My Government-Issued Girlfriend Can't Be This Cute!
"Thanks, I hate it." An onset of disappointment crawled across Asagiri's disgruntled face.
Honestly—I wasn't sure what I was expecting from her. Definitely not a "thank you", but maybe a forced smile at least? God knows she was good with those. But I'd gotten used to her snarkiness and I knew that deep down she appreciated her new gift.
"Oh, come on!" My arms in flannel sleeves flailed around in protest. "Seriously! Who wouldn't fall in love with Mister Drippy?"
Asagiri's navy blue eyes begrudgingly looked down again. The T-shirt in her hands displayed a cute, soaking wet kitten wearing an orange life jacket—the mascot for the aquarium we were currently in. Mister Drippy could be seen on merchandise everywhere, and entire families loitered around wearing shirts proudly displaying the cute feline.
"Guess cats are the only pussy you'll ever get in life," Asagiri snickered.
"Okay, now you're just being mean."
"Beh!" She stuck her tongue out at me and wrapped herself around my arm. Her grin slowly morphed into an angelic smile as she pressed into me. "You know I'm just teasing. I totes love everything my boyfriend gives me—even if it sucks."
"Remind me to never give you anything again."
"No fair! I want lollipops! You know I'm running out, Nishikata!"
A vein popped in my forehead. "Did you forget I found out your parents send you an allowance every month? Why should I even buy you food?"
"Because it's part of the Government-Issued Girlfriend contract, dummy." She released my arm and twirled towards the aquarium enclosure surrounding us. "Look around! The world is too big to think so small! After everything we've been through, let's just have some fun!"
Looking back on things, it really had been a wild ride until now. Before Keiko Asagiri moved into my house as a government-issued girlfriend, I was battling with bad bouts of depression—but more dangerously, becoming prone to suicidal thoughts thanks to the rise of a death cult. Almost all through high school I was an anti-social recluse, but into adulthood, new friends helped steer me away from gloominess. Asagiri's eventual arrival helped solidify my determination to turn a new leaf and embrace life, which she revealed to be her true objective all along. Now, her quirky antics are both what keeps me sane and drives me insane.
"Woah, this one kind of looks like you." She pressed up against the aquarium glass and pointed towards a nearby fish. "Come check it out!"
Guess this is what I literally signed up for. With a quick roll of my eyes, I waltzed towards Asagiri. We were completely submerged and surrounded by a transparent, aquatic tunnel. It was wide enough for cars to drive through and featured a fun, maze-like series of twists and turns. Dim lights high up—beyond the watery surface—helped simulate natural sunlight that cascaded down towards colorful coral reefs. Dazzling arrays of exotic fishes swam about in all directions as curious children peeked into the foreign, underwater world.
"Look, there he goes!" Asagiri's nose poked against the glass. "You're gonna miss him!"
"I'm right here," I said from behind her. "Where's this thing that looks like me?"
A large, flounder-looking fish with greenish scales swam by us. Puffy lips combined with a bulge on its forehead made it seem like the doofus of the sea.
"Is that how I look to you?" I told her.
"Hehe, the resemblances are uncanny, don't ya' think?"
I sighed and ran my hand through my black hair. "Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea."
"You're the one that wanted to try doing dates more often." She turned and placed her hands on her hips. Furrowed eyebrows indicated her annoyance. "Besides, you're still stuck with me for another eight months."
That was right. Asagiri arrived on my doorstep over four months ago, at which point I almost canceled her year-long contract on day one when her freeloader personality came to light. But in an odd way, her aloofness completed me and we'd grown surprisingly close. The drama by the bridge two months ago, combined with Sonozaki's revelations, forced our emotions out for one another to see. Both of our pasts were beyond complicated, though she's yet to fully comprehend mine—maybe that was for the best.
"You mean you're stuck with me for another eight months," I replied with snark. "You're not gonna bail on the person maintaining you."
"Touché. Keep taking care of me and we might get some quid pro quo going." With a flirty smile, she turned back around and seductively bent over right ahead of my crotch. "Says here on this nameplate that your fish is called a 'Humphead Wrasse'. Heh, hump."
My eyes were drawn like magnets to her protruding ass in tight, denim shorts. I backed away before a certain something started rising. "Y-You did not just plan that all out for a 5th grade level pun."
"Teehee. 5th grade was only a few years ago for me, old man." She stood up straight and gazed into the aquarium tank again. A group of small fish swam by and darted behind mounds of colorful coral. "When I was in middle school, I remember reading about how it's impossible to keep great white sharks in aquariums. They die after only a little while no matter how well they're taken care of."
Well that's a bit random. I walked up to the thick glass and peered inside. "Are there sharks in here?"
"Dunno. It's just, like, a metaphor though. Some things would rather die than stay cooped up in a tiny world with no way out. Wouldn't death be a blessing in that case?"
Bits of goosebumps surfed on my arms. I remembered how Sonozaki said that Asagiri was a former member of the DeLightfuls—the death cult that almost convinced both me and my close friend Noriko to commit suicide. Ever since then, I've had adverse reactions whenever that cult's ideology presented itself, but my PTSD symptoms were tiny now compared to before.
"Oh, sorry," she said, looking down at the Mister Drippy shirt in her hands. "Just old me trying to bubble up again. Old habits die hard, huh?"
"It's whatever. I told you I don't mind if you still believe in that stuff."
"Yeah, but I'm trying to move on. Tell you what: Starting from now, every time I say something cringe like that, you can decide a punishment for me." She reached into her cleavage and pulled out a car-alarm-like device. "If it's a sus punishment though, Kill Switch time."
The device in Asagiri's hand radiated foreboding power, and supposedly had the ability to call police at the press of a button. It was designed in case she was assigned to someone dangerous for the GiG program; however, up until now she'd only utilized it to track me to work. Meanwhile, when she went missing two months ago, I used it to hunt her down before she could harm herself. Truly it was a device that would come in handy again someday, either for me or her.
"Punishment?" I responded, taking the opportunity to scan her body from head to toe. "Does that include the infraction just earlier?"
"Fine, sure. Just hurry and pick something you'd like, idiot." She tucked Kill Switch back into her cleavage. Even in dim light I could tell she was blushing.
"Hmmm . . . Okay, put on Mister Drippy's shirt then."
"Put on. Mister Drippy's. Shirt." I said with an intimidating smile.
It looked like she couldn't decide whether to yell at me or laugh, but in the end her mouth let loose a giggle. "That's just like you—fine."
I looked around us, completely forgetting we were in an underwater, see-through tunnel. "Don't think there's any bathrooms nearby for you to change in."
"Screw it, I'll just change here." She took off her signature red leather jacket, exposing the gray tank top underneath. Asagiri slowly wiggled into Mister Drippy's T-shirt, branding herself with the image of a kitten onto her chest. "Well? How's it look?"
"Let me take a picture." My cellphone was in my hand before I realized it.
"No. It's bad enough you already have one pic of me you fap to every night."
She was referring to photos of her I took the first day we met, when she had nothing on besides a sports bra, exercise shorts, and Noriko's cat ears. Even four months later it was still set as my phone's wallpaper. "I confirm nor deny anything."
"Well we're getting weird looks either way, so we should scram."
"Looks?" My head swiveled around to see curious kids and jealous men staring in our direction. I looked back towards Asagiri now clad in Mister Drippy's curve-hugging T-shirt. It looked about a size too small for her but helped accentuate her chest. "You look kinda good in that. Don't think I mind this attention either . . ."
"Yeah well I do." She latched herself around my left arm and tugged me down the transparent tunnel. "Let's go look around some more, honey."
"Oh, good idea, babe." The high of being pulled along by a cute, tan girl wasn't wasted on me. I was reminded of Sakura's old commercial involving her tugging along her own "boyfriend" in a similar fashion. Wonder what she's up to now.
We brushed past some families and traveled further down the underwater, see-through tunnel. A large stingray floated overhead as a school of fish trailed behind. To our sides, multitudes of visitors peered below towards a sandy seafloor littered with crustaceans and vibrant seashells. After making our way to the tunnel's end, we arrived at an exit that led into a larger atrium. The humongous room functioned as a hub connecting all wings of the aquarium into one convenient area.
"Hmmm, I thought you were bad with big crowds," Asagiri on my arm said. She observed hordes of people flocking to different aquarium exhibits. Off by the nearby gift shop, a performer wearing a Mister Drippy costume danced to the delight of young spectators.
"Yeah there's tons of people here, but it's nothing compared to comic markets." It was true that large crowds freaked me out, but ever since I started living with Asagiri, her presence has had almost therapeutic properties, though it's not something I'd easily admit to her.
We spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the aquarium's various exhibits. Both me and Asagiri were fascinated by water tanks full of creatures from myriad, diverse oceans. Different rooms housed different adventures as we enjoyed ourselves like a true couple. The afternoon passed by quickly, and we soon followed excited crowds to the aquarium's most popular attraction.
