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					The First Day of School

After getting up a full hour earlier than necessary to avoid any, um, altercation with my newly
learned downstairs neighbors, I was off for the first day of teaching. After all that had happened
during orientation, it felt almost like mercy to be allowed to actually get my job started. Maybe
those six...wait, now seven, would be able to leave me alone if they've got other things to do. I
don't mind all the messing around while the students aren't in, but I really don't know what I'd be
able to do if one of them started, um, acting up while school was on.
So, I enjoyed my tea out of my thermos (I had finally brought a real vase, because the flowers Ai
sent me showed no sign of wilting) and got ready for the first day. Now, Japan's high school is
actually only three years, which I understand in America equates to 10th, 11th, and 12th grades
roughly, and I'm mostly teaching first years. As a new teacher, it's basically a given you'll be stuck
with the, um, less mature students. I suppose if Ami were here right now she'd just flat out call
them "stupid children" or something like that...but she'll still try her hardest to teach them. It
really is admirable, in a way...
"Stop thinking about a girl."
Akira. Why is it that I can think "Akira," in the kind of voice a mighty samurai says to his fated
enemy, yet all I can manage to say is...
"Bwah?"
"Ha. Well, at least that's better than your stupid cat noise...mwar..." Akira cracked a small smile
and sat down on my desk. No, I wasn't reading those notes, go right ahead, "You always looked
like that in college when you were thinking about girls, or...should I say...one girl..."
"Shut up."
That was a mistake. Akira now knew he had caught me off guard and flustered, the world was in
his hands. He leaned backwards and looked at the ceiling, allowing for his long, gangly legs to
sway back and forth, first one, then the other.
"Can't say I blame you, though," his voice was dreamlike, maybe even a little jealous, "with all of
these good looking girls throwing themselves at you, not forgetting you for ten years...ten years
man! What the hell did you do to them? And tell me you've been talking me up to them, I mean, I
don't think you can take them all for yourself, you don't seem the greedy type..."
Too bad that vase was new. I would look just lovely with Akira's head jammed inside.
"And yet you turn them all away...but you don't. You play just enough to keep them wanting more,
but you never give it to them. Man, I wish I had that kind of willpower! I always blow it by being
too 'sincere' and 'sensitive' and then bag, boom, I'm in a relationship I never wanted, or even
worse..."
"Worse?" I cocked an eyebrow as I sipped my tea.
"The dreaded 'I have a boyfriend' curse," he hung his head forward in mock defeat, "I tell ya, any,
ANY pretty girl you meet, she's got a boyfriend. I don't care what she says, I do not care. And if
you can finally pull a Watanabe and walk the line enough to get a girl to like you, well...something
is very, very wrong."
"Wait a minute!" I put my teacup down grumpily, "You're saying there's something wrong if a
pretty girl likes me?"
"Well, let's see. You've got seven (yes, seven, that little gaijin's right taken with you too) seven
lovely ladies all lining up to be Mrs. Ken Watanabe (yes, all of them, even Ami) and you're turning
them all away for some stupid moral dilemma that's ten years outdated and really,
really...stupid!"
"Kinda ran out of steam at the end there," I said with a sarcastic drone.
"Shut up," now I could see Akira was the upset one.
"What makes you think all of this anyway? Neither of us have had an amazing track record with
the ladies--"
"Correction!" one of Akira's long index fingers pointed to the heavens, "I have a horrible track
record. You, mon frere, have NO RECORD. If I'm the...the...oh, what do you call that American
baseball team that's so horrible?"
"The Chicago Cubs?"
"Yeah, them! They haven't won a World Series in ONE HUNDRED YEARS, but they're still trying.
You don't even have a franchise, man! You won't even pony up the money to play one damn game!
Idiot!"
Wow, Akira was really angry about this. However...
"You're missing something, Mr. Saito. The Chicago Cubs are often called 'lovable losers,' while
you, more often than not, are considered a pervert and a lech."
Ah, there we go. As combative as we are, we're still friends, and I always know exactly how to
defuse the bomb, as it were. He does the same thing to me, it's what friends are for.
"Well, Mr. Watanabe," Akira said, straightening the lapels on that ridiculous black suit of his,
"You are a dumbass, and you're almost late to your first class. I suggest...we scoot."
Holy moley, he was right! No way I'm being late on my first day back. Nothing's going to break my
stride, I'm going to get to that first class and rock their world, yeah! Akira and I, we're going to
bust out of this room as an unstoppable History teaching machine, right Akira?
Akira?
Oh...right. He has his first class free, and he's already in the old coat closet, and he's snoring away.
Bah...onwards! Onwards! Breasts!
Breasts?
Dammit, I have got to start watching when I open a door!
Now, the human mind is capable of processing at amazing speeds, much faster than we can
actually speak, write, or otherwise express. So, slowed down to the nano of nanoseconds, here's
basically what went through my brain before I managed to recoil in horror:
"Big...but not too big...no Ms. Arakawa, unless she's wearing a minimizer, and that would just be a
crime, wouldn't it? Where was I? Right: soft fabric bordered by a rougher fabric, signifying a coat
or jacket of some kind, albeit a thin one. A smell of exotic flowers, almost cloying and intoxicating,
leading me to wonder who around here would bother to spritz their, um, décolletage...oh no.
That's a lab coat, isn't it? And time in, regular speed.
"Blaaaaah!"
I was answered with a low, sexy chuckle and a husky voice.
"Well well, Mr. Watanabe...isn't it a bit early in the day?"
Damn you Hasegawa. I don't want to be late, but I surely don't want to enter my first class with a
beet red face!
"Ms. Hasegawa...forgive me! I'm late for my first class, you understand..."
"Oh...I understand..." she purred, and began to saunter ever closer to me. I wonder if it's possible
to have asthma brought on by women? Oops, no time for that now, she's touching my neck.
"M...Mi...Miss Hasegawa...please...don't you have a boyfriend?"
She stopped what she was doing momentarily and looked at me blankly over her small, square
glasses. Her voice was softer now, sweeter, and damn confusing.
"What? I'm just fixing your tie, Mr. Watanabe. You wouldn't want to head into your first class
looking sloppy, would you?"
Hm. It was a little off center. Well, whaddya know?
"Sorry, Ms. Hasegawa, and thank you. But I really must be off."
"Of course, sugar," and suddenly the sultry look was back again. In the blink of an eye she
managed to grab my shoulders, pivot me 180 degrees, and lay a smack on my behind so fierce that
I was pushed out into the hallway, face red and completely unprepared. All that drumming up of
courage, all those vows and goals, all had frittered away with Ms. Hasegawa's special brand of
TLC.
"Go get 'em, Tiger," she growled from behind me before shutting the door. I don't think the hairs
on the back of my neck stood up, I think I few flew out. Whoosh. Gotta get my head together,
gotta think, gotta get ready. Here it comes, stride unbroken, onto my class, onwards onwards, and
this time...
I took a quick look around the hallway. Not a single suspicious face to be found. In fact, there
were no faces. The hall was empty.
"Oh--"
And then the bell rang. Let me say for the record that I am not a good runner. I don't run well. I
