Chapter 8:


VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

He rolls over and buries his face in the bedding, a muted squee ekes out through the duvet.

Kaoru wiggles about like he just divulged some deep, dark, embarrassing secret. Like he hadn’t already said it while we were walking back from the library.

A wave of relief and disappointment crashes over me. The strange mood obliterated.

“You’re not a sis-con are you?”

Some banter to deflect things should help me get a grip, not that I’m bitter or anything.

He’s on his feet in a flicker, like a jump cut in a film.

I can tell he’s defensive even before he speaks.

“She was a model! Like, THE model of the EGL AND VK fashion scenes. She modelled for everyone… She was amazing, look!”

Kaoru is upon me in an instant.

His hand flies towards my face.

I flinch, but it flits past, retrieving something from the shelf behind.

A sweet natural scent - with notes of hairspray - wafts across my face, his hair lightly brushing my cheek.

Abruptly, a folder is shoved in front of me.

“You see! Here, and here, and there!”

It’s a scrap book of magazine clippings, posters, photos, flyers, and other promotional materials. The same woman in every single one. This perfect porcelain doll.

I take the binder from Kaoru’s hands and stare in abject astonishment.

“How is this not you?”

“How… WHAT?!.”

His rage momentarily abated.

“Well, you’d be 35 now or something, so it can’t be you, but it really does look like you in all these. You're the double of your sister!”

His jaw bobs up and down as if on loose springs. Slowly trying to process what I’ve said by mouthing the words back to himself.

I half expect him to blush, but he becomes serious, almost cold instead.

“I’m nothing like my sister.”

His tone flat and controlled.

I messed up.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve never met her. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just the way you look now, I get the same feeling from these pictures. Like, bringing the clothes to life meant everything to her. You can see it in her posing and expressions.”

I spin the folder round to show him an excerpt from some early One's Self And Alter Ego catalogue.

“I… I just get the same vibe from you, Kaoru. That’s all. You’re connected, deeply, to those clothes, right? She’s a bit more feminine, of course, but there’s still a striking similarity. You are siblings, after all.”

His expression remains unreadable a few long moments.

“Ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuu… ok.”

The tension in the room lifts slightly.

“That was too personal a comment to make to someone you have only known a week. However, I know you are only being sincere, if not oblivious.”

He gives me a slight smile to show there are no hard feelings, and motions we should finish our drinks.

There’s a Polaroid, tucked proudly alongside the cut-out. It looks like a behind the scenes snap of the same shoot. A little kid is sat on the floor, staring at the model, who’s crouched down, fawning over them.

Kaoru and his sister.

“I get it…”

I stand to leave, and he follows me to the door.

“Give me an hour to get ready. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah, see you… wait, what?”

“I said, I’ll see you later, for the thing.”

“What thing?”

Did I seriously forget we had plans? It’s Friday night… are we going to a concert? I can’t remember!

“The Business School Social? You must have received an invite. All the seniors and exchange students are going for drinks and karaoke.”


Panic sets in hard, and I frantically search through my emails for anything I might have missed.

“Someone on your course should have told you about it? It’s not an official event, so it won’t be on your timetable. It’s arranged by final years to welcome you all, make connections… it’s just an excuse to get drunk.”

The realisation hits me…

“No one told me…”

No one has spoken to me outside of class, except for Kaoru.

“I’ll speak to the organisers when we get there. Go get ready.”

“Th... thanks Kaoru. See you...”

I slip round the wall and into my own apartment. I feel like crying.


Later that night, we find ourselves sat in the corner of an izakaya.

The entire place has been booked out. It is fit to burst with students, the beginnings of cliques already apparent across the various disciplines.

Kaoru is only here because of his Business electives. That and, seemingly, to kick someone’s ass.

He spoke to one of the organisers as soon as we arrived. Some idol looking guy called Toshi who, at first, was kinda dismissive of Kaoru. Then he saw me, and changed his tune.

“Oh! Sorry… Tyler? We told your Class Rep to put the information in the LANE group chat. Did you not see the message?”

I’m floored that not only has no one spoken to me, but I’ve not been added to the dedicated class group chat.

Despondent, I just nod.

Kaoru slaps my back.

“That Class Rep has been neglecting their duties, Toshi-san. You should have a word with them about making sure everyone is actively aware of arrangements, rather than relying on passive communications.”

He’s taken aback for a moment, then waves Kaoru off.

“You're both here. That's all that matters. And look, you have been paired together. That makes things easier. Your seats are right over there.”

Toshi gives a slight bow, pointing the way with his clipboard, a practised mask of pleasantry plastered across his face.


Kaoru stares him down for a few seconds before leading us to our spot in the corner.

Of course, they stuck the weird kids together.

A couple of silent drinks later, and I’m feeling better. The energy of the room raising me up instead of bringing me down from being forgotten about.

I’m worried about Kaoru though.

He’s been mumbling to himself for a bit, it all sounds pretty negative.

“Hey, if you say it’s fate, or destiny, or whatever, that we’ve been put together, I… I… I’ll order you to down your drink in front of everyone! If you refuse, they’ll make you drink all theirs, as well!”

I guess there was no need to worry, he’s just drunk. Lightweight!

With the silence broken, and an opening for silly conversation sighted, I go for a jab.

“It was furthest from my mind. No need to be so threatening, we’re on the same side! This is why you got stuck with me, rather than being paired up with one of the attractive foreigners.”

His head does a 450 in my direction.

“And what do you mean by that, my dear kouhai?”

Too much?

“Well, you’re a little ruthless at times, y’know? Great for business, don’t get me wrong, but people can be put off by that too. Socially, I mean. Like that Toshi guy, earlier. I know you were trying to help, but I think you painted a target on us.”

The thick ceramic cup in Kaoru’s hand audibly strains under the pressure of his tightening grip.


“You know I deeply respect you - oh, honourable and reliable senpai - but I overheard some other seniors refer to you as the Ice Queen, earlier. How’d you get that nickname? Seems a bit harsh just because you can be cold and look good in a skirt, like the other da-”

“I will deal with you later.”

With that, up he gets. I am sorry to whoever’s death warrant I just signed.

Maybe not.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Kaoru hang out with anyone else. He must between classes, right? We’re in different subjects and years, so I’m not around all the time, but he’s always with me in the evenings.

Oh, there we go. Back already!

“That looked like a successful assassination. Did you get your man?”

“No one died. I simply explained that such comments are unbecoming for seniors to make in front of representatives from our international partners. We wouldn’t want rumours putting off continued collaboration.”

Screw it.

“I made it up.”

I slowly drain my drink to avoid retaliation.

“He had it coming. They’ve made similar comments before. You were just a very visible and public excuse to call them out. Thanks scapegoat. Here’s your reward!”

As soon as my empty glass reaches the table-top, he refills it a third with my reward.

An eruption of excitement fills the bar.


“Someone’s drinking big tonight!”

“Going to be hung over tomorrow, you mean!”

“¥1000 on him puking!”

“I’ll take that bet!”

“Should we get shots in for everyone?”

“Give it a minute, let’s watch them first!”

I turn to Kaoru.

He tilts his head so no one else can see the twisted smile on his face.

“Bottoms up!”

This is how I die…

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