Chapter 22:


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

“I appreciated you giving me space…”

I’m late making dinner, so Kaori has nothing to do. She lounges on the floor in some revealin- light home wear.

Lord, give me strength!

“…and for not filling my phone with messages. I need time to calm down when I get emotional. Things would have probably ended up worse if you had.”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t follow my impulses and come bang on your door, so we could talk things out straight away… that’s how it was with my Dad and Brother. Mom was the one that needed space.”

Kaori rests her cheek on her forearm, “Thank you, mother Tai.”

She’s at the table as soon as I serve food, amazed as usual.

“How did you do the egg on that tiny hob?”

I straighten up, ready to deliver my sermon, “Practic-“

“Where is my message?!.”

Kaori points to the bare omelette on top of her rice.

Is she teasing me?

“I didn’t know how much you’d want, so add your own sauce.”

She frowns and turns her plate towards me.



I pull the omurice over, cover it with an obscene amount of ketchup, then carve “I U” into the bloody mess.

She is not amused.

Serves her right.

She swaps our plates and giddily proceeds to draw the same thing with a more reasonable amount of tomato sauce. Diving in before I can reclaim my portion.

Serves me right.

“No, there aren’t seconds.”

I pre-empt Kaori’s question before she’s even finished, and receive a disgruntled wriggle in response.

There are pudding cups in the fridge, but she can squirm a bit longer first.

Kaori gets excitable all of a sudden.

“I nearly forgot about your bidding war! How has that been going?”

“It hasn’t.”

She shoots me a questioning look, “What do you mean?”

I can’t quite believe it myself - that I let things get so out of hand - and don’t really want to admit that I’m basically broke.

“Well… err… there just haven’t been many items I want recently. Still waiting on deliveries too, so…”

Bait taken, her expression sinks into one of knowing, nodding along empathetically.

“I was having the same thing happen, actually.”

“What, really?!. That’s what I thought when you asked me to show you…”

I trail off, not wanting to go into all that again.

“Yes, I was wondering if it was the same user.”

We rush to our phones and call out the usernames together.

“kei002!” “VISUALSHOCK!”

A flash-bang could have gone off in front of us…

An FBI raid…

A nuke…

We would have still stared at each other, furious, unblinking.

We’d spent the best part of a month bidding against each other.





Our anger subsiding into hysterics at the absurdity of it all.

“I can’t believe you paid ¥50,000 for that Alice AWOO choker cape!”

“I know! They still have it in Cupboard Kid for 20K… I just could not let VISUALSHOCK win!”

“I’m sorry about pushing up the reserve to make your final prices so high.”

“It’s fine. Well, really, it’s not, but I can afford it. Though I would prefer to not have had to pay so much.”

“Yeah, I just felt kei002 deserved it for sniping so much out from under me.”

“I told you your turf war was childish.”

I explain my theory around her username, and Kaori howls with amusement, actually getting a tear in her eye.

“KO'Z!!! That is so funny!”

She snorts.

“Me, knocking everyone out!”

Then wheezes.

“No… no… kei002, is…”

Struggling to suppress ripples of laughter.

“…kei is for the letter K. 002 is…”

I groan and lean back against my bed frame with irritation at the revelation…

“The year you were born.”

Kaori splutters again, but pushes through.

“I am a year older than that, actually... What I wanted was K2, but it had already been taken, because of the mountain, probably. 002 was just the next available.”

It all clicks into place.

“KEi2 is the closest, isn’t it.”

Kaori Kobayashi nods.

Like an algebra question = k2.

“Everyone online knows me as Kei, so please do not use Kaori if you comment on anything.”

Is that permission to add her on ExtraGram and Titter?

She smiles her assent with a little embarrassment.

“I did not mean to keep anything from you. Although, I find it easy to be blunt with people I do not care about, with you…”

Pulling her knees up to her chest.

“…it never came up.”

Is that it?!.

“I…” she fusses with her cushion “…I didn’t want to appear arrogant. Like I was trying to impress you.”

I get her concern, but why would I think that?

Maybe it’s happened before? Were my theories correct?

“Well, I am impressed…”

Kaori continues to fidget.

“…but that’s because those photos were amazing. I only saw what was on screen as I closed them, but I could tell you care about the integrity of your content. Why would I think you’re arrogant for sharing your passion with me?”

She freezes for a moment, then relaxes with a sigh.

“Because… I am not used to this.”

A warm tone entering her voice.

“I did not want to scare you off or give you the wrong idea and, like I said…”

She unfurls, finishing her drink, then lies back in frustration.

“…I hate that I did not trust you.”

Lifting her head just enough to give me a smile, then crossing her arms underneath it.

We slip into a comfortable silence for a while, only broken by the clink of melting ice in my glass. I get up to stretch my legs and tidy our plates away. In the midst of retrieving puddings from the fridge, Kaori pipes up again.

“I’m a teacher.”

“Well, now that is arrogant! I don’t think I’ve learned anything from you.”

She tilts her head and opens an eye; aflame with killing intent.

“I’m joking, sorry. Do go on.”

I stop hiding dessert behind my back and place one in front of her. She sulkily sits up and accepts my offering.

“You cannot keep bribing me with things I like until you learn everything about me.”

“I can try!”

She throws the lid at me after licking it. It lands limply on the tabletop.

“I teach at a language school. English, Chinese, and Japanese. I am not confident enough in my Russian to be presumptuous enough to instruct others.”

Her face softens with the first spoonful of sweetness.

“That is why I am busy. It is a lot to plan for on top of my studies, but it is the only way to earn enough.”

The pudding loosening her tongue with every bite.

“I do not tell people because I do not want anyone I know coming to my lessons, or asking for help. It is off-putting and has caused problems before.”

Kaori doesn’t elaborate, and I don’t probe, but at least I understand why she kept me at arms length. No wonder she got stressed.

She lowers her mostly finished dessert with a sigh.

“Incidentally, I have been meaning to ask. Your Japanese is so rigid and formal, did you not have conversation classes? It is as if you memorized a textbook and only spoke to yourself.”

I finish my last mouthful.

“Because, that’s what I did.”

She drops hers on her lap. Spoon still halfway to her mouth.

“Denki and Everyone’s Japanese… my brother got one, failed to learn anything, ordered the other, then gave up entirely.”

Her mouth is an open maw of disbelief.

“I needed to be learning a language as part of my homeschool curriculum, so I used them. My parents ordered the rest. Had Dual-Lingus, Rosetta Rock, and Ankey as well, but I couldn’t go to a language school while sick, so never got to practice conversations.”

“Why did you not use an online language teacher?”

Visibly in shock, she still hasn’t noticed the last bit of pudding seeping into the fabric of her shorts.

“Couldn’t afford it. One off purchases that could be sold on were fine, but tutors would have been too expensive, especially when…”

…when they weren’t sure I would…

“Tai! Tai, hey!”

Kaori is leaning across the table, her hand brushing hair out of my face, whipping something from my cheek.

“You do not have to talk about it.”

I swallow the dry stone forming in my throat.

“Thanks… I’ll tell you some other time. You might want to use the fiv- ten-second rule.”

I point to the fallen remnants of pudding, now melting into her cushion. She looks down and panics, then tentatively scrapes it back onto her spoon, inspecting it thoroughly, and finishes it off with a flustered expression.

I guess we still have a little way to go before being honest about everything.

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