don't really do anything well that could be considered physical (DESPITE what Ms. Hasegawa
thinks) so I must have looked like some sort of rabid walrus galumphing down the hall for a free
buffet. What a way to start my year!
As eventful as my first hour of school was, the rest of the day was, um, fairly tame in comparison.
I guess the girls...um...ladies were too busy getting their classes in order to worry about
tormenting me today. In some ways, I'm relieve, but in others...I feel a little used, a little...dare I
say it? Lonely.
*You're pathetic! You love the attention, but you're too weak to commit!*
That's not it, I--
*O-ho! So maybe you're just playing them against each other to see who's best, eh? You sly dog!*
No, I--
*That's brilliant, actually! You get the best out of each one of them and because you got the
wholesome thing going on, they don't realize they're being played! Bravissimo, sir!*
I'm not playing them!
*Then what is it? Are you still hung up on what's-her-face from college?*
No...I mean...I don't think so...
*Is it still that stupid 'they're my old students' thing? You know 13 is the age in Japan, right?
These girls are perfectly okay for you to go for! No one would even notice, no one would care!*
I WOULD! I would notice, and I would care. I wouldn't be able to shake the idea that these girls
are looking for a fantasy, one that I can't live up to.
*Oh brother, how self-absorbed is that? Hurt them to save them? Gimme a break. You think awful
highly of yourself, champ. Especially for someone who's never had a girlfriend.*
Ouch. I suppose your worst enemy is yourself. He's right though, I've never had a girlfriend. Not
even one of those silly little grade school ones that don't mean anything, or even one of the hot 'n'
heavy ones where you might kiss on the playground. I got close once, but it all fell apart. I've still
never had an actual, real girlfriend.
*Something which I never stop to point out.*
I know.
*Akira had a point, you know, about you not even taking the chance.*
But how am I supposed to without someone getting hurt?
*Well, you let them all know from the get go that it's basically a contest.*
That's terrible!
*That's what they've turned it into.*
Then I won't enter the "contest." That's inhuman.*
*I don't think you have much of a choice, Scooter....bah, I'm tired of this. If you need me, I'll be in
your subconscious playing H-games.*
Is it possible to nauseate yourself? Anyway, as I was saying, today went pretty normal. I've got to
say, though, that students are so much harder to, um, spook then when I was a teacher. It's like
they know the rules before the game begins, you can't get to them anymore. For example, here's
how I started my classes:
"Good morning/afternoon, my name is Ken Watanabe and I will be your History teacher. First off,
I want to let you all know that no matter how crazy you think things are, I've got you beat. I hear
voices, and I talk to myself, so you're really not going to be able to bowl me over, okay?"
Not an eyeblink. Not even a sniffle. I had that rehearsed so well, and then...nothing! Man, kids are
like...big blocks of tofu these days. High in protein, but they just kinda sit there and, um, congeal.
When I was a student, that would have freaked me right out...especially if I knew he was serious,
which I am! Then again, now that I think about it, I was hardly the average student back in my
day. Maybe I'm not a good representation, maybe my generation was a tofu garden too, and I was
just the only, um, wiggly piece of broccoli. Thinking back, I really was expecting to teach a class
full of, well, myself, which was really stupid, because I'm hardly average.
*I'll say.*
Shut up and go back to your illicit games.
*Will do!*
I guess I was spoiled with my first student teaching class too. Or maybe I'm just overthinking this
altogether. I tend to do that. Bah, it's already getting late. The sun's going down, turning the
teacher's room into a paradise of orange and yellow. Compared to the normal grey, it seems like
paradise, ok? I heaved a sigh as I packed up my few things and headed for the exit.
"I'm just over-thinking this. It's just the first day after all."
As I reached the door, I heard a familiar sound, which caused me to bang on the door to the
closet. After a few snorts and snuffles, Akira poked his head out from the sliding door.
"What?"
"Don't you think it's, um, about time you go home?" I said, trying not to sound like a scolding
parent.
"What time is it?" he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. I'd say his hair was messed up but, like mine, it's
permanently like that. It's not that we're lazy, our hair is just, um, problematic.
I told him.
"Meh, I've got another hour til the janitor comes by. He knows what to do. See ya tomorrow."
And the door was shut again. Within seconds I heard snoring again. How does he fall asleep so
fast?
"Marrr," I grumbled as I headed out the door and down the stairs. How does he get by with that?
Not only do I usually have to wait thirty minutes for the voices in my head to calm down before I
can sleep...
*Only because you don't exercise me, heh heh heh*
...but I also have tons of work to grade almost every night. Now, don't get me wrong, Akira knows
his stuff. If I ever had a question, it was his notes I was copying, and not just because he was my
roommate. He's just so lazy sometimes I could scream.
"KYYYYYYAAAAAAAARH!"
Kinda like that, yeah. Wait, what the heck was that?
"AAAAAAAAAIGH!"
Is this school haunted? Is some kind of lost soul roaming the halls at sundown, shattering the
relative calm with its keening wail? Perhaps it was a student who committed suicide at this very
time of day, on this very day, in this very building? Perhaps she was a jilted lover, or maybe she
didn't make it into college? Maybe...maybe it's the ghost of a dead teacher, killed by an angry
student or an obsessively neat janitor? Maybe...
"GAAAAAAAAH!"
It seemed to be getting louder as I approached the main entrance, near the obscenely expensive
auditorium that was the centerpiece of the institution. Maybe there's a Phantom of our
Auditorium? Maybe, um... a stagehand was crushed by a falling light all those years ago? Maybe
it's some kind of demon?
Or maybe it's Haru.
Wait...Haru?
I want you to think of something for a moment. I want you to think of a baby hare, a leveret, as
they are sometimes called. See how fluffy and cute it is, all adorable and soft? Okay. Now picture
it with a sniper rifle, picking people off from a church steeple and laughing maniacally. That's
what I'm seeing right now.
Little Haru is sitting at a comically large desk, on a comically large chair, with her feet not even
touching the ground. Instead, they are shaking violently every few minutes, along with her twin
ponytails, which are acting like spastic antennae searching for a signal after the apocalypse. The
cycle keeps repeating every few minutes, as a sheet is taken from large pile of papers and placed in
front of what I can only guess is Haru's face. Another scream, and the paper is placed on another
pile, one that is growing and has obscured the little lady's face.
Now, here comes the dilemma? Do I just go home and forget I ever saw this, or do I try to talk the
psychotic bunny down from the church steeple? Well, by now you probably know me, and know
that I am a complete idiot, so I step into the crosshairs.
"Haru?"
"GRRRRREAAAAAAAGH!"
This is terrifying. I've never, NEVER seen Haru be, well, even miffed before. The instant noodles
from lunch are asking if it's okay to hop out of my throat and run away in fear, but I swallow them
back down. Approaching the mammoth desk, I brace myself for whatever is behind those colossal
stacks of papers.
...
You know, if it weren't for the screams cutting like a knife every few moments, this would be a
really cute sight. Oblivious to all around her, Haru is in a state of intense concentration. With a
furrowed brow and an up-thrust bottom lip, she grabs a piece of paper from the pile at her right
and scans it. Then she screams. That's, um, less than cute. However, her face gets all red and she
looks like a little kid when they're trying to button their shirt all by themselves for the first try.
Darn it all, if it takes her all day, she'll get it right! It's really adorable to see her pout, but I, um, I
could do without the screams.
Wait...what am I, a masochist? Enjoying seeing the bubbly girl angry? That's just wrong!
So Haru slams another one on the pile in front of her, and begins to repeat the process. Before she
can get a chance to scan the next paper, I interject.
"Ms. Yamamoto?"
"Blargh!" she screamed, suddenly turning into a startled dervish. It's all we can both do from
keeping the two paper mountains from littering the auditorium's stage, where her desk is located
far stage left. By the time it was all over, I found myself sprawled on top of the desk, a wobbling
stack of paper in each hand, while Haru was leaping about trying to catch the last few airborne
escapees.
"Yah! Hii! Hao! Cha! Gotcha! Whah!"
I wish I could have found the time to say, "Haru, you silly little girl, don't stand on that chair to
catch papers, you'll surely fall on top of me and create a very, um, tense situation," but I didn't,
and she did. I suddenly felt like I had a tiny, wriggling sash draped across my midsection. Um,
Haru? Can you not wriggle quite so much? It's, um, upsetting...
"Gyah! Kenny! I'm so sorry! Please forgive me!"
"It's...it's ok, Haru. Just...um...just please get off me..."
"Oh! Sorry, Kenny-ken!" She giggled, wriggling one last agonizing time before settling back into
the veritable throne that no doubt belonged to her blackmailed predecessor. With great effort and
a lot of care, I myself managed to return to my standing position, albeit with my red, red face
turned away from the diminutive teacher on the chair, who was today wearing a flouncy, pale
yellow top with bright blue crop pants, along with blue shoes and, yes, alternating hair ribbons.
"Kenny, why are you looking over there? There's only spare chairs and some of the Drama Club's
scenery flats over there. Oh, and Kenny-ken, why is your neck so red? Did you get sunburned?"
Great. Try as I might, that just made it even redder. Nothing could make me more uncomfortable
right now, I dare whatever spirit is controlling this universe to make it worse.
...
Well played, spirit. I never would have opted for the "Haru sneaking between my legs to pop up in
front of my face, her face catlike with equal parts curiosity and diabolical realization. Oh, hello,
I'm just a plump little water vole, about to be devoured by a blue and yellow bobtail!
"Oh ho ho," Haru's high-pitched voice just couldn't sound diabolical, even at its lowest octave,
"Kenny-ken, were you getting all hot 'n' bothered there? You naughty boy!" she did a little jump
and bonked me on the top of my head. Please don't jump Haru, that blouse catches wind like a
parachute...
"Naughty naughty, you pervert!"
"Hey!" I shouted, my face on fire. Wow, my voice managed to fill this auditorium, I could heard it
bouncing back at me, "I was trying to help you, I'm not a pervert!"
"Tee hee, Kenny, you're so FUN to tease!!!" she did a little dance, spun around, tweaked my nose,
and held it there. After a few moments, she began to pout again, but this time without the wailing.
"Kenny-ken..." she practically meowed, "You've got to go 'beep!'"
"I don't want to," I said flatly, my voice sounding ridiculous enough with the nose pinched.
"Then I guess I'll just KISS you instead!"
What?! What kind of a jump in logic was that?! And why can't my legs move? Oh lord, she smells
like bubblegum. Move your head, your neck, your earlobe, anything, you idiot, she's getting
closer! DO SOMETHING! Or you're going to swing from the auditorium fly system! I can just see
it now, they'll clean and bleach my skeleton, and hang a sign around the vertebrae that used to be
my neck: PERVERT TEACHERS, YE BE WARNED! I'm too young to be made an example of! Oh
no, her lips are so close...they've got gloss on them...was she planning this? Is that where the
bubblegum came from? I don't know! Wah! Why am I thinking these things now? I've got to do
something!
Without knowing why, my hand reached out and pinched Haru's nose. Her massive, luminous
eyes, which had been closed only seconds before, snapped open with a look of surprise and
ultimate satisfaction. Her mouth switched from a pucker into a smug, joyful grin.
"Beep."
Middle C again. Wow. She must have perfect pitch. Ack, she's still so close, I'd better...
"B...bee..p," I spluttered.
"Sheesh, Kenny-ken!" Haru giggled, mercifully releasing me and heading back to her desk, "You
are REALLY out of tune!"
Please don't go for the "tuning" metaphor, Haru, I don't think my body could take much more.
Plus, it's such a lame progression anyway. I let out the first breath in what seemed like aeons and
turned around to face the little musician.
"Bwah."
"Now now, don't go sounding so dejected, Kenny, you had your chance!" she said, throwing me an
adorable wink. I can't tell if finding her cute is normal, or some kind of little girl complex.
"Well, to be honest, I'd rather have you, um, accosting me than destroying the school with your
hypersonic screams."
At the mention of her previous task, Haru's face suddenly seemed to be covered with shadow,
which was odd as the stage lights hit her from almost every angle. She returned to that adorably
fearsome pout and gnashed her teeth as she flopped back into the gargantuan chair. It's like
watching a kitten throw a fit after being declawed: so much fury, yet so few weapons. Remind me
to never give her a particularly sharp pencil when she's like this, though, I might go about the rest
of my days with an eyepatch.
"Oh...THESE!" she snorted like a piglet, glaring at the stacks of papers with hooded eyes like an
utterly unimpressed tiger. Sheesh, maybe I should give the cat metaphors a rest, huh?
"THESE...are my students' summer assignments. I wanted them to find their favorite songs, and
print out the lyrics. Then, the whole class was to get together at some point and make a mix CD to
play in class while each student told us why it was his or her favorite song."
"Doesn't sound too hard," I shrugged, all the while secretly congratulating Haru on a fun summer
assignment. I would have loved doing that, "What's the problem? Didn't they get it done?"
"No, they all did it perfectly!" She crossed her arms in front of her and continued to pout.
"I'm failing to see the problem, Ms. Yamamoto," I would have loved getting anything out of my
students today!
Haru's glare did not change, but instead it turned to me. "If you call me 'Ms. Yamamoto' again, I
really will kiss you," a glint of mischief scampered from one eye to the other, then apparently
exited her left ear.
"Okay...so, um, what's the problem, Ms... Haru?" I specifically tried to fool her. She responded
with a cute raspberry. She just makes you want to joke and play, like laughing gas without the
dental drill.
"They all did the assignment perfectly," Haru said, her scowl changing to a pleading, worried look,
"but the music they chose is such GARBAGE!"
"Excuse me?" that wasn't the problem I was expecting.
"It's all these imports from America. You're big on America, Kenny, do you know this stuff?"
"I, um, I don't really get out of the 1970s much," I said embarrassedly, scratching the back of my
head.
"Well, this new stuff is AWFUL! Listen to this one!" She said, snatching up the paper she had just
read. You know, the "grrrrrreeeaaaagh" one:

