My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
The entire house was eerily quiet. Not a peep or sound rustled.
I'd been resting my head on our kitchen table as the Saturday afternoon withered by. Since Sonozaki left earlier, my mind worked overtime computing everything he disclosed: Asagiri was and likely still believed in DeLightful ideals, as well as being an introverted outcast for most of high school. None of that bothered me though, and I'd tried calling her down and going to her room to tell her, but only silence responded.
Hope she's not embarrassed since I learned about her past; maybe I'll share some more of mine to make it even. The tricky part would be figuring out how to tiptoe around mentioning Noriko since I didn't wanna rope her into our drama.
However, Noriko Mito, otherwise known as Madonna, was responsible for setting into motion everything that happened today—seven long years in the making.
DeLightfuls preyed on weak willed individuals who didn't have anywhere else to turn to. Inherently though, DeLightfuls weren't evil as much as just societal nuisances. Japan had already been experiencing a rise in suicide rates, so the introduction of a cult that worshipped death didn't help matters.
Yet only today, I felt just a little thankful towards DeLightfuls for helping me meet my moochy girlfriend. Her association with the cult had nudged her to where she was now. Maybe that's a bit selfish to think about though, I chuckled to myself.
The sudden sound of footsteps stumbling down our stairs snapped me from my trance. Still half asleep, I peered forward to see Asagiri peeking around the hallway corner.
"I'm going out," she plainly said.
"Oh? Where are you going? I can tag along too if you want."
"No, this is just for me. Stay home and jerk off or something."
I had a bad feeling. “Listen, I already said it before, but there’s no problem with you being a DeLigh—”
“Just leave me alone!” she yelled, her voice full of hurt.
She scampered down the hallway and out the front door before I could finish. I debated chasing after her but didn't want to worsen our damaged relationship.
It wasn’t technically my fault, but I hope Sakura doesn’t get mad at me for making Asagiri upset . . .
Furbolt strolled underneath the kitchen table and curled up by my feet. His presence had a calming effect on me.
I’d wanted to cook something for my girlfriend as a surprise, but the day’s stress had worn me down. I laid my head back on the table and slowly closed my eyes, joining my feline friend in dreamville.
Huh? What time is it?
I looked up from the table and peered out our patio door to see a darkening sky. What remained of sunset would soon be snuffed out by night.
“Asagiri!” I shouted. “Are you home yet?”
I gently slid Furbolt off my feet and raced upstairs. The bad feeling from earlier persisted with more fervor.
My hand wrapped around her room’s doorknob and I barged inside. Only darkness and emptiness were there to greet me.
Shit! Guess I should call. I found her contact in my phone and immediately dialed it while my hand trembled.
A sudden anime ringtone blared out behind me, and I turned around to see her cell phone blinking on the pillow.
She left her phone? Why? What’s going on? I contemplated trying to get in touch with Sonozaki or Sakura somehow but didn’t want them worrying. Panicking wouldn't help anyone. My brisk breaths and pounding heart indicated there wasn’t anyone more worried than me though.
If she’s still a DeLightful, there’s no telling what’ll happen if she’s super depressed!
Think. I had to think. My fingers found the light switch and I plopped onto her bed. Should I just wait for her to come home? No, she's part of that cult and probably prone to suicidal thoughts like Noriko was. Go out and look for her? Asagiri could be anywhere though! In the worst case I'd have to ask the police for help, but then the government might separate us! There were too much and too many variables to process.
Somewhere she'd be . . . Some way to find her . . . What would she do if she was searching for me?
From the bed, I scanned for anything around to offer a clue: her clothes neatly folded in the closet, a suitcase in the corner, some scattered candy on the wardrobe, Bubbly the bee girl knocked over on the floor . . . and back to her cell phone on the bed.
"Wait! Her phone!" On the first day back from work when she started living here, I learned her cell phone didn't have a lock feature set; no password or fingerprint ID or anything. Her history being beyond complicated, it seemed asinine to not include some form of protection, but it was about to prove advantageous.
