Chapter 12:

Young Madonna

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


Seven Years Ago


"You're already 18 but your room still looks virgin as ever."

The busty, silver-haired friend of mine stood calmly in my doorway, like a mouse deciding if it can outsmart the mousetrap. Noriko and I wore our black uniforms back from school, but now her head sported a set of cute cat ears.

"It's not gonna change much if you visit every few weeks," I said, sitting on the computer chair across from my bed. Anime girl figures and acrylic stands stared up at me from the desk.

"A few weeks lasts an eternity for some people." She closed the door behind her and walked in, glancing above. "At this rate though, wouldn't be surprised if you stuck posters on the ceiling one day."

"Actually, not a bad idea."

"Please don't."

My bed creaked as Noriko tossed herself onto it. She rolled and squirmed about like a kid in a ball pit, ignoring how much her short skirt was riding up.

How is she not being cute on purpose?

"Ahhh! I love anime rooms as much as you," she blared, "but at this rate I'm gonna be the only girl you ever bring in here!"

"I've talked to other girls before, you know."

"Yeah, well where are they now?"

"Probably with their boyfriends."

"Exactly," she grinned.

Though things weren't going too smoothly for Mai I'd heard, but whatever.

We fiddled on our phones for a bit. Noriko had a habit of inviting herself over and I never had the alpha energy to say no—it didn't matter today though. I knew she visited for a different reason than normal.

"So, were you serious about what you said yesterday?" I asked her.

"Hmmm? About killing ourselves? Yeah, dead serious." She said with a straight face.

"Did you at least like, think about it?"

"I've thought about killing myself since I was a kid, Kazuma. Don't doubt me."

Noriko and I had been friends for two years, but her personal life was still an enigma. Whispered rumors said she was a failed prodigy, or the child of an illicit romance. I held my own theories but respected her enough not to pry.

At least until now.

"Listen," I said, "I know better than anyone how shit life is, but—"

"Did I ask to be proselytized?" She stared at me upside-down from my bed with destitute, almost feral eyes.

"S-Sorry . . . " I tried to avoid her gaze.

"It's all fine!" Noriko's bubbly-self reemerged, full of vigor. "You're the one person it's hard for me to stay mad at!"

"Thanks?" There has to be some way to change her mind! Let a teacher know? Try to contact her parents? Even I've never considered suicide! She's serious about this!

"Hey Kazuma," she seductively said, shifting her exposed legs up and arching her back on my bed. "I don't want to force you into anything, but if you promise to kill yourself with me, I'll let you have sex with me before we do—or even right now."

"W-What?"

Her thumb slid up her thigh and tugged what remained of her skirt inwards, fully unsheathing the resplendent legs I've always fantasized about.

"I've seen how you look at me; it's just like all the other boys, but only you don't disgust me. You wanna do things, right? I'd let you."

I shifted on my chair to hide an erecting problem. "T-This is all just kinda sudden . . ."

"Quick or slow, doesn't matter. I'll feel good as long as you do." She relaxed her arms and legs, signaling zero resistance like a sacred offering. Sparkling, purple eyes tried inviting me over to the bed.

"Noriko—" I wanted her, I always had. My chest contracted and expanded, straining to channel my breathing. Everything about her tempted me: the way gravity listed her breasts sideways as she lay, how her nape peeked through slivers of silver hair, the way her glossy lips remained parted as she panted waiting for me—

Before I even realized it, I was half-way off the chair. My palms locked down onto armrests before I wrought something unforgivable.

"Kazuma?" she said, confused.

I sat back down and collected myself. Think! Think! Think how to save her! There's no time for anything! I don't want her to die but she'll kill herself with or without me! Stall, stall, stall . . . wait, that's it!

"Let me think about it," I muttered. "I'm still undecided if I want to die with you, but—can you at least tell me your thought process? What made you consider suicide?" Maybe I can help her if I learn more about her.

"Oh, geez!" She sat up on my bed and straightened her skirt. "Killed the mood. I'd rather not tell people about my personal problems. Instead, how about I give another glimpse of stuff I've been thinking about?"

