Chapter 11:

“Dead Or Alive”

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

I wake up feeling like death.

Maybe I did die last night?

If this is the afterlife… it’s probably purgatory.

I retch at the reek of my own breath.


I don’t have any painkillers. Never thought to bring or buy them.

In the dark of my room, I remain lying on the bed - trying not to spin - and listen for the first stirrings of Kaoru through the wall.

After what feels like an hour, as if I have any concept of time right now…


pat, pat, pat…

The sound of his fridge jingling from its contents.

That’s awake enough to ask if he has any meds.

I slowly stagger to the door and…




My body leans against the cool wood as I pathetically knock for help.

There’s a startled noise from inside, and the same pattering as before towards the door.

“Err… who is it?!.”

“It’s me, Tai…”

“Yaaawn… ugh, ok. One sec…”

He sounds about as bad as I feel.

The door opens.

“Oh! I am so sorry! I didn’t realise you had company!”

At first talking to the girl in the doorway, then over her head to Kaoru. Wherever he is in there?!.

“I’m real sorry. If Kaoru had said he was having someone over after karaoke, I wouldn’t have bothered him first thing.”

I don’t remember hearing him go back out, or anyone come over, or the sound of a coupl- ahem! I guess as a final year, he’d be used to keeping things quiet by now.

The girl blinks at me sleepily, big eyes stretch to the sky for a moment, then scrunch back up, still not adjusted to the dull light of morning, afternoon, whatever time of day it is...

He really picked a stunner.

As subtle an appraisal I can make - without creeping on my friend’s girlfriend - I’d say she’s a bit shorter than him. Still tall for a girl, though. Slim, kinda boyish, long limbs. Very model-y. Long dark hair...

That’s when I realise…

…he really is a sis-con…

…she looks just like his sister!

Honestly, she might even be prettier in a winsome kinda way, making her more interesting than just traditionally beautiful.

She yawns almost right in my face and wavers in the doorway, having to grip the frame to stay upright. Her breath is foul, so they must have stayed up drinking, as I don’t remember seeing anyone like her last night.

She’s literally only wearing a tank top and short shorts… is Kaoru seriously flexing by sending her to answer for him, dressed like this. Where is he anyway?!.

“So, what did you want?”

I freeze in horror.

Too scared to lower my gaze from scanning the room to meet the voice in front of me.



She prods me in the chest.

“You ok?”

I think I just glitched through reality, finding myself splayed out on the floor from absolute shock.

“K… k… k… k…”

She yawns again, then goes to lean over to help me up - thinks better of it with a hand on their stomach - and squats in front of me instead. I get more than an eye full, so I cower away to retain some modesty.

“What’s with you? I’m going back in.”

“K… k… k… Kao-”

“I’m here. What’s up? You’re freaking me out, and I already feel terrible.”

“K… k… Kaoru…”


Patience wearing thin in his voice.


Silence stands between us for an age.

Crickets sing their chorus.

Mosquitos play accompaniment.

In the distance, a child cries for its mother.

The vein in Kaoru’s forehead pulses so hard I can hear it thundering from my place on the floor. Their knuckles creaking with tension as she balls a fist against his temple to relieve some pressure. They are obviously pissed.

“Come inside, now!”

It’s an authoritative command.

I obey immediately.

Scurrying in like a beetle and remain kneeling on the ground.

I cannot look him in the eye.

I put my forehead to the floor to bow as deeply as possible.

“I am so, so, so, so, sooooooo, sorry! Please don’t hate me! You just pass so well, if that’s what you’re trying to do, I didn’t realise, and if that's not what you're doing, please take it as a compliment that you could. Not that I’m calling you manly, or that you look like a man, unless that’s how you want to be perceived, or if you're non-”


“Yes Ma’am, I mean Sir, I mea-”


I finally get my panicked anxiety chatter under control. Holding down reflux, and vibrating at an atomic level from forcing every muscle to remain rigidly in place, so as to not let anything slip out that could cause issue.

Kaoru sits on the bed, exhausted. Pulling the blanket into a burrito around her.

My inner monologue prattling on ad nauseam, while they get settled, and eventually he breaks the silence.

“Yes, I’m a girl. No, I don’t hide it.”

That settles that.

“I just happen to prefer more masculine outfits. I do also wear feminine things sometimes, but I don’t categorise them that way. Clothes are genderless.”

I get the sentiment.

“I did not mean to hide anything from you. Like you did not mean to hide your name is Tyler. We both just wanted to control how we are perceived by others, is that not so? ”

“I get that and I’m sorr-”

“I’m not finished.”

I snap shut at her word.

“I accept your apology. I am also sorry for being upset last night, forcing you to drink, and not being honest sooner.”

She’s going to forgive me? I thought I was a goner with that death stare.

“I think this makes us equal, but if you still feel bad, you can make it up to me…”

She shifts in her sushi roll, one hand slithers out from between the folds

“You can make me a coffee.”

Her hand glides back inside the blanket. Her head flops to one side, as if to emphasise the precarious ledge on which her consciousness is balanced.

Eagerly, I make busy in the kitchenette, sorting out the kettle and… what am I meant to make coffee with?

“Uhm… you haven’t got a machine!”

Indicating with concern, my hands full of grounds.

She’s already asleep.

I decide not waking her is best, or else incur the true wrath of a cozy person, and silently cycle through the cupboards to find something to make coffee in.

I find some filter papers and this big funnel topped glass beaker thing, so assume I gotta put one in the neck and pour water over it.

It doesn’t seem quite right, if this is what I’m meant to use at all, but the paper doesn’t fall in or tear, and the coffee drips through fine enough.

This is kinda… domestic. Pleasantly so. I relish the banality.



I jump with a start. Kaoru is at my shoulder. Eyes closed. Seemingly sleepwalking from the smell of the brewing coffee. I quickly dump the filter and grounds into the sink, pour out a cup, and hand it to the zombie before she starts gnawing on me.

She mumbles approvingly while bringing the cup to her face.


Her eyes snap open, and she sticks out her tongue. Did I really do that bad a job?

She looks up and registers my bemusement.

“Oh, sorry… I hate coffee. The bitterness shocks me awake, and the caffeine gives me the energy to get ready. Don’t worry.”

She shambles back across the floor, blanket trailing behind her, and plops down right where she was before. Huffing contentedly at the fumes and twisting her face in disgust at every sip.

“So… what was it you wanted?”

Seemingly fully functional, Kaoru gets us back on track.


As if on cue, my stomach churns a little and the tension in my head increases.

“…have you got any painkillers?”

Kaoru shakes her head and my heart sinks.

“They’re in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Take whatever you need on the way out.”

Am I really being turned away for needing meds?

She follows me, shuffling along in her grand gown of bedding, goblet of coffee in hand.

“Go wake up and sort yourself out. I’ll take you out for hangover food later - I still feel a need to make up for my behaviour last night - hope you like clams.”

“Clams? I gues- Y… you mean, we’re still friends?”

“What? Of course, what do you think of me? Give me your phone too. I realised last night I don’t have your number.”

She waves her own at me languidly while ushering me towards the door. I retrieve mine, we swap info, and I find myself outside her room yet again.

I look down at my phone.

Kaori Kobayashi.


Not Kaoru.


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