Chapter 16:

My Cultural Festival is Getting Out of Hand.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

I've had two weeks to prepare for this moment, but none of it has helped. The instrument of my torture- a frilly, lacy maid outfit and a wig- is upon me.

I told myself that I was not putting this on if it killed me. Unfortunately, it nearly did. I kinda had it...forced onto me by my classmates and when it's one person against twelve there's not much your protests can do. What's worse than the costume is how much the other guys in the class are enjoying it. I feel like I'm Alice and I've fallen down the rabbit hole, but instead of one Mad Hatter there's twelve of them. I know they say that if everyone else is crazy, you're the one who's actually crazy, but I refuse to believe I'm in the wrong here- it just doesn't make any sense.

My eyes are shut tightly as I sit in a chair in our makeshift costuming area, feeling a brush tickle my face with something cold. I'm dreading opening my eyes and seeing just what kind of monstrosity is staring back at me in the mirror.

The tickle lifts off my face, and I hear Tatsurou say "All done! Let's see how you like it!"

I'm expecting a grotesque B-movie horror monster in the mirror, but when I open my eyes there's a cute girl in front of me. When I shift to get a closer look, she moves. I hesitantly reach for my face to touch it in surprise, and the girl does too.

That's me?!

"So, what do you think?" Tatsurou bends down, still holding a couple of brushes and a small case of something.

“Tatsu, you…” I’m on my feet in a flash. "...actually did a good job. It...doesn't suck."

"Why'd you have so little faith in me? I have experience, you know." he replies.


"It's true! I've been helping out at my mom's hair salon for years. Compared to all the high-maintenance ladies we get in there, you guys are nothing."

"...I didn't expect that from you."

"If you’d asked, I would have told you about it."

I feel like I've heard that way too many times recently.

As I stand up, I hear a whistle. "Who's that pretty lady?"

Next to the portable electric cooktops near our makeshift "makeup chair", two boys are standing. They're already in their costumes as well. Junya Satake is the shorter one, and Kenji Miyama is the taller one. Other than that, there's absolutely nothing distinct about them. If I'm a mob character, these guys are the background itself. Tatsurou is friends with them, but I've never really gotten to know them very well. I never had much of a reason to. If they wanted to be friends with me, they'd make the effort.

Unfortunately, Tatsurou did not do a good job on these guys. They look exactly as horrifying as I feared I would look. If I was a kid and saw these two I'd wet my pants and then have nightmares for a solid month.

Satake makes a lecherous grin. "Are you really Kouga? You wanna go out sometime?"

"You want me to kick you in the balls?"

"Forgive Satake," Miyama sighs. "He's just desperate."

Now you've seen the reason why I'm not really interested in hanging out around them. Although, I'll admit, not getting invited to go to karaoke after school kinda stings sometimes.

"Hey, Tatsu, that's no fair!" Satake cries. "Why didn't you make us look as good as Kouga?"

"I tried-" Tatsurou pauses to look them over- "but you can't fix ugly."

"Tatsu!" Satake replies with a dramatic wail of exhaustion.

The black curtain separating the dining room from the kitchen area rustles, and Ayame peeks her head in. "Shiritori here, the girls are ready to start prepping the food-" She sees me and her eyes instantly light up as she rushes in. "Well, feed me to the worms and call me Sakura, you look amazing!"

"What?" That makes so little sense that I can't even get mad at her.

"Hey, Shiritori, what about us?" Miyama says.

"Hmm..." Ayame takes a second to look over him and Satake. "You look like total crap!" she replies, giving them a thumbs up with the biggest possible smile on her face.

"So what if I can't be a cute girl like Kouga?!" Satake fumes. "I'm trying my hardest!"


So I'm just the center of attention now? Is that the way it's going to be all day? Even if my parents don't humiliate me today it won't make a difference, because everyone else will instead!

Wait. I've got yet another idea. What do you do when you hate your job? You intentionally try to get fired. All I have to do is be as nasty as possible to the customers and then everyone will have no choice but to yank me off the floor and I'll get to take the maid outfit off and then I can spend the rest of the festival having fun with Sudou-san while the other guys have to crossdress. Sure, the rest of the class is going to hate me, but does that matter? No.

Sometimes my genius is almost frightening.

9 AM. The cafe is open for business. The girls are cooking up a storm in the back, and the smell of vegetables and meat on the grills are heavenly. At least, they would be normally. Nothing is heavenly when you're being forced to crossdress. Except for Sudou-san.

