Chapter 27:

Kikuchi's Deal

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

The mirror in our entrance hallway reflected a man's face that was, but wasn't mine.

His short, black hair drooped down over his forehead, like it'd lost all vitality on the walk home from the aquarium. Sunken eyes that normally gleamed with emerald magnificence—seemed defeated and unwilling to stay open. Even the casual clothes he wore looked ragged, as if their condition reflected the man's inner turmoil.

Now, all he needed to do was take the first steps forward. But I don't want to!

A woman's giggling far down the hall alerted me to the beast within my house. Shivers I'd normally only ever felt at work made themselves apparent in what was supposed to be my safe space. But if I couldn't confront the monster, who would? Sacrificing Furbolt and Asagiri to her was not an option.

I looked myself hard in the mirror and slapped both my cheeks simultaneously, using pain to rejuvenate me. Now or never.

My nervous feet traveled down the hall and past our old grandfather clock, until I emerged into our lavish living room. New, white furniture my parents bought before they'd started working abroad was kept pristine in their absence. I looked towards our couch where my girlfriend would often loiter and watch TV all day. In her place, a little boy in a Mister Drippy T-shirt poked at my black cat.

"Oh! He's a kitty like Mister Drippy!" The boy's eyes gleamed with joy.

"N-Nyaa . . ." Furbolt looked like he wanted to die. Extreme cringe on his face signaled his discomfort from being poked, clashing with his laziness to move off the couch.

"Right? Your future dad has all sorts of cool stuff here!" Kikuchi walked around and examined everything like an appraiser. "A nice and big house for you to play around in too, Hiroomi!"

"Yay! Play! Play!"

"Okay, now hold up!" I stomped towards Kikuchi with my finger pointed. "The deal was I let you come over for a visit, and you don't tell anyone about Asagiri! What's this about me becoming a dad?"

"Pish posh! Might as well tie the knot now that I'm here." She slowly approached me with lustful eyes.

"Ack!" I backed up towards our kitchen and tried thinking of something to say. "A-Asagiri is already my girlfriend! I'm spoken for!"

"You explained things on the train home though—she's only a government-issued girlfriend. And Asagiri even said she'd give us a little privacy while she does something upstairs."

That damn mooch! "E-E-Even if she says it's fine, I don't feel comfortable flirting with other women while I'm in a relationship!"

"Hoh?" Kikuchi circled around me, like she was seeking out my weak point. "All those attempts at small chat with Summers at work say otherwise."

Fuck! I'm being outsmarted by a cougar! "Business! It's all business only! Irrelevant!"

With a smirk, she took a seat at our kitchen table. Kikuchi slung her unkempt, green hair back over her shoulders and removed her amber poncho. Underneath was a gray, curve-hugging sweater that extended down to her thighs. The woven texture and random, stitched animal designs indicated it was something she knitted herself. "Well, I can guess two big reasons why you like Summers over me. But I'll drop your paternal duties for now if you tell me some more about yourself, Nishikata."

I opened our cupboard and grabbed a glass to fill with water. "You know pretty much everything about me now. What's there left?"

"There's only so much you can learn about someone as just a coworker; that's why I wanted to come over."

"Is my house special or something?"

"Depends. I'm the first of us to visit, right?"

At Kamikawa Books where I worked, I had six coworkers: Asada, Mogami, Nemoto, Kikuchi, Summers, and our manager Kamikawa. Since I started working there four years ago, I'd grown to consider everyone like family. In a way, they're the only reason I could recover from a long bout of depression that had extended since high school. We all had our unique quirks, though quirky for Kikuchi would be an understatement.

I set the glass of water ahead of her. "Nemoto came over once. We just played games and watched anime, so not really a big deal."

"Heheh, that reminds me I still need to see your room." She lifted and used the glass to hide her devious grin. "If I can't be your first in coming over, maybe I'll be your first in something else . . ."

"Yeah, first in getting kicked out."

"Oh, don't be like that!" She tried appearing coy. "We won't stay for long, plus we'll be on our best behavior."

I looked into the living room and saw Hiroomi petting Furbolt gingerly, who had settled into Hiroomi's little lap. Well at least those two are getting along now.

After a few minutes of random chatting, Asagiri came running back down the stairs in gray pajamas. She'd taken a shower and her hair looked like it needed more drying.

"What'd I miss?" She casually popped a red lollipop into her mouth before plopping beside Hiroomi on the couch.

"We were about to discuss in detail our little dilemma." I had gotten comfy in a kitchen seat across from Kikuchi.

"Geez, you make it sound like a hostage situation," my cougar coworker replied. Her finger danced around the rim of her water glass nearby. "I'd never do something like blackmail—probably."

"Yeah well, I don't trust you to keep quiet over just a visit. What else is it gonna take?"

"Hmmm . . ." Her copper-colored eyes looked towards the ceiling. "I'm honestly just happy you let me come over. In exchange, I'll tone down my flirty teasing too."

"What's the catch?" I eyed her intensely.

"No catch. Just consider it an apology for fooling around when you already had a girlfriend."

"I'm just a government-issued girlfriend, remember," Asagiri said from the living room. She'd placed Hiroomi on her lap who had Furbolt on his own lap. "Don't mind if you wanna flirt with him; it's just awkward if you do it in front of me."

Kikuchi could only make a nervous laugh. The earlier energy in her eyes had since diminished.

Dang. The cougar is cornered. Even I'm starting to feel bad for her. "Listen, you don't gotta apologize for anything. It's not your fault I've had a girlfriend for a while, but I really would appreciate keeping it secret."

