Chapter 14:

"Round And Round"

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

After the splash I made at karaoke, a few of the Business School seniors have singled me out…

…and not in a bad way!

“Gosu-jin! How’s it going?”

Gonna have to shake that nickname though… I nod back at the guy all the same.

This petite girl called Saki - an HR Major - and someone who didn’t make it to the event, catch me at a corner.

“Tyler! You were so funny the other night, I’ll let you know when we’re next going, ok!”

I bashfully accept her invitation, and vaguely make out their hushed chatter as I carry on to the library.

“…he’s the one you were on about?”

“Yeah, really made Toshi and Ryu squirm!”

They giggle to themselves while I drift out of earshot.

Kaori has, somehow, already block booked a table for us in the self study section for the entire semester.

I mean, I’m sure she’d already done it for herself anyway, I just join her every day after class, but Christ is she organised!

“-ay would you! I had nothing to do with it!”

A fight?

I slink to the end of a row of shelves and spot Toshi leaning on a pile of books next to Kaori.

“He’s your friend. Take responsibility for his actions!”

“No. He’s my neighbour, who had not received details for the Social from his Class Rep, so I showed him to the venue. That’s it. If you have any issues, take them to the International Students Coordinator. I’m trying to study.”

“You’re such a-”

He doesn’t even get the word out. She stun-locks him with a glare.

“…ugh, fine!”

Toshi storms off, thankfully in the other direction, so I slide over to our desk.

“I thought we were done.”

Kaori doesn’t even look up from her notes.

“Neighbour, huh?”


Yeah, I got you!

“It would only have caused more trouble had I acknowledged our friendship to that… insect.”

“How so? His daddy on the board of governors? Gonna get us kicked out?”

“More like a Cabinet Minister, with relatives in Executive positions across multiple industries. He’s basically a modern prince.”

“And I humiliated him publicly…”

“I’ve seen the videos.”

“I forgot there’s evidence!”

Damn those popular kids with their damn smartphones!

Calm down Grandad!

He probably won’t try to use it as kompromat to get me expelled. It’d be far too embarrassing exposing himself as well.

That’s why he’s trying to pressure Kaori instead of blackmailing me.

“It should be fine. He’s mostly harmless. All bark and no brains.”

“You mean bite.”

“No, he's popular enough to make you a social outcast. Just not smart enough to realise that’s already the case.”

Ouch, and things were looking up!

“At least I still have my neighbour for company.”

“Hmm… I wonder if I can convince him to have his father deport you after all?”

Over some more back and forth, we eventually settle into studying.


“I have to go!”

Kaori packs up her things and leaves without another word.

Did I do something wrong?

We hadn’t made plans for this evening, but I’d still hoped to hang out.

I only manage another 10 minutes revising before the chatter in my brain beats me down.

Feeling too awkward to stay alone in the library, I tidy up and head back to the dorms.

While slumping home, I spot a young member of staff trot across the quad. The clack of her office heels drawing my attention.


Don’t be a lech!

Eyes down cast, I force my mind onto what to do tonight, but nothing appeals.

I bump into some other exchange students in the common room, and they suggest I join them to watch TV… Why not?

“Oh, actually…”

It’s some drama; really not my thing.

“No! You’re perfect for… this guy!”

“Oh, he really is!”

“Please Tyler!”

Perfect for me? He’s a gangster!

Everyone starts acting like different characters, translating their lines in real time…

They’re live-dubbing a soap?!.

How could I not join in!

An hour later we’re sprawled out, shattered, but satisfied.

“Hey, Tyler… sorry about last week.”

“Yeah man. You just seemed so - not scary - intimidating? Like you didn’t want anyone talking to you.”

“You’re not in the group chat yet, are you?”

Our impromptu social night carries on for a few more hours…

I don’t see Kaori once.


The following day, there are more people who say hi or come chat… I’m even invited back for next week’s episode!