Tatsurou comes sauntering back through the curtain, cheerfully grinning. "Table for you, Haruko~"

There are actually people here who came to see this?

Relax, it’s probably just some parents.

I told myself I wouldn't come out of the back unless I was forced to, and now it's apparently that time. As I push open the curtain, carrying the menus, I see my target, a portly man with glasses who looks exactly like my dad, sitting by himself. Of course that's the type of guy who would be interested in a place like this.

There's not actually that many people here yet. They didn't need my help at all. Damn you, Tatsurou, you sent me out here on purpose.

It's okay. All I need to do is insult this guy and make him regret being born until he cries and leaves and then the class will have no choice but to let me take the maid costume off and go have fun around the festival.

The man doesn't even notice my presence until I slam the menu on the table and he jolts. "Hey, you fat pervert," I growl. "You come here by yourself to stare at high school boys dressed like this? That's creepy. Order your food and eat it and go shut yourself back in your room, you disgusting NEET."

I don't even know if the guy is a NEET or not. For all I know, I just ripped apart a hard-working businessman. That would be even better, though. He'll get offended and leave and ask to see the "manager" (our teacher) and then I'll get fired.

I look down and the guy's not left. He's still there. In fact, he's blushing and looks like a dog begging for a treat. "One okonomiyaki, Mistress..."

What is wrong with these people?!

I storm off and go bring the food back and call him a pervert and a loser and a creep even more and insult his food taste and fashion sense and tell him that in a just society he'd be put in prison and he eats the whole thing, looking like he's in heaven the whole time.

More and more customers start to come in. I'm getting requests to wait on more tables and I'm insulting every single person who orders from me- young men, old men, women, children- and yet I'm getting even more customers. They're starting to ask specifically for me.

At about eleven, after I've finished verbally ripping apart the people at my 40th table, I slump down in the back in exhaustion. Apparently, my plan has backfired because the whole world has gone crazy. Not a single customer has complained about me. Not a single one of my classmates has shot me a dirty look or demanded that I be removed from waiting tables. The girls are still cooking and plating huge amounts of food and the boys are rushing back and forth from the dining room back to the kitchen.

Tatsurou, still looking like he’s got a Noh mask on, comes back through the curtain and sees me slumped over with my face buried in my knees. "Hey, great job out there, Haruko-"

"Shut up, and don't call me that."

"Don't be so bashful. You've already made us a ton of money just by yourself. At this rate, you'll win us the best class award for sure!"

"I don't care...Please just let me rest for a second."

Why is it that whenever I try to think of a plan to deal with something, it always ends up backfiring on me?

"Kouga-kun, are you okay?"

I whirl around to tell whoever that soft voice belongs to that no, I'm absolutely not okay, and Rina Sudou is bent down, holding a bottle of water, staring at me with concern in her eyes. Oh my God, she's so close. My heart is pounding so hard it could come out of my chest.

I know I said it wouldn't matter to me if the whole class hated me after today, but there is one exception to that rule.

"I'm fine.” I can't concentrate when she's this close! And something smells nice, too- I think it's her, but it might just be the food...

"Really? You don't seem fine." She cocks her head. "You've been working so hard, and it's only been two hours...Here, this is for you." She hands me the water bottle.

I've never been more convinced that Sudou-san is an angel sent from heaven before now. I was in trouble and exhausted and she came at the exact right time to help. Just seeing her has made me forget about the hell that awaits me on the other side of the curtain. "Thank you," I say as I struggle to my feet.

"Don't push yourself too hard, Kouga-kun," she replies. "Would you like to go hold the sign outside instead of waiting tables? It will probably be easier on you. Shiba-kun's on his break."

"Gladly." I hate this stupid costume and I hate this stupid cafe, but if Sudou-san asks me, how can I ever turn her down?

Tatsurou grins. "He'll make us even more money outside. Do your best, Haru!" he says before slapping me on the back. In return, I shoot him the angriest glare I can muster before heading outside.

I step out the door and instantly freeze. There's a line all the way down the hall and around the corner.

I don’t have the energy to do anything but smile and nod weakly as people come in and out. At least I don't have to do that "Welcome home, Master~" thing.

After a few more minutes pass, a short-haired, middle-aged, incredibly tall woman comes to the front of the line. She's still in her business clothes and high heels and looks a bit frazzled, but I recognized her as soon as I saw her head poking above the rest of the people in the line. "Excuse me, my daughter said she was working in the kitchen in 1-1. I wanted to know if it's alright if I could talk to her for just a second- Oh, my! Kouga-kun?"

"It's nice to see you, Shiritori-san." It is NOT nice to see Ayame's mother while I'm wearing this outfit. Not one bit.

"That's a fantastic costume…I almost didn’t recognize you! Did Chisato make it for you?"

"Nah, someone else did. It's not a big deal." Yes, it is. Please stop talking about this.

"Would you like to be seated? I'll go get Ayame for you." Anything to take the subject off the maid outfit.

"Yes, I'd love to," Mrs. Shiritori says as she takes her purse off her shoulder. I quickly lead her inside and to a table, but before I can go to the kitchen and tell my childhood friend that her mother is here, she peeks her head out of the curtain and immediately comes running over. That girl's got ears like a bat.

"Mom! You made it!" she cries, overcome with pure happiness.

"I took a half day off," her mother replies, wiping her hands with the complimentary rolled towel. "I wouldn't miss my daughter's cultural festival for the world!"

"You've been working too much, Mom.”

"This contract's about finished. Maybe another week or so. As soon as this one's over, I promise I'll take some time off."

"You really promise?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Thanks, Mom." Ayame smiles. "Where's Dad?"

"He's at work...they called him in to correct a story..."

"Aww. He was looking forward to the festival, too. He told me."

"I know," her mother replies. "That's just the way life goes sometimes. He told me all about how you came up with the idea and how proud of it you were. It's a little unconventional, but-" she looks around- "it certainly seems popular, so who am I to judge? And I couldn't believe it when I saw Kouga-kun-"

Oh no. Here they go again.

"I know, right?!" Ayame squeals. "Isn't he the cutest?" She grins. "Maid to order! Ahahahahaha!"

"I'd say he's a self-maid man," her mother replies.

Now I see where she gets that annoying trait from. It's impressive how unfunny both of them are. It's even more impressive how both of them have completely forgotten that I'm standing right in front of them waiting for them to order food.

"Ah!" Her mother suddenly makes eye contact with me. "I'll take the yakisoba."

"Hmm..." Ayame puts her hand on her chin, deep in thought. "That one's not that bad, but you should really try the naporitan...or the borscht...or the chicken tikka masala..."

I've not looked at the menu, but just how many items are actually on it?

"Then I'll try the tikka masala since my daughter recommended it. Kouga-kun, if you would," Mrs. Shiritori says as she hands me the menu back.

"Right away, made with love from me!" Ayame chirps.

As we're walking back to the kitchen, I say under my breath, "Do we even have chicken tikka masala?"

"Yeah, we do! We put the curry sauce on the karaage."

"That's...not chicken tikka masala."

"What's the problem? No one out there is gonna know the difference. It's like when sushi chefs move to America and they sell sushi with the rice on the outside and they sell 'red snapper' that's actually another fish but the Americans don't know any better so they eat it anyways. What's the harm?"

"I don't think those are people you want to emulate."

"You're such a stick-in-the-mud, Haru-kun."

Well, pardon me for telling you that defrauding paying customers is bad.

Thankfully, Ayame’s mother is one of my better customers, mainly because she's not ogling me, but she does end up talking about how good my costume is a little too much for my liking.

Mrs. Shiritori leaves with Ayame. She must be going on her break to hang out with her mother. I'm a little relieved she didn't ask me to go around the festival with her- I don't know how she would react if I told her I already had plans.

I guess it's time to get back to work. Begrudgingly, I slowly make my way back outside with the sign and the second I step out my parents are at the front of the line.

I have been dreading this moment for weeks, but surprisingly, my dad is not wearing ratty old clothes like he normally does, and my mom isn't cosplaying. They're just dressed normally. They look like any other couple on the street. Well, I don’t think “couple” is the first thing you’d think when you see them- it’s more like father and daughter.

My mom's eyes instantly light up and she starts reaching for something in her pocket. Oh, crap. Here comes the phone. I knew she was going to try to take a picture of me...

The phone comes out of her pocket, but before she can take the picture my dad grabs her hand and shakes his head no.

Good going, Dad.

"R-right this way." It takes an ungodly amount of energy just to say that and lead them to a table.

When they sit down, my dad looks around. "This is a smooth operation, isn't it?"

"You bet..."

