My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
"Hey maggot, why you looking depressed?"
I snapped out of my trance. Rin Asada, my loli assistant-manager, stood over me as I kneeled ahead of a store bookshelf. Assorted light novels stretched across in rows, neatly organized by publisher.
"Oh, sorry. Just have a lot on my mind," I said with a tired glance.
"Huh? I approved your day off because you looked anxious all last week. What did you do yesterday anyway?"
Right, she doesn't know about Asagiri. I'd get fired bigly if Asada realized I bailed work for a date. Witty remark, witty remark . . .
"Wow. Didn't you know you cared that much about me," I said boastfully.
"No idiot, it's just gross seeing you be anything but dead."
"P-Probably not the best time to joke about that."
"Eh? What do you—"
A feminine outline appeared behind Asada. Child-bearing hips swayed to the side as their owner blew out a large, pink bubble.
"Hey, uh, Asada," Kikuchi said. "Got another customer at checkout complaining about Dominion's Paradise stock; better tell 'em we're not a printing press."
"Ughhh, another one? Fine, I'm on my way. Keep Nishikata company later."
"With pleasure." She licked her lips as wild, aquamarine eyes violated my body.
Fate worse than death . . .
Rento Kikuchi was our middle-aged, resident rapist. Messy, dark green hair hung over the hinges of her thin-rimmed glasses. Kikuchi oversaw children's literature and art books here—very questionable choices if not for the fact her blue apron had various, cute stitch creations designed by her own young son.
"Hey Nishikata," Kikuchi purred, "wanna meet me in the changing room during our break?"
"No, have mercy please."
"Someone's gotta take your virginity someday. I'll volunteer as tribute when you're ready—or not." She blew a kiss my way as she walked into the stockroom.
There's no other bidders for my virginity, but I'll be damned if I let a cougar have it!
My eyes glanced back down at the stack of light novels in my hand. I oversaw our light novel and game guide sections—hefty areas but I was best suited for them, even when compared to Nemoto. There wasn't anything more embarrassing than when a customer asked for recommendations, and it was clear they had a better understanding of the concept than you.
"Shield Heart Online," I muttered. New volumes of a novel I was busy sorting looked up at me, and a torrent of nostalgia flood over as I recalled being introduced to the series by Noriko, back around when we first met:
"Here!" Noriko Mito dangled a novel in my face while we relaxed on school stairs. Multitudes of fellow students passed through the hallway ahead of us.
"What is it?" I said, straightening my black uniform.
"Shield Heart Online! An isekai that's just taking off! Really popular!"
"Didn't know the library had a copy."
"They don't, this is my copy. I'm lending it so you can get a head start on the anime."
"Ehhh?" I took the novel from her hands. The cover looked generic: a shieldsman wearing black clothes, with an edgy, black shield. "Doesn't look too compelling."
Her cheeks puffed up. "You're looking at the future face of isekai! If I'm gonna get you into the genre, this is a must read."
"I could just watch the anime when it airs."
"No fun! Read the first volume and I'll lend the others when you finish."
This girl had been going out of her way to find me during lunch breaks. She was in an adjacent class, but the more I tried hiding, the more attention I brought to myself. I'd just resigned to my fate and surrendered to her bothersome company.
With a sigh, I set the novel beside me. "Fine. But I won't guarantee I'll like it."
"You don't have to, it's the thought that counts. And if you end up enjoying it, maybe one day you'll lend your own favorite series to someone—spread some love."
"Don't worry about that, you're only the person I talk to now."
"So? I don’t talk to anyone at school besides you too."
I took a bite of my red-bean bun. "But you're pretty though. You could hang out with literally anyone, so why me?"
Mito whipped her silver hair behind and puffed her large chest out. "Be proud! You're the only person I've liked since I came here, so you get me all to yourself!"
"I'm sure there's other otakus you could mingle with."
"Yeah, but you're not in their social circles so here I am! Humph!"
I didn't have it in me to tell her I'm a socially awkward loser. "Listen Mito, it might be better for your reputation if you—"
Two arms wrapped around me as Mito's soft watermelons pressed into my side.
"Call me Noriko, 'k?" she said. "And I'll call you Kazuma from now on."
8n4ct984ntcmytn89m34488443. I couldn't think straight and felt a growing excitement in my pants. Mito's shoulder boulders were the first I had the pleasure of experiencing.
"A-A-Anything is fine! Call me anything!" I blurted.
"Oh? So easy to convince, maybe I'll use this technique again later on . . ."
She detached but kept a close proximity to me. Her shoulder nudged into mine.
“N-Noriko?” I stammered.
“Mhmmm! And you’re Kazuma! Since we only talk to each other, I think we’re close enough for first names!”
We’d just met the other day. Already though, my overactive imagination was bustling. Is she into me or something? Compared to anyone else, I’m not exactly prime real estate. On the off chance she is though. . .
I picked Shield Heart Online up. "I'll read all of this and tell you what I think."
"Yeah, you'll love it! Isekai stories in general are great for escapism!" Her eyes focused on the passing students in front of us. "This shit world we were born into—who wouldn't want to escape from it?"
A hint of darkness appeared in her eyes, vague flickers that sometimes manifested in my own. I'd seen how she acts around other people: cold, distant, calculating. Only around me did her bubbly persona materialize. I knew better than to trust someone two-faced, but perhaps in whatever struggles we'd experienced in life, we would share some of each other's burdens.
And that's why I needed to keep my distance from her.