"No problem! Consider it done, haha." She removed her black beret and placed it on the table, almost like an offering. "Besides, you and Asagiri seem really close. Wouldn't be surprised if you two eventually become the real deal."

A blush creeped across my face. I peered over to Asagiri on the couch who had just looked away from me, clearly flustered too. She caressed Hiroomi's head and didn't say a word.

"I-I don't know about that," I replied. "You'd be surprised how much we argue."

A sweet giggle emerged from Kikuchi's lips, but it trailed with a hint of melancholy. "It's nice to have someone you can argue with. The good thing about being young is still having so much time to work out your problems with your partner. So don't worry about little things. Focus on yourselves instead."

It was rare to see her express any emotion besides horny. I already knew her background wasn't the happiest, which was why I'd tolerated her flirtatious shenanigans this whole time. Everyone tended to cope with depression in their own ways and I wasn't any different. Someone like Noriko preferred closing herself off from people. Others like Asagiri favored adopting another personality to help bury their old ideologies. For people like us it was a never-ending war to keep nihilism at bay, with whatever we could.

And we all had to look out for each other.

"Actually, there was something me and Asagiri were butting heads about."

"Oh? Anything I can help out with?" Kikuchi said.

"Maybe. It'd be a favor though if you don't mind."

"Shoot your shot."

I gazed towards Asagiri again who had just started unwrapping a new lollipop. With a smile, she offered it to Hiroomi on her lap. Well, Asagiri owes me a favor too. I'll take out two birds with one stone.

"You're a seamstress, right?" I replied. "Like sewing and stuff?"

"Mm!" Kikuchi nodded. "I earn some money on the side by selling clothes. Do you want me to make something?"

"Well, me and Asagiri were talking about trying out cosplaying a while ago—"

"Oh! Cosplay! From Dominion's Paradise I bet!"

This cougar knows me too well. "Y-Yeah. So I was wondering if you could make some cosplays of the main characters? But might be tough since it's like, fantasy robes."

"There's nothing I can't handle!" She pumped her fists to her chest. "Just show me any reference material and I'll do my best!"

"Reference material, huh?" I glanced again towards Asagiri who was watching TV with Hiroomi on her lap. My mind imagined her wearing Sanae's iconic, white Cleric robe; and as if Asagiri could sense me, she scowled in my direction.

"Who said I was okay with cosplaying?" my girlfriend repudiated.

"Literally you did? A few months ago?"

"The future is now, old man." She nudged Hiroomi off her and stood. "Well, guess I still owe you for letting Sakura come over."

"Hold up! You've had even more girls over?" Kikuchi's hands whizzed around like she was embarrassed.

Dang girlfriend saying more than she needs to! "Sakura's visited a few times now, but she's just Asagiri's friend, nothing more." But I still have her number she randomly gave me.

"Sneaky Nishikata! Seeing so many girls behind my back!" Kikuchi's face pouted then dwindled into a sigh. "I suddenly feel less special about coming over, but whatever."

Imagine if she learned about Noriko. "About the cosplay though: I can get plenty of reference material, but would you need anything else?"

"Yeah, I'd need to measure your sizes but I don't have my tools here. So how about . . . "

I didn't like where this was going.

". . . you come over to my place now?" The signature, lustful, cougar's face had returned. Kikuchi's amber eyes glistened with insatiable energy.

"Urggggg." Actually, I'd never visited a woman's home before. Even in high school, my only friend Noriko had been averse to letting me come over—getting upset when I even joked about it. It painted the picture that her personal life wasn't something she was willing to disclose. But as soon as she married and reintroduced herself to me, her life was suddenly an open book? I was just glad she was back though, even if I still felt a pang of jealousy.

"You sure you want Nishikata knowing where you live?" Asagiri entered the kitchen and opened our fridge. "He's a huge perv, ya' know."

"Boys will be boys." She shot me a quick wink. "But should be fine since you'll both be over. This Saturday good?"

"I guess that'll wor—actually wait, no. I'm gonna have someone else coming over that day."

"Huh?" Both Asagiri and Kikuchi replied with surprised looks.

"What? I can't have people visit my own house now?"

"Is it another girl?" Kikuchi blurted.

"N-No comment on that."

I sensed Asagiri staring a hole into me, but she soon resumed her fridge rummaging. Haven't mentioned Noriko is visiting again, but I get the feeling my girlfriend is less thrilled about it these days.

"Geez, I almost feel bad for Asada at this point." Kikuchi rested her chin in her hand.

"Hmmm? What about her?"

"Nevermind, dummy. But if Saturday is booked, how about Sunday then?"

"Works for me. Now just convince her."

"I already said I would, so it's whatever." Asagiri started taking out some dishes. "Do you guys want something to eat?"

"I'm fine," Kikuchi said, "but could you make something for my son? Anything will do."

"No probs. Cooking skills: Activate." She pulled out some frozen pizza from the freezer.

While the two girls gossiped and Hiroomi played with Furbolt in the living room, I became lost in thought. It still felt surreal that someone from work now knew about the existence of my GiG. Including Noriko, Chidori, and my parents, that made five people in my personal circle aware of the charade. The cougar and the gremlin finally meeting went smoothly enough, but what if the others found out about my girlfriend? Ridicule? Teasing? Well, it probably wouldn't be much different than what Asagiri already subjects me to.

Everything was set in place though. One week from today I'd visit the home of the cougar who'd been preying on me for years. A simple weekend visit to the aquarium spiraled into something that would likely be life altering, and a gut feeling told me to expect the unexpected.

After all, Noriko and Kikuchi weren't the only women I'd soon be reunited with. And this one was the most insane woman of all by far . . .

No matter how I looked at it, the rest of my year was set to be the best or worst yet.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon