me baby-doll eyes as two tickets popped out; I handed her one and a ¥5,000 bill. "Here. Buy whatever from the concession stand and give me the change. I'll meet you in the room after I come back from peeing."
Handing her money felt like giving money to a drug addict, but I'd resigned myself to my fate. Cash symbols practically flickered in her eyes.
"You liked the food I made the other day, right?" she said. "Maybe I'll get us something based on that."
"Anything works, just don't spend too much." I saw her eye a nearby gift shop stand.
"Maybe unlike you, I'll actually subvert your expectations."
With an ominous giggle she scampered away to the concession booth.
No matter how I looked at it, this was probably a huge mistake . . .
The big screen that towered ahead of me played commercials on loop. I looked around again to see an almost deserted theater room; only a couple far off in the front row chatted amongst themselves.
Asagiri's late. Should I be worried? Just as thoughts crossed my mind, a new commercial played:
The camera followed a gorgeous, pink-haired girl walking down a city sidewalk. Her white skirt swayed with every movement of her long, slender legs. Guys blatantly gawked at her as she simply smiled and waved.
"Wouldn't you like to experience the beauty life has to offer?" A narrator said. "The things you've been missing out on? Fleeting years of youth you'll never get back are calling for change!"
Focus shifted to a mid-looking teenager in casual clothes by a shop, glancing down at his phone in apparent worry. He looked up and made eye contact with the earlier pink-haired girl running over. Her eyes glistened as she wrapped herself around his arm, pressing her breasts against him.
"Are you ready for our date?" she cutely said. "Where are you taking me?"
"Oh, uh, how about the movies?" he replied, clearly enamored.
"Anywhere is fine as long as I'm with you, darling."
The two trekked onwards—linked in arms—as jealous onlookers coped and seethed.
"Live out your life, don’t even consider the alternative,” the narrator said. “Apply today for a Government-Issued Girlfriend! Enjoy the company of thoughtful, caring girls eager to help you through your darkest times! Experience what it’s like to have a real girlfriend! Certain restrictions apply.”
The commercial proceeded to describe contact details and sponsors, before switching back to movie previews.
Man does "certain restrictions" apply . . .
Ads like that were what helped push me into applying for the program. My sister, Chidori, first got me curious about it, but she was tight-lipped about the girls' lifestyles. Even with all the perks they got, what made them decide to move in with strangers? Why even force couples to live together? Couldn’t they date living apart? Potential applicants would increase tenfold.
Abnormalities always made me suspect there were underlying motives besides fixing declining birth rates. Too many things were happening lately: conflicting narratives, arising factions, and opposing worldviews. The DeLightfuls were spreading, and their honeyed words almost had even me fooled.
"Hey Nishikata, mind giving a hand?"
Asagiri had shimmied her way through the seat aisle to me. A large tray in her hands was loaded with food and drinks.
"Did you buy their entire supply?" I said as I helped her.
"I blame you for trusting me with money."
"Yeah, where's my change anyway?"
"Change?" She sat down to my left with the tray. "Oh, I spent everything else on this little girl."
Her back shifted towards me, revealing a chibi, plushie backpack. It was modeled after Bubbly—lead heroine from Feed of the Honeybees. Every bee girl looked like a regular girl, apart from insect antennas and cute bee wings.
"Looks like it'd make a great chew toy for Furbolt," I said.
"No! I wub' my Bubbly . . ."
"And I loved my money but look what happened."
"Yeah, I upgraded it to something better."
Money sink just doing her job. "Whatever. Didn't know you liked bee girls enough to buy merch from them though."
"Nah, but their chibis are adorbs'. Any other scenario and I gotta wonder how sane you otakus are."
She took a quick sip of soda. "Like, first your guys' obsession was cat girls, then it was ship girls—bunch of other weird stuff—and now we've finally hit bee girls! Are you people honestly that horny?"
"Romanticizing exotic characteristics onto fictional women isn't exactly new. Like, how long have angels had wings for?"
"Sorry fam, I don't talk nerd."
"Reading a lot can change a man."
"God, no surprise you needed a government-issued girlfriend."
"I need a lot of things to be honest."
Asagiri rearranged snacks on her tray. A huge popcorn bucket sat snug in its slot, while various other junk food piled on top of each other. One lone, savory-looking hot dog already topped with condiments caught my eye.
Sure would've been nice if she got an extra for me.
Her hands reached with a napkin and grabbed the hot dog. With a quick snap, she split it in two and offered me half.
"Here," she gingerly said. "I remembered how much you liked those octopus sausages I made. This is probably even better."
Under dim light Asagiri radiated newfound, angelic energy that dwindled her usual radioactivity. I almost forgot about the hotdog.
"Well? You want it or not?" she said.
"Oh, yeah!" I reached for the meal I paid for, but it felt like a gift from Heaven.
Our room darkened and commercials ceased. Intro credits rolled ahead of us as Asagiri took a sloppy bite of her food.
"Mofie's startin'," she said.
I looked at her right hand resting on my armrest. Something about her small features tantalized me more than ever, and my own hand slowly crept towards hers. Darkness made judging distance hard, but as I hovered over her, Asagiri's hand flipped and slid her fingers between mine.
"H-Huh?" I stammered.
"Don't be such a virgin," she said with a hint of bashfulness. "I'm just paying you back for the snacks."
Asagiri's fingers further interwove into my hand as we fully linked. My heart pounded so fast I worried she'd feel reverberations, but then: a calm.
In that dark room, the surrealness of holding someone dawned on me—someone that saved me; a hand full of genuine care and warmth. For almost a decade I've felt nothing but voids inside, ever since that fateful day by the bridge. But now, I think I was truly ready to move on.
Our hands fiddled and played with each other, eager to explore one another.
Not a single word was exchanged between us during the entire movie.