"Everything on the menu looks so good!" my mom exclaims, looking over it. "Whoa, I didn't even know they had mapo tofu here! Is Kirei-" She stops and covers her mouth.

"Between you and me, you probably don't want to order that one..." Who knows what Ayame and the girls have put in there. I didn't even see any tofu in the back at all.

"What do you recommend?" my dad replies quizzically.

"Karaage, omurice, okonomiyaki, curry, and the yakisoba are probably okay- anything beyond that is questionable. Sorry, I wasn't in charge of the menu or I'd have made them cut all that stuff."

"Ooh, if I got the omurice would you do the moe-" my mom begins, but my dad shakes his head at her again and she shuts up. "I'll have the curry.”

"I think the okonomiyaki is fine," Dad says.

"Gotcha," I reply. "Where's Kaede?"

"Her class is still doing their play," my dad responds. "We're going to see it at 1. You want to come? Not forcing you or anything, just wanting to know."

"Well, I have plans, but if I have enough free time I'll try..." I do owe Kaede one.

"You got a date or something?" my mom asks, her eyes sparkling. "My Haruto's growing up! So, is it Aya-chan or some other girl? Maybe it'll be like Raspberry 1000%-" She immediately stops talking and covers her mouth again. I guess that just slipped out.

"No, just hanging out with a friend." I wish it was a date. No, really, you have no idea how much I wish it was a date.

When I come back out with the food, I notice that they didn't say anything about the crossdressing once. They just talked about the festival and what the other classes are doing and how they met Mrs. Shiritori in the hallway.

Is this what it feels like to have normal parents? Was I dreading this day for nothing?

Well, maybe not. If they acted the same way now as they did just three weeks ago, my social life would have been over and I'd have probably turned into a hikikomori. But they really are different today. I guess me being a selfish brat actually did something good?

If they can change, I need to change too.

When I come back, my dad is just finishing off his large portion of okonomiyaki and wiping his mouth. Mom has already killed off her curry.

"Thank you for the food, Haruto," my dad says. "It was delicious."

"You ought to thank the girls in the kitchen.”

He stands up and pushes in his chair. "I think we really ought to get going.”

"I wonder if we’ll catch Tsubaki-chan? I wanted to say hi to her again!" Mom’s a bundle of energy.

"Thanks for coming." I give them a slight wave as they depart. "Just send me a LIME or something when you're ready to go see Kaede and I’ll see what I can do."

"No problem!" Mom waves back.

I never would have thought this before, but I'm a little sad to see them go.

When I take their dishes back to the back, Sudou-san’s no longer there. She must have gone to the Computer Club's booth. Oh well. I'll get to see her in a couple hours.

I'm cleaning off another table near the door before I go back on sign duty. Anything to not have to serve another table. I’m pretty done with that. As I stack their dishes up, I hear the unfamiliar high-pitched voice of a girl drift in the door from outside. "This is everyone's favorite roving reporter from the Shinchoushi Academy Middle School Newspaper Club, Miku Maebara, and I'm here at Class 1-1 in the high school! As you can see, their crossdressing maid cafe is a huge hit! I'm with one of the maids here- What's your name again?"

I hear Tatsurou's voice again, in a high falsetto. "Tatsumi~"

"Nice to meet you, Miss- Uhh, is it Miss?"

"It's whatever you want~" He's clearly messing with her. Stop it, Tatsu. You're enjoying this way too much.

"Well, uhh, Miss, or uhh, Mister…I guess I’ll go with Ms. Tatsumi, what's the reason for your cafe's overwhelming success?"

"Hmm...I think it was a fantastic concept. You've got to push the envelope to stand out."

"Interesting! And how did you come up with your concept?"

"Well, to be honest, it wasn't my idea. Hey, Ayappi!" The door to the classroom opens and Tatsurou sticks his head in.

Ayame cranes her neck out from behind the curtain in a similar way. "What?"

"Come out here, someone wants to ask you something!"

She practically skips out. "Am I finally getting my big break?"

Man, this wig is really making me sweat. I'm going to take it off for a second and let my head cool.

The girl's chirpy voice comes through the door as Ayame opens it. "So, Ayappi-san, how did you-" She suddenly cuts off.

"How did I come up with the idea? I saw it in a LN! You ever read Idiots Taking Exams?"

Ayame gets no answer in return.

"The idea’s not the only reason we’re so popular, though. We've got a really good maid who goes around telling people 'Are you looking at my chest? Die, you human garbage,' and everyone's come to see him! His name is-"

Before she can say anything else, I fling open the door, hard.