"Sorry, Asagiri! I need to do this!" My hand scooped and woke up her phone. Sure enough, there was still no lock set, and I effortlessly accessed her home screen. My heart ba-dumped on seeing the same picture of me still applied as her wallpaper, but there wasn't time to humor butterflies in my stomach.
Call her parents from here? Would Sakura be better? I was tempted to discover if Sonozaki was still in her contacts, or maybe read through their messages, but I'd never forgive myself for being a total creep.
"Wouldn't want her activating Kill Switch anywa—wait, what about Kill Switch?" I yelled out loud at the epiphany. "Kill Switch! Kill Switch! If it's on Asagiri, I can track where she is!"
My thumb scrolled through her phone's apps, desperate to find anything resembling a government application. Most icons were alien to me, but a certain app named "Assigned Resources" caught my eye. I tapped on it and was brought to a dashboard related to the GiG program.
Yes! This is it! I scoured through the menu, careful to avoid any personal information. Since the other day Asagiri tracked me to work by planting Kill Switch on my backpack, I knew how the process worked thanks to her basic explanation. Just gotta hope Kill Switch is still stashed somewhere on her.
Buried in the app's menu options, a button titled "Location Examiner" appeared and I hastily tapped on it. A local map popped up filled with streets, businesses, and landmarks. It gradually zoomed in on a red blip near our local river embankment that sliced through the middle of town.
Well that's ominous, I thought. If this tracker actually works, Asagiri is right next to one of the last places I'd ever wanna be near again.
But there wasn't time for hesitation or doubt. I shoved her phone in my pocket and sprinted downstairs, almost crashing against walls. A startled Furbolt came around the corner and barely dodged my stamping feet.
"Sorry! I'm gonna go bring back our mooch!" I yelled towards my cat as I hurried into the kitchen. My hands plucked out a single red lollipop from our pantry, in case I'd need to bribe her back.
I didn't know what was to come, or why Asagiri chose that place of all places to sightsee, but I braced myself for whatever outcome would unfold. Her being near water in her current mental state frightened me more than anything else.
I quickly put on my shoes at the front entrance and raced out into a darkening world.
Make it in time! Let me make it in time, please!
A high moon overhead helped highlight shops, cars, and streetlights as I sprinted by them. My body was dangerously out of breath, and my legs buckled with almost every step. Even in the chilly night, sweat gushed down my neck's side like there was no tomorrow; because if something befell Asagiri, there really wouldn't be a tomorrow for me—I'd make sure of that.
Unable to continue further, I shrank to my knees in front of our local library, panting profusely. A lamp post above showered me with dim, blinking light as if warning me not to rest long.
Three, four, maybe five kilometers? How long has it been? But Asagiri's right ahead! Just a bit more! Just a bit more! I wiped sweat off my forehead and slowed my breathing. It wouldn't do anyone any good if I suffered a sudden heart attack.
I reached down into my pocket and pulled out Asagiri's new lollipop. I'd brought it along for her, but I needed a distraction from flagrant exhaustion. The white wrapper peeled off like wrapping paper, revealing a similar red orb that'd so often linger in my girlfriend's mouth.
Monkey see, monkey do. I rammed the candy in my mouth, sealing it within. A burst of cherry flavoring coursed through me and re-energized my vitality. God I love placebos sometimes.
Still exhausted, I waddled to my feet and checked Asagiri's phone again: her locator still pinged right next to the river, almost as if she was waiting for me.
"Just stay there," I mumbled, "I'm on my way."
Darkness surrounded me once again as I escaped the comfort of the lamp post. City scenery rushed by: I crossed a train intersection, leapt over a stray cat, spun around a passerby, dashed across a crosswalk, and almost tripped on my own feet as I turned a corner.
But finally, the last few obstacles towards my destination were vanishing and I could see a starry horizon beyond me. Out of breath, I leaned onto a wall for a quick break.
Just a bit more, just a bit more! My legs were almost unresponsive, and I could barely command them to hobble forward. Metropolitan buildings were left behind as a wide, horizontal pathway greeted me. I dared not look up but I couldn't further advance otherwise.