“Yo! Last night was so fun! You were totally the right choice for that yakuza guy!”

It’s nice, even if it’s superficial, but any opening can potentially lead to friendship.

Sadly, it’s the usual story…

Games, anime, and manga - like my brother - or inexplicably interested in Japan with no link to pop culture whatsoever… it’s always the same.

Most only have a passing knowledge of street fashion, or they like one or two idols, j-pop groups, or big rock stars like JEKYLL, but that’s about it.

A couple have a little more interest in Lolita or decora, and one guy knows all the anime OST bands, so I'll focus on nurturing those relationships. Maybe someday I can bring them along to gigs or out shopping.

Can’t rely on Kaori all the time, but I also don’t want to feel like a safari guide. In my head, I can hear comments like “Wow, that’s so weird! Only in Japan!” already…

I shudder.

“Tai, can we talk?”

As if summoned by my thoughts, Kaori, in turn, summons me away from my course mates.

Not too enthusiastically - gotta play it cool - I follow her down the hall.

“I won’t be able to do anything again tonight. I’m sorry for the short notice, and for leaving suddenly yesterday. I just forgot…”

Forgot what?

I shrug with uncertainty, prompting her to elaborate.

“I have a job.”

Forgot you had a job?!.

“I forgot I had a shift yesterday, that’s why I ran off. I didn’t have time to explain. Tonight, I’ve been asked to cover for someone…”

She fixes me with an odd look, like she’s asking for a mix of forgiveness, permission, and something else…

“Hey, if you need the money, don’t let me stop you. We can hang out tomorrow, and we’ve always got the weekend. I’m easy.”

Her smile is bittersweet with acceptance.

“Thank you.”

Kaori’s fitted black suit and gore covered smock trail a mortuary mood behind her.

Wonder if she works at the coroner’s office?


The next day, and the next, end about the same. Our whole week eaten up by Kaori’s work.

It’s been good for ingratiating myself with the other foreign students, but I still feel low…

Maybe I can convince Kaori to let me walk her to and from work, or meet up after to fit in some shopping.


“Hear me ou-”

“I don’t have time. I took the first week off to get through orientation, but then we kept making plans, so now...”


…guess that’s fair.

I don’t want to be a burden.

“I’m sorry. Forget I suggested it.”

Her expression shifts.

“I’m sorry too. I miss spending time with y-”

She pauses.

“I’ll try to work something out.”

Friday night rolls around - we’ve finally been able to catch up in the library - and another call comes through.

“I have to go. Another absence.”

Her disappointment is as tangible as the glass bottle in my hand - more Uranium C - that I’m grateful won’t creak as my grip tightens with frustration.

“No worries.”

I drain the drink to hold my tongue.

As she goes to leave, there’s a hesitation.

“Could I…”

Pausing again, as if seeking consent to continue.

I grunt nonchalantly; still feeling petulant.

“…never mind.”

Kaori leaves and I put everything away quickly.

I’m curious about her job. She won’t tell me about it, which only fuels my need to find out.

Mostly, I tell myself, I’m worried because she’s out so late I don’t even hear her get back.

I’m sure it’s nothing sketchy, but a part of me is still concerned, so…

Yes, this could be considered stalking.

No, I’m not proud of myself.

But, to appease my conscience, I limit my snooping to the dorms. I’m not going to follow her through the streets of Tokyo.

I gave her enough time to get home before leaving the library.

Quietly, I enter my room, and listen…

It’s not like I have my ear up against the wall, I’m not some creep!

I’m just frustrated that my friend is avoiding me, and doesn’t feel secure enough to tell me what’s going on. If I understood, then I wouldn’t be...

Alright, maybe kinda verging into creepy loner behaviour, but still… I need to know!

Kaori’s door clicks shut, I hear her footsteps pass my room, down the hall…

tak, tak, tak…

I open my door a crack…

“What the f-”

The pretty office lady from the other day…


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