"Like what?"

Noriko crossed her legs, as if still trying to seduce me. "Ever felt like there was an underlying beauty life was trying to hide from you?"

"Can't say I have."

"Well, I'm gonna sound crazy, but I think there's a light in this world—a light that's waiting to shine down on everyone!"

"Like, the sun?"

"No, dummy!" she pouted. "I'm talking about death! The beauty and light of death!"

"Come again?" It was the first time I'd heard anyone speak so theatrically about it.

"Death is guaranteed for everyone, Kazuma. The sooner you embrace death, either literally or spiritually, the sooner you'll be at peace."

"I'm not following."

"Doesn't matter, everyone will eventually accept death whether they want to or not. Death is this world's only truth."

"Noriko . . . Are you okay?"

Her eyes turned hostile. "Principles are sacrosanct. If you have any, you wouldn't question mine."

Forget all this bullshit! Was what I wanted to scream, but I worried she'd walk out the door and carry out her ideals on her own. I'd just have to—

"Humor her," I whispered inaudibly.

"Huh?"

"Tell me more about death. It's not that I don't want to commit suicide, but I'm just sort of scared. We've both probably been through a lot, so maybe you can show me what I need to do to be at peace."

I had been avoiding eye contact, but as I looked up a single tear streamed down her cheek.

"I knew you'd understand, I knew you would!" She was exultant, rocking up and down on my bed. "Yeah! I'd love to explain some of the lessons we've all been teaching each other."

"We've?"

"Mm!" She snatched up her phone and started scrolling. "I've been talking with some guys online about this sort of stuff. We started a forum and it's gotten huge lately!"

"Oh? What's the name? I'll look it up."

"Self-Help for the Weary. But we're thinking of changing our name to something cheerier. Got any ideas?"

"Uhhh, since you mentioned light a lot, maybe something related to that?" I said as I turned to research the group on my computer. Their sub-forum boasted over 300,000 members and had multitudes of currently active threads, most headlined with similar rhetoric Noriko mentioned earlier.

This is a cult in the making! No way can Noriko be around this crap! They convinced her to kill herself! If I want to save her, I gotta separate her from them somehow.

"Done!" she said, rolling around on my bed. "Just made a thread about a name change! We'll see what everyone else comes up with!"

It was true. Judging by Noriko's credentials in her new forum thread, she appeared like one of the forum's lead admins under the pseudonym "Madonna." Floods of replies started creeping in immediately.

"You guys sure do have tons of followers," I said.

"It's just people seeking out peace. We accept everyone with open arms."

"What happened to me being the only person you talk to?" 

"Oh? Jealous?" she grinned. "But nah, I don't really care about anyone there, including the other admins. They're just pixels on the screen for me. Besides death, you're my only light in this world, Kazuma."

I had to play along. "Y-Yeah, good to know. Looks like there's lots of people that think similarly too, but I'm surprised the forum hasn't been taken down yet. Doesn't it break terms of service or something?"

"Probably. But some site admins believe in our ideals, so they've left us alone. We're planning on expanding beyond the forum someday anyway."

"Expanding? Like making your own website?" I needed more intel.

All she did was smile at me, but it carried a sinister aura.

"Kazuma. If you're lying to me—about anything—I'll kill myself on the spot. I don't care how I die at all."

"N-No! Why would I lie? You know how miserable I am at school! Life sucks!"

"Then, prove it." She leaned back on my bed and slightly spread her legs. "Give me a reason to trust you and I'll reciprocate."

I gulped at her ajar, salient legs. "We don't need to do that. Let's—think of something else."

"Fine, just a kiss then." She sighed and adjusted her cat ears.

"Kiss?"

"Come on, are you too virgin for even a kiss?"

883jct893n3wieojdoifsp. My body turned on autopilot mode and waltzed over before sitting beside Noriko. She retained the same erotic face from earlier as my own approached hers. Beautiful eyes slowly shut as our lips prepared to touch.

The sound of a door opening snapped us out of our trance.

"Oh, big brother. Looks like you're busy, don't mind me," my sister Chidori said from the doorway.

I kept my face near Noriko's. "D-Don't mind you? Normally people would be polite and close the door when they interrupt something like this."

"Why would I do that? I want front row seats to your first big accomplishment in life."

"That's not how it works . . ."

My 14-year-old little sister had inherited our mother's long, orange hair but retained our dad's emerald eyes. Even though Chidori was socially awkward like me, sheer extrovertedness balanced it out. She had cycled through at least three boyfriends by now.

Squirming around in her sailor uniform, a little ball of fur popped out from under Chidori's chin.

"Nyaa! Nyaa!" the black kitten squeaked. It shimmied out and plopped to the floor.

"Oh, a kitty!" Noriko said excitedly. She leaned forward to attract its attention. "Come here!"

Our new kitten suddenly learned how to sprint and bolted over. It found comfort in Noriko's hands as she scooped him up into her lap.

“So cute! What’s his name?”

“Doesn’t have one yet," I said.

"How does he not have a name yet? And why didn't you tell me about him anyway?"

"Didn't seem important. My sister wanted the cat so she'll name it."

"Actually, that's on you," Chidori replied with blank face. "I'm just training him; don't have time to pick a good name."

"Ehhh? I don't mind, but I'd probably give him an anime name or something."

"That's fine. He'll just be 'Cat' until then."

The black kitten tossed and turned in Noriko's lap, eager to expose every inch of himself for petting. This was probably the closest I've seen a cat come to smiling.

"Well, guess I'll bail now," my sister said. "Sorry for barging in, Mito."

Wait, why doesn't she apologize to me too?

"Oh, it's okay!" Noriko replied. "If your brother was more of a man, you might've barged into something more interesting."

All I could do was fidget in shame.

"Hmmm . . . If you guys wanna fuck, I got condoms my Ex-boyfriend left behind. Not that we ever fucked ourselves, of course."

Noriko blushed and twirled a strand of hair around her finger, obviously wanting me to give the response.

"Uhhh, no thanks. We're not in a relationship or anything, haha."

"Yeah, doing it raw feels great too." Chidori nodded twice.

"Did you hear what I said? Actually, how do you know how sex even feels like? You're only 14."

Nonchalant whistling escaped her lips as she slowly started closing the door. "Well, parents are out right now if you two wanna do anything fun. I'll just listen to music really loud."

With a soft click, my sister sealed my room once more.

"Nyaa! Nyaa!" The kitten on Noriko's lap looked up towards me with starry eyes.

"I think he likes you!" she said. "Figured out a name yet?"

"We'll just go with 'Cat', there."

The feline stared up at me with displeased eyes, like I'd just earned its vexation forever, with interest.

"Come on, think of something better than Cat!" Noriko said, rubbing Cat's back.

"Ughhh, guess I'll comb web novels later for ideas. Gives me an excuse to check out a new one from America."

"Oh? Which?"

"Dominion's Paradise. My fave translation group has been translating the first chapters and it's apparently pretty good."

Noriko opened her mouth to speak but cut herself off. She started caressing Cat again. "Sorry. I'd say I'll read it, but I probably won't be around long so no point."

Chidori's intrusion had made me completely forget about the topic at hand. I still needed to save Noriko from herself somehow. "Can I just ask one question?" 

"What is it?" She laid Cat down on the floor.

"When you finally made up your mind—about suicide—is that something you decided yourself, or is something that forum pushed you into deciding?"

Her eyes turned cold for a second, but then reverted to normal. "Kazuma, you generated a misconception about us. We don't ever tell anyone to kill themselves; followers just adopt resolutions they feel best suit them, based on the doctrines we preach. Death isn't something we literally push on people, it's only a concept we desire to be better understood and appreciated."

"If that's true, what happens when people do kill themselves?"

An emotionless grin spread across her face as she glared at me with soul-crushing intensity.

"We congratulate them," she said plainly. "Or at least, celebrate their accomplishment with a public obituary."

I looked away and bit my lips. Noriko, how long have you been suffering? Why was I blind to it? Why couldn't I do something? But I'll save you even if it kills us both!

"Kazuma?"

"Give me one week," I said. "Just one week to decide if I'll kill myself with you. Please, just don't hurt yourself before then . . . please."

A moment of silence encapsulated the room. I slowly turned towards her to see the reply.

"Okay," she said. "One week, one week only; but only on one condition."

"What?"

Her hand forcibly shot out and grabbed mine. "Give me chances to convince you—about how beautiful death is! That way, even if you don't come with me, you'll live a more sanctified life after I'm gone!"

Sincere eyes gleamed at me like they fully believed everything their owner spoke. I was in no position to bargain though.

"Yeah, totally fine." I said. "Here, I'll give you my phone number too in case anything comes up."

"Mm! About time! Maybe there's hope for you yet!"

Neither of us were aware of the other's social media accounts, so we'd only communicated in person until now. I had too much pride to ask her for anything, and she was probably just waiting for me to ask. Better late than never.

After we finished our exchange, another awkward silence befell us. Noriko twiddled her fingers as her face flushed pink.

"So . . . If you want, we can still kiss, as a sign of my trust to give me an answer."

"No, I don't want to take advantage of you like that," I said sternly. "Uhhh, how about lend me something instead?"

"Lend? Like what?"

"Dunno, you decide. Something that'll remind me of you every time I see it."

She pressed a finger to her chin and brainstormed, then like a lightbulb lit up, her face screamed Aha!

"Mm! Ok!" Noriko's hands reached towards the top of her head and plucked off the brown cat ears. She presented them to me like a tiara.

"Huh? Your headband?" I said, perplexed.

"Yup! Put it on!"

"Urg, alright."

She leaned forward and began the coronation ceremony. I lowered myself slightly as she slipped the cat ears onto embarrassed me.

"Done!"

"H-How do I look?"

"Dumb! But cute!"

Well, at least she's honest.

My fingers reached up to rub the fluffy ears she randomly started wearing one day. Apparently, she'd won them in a sweepstakes and would always carry them around in her satchel, ready for immediate use after classes. We rarely interacted outside school, but when we did, Noriko's cat ears were always along for the ride.

"I don't expect you to wear them everywhere," she started, "but don't just stash them in a drawer or something and forget about them."

"Aren't you usually the one forgetting things?"

"Dummy, that's only sometimes," she pouted. "But yeah. Hold onto those until you make up your mind. Once you do, no matter what, I'm coming back to get them, 'k?"

"If you remember."

"S-Shut up! You remember I need to pick up those cat ears! Don't give them back unless I say so!"

"Sure, sure." I acted silly, but in the back of my mind I was thinking: What happens if you never come back?

She straightened her skirt and stood up. Cat on the floor circled around her feet for attention.

"Hey, Kazuma?"

"Yeah?"

"I just—I just don't want you to think we're hypocrites," Noriko said gloomily. "I told you earlier we don't tell anyone to kill themselves, but here I am asking you to do just that with me."

The irony wasn't lost, but not worth repudiating her for. "Don't worry about it. Suicide must've been a tough choice to make. It's understandable you wouldn't want to go alone."

"No!" she stammered. "It can't be just anyone! Only you!"

"Huh? I don't think I'm special or anything."

Tears started welling in her eyes as shivering hands curled up into fists. "Stupid! Stupid! You're the only person I care about, Kazuma! In this whole world! That's why it'd mean more than the world to me if we could do this together! I'd do anything for you if you just said yes!"

Please live for me. That's all I want. And that's what I'd make happen.

Comforting her in my arms wouldn't do her any good. I needed to keep distant for now; I needed my plan to play out perfectly over the next week. Machinations assembled themselves one by one in my head as full pictures formed—all culminating at the bridge where our fates would be decided.

I couldn't tell her what she wanted to hear, but I knew what she needed to hear.

"I'll be with you until the end, Noriko, no matter what I decide. That's my promise, and if I break it, I’ll happily kill myself one day.”