My backpack in its cubby was looking extra plump, and I pulled it out towards a nearby countertop. Our employee backroom was rife with aromas of freshly heated or unpackaged meals as first shifters started their lunch break.
"Nishikata—don't suppose you got any soy sauce on you?" Nemoto asked from behind. His voice was monotone as ever.
"If I did, I'd slap a pacifier on the bottle just for you."
"Bosssss, Nishikata's harassing me." Sleepy, coffee-colored eyes peered at Asada sitting across from him on the break table.
"Don't annoy me or I'll make Kikuchi harass both of you," she growled. A bowl of steaming noodles cooled off ahead of her.
"We'll be good!" me and Nemoto said.
A stubborn zipper made accessing my lunch harder than usual. Soon, a cute bento box plopped out from my backpack. Asagiri had woken up early to make me lunch again. Wonder what's in my box of delights today?
Asada eyed me curiously as I sat down at the table with my bento. Nemoto on my right chowed down on cup ramen.
"So, what's the deal?" Asada said.
Her chopsticks pointed at my meal. "This is the second day in a row you've brought a home-prepped bento for lunch. Your family back home or something?"
How'd she notice a little detail like that? "Uhhh, no. I've just been in the mood to cook for myself again. I've brought bentos before, haven't I?"
"Yeah, but just odd considering how weird you've been acting lately."
"Like, being all moody last week, suddenly asking for a day off, and staring at Shield Heart Online earlier. Now you're cooking for yourself again?"
Can't exactly admit I have a government-issued girlfriend. Gotta throw Asada off somehow. "If I knew any better, I'd guess you're worried about me."
"D-Don't be stupid," she said, looking to her side. "I'm just your manager so I need to know how you're doing, yeah!"
Nemoto slurped some ramen. "Hey boss, can I get tomorrow off?"
"Bite me!" she barked.
"We're running a bookstore, not a charity," she said. "Knew I shouldn't have given Nishikata his day off."
"I appreciate it though, you really helped me out."
"Oh? Yeah, you changed the subject earlier: what did you do yesterday?"
Ah shit. "Well, uhhh, see, I had to—"
The sound of a knob turning turned our attention towards the door. A tall, blonde girl with an enormous rack walked through. Her blue apron stretched so forcibly against her boobs they looked squished.
"Ummm, Miss Asada?" she said. "A new stock of partial shipments just arrived. They said we need a manager to sign off. They're waiting at the door."
"Gaaahhh! They always dump shipments when Kamikawa is off! Say I'm on break!"
Bridget Summers—my blue-eyed, big breasted coworker and current crush—fidgeted as she struggled to think of a response.
"U-Ummm, they seemed a bit in a hurry. I'm sure it wouldn't take long . . ."
"Tsk. I don't get paid enough for this. Fine!" Asada scooted her chair back and leapt off, scoffing at Summer's chest while walking by her.
I sent a quick wave to my blonde friend. She smiled and fluttered her fingers at me before closing the door behind her.
"You're aiming too high, man," Nemoto said. "Just settle for Kikuchi already."
"I'm not nearly desperate enough for that yet."
"What other options do you have? Hasn't Summers rejected you twice already?"
"Third time's the charm?"
"Pfff. Just throw in the towel and settle for a government-issued girlfriend, maybe you'll nab a cute one."
I nervously picked at my bento. "Imagine being lame enough to need a GiG, haha . . ."
"Yeah. I hear it's just maintaining a freeloader anyway. Thought about applying for one but capitalism wrings me dry as it is."
"More money to spend on Semtex Legends." I said, desperate to change subjects.
"Could use a new Kaustix skin, something that'd camouflage better in gas bombs," Nemoto replied.
"Least you've moved on from your waifu Vreyth getting nerfed."
“Actually, I’m still seething. You down for a ranked session this weekend?”
Oof, bad time. “Pass. Got someone coming over.”
Nemoto slurped his remaining ramen, careful to avoid getting his white bangs wet. “You? Someone coming over? Say sike please.”
“Almost wish I could.”
He checked his phone. “Well, don’t care so not gonna pry. I’ll ask Mogami later if he’s free.”
Saturday was already reserved for getting things ready for Sunday. The most important person from my past was visiting—first time in months—and only a week after my GiG showed up. How should I introduce those two to each other?
A doorknob turned and Asada walked back in. "We're getting busy out there," she said. "No slacking today or Kikuchi follows home one of you tonight."
"Make Summers follow me home instead," I joked.
Asada beamed a death glare then reached for the whistle around her neck. As she was about to blow, the silvery trinket retreated from her lips.
"Screw it, we're still on break," she said, sliding into her chair again.
"Eh? I've never seen you halt the whistle," I said.
"You're not worth wasting energy on when I'm not getting paid. Besides, Kamikawa said I should try being nicer to people—another reason I gave your day off yesterday."
The subject was venturing back to a no-no zone. "Well, good to be back. Hopefully Mogami keeps Kikuchi busy today."
"New Dominion's Paradise is probably coming in tomorrow, so be ready for that."
"Might just buy out all the stock myself."
"Good luck with that. We ordered more than usual since the new volume comes with bonuses."
Oh yeah. Asagiri still had to tell me what she'd thought so far about Dominion's Paradise, but I'd wait until she's comfortable. She seemed a bit off this morning, and things would only get more complicated once I tried explaining Noriko to her.
The fake girlfriend and the almost-girlfriend would soon meet, or more specifically, my anarchic past and farcical present would finally collide.