Chapter 13:

Double Disappearances Part 1

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

"I'm ho-ome!"

Silence introduced itself as I shut the front door behind me. A dearth of background noise blanketed my house with an almost ominous vibe.

"Asagiri?" I shouted down the hall, taking off my shoes. No reply.

It's not like I was expecting a stuffed tiger to rush at me or something, but my girlfriend would have usually hurled a slur or two by now. It'd been one week since Noriko's visit, and Asagiri and I had devolved into a troll of a couple—if we weren't already.

I peeked my head into a deserted living room and then a spotless kitchen. Maybe she's upstairs? Seemed she’d done her half of chores at least while I was at work.

Stairs creaked with every step I took upwards. Our second floor housed a myriad of family photos along the hallway, all peering towards me like memories begging to be relived.

The first door on the left belonged to Asagiri, and formerly to my sister Chidori. She'd texted me yesterday about plans solidifying her flashy, return home from college for the holidays later on. Maybe I could ask how her relationship is going, since she ended up dating her assigned boyfriend for real.

I turned the crumb-laden doorknob: various Asagiri artifacts lay scattered about in her room like clothes, snack wrappers, and feminine products but no moochy girlfriend. 

Huh? Did she go out then? Or . . . Is she in my room?

When she first moved in, I mentioned she could chill in my otaku paradise whenever. Not like I actually expected her to do that, but Asagiri sneaked in a while ago to borrow Dominion's Paradise. I'd still been waiting for her thoughts on what she's read so far, but didn't wanna bring it up like some desperate fanboy.

I snuck out of her room, and closed the door shut behind me with more force than intended. As if in response, I heard a cute murmur emanate further down the hall.

Well shit, that came from my room.

I crept along towards the hall's very end, cautious of what to expect. A faint humming made itself apparent as I reached my door, intensifying with a turn and push of the doorknob.

Immediately, I noticed a stark difference in my bed's condition: Asagiri snoring softly had coiled herself around my body pillow that featured a busty Greek goddess. Very cutely, Asagiri’s sleeping face peeked just over the pillow, accentuating a set of cat ears around her head.

I couldn't help but imagine Noriko when she lay there wearing those exact cat ears, all those years ago.

"Mmm . . . mmphphphur." She started stirring, and her sleepy eyes cracked open to meet mine. "Waa? Nishikata? What are ya' doing 'ere?"

"Ummm, this is my room?" I gingerly said, approaching the bed. "What are you doing here?"

"Mmhurphhur . . ." She appeared to doze off again, and then quickly awoke. "Oh! I finished the first volume of Dominion's Paradise! I wanted to break the news here, but I fell asleep waiting for you!"

"Sorry I'm late. Had to head somewhere with a coworker after work."

"Cheating on me already? Bet it was with that Asada girl."

"I don't think I'd apply for a government-issued girlfriend if I had any sort of romantic prowess."

"True." Asagiri sat up and stretched, pushing her chest out. She was wearing gray, loose-fitting pajamas with a blouse only partially buttoned up. A chunk of tan cleavage beamed into my eyes before she embarrassingly noticed and covered herself.

I nonchalantly whistled like nothing was seen.

"Well, there goes your fanservice supply for the month," she said, buttoning up her blouse. "Too bad I'm not as big as Noriko though, right?"

"Huh? I don't care about that." I tossed my backpack into a corner and sat in my computer chair. "You're my girlfriend, not her, so no point comparing yourselves."

"Sweettalking won't get you between my legs. Besides, Noriko is married. Should've made your move on her sooner, Nishikata."

"We have a complicated past to say the least, so it wouldn't have worked out."

"Hmmm . . ." Asagiri stared at me intensely from my bed, then reached up to rub her cat ears. "These things on my head: they wouldn't by any chance belonged to Noriko before?"

Why does this girl have spontaneous bursts of critical thinking? "W-Well, guess you figured it out. She was supposed to come by for them forever ago but when I reminded her, she said I could just keep them."

"Oh? If you wanted, you could've asked me to give them back to her."

"Nah, she literally told me they're mine now. Probably doesn't want them back."

"What makes you say that?"

"Who knows." There were some things I still didn't feel comfortable telling Asagiri.

She sighed and bear-hugged my body pillow. Dominion, the Greek goddess portrayed on it, didn't seem quite as appetizing now that I had an actual girlfriend.

"Hey Nishikata," Asagiri said. "Be honest. If you had to choose between me, Noriko, and Dominion, who would you pick?"

"What's the sudden litmus test for?"

"Just answer the question."

I combed my hand through my hair in stress, knowing the dangers of this minefield. "Noriko is married, Dominion isn't real; so of course, I'd choose you."

"Forgetting who's real and who's married, who would you pick then?"

"Still you."

We both fidgeted in our seats as our flushed faces avoided looking at each other. Asagiri cutely tried hiding herself behind Dominion's body pillow.

A set of tiny footsteps broke the silence.

"Nyaa! Nyaa!" Furbolt said as it strutted into my room.

"Cat? Why are you sneaking around?" I yelled at my black cat.

"What do you mean 'Cat'?" Asagiri said. "You forget his name or something?"

"Oh shit." Brain fart moment. "Nah, Cat was his placeholder name before I settled on Furbolt. Got confused for a second."

Furbolt's tail wagged affectionately, as if it liked hearing its new name much more than its old.

A finger shot out and Asagiri pointed at me. "Yeah! That's another thing I came here to ask! Why did you name your cat after a panther kitten from Dominion's Paradise?"

"I mean, it's a better name than Cat, right?"

"You work at a bookstore! How are you creatively bankrupt?"

"Is it wrong to name my cat after something I like?"

"Well, no but coming from you it's just cringe."

Furbolt hopped onto the bed and snuggled in with Asagiri. Gentle fingers stroked his black fur.

Zap her, boy! Show her your true power!

The old cat only surrendered to the temptation of Asagiri's soothing touch. Traitor! Lucky bastard!

"Hmm? Bet you wish this was you, huh?" she looked over at me smugly.

"Pfffff, as if."

Furbolt flipped over and revealed his tummy to her; my girlfriend with a grin spoiled him even more. I couldn't help but feel even more defeated.

"Oh, by the way," Asagiri's blue eyes glanced towards me, "about Noriko: when we were cooking together last week, she told me a bit about your past together."

Crap, I didn't even consider their conversation! If she tries to cross-reference our stories, I might get caught in a lie. "R-Really? What did she mention then?"

"Not much more than I already knew, but she did say one interesting thing."

"Which is?"

Asagiri tossed Dominion aside and sat over the bed's edge. "That you two just started chatting again recently, like a year or two ago. So how'd it feel to suddenly find out your hot childhood friend got married?"

Careful, careful. "Uhhh, no comment?"

"Heh. The timeline seems about right for when you might've started considering a government-issued girlfriend. Were you distraught at all?"

No way could I confess Noriko's reappearance and sudden disappearance again were the catalysts of several events, which triggered my slow descent into depression. Asagiri saved me from that darkness, just like I saved Noriko from her own—but who knew when mine would resurface again.

"I was more distraught when I learned how moochy you were," I told my moochy girlfriend. "Guess we're stuck with each other now though."

"Yup, you drew the short stick honestly. There were lots of other pretty, eager girls in the academy hoping to be matched up with a good man."

"Matched up?"

"What, you thought those application qualifications were just a formality? Nahhh. We all knew that every guy who passed those screenings was husband material, just a matter of seeing if their looks or personality were fugly."

"The selection process is randomized for you guys too though, right?"

"Yup. We can't just pick and choose our ideal sugar daddies, unfortunately. But even if it's a fake relationship—if the stars aligned right—I don't think any girl would mind going steady for real with the right guy."

"Chidori is probably the walking example." I sank further into my chair. "But she's a bit more open to certain things so it's not surprising."

Asagiri shot me a serious look. "Did she tell you anything peculiar about the GiG program?"

"Not really, no?"

"Good. Let's just say there's one thing we absolutely cannot divulge to anyone, especially our clients."

"Now you got me curious."

"Too bad. Curiosity killed the cat!" She lifted and tucked Furbolt into her arms. "You probably wanna chat about Dominion's Paradise, right? Let's talk about that then—instead of government secrets."

"Oh yeah, I'm wondering about your fave characters and stuff." Would it be the heroic protagonist Daichi? Or the gorgeous cleric Sanae? Maybe someone else from the guild?

"Interrogate me downstairs then because I'm hungry." She stood up with my cat and heaved herself towards the door. "M-Maybe we gotta feed Furbolt a bit less too."

"Hey, you're the one fattening him up. Now he follows you everywhere."

"Nyaaa!" Furbolt happily replied.

"Time for a diet, mister," Asagiri pouted. Her blues tried looking intimidating. 


The duo made their way out and down the hall.

With a sigh, I lifted myself off the chair and checked my phone. Earlier, I'd gone shopping with Nemoto after work to help him pick out new computer parts. He said he'd text me if he needed any extra help, but my inbox was as empty as my trash can.

Wait, did Asagiri take out my trash? I peered into it again: a void-like emptiness stared back at me. I'd meant to take it out today, but the sleeping pill bottle I tossed last week would've probably still been near the top. If Asagiri by chance saw that . . .

I pushed the thought away. My mind was busy enough trying to understand Noriko suddenly coming back into my life a second time, after months of no contact and ignoring my texts. One year ago, when we finally reunited after the bridge incident, it was like she was a completely different person—not to mention married. I was thankful she freed herself from DeLightful ideals, but now it seemed like something else had taken root.

The future was still uncertain, and there wasn't time for hesitation.

I stood up and ran towards a new destiny.