"And here he comes now!" Ayame exclaims.

I’m still holding the wig in my hands. Standing in front of Ayame and Tatsurou is a small girl with twintails wearing the royal blue jacket and plain gray skirt of the middle school, and a camcorder and microphone in her hands. Her mouth is open and she looks like she's just seen a ghost.

Poor girl. Tatsurou and Ayame probably creeped her out.

"Are you okay?" Before I can come any closer, she immediately bolts off down the hallway, screaming her lungs out as she goes. Everyone in line turns their heads to watch her go. It looks like a wave.

We stand in silence for a second. Then I break it. "That was weird."

Tatsurou looks genuinely surprised. "Wow, Haru, you're battin' .000 with girls..."

"Shut up, Tatsu. Don't wanna hear it." I put my wig back on. He's not only annoying, he's factually incorrect. I’m hanging out with a girl today, but I don't want to say so in front of Ayame because then she'll want to know every detail.

"I know, right? His attitude scares all the girls," Ayame says with an air of profound authority.

"If I scare girls, what does that make you?"

"Hey!" she cries with a look of indignation.

"You just proved her point. Your attitude and girls don't mix." Tatsu replies.

"Enough with this," I huff. "Just give me back the sign."

"No can do," he smirks.


"You can go back to busing tables. I've got the sign."

"I don't like that look on your face."

"It's nothing! Right this way, ma'am," he says, gesturing, and the next people in line walk right in.

I flash him a wary glance, but Ayame and I do walk back inside. I go back to cleaning off tables, and she goes back to the kitchen. I really am liking being the busboy at the moment- it's the least amount of embarrassing interaction I could have at the moment.

As I'm bringing a set of dishes back to the kitchen for about the millionth time, Tatsurou calls out to me. When I come out from behind the curtain, the first thing I see is- my sister.

Kaede is sitting at a table that Tatsurou is serving and she's got another girl sitting next to her that's as smug as the Cheshire Cat.

That's right, I did promise to buy her food today, didn't I? But more importantly, is Tatsu doing that "master" thing in front of my little sister?

I've got to get him out of there.

I really don't want to go into detail about what happened next. It's so embarrassing I don't want to relive it. All I need to say is that Kaede's friend or whatever she was is a sadist and she needs to stop hanging around that girl immediately. Also, Ayame and Tatsurou, the only reason why I didn't punch you for laughing at it is because my sister was right there. It wasn't funny, you assholes.

As soon as I get to the back I just fling my wig in anger and it hits an empty jug of oil hard enough to knock it over. A couple of the girls stop cooking to gawk at my rage for a second before going back to flipping the okonomiyaki.

Ayame ducks back behind the curtain. "Holy cow, you really are mad..."

"Yeah, and whose fault do you think that is?"

"I'm sorry for laughing at wasn't really that funny...okay, maybe it was a little funny...but still, I shouldn't have laughed..."

She's not sorry at all…she's trying not to break down laughing right now!

"Forget it," I sigh. "I'm not going back out there. I'm done. You can take the maid outfit and shove it."

"Do you need to take your break?"

"Yeah, I do. Permanently."

A few more of the girls have stopped their cooking to watch. Ayame cocks her head to the side like she always does when she's thinking so hard that all five of her brain cells are firing. "Well, we've got enough people to cover, so you can go on your break."

I'm happy she's being agreeable, because I was going to take my break whether they wanted me to or not. For good.

But after this, there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. I get to take this stupid outfit off and go hang out with Sudou-san for the rest of the day. I practically float over to the makeshift shelves where we keep our change of clothes, uniform is gone.

It's not there. How could it not be there? I put it there when I changed! Or did I take it back to my- I sprint out of the classroom, barreling down the hall and down the stairs, past the confused onlookers who are wondering just what the hell a teenage boy is doing in a maid outfit, all the way down to the shoe lockers,'s not in there, either. Where did it go? If I have to walk around the festival with Sudou-san wearing this, I'm a dead man!

If I can't find my uniform, there's only one other solution. It's an emergency and I'm desperate. I have to get my gi from the karate dojo and wear it. It'll look pretty weird, but at least it's not a damn maid outfit.

I bolt out the door to go to the dojo, and as I sprint along the back of the school I hear, "Well, if it isn't Kouga!", but there's no friendliness in that voice, and it freezes me in my tracks.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy