A match made with the Rising Star
Hoshino and I woke up late in the morning the next day, which was fine because we weren’t allowed to check out of the hotel until noon.
When I woke up first, I was treated to the sight of a woman’s peaceful face as she laid on her side in the bed a short distance away from mine. Her platinum blond hair was a little messy from the night, but their short strands fell to all the right places to form an adorable image.
Even when asleep and without her makeup, Hoshino was still a sight for sore eyes. I was so mesmerized by her natural cuteness that I didn’t realize my hand had already grabbed my smartphone, turned on its camera, and was already zooming in to get the best shot of her face possible from my current position.
But before my thumb could hit my phone’s touchscreen and snap a secret photo, the rest of me powered out and hurled the phone away, which I would’ve regretted doing if it weren’t for the room’s couch making a lucky save to the fragile device.
Another close call. I know I admired Hoshino in many ways, some more immoral than others, but I had to make sure the good side of my fanaticism won in the end.
It’s a constant struggle with all these indecent opportunities trying to tempt me.
I got out of bed, doing my best not to spy on Hoshino while she was still asleep. Luckily, she got up on her own a few minutes later, completely unaware of the struggle I just went through to protect her from myself.
We had a silent breakfast, or should I say brunch, from one of the bento boxes I bought from the convenience store last night. While I had an Oyakodon rice bowl that I just needed to microwave for a minute, Hoshino settled with just a ball of salted tuna Onigiri.
I guessed her choice came from trying to watch her figure. After all, a Joshi pro wrestler like her needed to have both the looks and the skills to make us want to see them in action. I just hoped eating something that light would be enough for her.
✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯
Because I had someone else with me, some extra payment had to be made when we checked out of the hotel. Luckily, I was able to come up with an excuse to justify why I didn’t show up alone as initially transacted.
It wasn’t easy because of the guilty tells on my face. I lied that Hoshino was my girlfriend and that she decided to join me somewhere down the line. The hotel staff I paid an extra head for probably didn’t believe me all the way, but since Hoshino was standing nearby with no unusual signs in her body language, they let it slide and accepted my money.
After placing our respective belongings on the backseat of my car, Hoshino and I drove out of the MyStays hotel and resumed our road trip to Kiyodera Hall.
“Earlier, you paid for me, didn’t you?” Hoshino asked out of the blue.
“…Yeah.” I admitted after a moment’s hesitation. “Just felt it was my obligation to do so since I offered you to join me.”
Hoshino sighed. “I have money, too, you know?”
A theoretical rock fell into my stomach. “Right. Sorry.”
“Still… I appreciated everything you did back there.”
I glanced to my left and saw Hoshino facing her side window like she did the previous night. “So, are we going to stay in another hotel today?”
She didn’t stop admiring the rustic, countryside scene outside as she asked her question.
“Centurian Hotel,” I informed her while shifting my focus back to the road ahead. “From there, it’s about a two-hour drive to Kiyodera Hall. It’s a little more expensive than the MyStays Hotel, but I should still be able to cover for us.”
“It’s alright,” Hoshino said. “I’ll pay for my side this time. It’s the least I can do.”
Having settled on that, I called the Centurian Hotel through my Smartphone to inform them about our situation, which I fabricated for the most part. I just told them a friend was coming along, and they were very understanding, but…
“Igarashi-san?” Hoshino noticed me shivering, shortly after my phone call ended. “What’s wrong?”
“H-Hoshino-san…” I braced myself. “I tried to get you your own room, but the hotel doesn’t accept bookings at least a day in advance. So I tried changing my room, but that couldn’t be done either. Unlike how it went in MyStays, this time, there’s going to be only one bed.”
The pale skin of Hoshino’s face turned bright pink. She turned away, compressing her shoulders. “Ah… is that right?”
“B-but, the good news is that the bed is king-sized!” I added. “There will be a good amount of space between us if we stay near the edges of the bed. Of course, I can just sleep on the armchair or the floor if you want me to.”
“You're going to wake up with aches if you do that!” Hoshino exclaimed. “Really, you should stop hurting yourself for me. My job indeed makes me something of a celebrity, but in the end, I’m just another person like you.”
It stunned me to hear her say that. All this time, I’ve been trying to treat her like a goddess because I believed that was what she expected from all her fans. My thoughts couldn’t do any critical thinking because unlike how it went last night, the roads we traveled weren't always straight.
“We’ll worry about the hotel room later.” Hoshino’s voice softened.
I simply nodded.
According to the navigation app on my phone, I was reminded that the drive to the Centurian Hotel from our current location was about seven hours. Hoshino and I rarely spoke to each other during that period. I turned on the radio to lessen the awkwardness inside the car.
Soon enough, the afternoon turned to dusk, and then dusk turned into night with a full moon to give us some light.
Still driving, I noticed that the area we were currently in was some sort of valley. The road had also changed from being made of asphalt to simply being dirt. There were also Guard rails on each side of the road that prevented any vehicle from treading into an open field full of petaled flowers that came in colors of pink, orange, and white.
“Is it okay if we take a break here?” I asked. “I’ve been driving for hours after all.”
“Sure. Why not?” Hoshino said, her mood much better after the amount of time that had passed.
I parked my car close enough to the guard rail on my right. The road was quite wide even though it was still a one-way road, so it’s not like my car was going to inconvenience others.
Taking our first step out of the car since we first got in, Hoshino and I took the opportunity to stretch our legs after all those hours of sitting down.
And then I sat down again, on a guard rail, looking at the sky.
“Can I talk with you for a moment?” Hoshino asked, sitting next to me.
Hoshino began. “I want to start by saying you’ve been a tremendous help to me, Igarashi-San. I would’ve had no idea how I’d make it to the next event if it weren’t for you.”
“Y-you really think so?” I said, scratching the hair on the back of my head. “We haven’t even arrived at Kiyodera Hall yet.”
“True, but we’ve already gone this far. Also, I want to say I’m sorry for being so hard on you. I’m nothing like the idol wrestler you see me as am I?”
“Yeah…” I admitted. “And that’s a good thing,” I revealed, much to Hoshino’s surprise. “For the longest time, I’ve only seen you as your character -- a pure heart who shows compassion for everyone, but also her tough side if she must. In just a short amount of time since I began helping you, I’ve seen you act like a geek, and I’ve been a target of both your anger and doubt. You were only doing what was right when you didn’t trust me at first. I mean, the idea of a total stranger wanting to help you even if he turns out to be a fan? That’s scary for the most part. I would’ve felt the same if I were you, which was why I did whatever I could to prove my innocence.”
Hoshino chuckled. “And you just did. Right before I sat down, you scooched a fair distance to your left.”
I checked the gap between Hoshino and me, and almost laughed. About four people could fit between us before they would’ve felt packed like sardines. It seemed like I was starting to unconsciously do whatever it took not to make her despise me.
Moving on, I said, “The thing is, I got to see you express a fair number of emotions that I bet you wouldn’t show as an entertainer. It’s refreshing to see you act like a real person, you know?”
Hoshino smiled, leaving me flustered. “You’ve already done so much for me, Igarashi-San. That’s why stop hurting yourself for my sake. As a pro-wrestler, it’s part of my job to take bumps once in a while for your entertainment. When we get to the hotel, not only will I pay for my side of the room, but you can even share the bed with me.”
My face turned a deeper shade of red. As if I wasn’t flustered enough.
“Of course, I mean, we’re going to give each other space by sleeping on the edges of the bed,” Hoshino clarified.
“Y-yeah. That’s right.”
For a second there, my thoughts went awry.
✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯
Right as we entered our room in the Centurian Hotel and closed the door, Hoshino and I slid down the walls, panting with our clothes drenched in sweat.
Remember when I called the hotel earlier that day and learned that I couldn’t change my room? The hotel became fully-booked sometime after I made my reservation.
It was when we first entered the hotel that Hoshino and I learned why that was the case and why we had to move smart and fast.
Pro-Wrestling fans looking forward to tomorrow night’s event were everywhere in the hotel. They were easily distinguishable by the merchandise they wore, like shirts for starters.
I won’t go into detail over how Hoshino and I worked together to get our room key and raced to the fourth floor while keeping a low-profile from the other Pro-Wrestling fans before they could mob Hoshino.
That’s a story for another time.
✯ ✯ ✯ ✯ ✯
“That… was way too close,” I said. The plastic bags containing my purchases from the convenience store slowly slipped off my fingers until they dropped to the floor.
“Tell me about it,” Hoshino concurred, still catching her breath as she dropped her gym bag to our room’s rugged floor.
We both sat down to rest from all the effort we exerted, that is, until I heard the grumbling of someone else’s stomach.
Slowly, I stood up, saying, “All that running and sneaking around… really worked you an appetite, huh?”
“That, and because the last things I ate was an onigiri and a few snacks,” Hoshino replied, still sitting down.
With that setup in place, I took both the plastic bags and the opportunity to make Hoshino eat anything of my choice. Listening to her complaints about how we still had a bento box or two was not the greatest pleasure, but the sooner I got to work, the sooner we’d get to eat.
Our room in the Centurian Hotel had a kitchen with just the tools I needed.
I emptied one of the two plastic bags I had with me, and all its contents spilled out: white onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, cooking oil, assorted spices, pre-made rice, and a few other unique ingredients. Not all of the food items I bought from the convenience store were meant to be eaten immediately.
Grabbing a knife, chopping board, and cooking pot, I started to make preparations. Soon, a sweet and spicy aroma wafted around the perimeters of the room.
“So, what are you making?” Hoshino came to check on me after she had some time to rest.
I turned away from the kitchen stove to beam a bit of a grin on her. “See for yourself.”
Removing the lid of a cooking pot, I showed Hoshino what was simmering inside. Chunks of white onions, carrots, and potatoes floated on a pool of reddish-brown sauce that bubbled from the heat of flames.
“Made completely from scratch,” I told her. “It’s a little selfish of me, but I’d like you to try it.”
Hoshino’s stomach grumbled again. “Fine. At this point, I’d eat almost anything,” she said, taking a seat near a small table.
With that, I presented her with a plate of rice with a generous serving of curry sauce on the side. Hoshino then took a spoonful of rice and sauce and gave it a try.
Her eyes sparkled behind her glasses.
“What is this!? Its…! So…! Good…!”
I beamed with pride as Hoshino ate my cooking with gusto.
“It’s spicy, but not enough to make me desperate for water! The ingredients also seem to melt once I start eating them!”
Her table manners went out the window as she quickly shoved in more rice and curry into her mouth. I didn’t mind that she got a little messy. We weren’t fine-dining after all.
It was also good that I made a lot of curry sauce. At first, I thought I overdid it, but when Hoshino asked for seconds, maybe the opposite was what should’ve crossed my mind.
The pot eventually became empty. Hoshino slumped on her chair with stretched limbs, satisfied, while I took my time to eat my first and only plate of curry rice.
“I’m surprised I actually enjoyed your curry even though there’s no meat in it,” Hoshino said.
“Well, all I gave you was the base sauce,” I replied, enjoying another spoonful of my recipe. “It can be customized with other ingredients to your liking.” I then moved on to another topic. “Anyway, now that we’re here, all that’s left is to let the night pass. We can leave tomorrow any time you want. After a two-hour drive, you’ll be back with your friends from Heaven’s Arena and in time for the next event.”
“Yes.” Hoshino nodded then shot me a look with narrowed eyes and a sly smile. “So, this is my last night with you.”
I jolted. “Are you alright? That sounded kind of ominous.”
She appeared to have no shame as she leaned forward past her empty plate and zoomed closer to me. Out of reflex, I leaned back as my feet almost dragged my chair away.
Hoshino spoke in a somewhat alluring tone. “So far, everything has been your doing, with me just tagging along for the ride. With the time we have left, I think it’s about time I returned the favor.”
“T-there’s no need for you to go that far,” I said, still trying to suppress the urge to just say yes to her offer.
But before I could say more, Hoshino slammed her hands to the table and made our plates rattle.
“Hey, Igarashi-San, would you like to have a match with me?”
I blinked twice. “Oh, you wanna play Super Smash Bros. again? Sure, I’m game for it—”
“No. Not videogames.”
All of a sudden, Hoshino grabbed my arm and pulled me up from my chair. Once I was forced to stand, a surge of aggression seemed to take over her as her arms wrapped around my waist and lifted me off the ground.
“H-hang on! What are you--!”
I was taken for a wild ride as Hoshino carried me by force almost half-way around the room. Then she slammed me back-first into the king-sized bed we were supposed to share for the night. Thanks to the springy mattress, I wasn’t hurt, but I also wasn’t able to move because Hoshino suddenly pinned me down. She straddled my hips while her hands held down my arms.
“Igarashi-san, do you want to know what it’s like to wrestle with the Rising Star, herself?”