"Oh! Penguins!" Asagiri's eyes lit up with childish glee. She tried running towards the glass enclosure but was halted by a big crowd huddled ahead. "Excuse me, can I pass through? Hello?"
"Come on, let's just wait our turn." I went to gently grab her hand and tugged her away from the mob. "It's extra crowded since there was a discount on admission today."
"Hoh? Is that why you insisted on coming to the aquarium?"
"Erm, no comment."
"Staaaaaaare . . ."
"What? It's not just me! People are visiting from all over town today!"
"Staaaaaaaaaaaaare . . ."
We climbed some stairs and walked hand in hand towards a rest area at the back of the room. Our higher elevation still gave us a decent view of the penguin enclosure, which featured a wide water tank that allowed lucky visitors to peer at penguins even underwater. Dim light all around us helped highlight the enclosure like a huge stage in the room's center.
"Ma-Madgillenuic," Asagiri stuttered, looking towards a colorful wall plastered with penguin facts. "That's what they're apparently called."
"It's Magellanic penguins," I corrected her from her side. "Really not that hard to say."
Her hand holding mine squeezed me as if trying to inflict pain. "Well sorry if I'm not as big a nerd as you."
I couldn't help but let loose a chuckle. "How's it feel to be a nerd's girlfriend then?"
"Hmmm, guess it could be worse. You could be an otaku." She cuddled closer to me, close enough for our shoulders to touch as we sat down together on a bench. "Imagine watching anime or reading light novels."
"Too cringe to even think about, honestly." Every now and then we'd engage in playful roleplay banter. These were the moments she seemed most receptive to gestures of affection. I took a calculated risk and brought my arm around her waist, pulling her whole body into me. Yolo.
"Doofus," she muttered as she snuggled into my shoulder. Seductive, lingering scents of her floral shampoo wafted all over me.
Not wanting to ruin the moment, I only leaned my head down towards her, allowing my cheek to just barely grace the top of her silky head. Around her waist, my arm could feel every soft breath as her chest expanded and contracted. The serene moment was something far more valuable than any aquarium ticket by itself could offer. Life is good sometimes.
"Ummm, mommy? Why's your mouth wide open?"
The sound of a little boy's voice broke the peaceful moment. I craned my eyes to the side and spotted a child donned in a blue Mister Drippy jacket. To the boy's left was a tall, green-haired woman clad in a lavish, amber poncho. A black beret atop her head complemented familiar, thin-rimmed glasses I'd seen somewhere before.
And then my mouth fell wide open too.
"N-Nishikata?" My coworker Kikuchi was almost speechless. Her confused eyes fixed on Asagiri cuddled within my arm, like they were looking at a living miracle.
"Wait, Coochie?" Asagiri called Kikuchi by the nickname she was bestowed when I was followed to work. Kikuchi was infamous—at least for me—for having the largest ass I'd ever seen.
"Do you know these people, mommy?" The little boy with brown hair tugged on Kikuchi's hand again.
"I-I think I do," she replied, a baffled expression still on her face.
I glanced towards Asagiri who was none the wiser of our perilous predicament. Within our current pose huddled together, no matter how much someone squinted or blinked, no one could deny we were a bonafide couple.
"Kikuchi!" I stammered, but unwilling to unwrap my arm from around Asagiri. "It's n-not what it looks like! Honest!" It was exactly what it looked like, though I didn't want to say something brash and risk hurting Asagiri's feelings. Guess this is the end of the road for me.
"Sneaky dog! You've had a girlfriend this entire time and never told us!" Kikuchi stamped towards me. "Now I know why you keep saying no to me!"
I've been rejecting your cougarness since way before my GiG . . . "Okay listen, uhhhh, I don't suppose you can pretend you never saw us today? Please?"
"Hey, I'm right here too, you know." Asagiri broke away from me and walked up to Kikuchi. "Is it alright if I spill the beans to her, Nishikata? Not like we can hide it now."
My teeth gritted against each other as I considered my options: No way I can pass off Asagiri as my sister now. Just fess up that I have a government-issued girlfriend then? But she'll tell everyone at work! What do I do, what do I do?
Just ahead of me, the green-haired, lustful woman's lips curved into a grin. She stared at me with animalistic, devious eyes full of mischief. "Nishikata, if I may offer a little suggestion . . ."
I backed up into the penguin facts wall, panting like my ultimate fate was soon to be sealed. No matter what was said, agreed upon, or rejected, I knew my life would never be the same from here on out.
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