My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
I definitely felt someone watching me.
Sakura? No way she knows where I work though. Another DeLightful? Why sneak around and not confront me then? This is beyond weird . . .
I had just finished cash register duty at Kamikawa Books and returned to sorting light novels. My shelves were left jumbled from people rushing to pick up restocks of Dominion's Paradise, and I needed to fill in the voids with literally anything.
A small stack of Unemployed Reincarnation novels stared up at me from the nearby cart. Traditionally, we sort our books by publishers, but each employee was given leeway on how their areas were sorted afterwards. Keepings isekai's together when possible was a favorite hobby of mine on the job.
Darn, looks like I need a new supply of books. How unfortunate! Guess I gotta venture to the backroom. Seeking to resupply shelves was inherently a great excuse to take a breather in our stockroom, but today I wanted cover from whatever eyes were staring me down.
I straightened my blue apron and carefully peeked around me: two high school boys in uniforms looked over volumes of Shield Heart Online, while an old lady I'd helped earlier conversed with her granddaughter. A dozen or so other customers wandered the store but no one shady, which only furthered my suspicions.
My hand slid the last novels into their shelves and I headed towards our backroom. It was situated within the boy's manga section, at the very back of our store. Manga aimed at males were usually the biggest sellers, so positioning them in an area that'd force customers to trek through more store floor was ideal; similar to how grocery stores used the necessity of milk to lure people further inside.
'Late stage capitalism!' Nemoto would probably say.
As if on cue, my slacker coworker Nemoto suddenly crept out from the backroom, a large box in his arms. Long, white bangs dropped over his eye hiding almost half his face.
"Oh h-hey, do you need some help?" I said, making my way over.
"Nah I got it," he replied with his usual tired voice. "Just some new manga, not like they're western comics."
American graphic novels were devastatingly heavy en masse, due to them always being printed on premium paper and in full color. No one besides Mogami could handle them with ease, which was why he'd been assigned to American comics since we first opened four years ago.
"Chill, it's no problem." I said, trying to swipe the box from a resisting Nemoto. Just let it happen! I need an excuse to talk with you!
"The sweat of my brow belongs to me!" He stepped back. "If I'm gonna be a slave, I'm gonna be a damn good one!"
"You're getting paid though."
"Let me have my moment, please."
I sighed and followed him into his section. Nemoto oversaw boy's manga nearby, so it wasn't a far walk. He laid the box down in front of disorganized shelves then wiped his forehead.
"Did you just fake wipe away sweat from your face?" I chuckled.
"A man is entitled to the sweat of his brow whether it's there or not!"
"I can't tell if that's pro-socialist or capitalist."
"Literally just finished playing LifeShock again, sue me." He reached into the large box and plucked out shrink wrapped volumes of Two Piece. "Anyway, something on your mind? You look angsty."
Sure is perceptive when he doesn't need to be. "Oh, uh, just wondering if you've felt anyone watching you today at all, maybe?"
"Watching me? As if I'm nearly rich or hot enough to have stalkers; nothing's happened all day man."
"You sure? I've kinda sensed some eyes on me lately."
Nemoto swiveled around. "Don't see anything sus. If you think there's another DeLightful around, I can let Kamikawa know."
"No, no, it's fine! I might just be going crazy, haha."
"Too much late night gaming without me would do that."
"W-We can play Semtex Legends this weekend. Gonna head back and see if anyone else has noticed anything though."
His face grimaced. "Kikuchi is in the stockroom, watch out."
I'm doomed. "T-Thanks for the heads up. See ya' around then."
I awkwardly waved goodbye as my feet trekked down the colorful aisle. A door straight ahead was my next destination. With a soft creak, the poster-laden door opened up and I crept inside.
A large room stuffed with rows and racks of books presented itself. Mixed scents of new novels mingled with remaining odors of the first shift's lunches. Our stockroom, or the backroom depending on who's asked, was where our center of operations took place. Just-delivered books needed to be removed from their boxes and stored on racks, while they waited to be incorporated into our systems and shrink wrapped—among other quick tasks.
Towards the back of the room, I noticed a green-haired woman working at our shrink wrap station. Rento Kikuchi operated a grill-like contraption that aided in the wrapping process. She pushed up the bridge of her glasses with a finger and gazed hungrily in my direction.
"Oh my, Nishikata!" she flamboyantly said, wrapping her arms under her breasts. "If you want, you can shrink wrap me and take me home tonight!"
"I'd rather take home a homeless guy, thanks."
"Don't be like that! I'm pretty, aren't I? Firm and voluminous in all the right areas! What's the issue then?"
A pretty sexual predator is still a sexual predator! "I think your son would be lonely if you didn't come home tonight?"
"Already thought it out!" She blew out a big, pink bubble that popped in her face. "I'll bring him to your house for a sleepover, and when he's tucked in asleep, you and I can start making a sibling for him!"
I had already walked across the room—only half aware of what she just said—and headed towards recent shipments still in their boxes. Showing my back to Kikuchi was a huge gamble, but ignoring her antics seemed to be a great way to counter her. Only manly man Mogami was Kikuchi's natural weakness, since Mogami would actually bang her if she asked, but she preferred preying on prey that wouldn't bite back.
"Are you listening to me?" She whined from afar. "Don't complain if I suddenly steal your virginity one day!"
I kneeled over to peer into a stuffed box: dozens of female-orientated manga volumes stared up at me, clearly desperate to be released from their cardboard prison.
"Excuse me, Nishikata," a gentle voice behind me said.
"Oh, Summers." I looked behind to meet her face. "Guess your shipment of Tailor Luna finally came in."
My blonde, busty coworker wore a smile so vividly perfect it'd cure the worst ailments of whoever witnessed it. She had a clipboard nestled between her arm, presumably to help her keep note of stock.
"It's just reruns, thanks to the anime reboot," she replied in her Texan accent. "The publisher keeps asking us to order more than we need . . ."
"If only we could get that kind of energy for Dominion's Paradise, haha," I said. "Do you need help with any of this? Not much for me to do right now." A small lie.
"Oh, I'm fine! My shelves outside are perfect, so just shaving off some of tomorrow's workload." She stepped by me and reached into the box below. A shiny copy of Basketful of Fruits in her hand looked fresh from the printing press. "Basketful's publisher is asking us not to shrink wrap the first volume, so I'm just feeling a little stressed lately trying to keep track of everything."
"Nothing like tricking people into reading a first volume, but forcing them to buy the others," I replied, scratching my head. "Too bad it turns us into a free trial."
"We can always say no, but Kamikawa wouldn't like it if we burned any bridges." Summers bent over and tried hoisting a heavy box up. "Oof!"
"Let me give you a hand," I said, trudging through a small field of boxes. We carried the large package together and plopped it onto a nearby table. "Phew. You'd think these were American comics or something."
"Sorry, I should've taken some stuff out first," she said with a pant. "Back in America, when I was a kid, my dad liked ripping open packages with a huge hunting knife. It's like he didn't know box cutters existed until we moved to Japan!"
"Well, everything is bigger in Texas . . ." I snuck a quick peek at her chest as she laid more boxes on the table. God, what did they feed her over there? "Oh that reminds me, can I ask a weird question?"
"Sure! Shoot, my dude!" she cutely said in English.
Gotta phrase myself carefully so she doesn't worry about me like Nemoto. "By any chance, have you noticed anything strange happening today?"
"Strange? Like what?"
"Like, uh, something funny floating in the air?" Ok that was dumb phrasing.
"Something's in the air? Where?" She poked her head around like a ditz as distant Kikuchi looked towards us in confusion.
Guess Summer's always been a bit of a lovable airhead. "Nah, never mind, it's nothing. Guess I'm just kinda tired today."
"Get the rest you need!" She said with a handful of books. "I don't want you wearing yourself out, plus Nemoto is already our resident sleepyhead."
"Chew me out when I got bags under my eyes like him, haha." I walked to my book racks and pulled out some novels so it looked like I visited for a reason. "Gonna head back to my shelves now though and sort new arrivals in."
"Feel free to run into mommy's arms if you bump into another DeLightful!" Kikuchi across the room shouted.
Did she actually almost pick up on what I meant earlier? "I-I'll see you two around."
"Mm! Stay frosty!" Summers blurted in English.
What does "frosty" mean? Oh well. I waltzed back towards the door and turned a doorknob. As I walked out to the store floor, out of the corner of my eye, a distant black cap quickly ducked behind some bookshelves.
Perpetrator! Someone really has been watching me! Knew I wasn't going crazy! I hustled to my light novel shelves and dropped off the backroom books. A pursuit to find out the absolute truth was my only option.
Whoever had been tailing me likely waited for me to exit the stockroom. What was their goal? Why were they interested in me? I wouldn't let myself be a victim anymore, and it was high time to take action.
I strolled by several customers in our art book area as I hunted down my stalker. Before the perp could turn the left corner, I caught a glimpse of their long, brunette hair. A woman? Now I'm even more interested.
The neighboring book aisle was our first and faced the front windows. Assortments of magazines peered out at me as I gently walked by confused patrons. At the aisle's end someone in a stylish, burgundy outfit had her face obscured by an open newspaper in her hands.
Suspicious. I came right up to and tapped her shoulder. "Excuse me, miss. Have you perchance been seeking out assistance today?"
She slowly lowered the newspaper until my shocked eyes got a glimpse of her face. "Oh hey, Nishikata! Funny seeing you here!" Asagiri said, adjusting her black cap.
"H-H-Huh? What are you doing here, Asagiri? Wait, how did you even find me?"
She slipped out her phone and shot me a cutesy smile. "I snuck the Kill Switch into your backpack and tracked it here with an app GiG's get gifted!"
My backpack! No wonder she insisted on cooking breakfast today! "Shhhhh! I'm finished if coworkers learn about you!" I harshly whispered. "Did you need something?"
"Nope. But I did say last month I'd visit sometime to see how coworkers treat you."
"You were serious? Whatever, just hurry and leave before anyone else notices us." I observed groups of curious customers peering in our direction.
"Hold up, lemme get a clear pic of you in your uniform, it's totes adorbs." She backed up for a perfect shot of me in my blue apron and white dress shirt combo.
"This isn't a zoo! Yeah you've finally seen me in my uniform, but time to go!" I resisted grabbing her shoulders.
"Why panic? It's not like anyone here knows I'm your girlfriend or anything."
"You don't understand. If Asada catching us talking like this, I'm dea—"
"Nishikata? What's going on over there?" A high-pitched, girly voice boomed from the aisle's other end.
I craned my neck backwards, knowing my fate was sealed. A cold bead of sweat dripped down a strand of my black hair as I watched Asada slowly approach.
"Oh, it's Carne Asada!" Asagiri said, presumably in Spanish.
"What Asada?" I muttered. "Whatever, just act natural and play along with me!"
My black-haired, loli assistant manager was trudging towards us, a fresh scowl etched on her face. Even customers steered clear of her war path.
Of all people to catch us, it had to be her . . . "O-Oh, Asada! Is something wrong?"
"That's what I wanna know," she replied, standing right below me. "Who's this girl?"
"Ah, she was just a customer who mistook me for someone else. I believe she was just leavi—"
"Hey Miss Asada, this Nishikata guy is kinda hot, you should date him," Asagiri said, fiddling with the lollipop in her mouth.
"Huh?" Both Asada and I blurted.
"Hehe, I love the boys here, especially Kamikawa. Maybe I'll come back sometime for them." With a wink towards me, Asagiri skipped out the front door without a care in the world.
Oh she is so toast later.
Me and my assistant manager had our mouths wide open as we finally looked at each other, pink faced.
"I am so sorry," I painfully said. "She was just an overly affectionate customer who confused me with someon—"
"W-Why would I date you, idiot!" she said, ignoring me. "I was just worried you were cornered by another DeLightful! Humph!"
"Thanks for being worried, but I'm fine," I replied. "No Delightfuls or anything suspicious here, haha . . ."
Asada bowed and apologized to nearby patrons for the scene. Her shy gaze then redirected to me while she twiddled her fingers, seemingly nervous.
"W-Well, since you're already here, would you mind giving me a hand?" she said.
"Hmm? Help you take care of Magazines?"
She nodded. "Mogami doesn't work Mondays, so it's just been me here covering for him all day."
"Sure. Don't really gotta ask though, just order me and I'd be happy to help."
"Then, start by grabbing me that last gardening magazine up there." She pointed towards a magazine clearly out of her reach on a top shelf. My loli coworker who barely stood over four feet tall had no chance.
But I devised a more creative idea.
"Ok, I'll give you a hand." With the swiftness of a ninja, I slid my hands under Asada's armpits and lifted her up until she faced her desired magazine. She felt almost as light as my cat.
Ahhh. Why do I do this to myself?
Asada's ears started reddening as the first trembles began.
"Nishi—, Nishi—, Nishikataaaaaaaa!" Her body thrashed around like a crackhead Tasmanian devil. Tiny but violent teeth aimed for my fingers as the loli's mouth practically foamed.
"Geez, didn't you want a hand?" I chuckled, maneuvering my fingers to dodge bites.
"Your head is mine when I get down, Nishikata! RAAAAaaaa!"
"I think you might have a hard time reaching it."
"I'll take out your kneecaps at least!"
It's little moments like these that made me feel right at home, here in this store I've toiled at for years, full of memories and considerate coworkers. But in the short month I'd come to know my girlfriend Asagiri, it'd already felt like I'd known her for at least a decade.
I remembered what Sakura said yesterday during our confrontation: "Asagiri has suffered more than you can fathom. No one could save her, so she saved herself . . ."
I knew not what darkness she faced in her past, but a creeping feeling whispered something even more distressing was approaching. Whatever it was, I’d take it head on even if it kills me. I'd already lived longer than I should've thanks to Asagiri anyway.
I wouldn't let the past repeat itself, especially my own.