My head slowly lifted, exposing the vivid skyline across the river ahead. Soft sounds of sloshing water graced my ears while scents of damp grass signaled the inevitable. I limped further onto the paved pathway and turned just enough to gaze upon a piece of my dark past.
A bridge. Metal beams attached to arches on its sides radiated a sense of foreboding. Occasional cars drove across, unaware of the history their wheels grinded against. Parallel, brick walkways along the bridge's edges could offer scenic views or safe travels to the opposite river embankment.
I took a deep breath, but didn't want to exhale. The lollipop tucked in my mouth was the only thing grounding me to sanity.
In the distance, a mirage of high schooler Noriko appeared. Her school uniform danced within imaginary wind as she entered the bridge's walkway, peering below into water with each step.
What would've been going through her mind back then?
And then some time later, eighteen-year-old me arrived with fists clenched and a determined expression.
What happened that night was something I'd been trying to forget, even if I had to end myself to meet that goal. I blinked my eyes hard to hopefully break the trance.
'How do you save someone who doesn't want to be saved?' Noriko's words during the blaze seven years ago echoed through my head.
Did I really save her though? Or did I set her up for something worse than death? Am I still hated for it? Is that why she deserted me for half a decade? Why she couldn't even look at me after what I did to her? And I still hadn't apologized; why should I?
. . . Or should she apologize to me?
The thoughts and doubts wouldn't stop flowing. I wasn't panting from physical exhaustion anymore, but from persistent, mental trauma that refused to perish. The warmth from embracing Noriko in my arms that night still lingered, as did the cold of the water below.
History would not repeat itself.
"Asagiri!" I screamed with vigor, her phone in my hand. "Keiko! Where are you?"
A gentle breeze blew from behind me, as if nudging me forward.
My feet shimmied onwards over the paved pathway, bringing into view the grassy river embankment below. It inclined at a scenic angle, superb for gazing towards stars above on a perfect night, or for rolling into a watery grave.
Asagiri stood resolutely below as she stared off to the opposite river embankment, like she was trapped in her own trance. The glistening water sparkled as if diamonds swirled within.
I took three steps down the grass embankment towards Asagiri, careful not to make any sudden movements.
"Come on, let's go home." My hand extended out, begging her to turn around and take it. "Furbolt misses you; I miss you. Everything Sonozaki said doesn't make me think any differently of you. You're still my girlfriend for another 10 months—at least I hope you'll be."
"I-It doesn't matter if you're a DeLightful!" Was that a lie? "You're still just Asagiri in my eyes! Keep being sassy! Keep being a mooch! Just come back so we can talk things out somewhere besides here."
No reply, but her head listed to the side, like she was fatigued from the weight of her own emotions.
"Is this your salvation?" I yelled. "Running away from your past? You're better than me though! You're stronger! And it's okay to let people help you sometimes! Just like Sakura and Sonozaki did! Let me be the next person who saves you!"
A chuckle. Two chuckles. Then a cackle.
"Madonna," she said, gazing onwards, "Cardinal, Eucalyptus, Requiem, Ad Infinitum—those are the five DeLightful founder's monikers. Only Madonna and Cardinal still walk amongst us, while the others succumbed to their dogmas."
"Asagiri?" I interrupted, but was ignored.
"Cardinal puppeteers operations from the shadows, while Madonna claimed she'd kill herself here on this bridge, seven years ago in that deleted forum. No one really knows what happened that night, but since her death couldn't be confirmed, we believe she absconded from our theology and is living out her life somewhere in peace."
Noriko's moved on already, and that's how it should be; that's what I sacrificed almost everything for.
"Listen," I said, "I won't tell you to stop believing in your ideals, so let's just try a fresh start, 'k?" My hand reached towards her shoulder.
Instantly, her own hand jetted out and slapped mine away.
"Don't touch me!" she screamed. "Do you not get it, Nishikata? I idolized Madonna! Not just because of her ideology, but because she was willing to run away from it! Give it all up! We still preach her teachings today like gospel, and they're the only reason I didn't kill myself in high school! Sakura and Sonozaki would've been too late if it wasn't for Madonna!"
"W-What are you saying?" I stepped back, surprised by her outburst.
"I wasn't a DeLightful because I worshiped death! I was a DeLightful because I worshiped life!" She blinked to hold back tears and turned her back to me. "Madonna let me witness different perspectives—let me form my own interpretations! I was useless back then, but when Madonna's words saved me, I wanted to save other people like she did for me."
"You already did though." From behind, I gingerly wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pulling her into me. "That's the only reason I'm still around, why I can hold you like this."
She didn't react, but I heard her sniffling. "When I took out your room's trash, I saw that unopened sleeping pill bottle inside. At first I was creeped out, but then I remembered the kinds of stuff my job usually entails."
Her soft hand reached up to caress mine. "You've chased me this far but still barely understand anything. It's charming, kind of."
"First time anyone's called me charming."
"Not you; your dummyness, dummy," she cutely giggled.
"Whatever you say."
Then we stood there in silence together, only our heartbeats to communicate with one another. Calm waters reflecting a starry night and distant city lights could almost make me forget the history attached to this place.
"We've been through a lot these past two months, huh?" Asagiri broke the silence.
"Something like that, yeah."
"Mhmm, so mind humoring me for a bit?"
She nudged herself out from my arms and waltzed down the grassy embankment towards the water, making me worry.
"Hey, be careful!" I said.
"I'll be right back!" she said as she kneeled to scoop out a conjoined handful of water. Asagiri hustled back over to me.
"What are you up to?" I asked, examining her.
With a grin and without hesitation, she raised her palms and dumped the cold water over my surprised head.
"Hey! Why the sudden baptism?" Water drops slid down my face.
"You felt that, right?"
"How couldn't I?"
"Then, you're alive."
Asagiri's eyes glistened with zealous admiration, looking over my way. "Death might be life's true essence, but that doesn't have to get in the way of how I live. So I've been trying to move away from DeLightful thinking by distracting myself with things, like appreciating everything life has to offer."
"Oh? Care to give some examples?" She seems genuinely cheered up now.
"Anything really," she replied. "Could be memes, could be sweets, could be reading, could be a boyfriend—"
"Boyfriend? Is that where I come in?"
"It's where both you and Sonozaki pitched in, but if it makes you feel nice, you're more my type anyway."
Neuron activation. "If you wanna try going steady for real, we ca—"
"Idiot, always ruining the moments," she said as she walked back towards the river. "Anyway, I'm basically a DeLightful in name only now, like Sakura and Sonozaki were. Want proof?"
I crossed my arms and pouted my cheeks. "Alright, try."
"K!" She raised her hands into the air, like she was casting a spell over the river. A brief wind whipped her hair around as she inhaled deeply. "Do you know why I became a government-issued girlfriend, Nishikata?"
"Dunno, I get the vibe Sakura wanted something else for you though."
"She's just overprotective! Offered me a job opportunity after high school, but I'd already settled on becoming a GiG after hearing some rumors."
"Rumors? Like school ones?" My finger twirled the lollipop stick in my mouth.
Asagiri glanced over towards pedestrians crossing the bridge above us, as if weary of them. With a sigh she looked back towards me. "No, from DeLightful seminars I don't attend anymore."
"Surprised your attention span could handle those."
"They're cringe now that I remember them, but those seminars helped me out in more ways than one."
I shimmied downwards to join her by the river. "Oh? Like?"
"People to talk to mostly, when no one else at school would." She tucked a locket of hair behind her ear and shot me a serious look. "That's when I heard rumors involving the GiG program. I already knew it existed, like everyone does, but finally signing up and going to the GiG academy confirmed certain suspicions of mine."
Goosebumps surfaced on my arms. "Suspicions about what?"
From the distance, another gust blew by as it ruffled our clothes and hair. Asagiri's solemn eyes shimmered under the intensity of her powerful glare.
"Of the true purpose of the Government-Issued Girlfriend Program," she said.