"...Mr. Tapir eats a pear,
and wonders why he doesn't share.
A robin's egg lies in the nest
Hoping someday she'll be best.
I love you and you love me
We're a true love fricassee..."

"Your English is pretty good," I said with a little smile, knowing that wasn't what she wanted to
hear.
"Shut up!" she shouted, but this time she wasn't playing as much. She seemed genuinely upset,
"This is terrible! It's like they asked a seven year old to write a song, and the vocals SOUND like
they're TRYING to sing BADLY! They're under pitch, they've got no color, they're almost
TALKING on pitch! It's...horrible! It's awful! And there's tons more, all of them, look! Song after
song of people TRYING to be BAD!"
"It's the whole 'irony' thing, Haru," I said, placing my hands in my pockets and going into full
teacher mode, "America's big on it right now. The idea is that you make a bad song, but you know
it's bad, so it's, um, funny. The only problem is, it's not even ironic anymore, it's post-ironic
because people are trying to write bad songs now, not just happening to do it. It goes past irony all
the way back to something, um, usual. When everything is meant to be bad, it stops being funny
and is just, well..."
"BAD! I KNOW!!!!" Haru was practically on fire now. I've got to say, it's...attractive. Not cute, like
she usually is, but it's... admirable, impressive. She's really passionate about this, it helps
transcend the childlike exterior and really show her as an adult. A cute adult, but at least not an
overgrown kid. As she traipsed around the stage in a fine fit, I found myself having to check my
newfound adulation for the little powderkeg of musical purity.
"This is RIDICULOUS!! Music shouldn't be bad, it should be GOOD! Harmonies, chords,
orchestrations! A good song isn't just some guy whining off-key about his SOCKS with one crappy
sounding guitar, it's a song with MEANING, with FEELING! A good song should affect you,
should make you feel like you're in love, or you want to kill someone, or whatever! You don't have
to sing perfectly, but you have to sing something that makes me CARE!!! Funny songs are okay
once in a while, but it's musical depravity to use music for something so...low! Music can move
your SOUL, don't just make it about, oh, what was that word, Ken?"
"Irony?" I hazarded a guess. Hey, she actually called me Ken.
"YEAH!!! THAT'S the one! I just don't get it! What kind of generation is going to grow up without
music that makes them feel? How can you not want to FEEL?"
She was all the way on the other side of the stage by now, her narrow little chest heaving with
exertion and frustration. I tried my best to try to comfort her because, as we established, I'm an
idiot who just wants to help, being completely oblivious to the fact that I might be, um, you
know...charming.
"I agree with you, Haru... but the kids aren't going to listen to us, are they?" oops, I didn't called
them 'students.'
"No, and that's another thing! When I was in school, Mr. Watanabe, when you were my teacher, I
listened to you! If you said something was stupid, I took your opinion as something to be counted!
These days, if I do that, they just..."
"Don't listen?" I offered. Wait, did she actually call me Mr. Watanabe this time? Whoa.
"It's like they know everything! AARRRGH!" There was the scream again. Wow, I never knew
Haru had this much going on under those ponytails. She shuffled back across the stage, crumpled
up like an old soda can, she raised her head slightly when she got over to me and, for the first
time, I saw in her the eyes of a woman instead of a little girl.
"Hm," she smiled a little smile, just a little, womanly smile, "I wonder if teachers' said this about
us as students?"
"Probably," I said, laughing nervously in front of this surprisingly attractive, not cute, lady. It was
fleeting though, mercifully and frustratingly fleeting, as she put one of her index fingers to her lips
and adopted a typical thinking posture, with her eyes titled skyward from a slightly titled head.
What a cute little Descartes...
"That's right..." she murmured, "you're only about, what is it, five or six years older than me,
aren't you?"
"F...five," I said, feeling the sweat appear on my forehead. I didn't like where this Math program
was going, I've done too much already, probably...
"Hee hee," and the Haru-cat was back again, playing with her favorite toy mouse, "we almost
could have gone to high school together. Could you see that? You and me walking down the class,
going to hall...oops! I messed up!" and she's cute again. But for a few moments...oh great, now
she's skipping back stag right, singing a silly little song.

"Oh, I've got me my floppy socks,
my floppy socks,
my floppy socks,
I've got me my floppy socks,
'Cause I'm a high school girl!"

She stopped at one end of the stage and did a picture perfect turnaround as a bubbly sixteen year-
old. I sometimes wonder if she actually went into cryo-stasis or something, because she is spot on.
"See, Kenny-ken? I can make up insipid lyrics and shout my lyrics too! I could be a millionaire!"
she began skipping back, starting a second verse which was ultimately very similar.

"Oh, I've got on my floppy socks,
my floppy socks,
my floppy...blargh!"

That's the problem with skipping in sandals, it's dangerous. So now, I'm running over to center
stage, making sure Haru hasn't broken her nose. Her face is red, but it's not blood.
"Tee hee hee hee! Whoopsie!" she laughed nervously, ashamed at being struck down during her
witty satire.
"Are you okay?" I said, kneeling down to her prone form. I used to keep bandages in the
classroom desk when she was my student, because she'd usually come into class with a bump or
cut from this or that.
"I'm fine, I'm fine..." she actually seemed embarrassed. Well, serves her right for earlier. I swear, I
think she's been study with Ms. Hasegawa. Haru pulled herself onto her knees with one youthful
movement, looking into my eyes with her own orbs, which seemed oddly wet. Maybe she really
was hurt?
"Um... are you sure you're all right?" I asked. I was answered with a tweaked nose and a
thousand-kilowatt smile. Sighing in defeat, I accepted the trap I'd fallen into.
"Beep."
She kept the grin sparkling, though her eyes still seemed on the verge of tears:
"E flat. Not bad, Mr. Watanabe."

Olfactory Interlude


Mei Tanaka always, always, ALWAYS smells very nice.
Now, you might think that is an odd sentiment. Perhaps it is. However, it does not stop me from
expressing my approval of this decision. You see, I have probably already identified myself as an
nerd, geek, what have you. As such, I am often involved in activities with others of the
geeky/nerdy position. People in that position, unfortunately, have the dubious honor of some of
the worst personal hygiene known to man. I don't know what it is, but there is a higher rate per
capita of, um, smelly people in nerd circles than in any other circle I can think of. In all of my
years in academia, I have come across some of the most, um, nasally offensive people on the
islands of Japan. As such, you may come to understand why I appreciate someone who takes the
time to, um, project a pleasing fragrance, no matter the gender, activities, or any other factor you
can name.
Of course, I have theories: what good nerd doesn't? Perhaps it is because they are shunned by
society at an early age, if they are an early blossoming, um, nerdlinger (I heard it on the Simpsons
once, do they say it in America?) and being so shunned they basically reject anything society
deems appropriate, such as personal cleanliness. Perhaps, in the English Renaissance, nerds
would have been the most clean of the bunch, as it was a well known fact that most monarchs
bathed very little. Some were known to scrub down only twice a year, how gross is that?
Now where was I?
Right! Stinky nerds.
Perhaps it is because they feel that keeping a spotless personal appearance is, um, in vain? I
mean, nerds are often judged far before smell comes into the equation and shunned thusly, so
perhaps, um, it just isn't a very high priority? Or maybe it's an effect of what we in Japan call the
"otaku" culture. Now, before I begin, I think you need to, um, understand the term "otaku." Otaku
isn't just some guy who watches the occasional anime and believes the girls are pretty or
something. I am talking about people who don't own furniture, but rather hundreds of thousands
of VHS, DVD, and even laserdisc copies of particularly nerdy things. Ditto with comics,
collectibles, trading cards, what have you.
Now, is that in itself wrong? Of course not. Everyone needs a hobby, who am I to criticize with an
apartment full of Americana? The, um, crux of the otaku problem comes in their small amount or,
in some cases, complete lack of outside contact. This becomes a problem when someone merely
shuts out the world and chooses to live in a fantasy world, which is dangerous in any language.
From what I've been able to read, I believe that this has not yet become a problem in the West on
a large scale, and in fact I have heard that "nerd culture" or "geek chic" is actually becoming the
hip thing. Imagine if those nerd idols (wow, that sounds odd) suddenly stopped bathing, or even
coming out in public, and instead locked themselves away with their DVDs of, um, Simpsons and
Seinfeld and...what's that other one? Family something? Anyway, it's not important. What is
important is knowing that Japan's geek culture is strong, and geek culture the world over is
strong...smelling.
Now, you may be asking, "Ken, why are we talking about smelly nerds? We can clearly see that
Mei Tanaka is no nerd."
I would respond to your query with a resounding positive. Mei is in no way a nerd. Far from it, by
the classical definitions. Mei, I suppose, would be what the Americans call a "jock." Or maybe it's
"tomboy," but that word was always confusing to me. Isn't Tom a name for a boy? Sounds a little
redundant. For the life of me, I can't find where that term comes from.
Oh yes! Mei. Yes, Mei is very, um, well...not me. Looking back through the mists of time, I can
remember her not very different than she is today: strong, muscular (well, more than me, but that
isn't saying much) and talking about any kind of sport that was possibly in season. Football,
Baseball, Basketball, Tennis, Track and Field, even American Football or Pro Wrestling. If it was a
sport, Mei would be talking, and she would usually be the only one talking. Because of her, um,
content skills, she was often surrounded by young men with stars in their eyes and bruises on
their arms from Mei's good natured "joke punches." I don't think she ever got asked out in high
school, but then again I don't think General MacArthur would have gotten asked to a movie
either. It's not that Mei isn't nice looking, it's that she's, um, intimidating. She doesn't really back
down from anything, she really has no idea how to be... soft.
Which is why, on my second day of practice teaching when the High School Amazon walked into
class after gym, I was ready to toss her back into the hallway, because she still had on her gym
clothes instead of the regulation uniform. Oh, and those uniforms, let me tell you: ridiculous. No
skirt should be that short, it's ludicrous. Thankfully, in my absence they have tumbled below the
knee, most likely in the face of all these teachers being suddenly guilty of perverted activities, by
hook or crook. All that aside, I was just about to as Ms. Tanaka to head back to the locker room
when I said something very, very stupid.
"Say, class, is that lilacs?"
You should know by now that I am an idiot, and I often don't think things through when I say
them. Apparently, by asking if I smelled a particular flower, I was suddenly exposing the one and
only "soft spot" on the class Hercules. No, wait, America did a female version of Hercules...what
was her name? Agh, I keep getting distracted!
"Yes it is, Mr. Watanabe!" a young Haru Yamamoto, looking practically pre-pubescent, giggled
from the front row, pointing a tiny finger at the girl to her left, "Mei-mei always likes to smell
soooooo pretty!"
I don't know who turned more red, Mei or myself. Neither of us had any idea what to do, so I did
what was only necessary of a very highly skilled and professional teacher. I heaved a very
uncomfortable cough, turned a sharp about face, and headed to the chalkboard to begin the
intricacies of the Japanese population distribution. From that day forward, Mei wore her gym
clothes to each one of my classes, and I didn't chide her. As each day progressed, the classroom
aroma would change accordingly and, as smell is the closest scent tied to human memory, I will
try to render an effective diagram:

Monday: Vanilla
Tuesday: Lilac
Wednesday: Lavender
Thursday: Jasmine
Friday: Rose
and, on the occasional Saturday class: Orchid

...don't ask me why I remember this. Maybe it's just because no matter what, that athletic girl
would come into my class all sweaty and beat up, but she still wouldn't offend. In fact, it was nice
to have her in class. She barely passed, and spent most of the time shooting baskets with her
notebook paper, but it was a small price to pay for a fresh smelling classroom every day. It was
never cloying, never too much, just... enjoyable, especially in your average classroom. Oh, did I
also forget to tell you? Most of the time, high school boys don't smell particularly lovely either,
"jock" or "nerd."
Hey, now that I think of it, I think one guy did try to ask Mei out after I exposed her big, girly
weakness to the entire class. Now, if you haven't noticed, Mei is a rather, um, knee-jerk kind of
person. She basically has one response: fight. To be scientific, I think it's safe to say that her fight
killed and ate her flight sometime before the age of high school in search of sustenance. Natural
selection, I suppose. So, when she is uncomfortable, she relies on the one thing she is good at:
athletics. When she'd fail a test, I'd see her go outside and pound the stuffing out of a volleyball at
lunch. When Haru would start getting just a little too, um, effervescent, she'd wind up in an
Argentinean backbreaker hold. When I, in my stupidity, called attention to her sweet-smelling
secret, she spent the rest of class, um, glaring at me and snapping every pencil, pen, and
mechanical pencil she had in her case. Yes, I said pens and mechanical pencils. I think the
Freudian analogy would be well applied.
Now, I may be stupid, but I'm not an idiot. When class was over, I called Mei up to my desk and
tried to apologize in my own unique way.
"Ms. Tanaka, I apologize for embarrassing you in class today."
"Understood, Mr. Watanabe," her voice was like dead weight. I really should have just stopped
right there, but remember that whole "lack of social contact" thing we were talking about with
nerds? Yeah...
"I mean, there's nothing wrong with it, I'm sure the rest of the class appreciates it and all, so..."
"Mr. Watanabe?"
"Please shut up."
She bent the podium. I swear to everything and anything, she bent the old metal podium which
was probably older than me and had survived countless dings, nicks, scratches, and all-out
assaults on its surface. Remember, Haru's feet don't often get along with each other. But this...I
saw her powerful hands grip the support stands and BEND them. Not only was it damage to
school property, not only was it metal, but it was dangerously close to, um, two very dear friends
of mine, if you know what I mean. Needless to say, I relented while keeping most of my masculine
dignity (in other words, not screaming like a four year old girl) and dismissed Mei to her next
class, where she would no doubt be told to go change out of her gym clothes, and would no doubt
demolish a desk, hallway, or entire wing of the school on her way to do so. Hell hath no fury, isn't
that how it goes?
Anyway, the next day (Lavender) she was there again, with her cat-like dark eyes daring me to say
the SLIGHTEST thing. Haru was rubbing her right arm and grinning like a maniac at me when
she entered, which lead me to believe it was probably a hammerlock or a full out Fujiwara for
teasing Mei about yesterday's events. So, of course, the next highest blabbermouth, Ai Hasegawa,
took it upon herself to add her disturbingly husky voice to the mix.
"So, Tanaka...what scent are you gracing us with today?" damn it, no high school girl's voice
should sound like that!
Lucky for Ai, she was the closest in size to Mei, albeit not by a longshot. She'd probably get off
with a bonk to the head at the very least. However, knowing what I know now, Ai may have had
some kind of mutated Venus flytrap ready to defend her in the case of an attack, spring-loaded in
her backpack. Oh, you think I'm being silly? Try being molested by tickling Morning Glories
sometime.
"Stuff it, Hasegawa," Mei said in a very, very dangerous tone.
"Yes, that's not a bad idea," I interjected, attempting to fall on this grenade, "er, I mean, not to
stuff it, but, erm...you know..."
"Actually, Mr. Watanabe..." I heard a timid voice from the back speak up. If I remember correctly,
it was that oaf who slept more than anything else in my class, "if it's all right with Miss Tanaka, I
think we'd all like to know."
"Excuse me?" Mei turned around slowly to face the boy, murder in her eyes. However, she was
met with curious and friendly smiles as the class urged her on.
"Aw, come on, Tanaka, tell us!"
"Smells good!"
"I'd want to buy it for my girlfriend!"
"I'd want to buy it for my Mom!"
"Dude, sick!"
"What?"
"Shut up, all of you!" Iinchou Ishii's voice crashed like a tsunami on some poor, chatty tide pool
crabs. She gave me a look that dripped of accusation and almost seemed to say, "this is all your
fault." I tried to shoot back a "don't blame me," look back, but it probably came off more as "I'm
impotent!" with my luck. In any case, Mei turned back in front of the class, face red for the second
time in two days.
"I...it's Lavender," she said softly, softer than anything I've ever heard from her before.
The class almost erupted in cheers, I kid you not. From that day forward, Mei started to open up
as less of a violent grouch and more of the gregarious, high-spirited athlete she is today. In fact,
the day before I left was classroom elections for the new term, and Mei was voted in unanimously
for assistant class representative.
"Thank goodness," A young Ms. Arakawa sighed, "I didn't like all that stress."
And so it went, until that last day. It was right after class, and Mei was in her gym clothes as usual,
and it was a Rose day. The classroom was experiencing that eye of the storm that happens
between one class and another, when students get out their next book and wait for the next
teacher. Mei, wordlessly, strode up to the still-bent podium with proud steps, standing in front of
me like she had months before. The strength that carried her up there failed her at the podium;
however, as she barely had enough time to shove a small note into my hands and retreat back to
her chair with little steps more befitting of a startled geisha.
Me, of course, being very, very stupid, just sort of sat there and goggled until the next teacher
shooed me out. In fact, I had just finished reading Mei's note and packing it away when Eri
stormed in, in that old leather jacket and kendo gear. You've heard that story already, so let's go to
the note, rather.

Mr. Watanabe.

Thank you for helping me. If you hadn't said anything, people would have kept on being afraid of
me. I know you think you screwed up, but it actually helped, so thank you very much. I feel so
stupid and childish for writing this, but I wanted you to know how I feel. I owe you a lot, Mr.
Watanabe, and I hope I can make it up to you someday. Are you going to come back and teach
here when you're official? I'd like that.

Thanks and best of luck! Do your best!
Mei.

PS: If you tell anyone I wrote this, I will deny it. And I will break your arm. Haha.
(To this day I don't know if that was a joke or a threat.)

PPS: I'm thinking of growing out my hair. What do you think?
And that was that. In all of the excitement of Eri and Hokkaido, I guess I never did get back to
her. I made it a point after I stopped teaching to not talk to my students that much. There should
always be a difference between teachers and students, after all...right? Maybe that's my problem.
Well, one of them.
As far as the hair thing goes, Mei always had her hair cut really short in high school, like a boy.
Probably kept getting in the way if it was long, I bet. In fact, if it wasn't the fact that she wore, um,
athletic clothes in class, I could have mistaken her for one of the boys. You know, athletic clothes
aren't designed to be, um, baggy. However, unlike Eri back in those days, the gym clothes
definitely allowed for no speculation on Mei's gender. Why am I writing this...
Wait.
I know why I'm writing this.
Mei's hair is long. Super long. Like, super duper long. It doesn't look like she's cut it substantially
in, oh, I'd say about ten years. It's in the small of her back now, and she's usually got it all
wrapped up in a ponytail and such. Hm, I wonder if she's still waiting on that answer. Or
maybe...just a few days ago, after she tried strangling me...

"Also, I noticed you don't have short hair like you used to, that looks very ladylike."

Wow. Sometimes I amaze even myself, haha. Oh wait...wasn't that...yes, Lavender.
It must have been a Wednesday.

Pavement Song


I hate my hair.
I have probably the worst hair in Japan. It's an absolute bird's nest, and you can't even make soup
out of it. I mean, you probably could make soup out of it, but...what am I saying?
Anyway, my hair is a thick, mangled, tangled mess that yields to no comb of god or man. I used to
cut it ridiculously short and just try to forget about it, but I have, let's say, a face that resembles
your average pork bun, so a close crop hair-do usually ends up making me look like someone
dropped a pork bun in a little extra soy sauce. So, for the sake of my own well-being (I had the
nickname "nikuman" for most of primary school, ugh) and, admittedly, partly because of a teeny
tiny bit of vanity, I've been growing my hair longer since high school...not that anyone noticed,
but that's another sad story for a different day. Maybe a day that's raining or foggy, but not today:
today is beautiful!
The sun is shining, the sky is that perfect shade of blue. There's still a little bit of spring snap in
the air before it gets too oppressive with the heat of summer, and the cherry blossoms are coming
along nicely. Looking out the window of my little one room apartment seems like looking out into
heaven. You see, when you're back in the city, you have to cherish days like this. Back on the farm
in Hokkaido, even a gloomy day can be beautiful with the hills and the pastures and stuff. In the
city, everything has to be ju~st right, or else it comes off looking, well, dingy and unpleasant.
Then again, I've been lucky enough to have that farm to go back to on most of my childhood
vacations, so maybe I'm spoiled and can't appreciate the nice things about the city.
Hmmm...well, I suppose it is nice that I can walk to my job, because I'm a holy terror on a bicycle.
Seriously, there'd be news reports that evening of some renegade madman drilling passers-by in
the kidney with bicycle handles because he can't control himself. Come to think of it, that might
make for exciting television... anyway, I guess it's also nice to have some many nice places to eat
within walking distance too. Most of the time out in the country, it was either one or two little
locally owned places, or you cooked for yourself. I can't really say I missed McDonald's...but it's
nice to know it's there.
But it's not that I can even visit McDonald's on my way to school in the morning anyway. I've
gotten in the habit of leaving so early it's like I'm racing the sun to get to school. For a while, I was
just leaving a little bit early, and as I tiptoed by room 1C, I would make note of the fact that I could
hear water running and hear incredibly loud snoring. With sheer speculation, I judged the former
to be Ms. Ishii and the latter to be Ms. McIntyre. Upon the gaijin's arrival to school, I had to deal
with the obligatory questions:
"Mr. Watanabe, wah didn' Ah see ya this mournin' on the wawk?" I put on my best sincere face
and lied myself up a storm.
"You didn't, Ms. McIntyre? Oh my, that's dreadful. I saw you two, but you seemed busy, so I
didn't want to bother you."
I must say I'm getting used to her accent day by day.
"Oh, ya big dummy! Yew'd neyver be botherin' me!"
Always so energetic, it's like she talks with her entire body. I usually give her at least a few feet, for
fear of an errant elbow or finger. I only have two eyes, you know...
"An' stop cawlin' me Mizz! Ah said yew could call me Cathy!"
"All right, all right, I understand..."
A brilliant job on my part, if I do say so myself. Maybe the name Ken Watanabe just comes with
some acting skill, who knows? Not only did I have her believing I really was walking to school at a
normal time, but I also managed to quickly change the topic by calling her a formal title that I
knew the didn't like. Sometimes I really amaze me!
However, as any good historian knows, all good things must come to an end. After a few days of
"oh, but surely you saw me," and "I was right behind you, I swear!" Cathy finally caught on. By
Friday morning, I had gotten a little careless in my room 1C reconnaissance. I heard the snoring
the minute I entered the first floor, so I assumed everything was shipshape. By the way, did you
know there's a saying in America about the word "assume?" It's really funny. Now where was I?
Oh yes, the snoring...such snoring! So I figured I was safe for another day. As I left the little front
courtyard of the apartment building, the pre-dawn light caught something a little off from my
usual morning constitutional.
Something...yellow.
Yellow hair. Blonde hair.
Uh-oh.
I didn't even have time to see the Chuck Taylor sneaker before it was practically embedded on the
side of my face, along with a laugh that was equal part triumphant and terrifying.
"Ah ha ha ha! Caught-cha, Mr. Watanabe!"
"Kafy?" I sputtered around a mouthful of shoe.
"ee hee hee hee! I got-cha, Mr. Watanabe, I got-cha!" it was amazing to note that this girl was
marching around with a singsong voice at an hour when most people can barely manage a grunt.
Caffeine drinks? Pills? Magic incantations? The world may never know her secret.
"Okay, Cathy," I let out a sigh and started walking, "you've got me. I really haven't been walking
with you and Ami in the mornings. I've been purposefully sneaking out in the early hours so you
two wouldn't have to deal with me. I'm sorry."
"Deal with ya?" Cathy's voice was far too loud for this early. I almost expected someone to open a
window and fling a washbasin at her for being so loud, "Whaddya mean, Mr. Watanabe?"
"I don't like to be a burden."
"Haw haw! Yer so cute, Watanabe, you know that?" she smiled with all her teeth and patted me on
the head. Sheesh, that's demeaning...why are so many of these young ladies taller than I am? I ate
all my vegetables when I was growing up, this just isn't fair1
"So," Cathy continued with a grin, "whaddya say you 'n' me git married?"
"Mmber?!" All thoughts of vegetables were stricken from my mind as my jaw almost hit the
concrete of the sidewalk. I'd heard American girls were a little more, um, direct, but this is
ridiculous!
"Come on, it'll be fun! Ah could git Japanese citizenship, or yew could git Uhmerican citizenship!
Either way, it'd work out great fer both of us!"
I don't know what was more disturbing:
a) the fact that she's saying all of this
b) the fact that she's saying all of this with a great, big smile, or
c) the fact that her accent is starting to melt away in my ears. Next thing you know, I'll be asking
for grits and watching the Cowboys play the Packers. Yikes.
"Mr. Watanabe? Hey? Yew there?"
"Mawer."
"Hey! Hey!" she was now snapping her fingers in front of my catatonic face, "Ah was just jokin,
fella! Ah wasn' serious!"
"Buh?"
"Yew thought Ah was? Aw man, yew are just a cute li'l thang, aincha?"
Smiling, always smiling...how do those teeth get so white?
Just let me get to school, just let me get to school...
Ah, school. Another fairly uneventful day, although I'm becoming a little upset with the conduct
of my new students. They just...sit there. They take their notes, they turn in their assignments, but
they just...sit there. Although, what was I expecting, another class like my first one? Yeah, I really
need six more young girls proclaiming their love for me...maybe just sitting there isn't a bad
thing?
"Blaaaaaah."
Remember that lovely crispness the morning had? Yeah, I think it's being held ransom in some
far off castle by the evil scourge known as Summer. Problem is, my MP isn't high enough to go
and rescue her, and...okay, I'll stop now.
So I groaned in the heat as I dragged myself home after a particularly bland day. Is this what it's
all about? Just going there, teaching a bunch of blank faces, and going home? Was I expecting
more from teaching than I am getting? Was I expecting too much? Is this really all there is? Call
me crazy, but I'm starting to miss last week and all its madness.
Ugh, what am I saying? I'm missing being accosted by Ms. Arakawa's buttons? Or having Mei kick
me in the head? Or Haru's Hug of Doom? Ami's punches? Eri's stare? Or Ai's...being Ai?
The heat must be getting to my brain. I could use a bath. Now, for the courtesy of those reading
this, I'm going to skip over most of the bathing narrative, as no doubt the thought of me being
naked, or even the written word suggesting such a thing, would no doubt drive the reader insane.
Rather, let's rejoin the story with me in pajamas, fully clothed, as I flop down into a chair and turn
on my PC.
The chair is one of the two pieces of furniture in my apartment, the other being a well-worn futon
left over from my college days that until recently had lied neglected in storage, and showed it. The
rest of the apartment was filled with stacks of books, magazines, and newspapers that at times
formed crude tables and imaginative modern art structures, and of course the odd piece of
historical bric-a-brac, like a full Abraham Lincoln costume on a mannequin or a framed print
from Verdun. All in all, there's really only one path in my apartment that has three branches: to
the bathroom, to the living room, and to the kitchenette, where a minuscule fridge jockeys for
position next to a stack of old Time magazines from the 1940s. I always tell myself I'm going to
clean up, but I can never quite find the time.
My old computer hums to life as I nibble on some crackers I nabbed from an overcrowded
cabinet. I say old, but it can't be any more than five, maybe seven years old...ha, if that's old, I'm
practically a fossil. I feel like a fossil with these gray hairs I keep finding in my brush, which is
currently lodged halfway back on my head in that reprehensible tangle. Forget it. I'll try to yank it
out in the morning, maybe. For now, it would be folly to attempt an extraction. Saving Private
Hairbrush.
I tap on the keyboard in a fairly distracted manner, checking my email account, reading today's
top headlines, and running a quick fact check for tomorrow's lesson. Right before I give into
temptation and run to my usual favorite comics, a window pops up on my computer screen. It
says:
"hunnybun03 has sent you an instant message. would you like to read it?"
The screenname was written in English, and seemed, um, questionable. Now, you should all know
out there that it is not smart to accept instant messages from strangers. It can be very, very
dangerous. However, you should also all know out there that I am an idiot, and that my computer
is "old," so I figured it was worth a chance. I decided to give it a click.

hunnybun03: Good evening, Mr. Watanabe!
The greeting was written very formally in Japanese, which made me wonder just a bit. So I typed
back.
Otaku4America: Who is this?
hunnybun03: lol, this is your future wife ;)
Now, let's do a quick recap of the situation. Someone from an English screenname, who knows my
by name, and says she is my "future wife." I have a vague idea, but you can never be too careful on
the internet, can you?
Otaku4America: How did you get this name?
hunnybun03: It was on your blog, silly!
My blog? Oh no, not that old thing! I'd stopped writing in it years ago, back when I was still in
college. How on earth could anyone have found that?
Otaku4America: How on earth did you find that?
hunnybun03: I "googled" you.
What on earth does "googled mean?
hunnybun03: Do you know who this is yet? :)
Otaku4America: I have an idea.
To be honest, the only reason this IM program even starts up is because I forgot to remove it all
those years back when I moved to Hokkaido. It's just been sitting in the background for so long I
forgot about it... and now this!
hunnybun03: lol
Otaku4America: If this is who I think it is...then who was snoring this morning?
hunnybun03: lol! My roommate. She snores like a BEAR.
Damn. She couldn't have just said "Ami" or "Ami Ishii," that would have made it too easy. For all I
know lots of people have snoring roommates. I can be quite sure yet...and yet for some reason I'm
enjoying this and I keep typing.
Otaku4America: Oh really? I thought that was you.
hunnybun03: hey! meanie :(
Otaku4America: ha ha
I refuse, REFUSE to type "lol." It's just a principle.
hunnybun03: You're mean, Mr. Watanabe!
It's got to be her. It's just got to be.
Otaku4America: You know, you can just call me Ken if you want, Cathy.
hunnybun03: Who?
Otaku4America: Cathy? Isn't that you?
hunnybun03: Maybe... maybe not ;)
*hunnybun03 has signed out*

Oh crap. Oh crap oh crap. What did I just do? Did I just make a fool out of myself in front of a
student...or a fellow teacher? Maybe it was really Ai on that screenname, or Mei, or even Ami...oh
no...what if I did something I'm not supposed to do as a teacher? The internet's kinda new still,
what if I did something illegal that could get me fired? What if I'm involved in some big sting
operation and some teenage girl thinks I was trying to pick her up? My teaching career could be
over before it started!
I managed to worry so much that the hairbrush fell off my head and thudded onto a pile of
magazines below. As I sat staring at the screen, I noticed a few odd things happening. For
instance, "hunnybun03" was suddenly moved from "recent conversations" into "friends," my
status was changed to "away," and my desktop background was suddenly switched from a
watercolor of 1905 Paris to a bright pink wallpaper adorned with a gigantic, fuzzy white bunny. All
of my worries about my future as an educator melted away as I sat gaping at my computer, which
was starting to move on its own! The mouse arrow danced around the desktop in concentric
circles as I stared at a stationary mouse on my own desk, as if it would suddenly stand up and tell
me what was going on. Sadly, the computer accessory did not stand or deliver.
A wiggle on the computer screen brought my reproachful gaze away from my reticent mouse as a
new document in notepad appeared suddenly, without even accessing the Start menu. Before my
very eyes (which were partially obscured by fretful hands) the computer started to type all on its
own:

Greetings from room 1C, Mr. Watanabe!

Without thinking, I leaped to the wall and yanked the power cord away, causing my computer
screen to go suddenly blank. Ignoring the carefully constructed pathways, I blundered my way out
of my apartment, down the hall, down the stairs, and finally slapped my bare feet to room 1C. I
grabbed a hold of the doorknob and threw my shoulder at it, and before I could think "hey, what if
it's locked?" I tumbled head over foot into a nicely decorated apartment, drilling my head into a
nicely adorned coffee table. From somewhere in the corner of the living room, I heard hoots of
laughter, laughter that seemed similar to some I heard this morning.
"Aw man! That was clayssic, Mr. Watanabe! Absolutely perfect!"
Cathy's drawl subsided again as she fell back into gales of giggles, and I managed to pull myself
onto my knees, rubbing a sore spot on my head. It's time like this I'm actually glad for my shock-
absorbing mess of hair!
"So it was you?"
"Of course, ya dummy! Who else would send ya a message from an Uhmerican screennayme?"
"You're...hunnybun03?" It sounded odd to say it out loud.
"Long story, long story," she giggled again, shaking her head.
"What about the...other stuff?" I said, turning to admire her technological setup which engulfed
one entire corner of the living room.
"Pshaw, that was easy!" she waved her hand at me, as if I were an annoying gnat, "yew've got
absolutely zee-ro security, Mr. Watanabe, it's patheytic!"
"Well, I don't often get hacked by insane foreigners!"
"Awww, Ah bet you say that ta all the laydies!" she giggled, crawling from the pillow she was
kneeling on over to where I was kneeling, still nursing my cranium. She was wearing, um, not
much, let's say. Either the heat was getting to her, or these were your usual American night
clothes. And hey, if all American girls have a figure like her, I can see why these are the
standard...gah, what am I saying?
"Them's some real cute pee-jays, ya know" she said, smiling sweetly.
That shirt's too baggy, that shirt's too baggy, that shirt is too baggy!
"As ya can see, Ah don't hayve much fer pee-jays mahself...where'd ya get these?" she said
innocently, reaching out to admire the top button on my shirt. This is not the proper way to ask
for fashion advice!
"Maybe...Ah could just borrow 'em?"
That last sentence was almost a purr. She must be taking lessons from Ai Hasegawa, with a voice
like that!
"Nose, don't fail me now!" I thought as I attempted to crab-walk backwards from the inquisitive
gaijin. Unfortunately, crab-walking is hard to do when one hand is busy keeping a telltale
nosebleed from gushing forth. As such, my other hand slipped out from under me, and I hit the
floor hard.
"Owww!" I groaned, squeezing my eyes shut tight as my head was re-injured. Eventually, the pain
subsided and I opened my eyes, which was probably as big of a mistake as a land invasion of
Russia, because standing over me was Ami Ishii, former Iinchou, fresh from a hot bath herself
and clad in a towel. Cathy was boiling over with contained laughter at what must have been an,
um, interesting site.
"Man, that's a total Urashima!" she giggled as Ami's face turned a deep shade of scarlet.
Eventually, her embarrassment gave way to red-hot anger, as I (an idiot, you remember) had still
not moved from my, um, possibly advantageous position on the floor.
"Merm..." was all I managed to get out before the blackness took me. Did I ever mention Ami was
on the football team in high school?
Team captain. Head striker.
Head striker?
Ha ha. Funny, I made a pun.

The next thing I remember, I was sitting in the middle of Ami and Cathy's living room. Ami, now
mercifully in her own pajamas, was dabbing at my head with some disinfectant which stung
something awful.
"Ow!"
"Oh, shut up, you big baby."
"Marrr..."
"And stop that. You sound retarded."
I swallowed another "myar" and settled into a lengthy pout. For a while, there was no sound in the
entire apartment, except for little upset groans as Ami attempted to minister to my noggin.
"Sheesh, your hair is an absolute nightmare. Do you do anything with it?"
"I try, but..."
"Ugh, this is unbearable! Tomorrow I'm putting in a call where I get my hair done. We need to fix
this catastrophe!"
I had not expected such, um, friendliness from the hard-nosed former Iinchou. Could it be she
really didn't... you know... hate me? Perhaps all of that anger was just a facade, and she really does
care for me...in a sisterly kind of way, of course. I mean, this is sort of familial, with her helping
me out and all. Although, I should technically be taking the role of the foolish younger brother
with my injury... but it doesn't matter! If there is such kindness from Ami, it makes me feel as if
there is kindness the whole world round! Maybe it was the disinfectant, or maybe something else,
but I found myself tearing up just slightly. Looking back, I must have looked like an absolute
idiot...but since when is that new?
"Ami?" I sniffled, looking up at her with dampened eyes, "You'd really... do that...for me? Really?"
"Erm, I guess so," she leaned back slightly, looking a little worried, "but you're going to have to
pay for it, you know...I'm not made of money!"
"That doesn't matter!" I shouted spinning around and grasping her hands with mine, "All I need
to know is that you don't hate me, and I'll be okay!" Disinfectant was running into my eyes,
making tears tumble down my cheeks, but I probably would have been crying anyway... because
I'm an idiot, "I know that you always take such good care of your hair, so for you to send me to
your barber must mean that you want to help me and I thank you! I thank you for being so kind!"
Again, there was silence. Ami's eyebrow twitched involuntarily as her mouth hung open as if I had
transformed into a rhinoceros.
"Uh...it's just a haircut."
That small sentence was like a body blow to my current euphoric mood. I must have burned all
my adrenaline for the evening, because it suddenly felt as if my spine was replaced with a massive
string of boiled udon. Before any more insult could be added to my injury, the door to the
bedroom opened and Cathy McIntyre shuffled out, still in the, um, scant tank-top and shorts from
before. Her blonde hair was in utter disarray, which was amazing seeing as how it only came
about to her chin. It was as if she specifically arranged for her hair to form some sort of bizarre
origami during the night...and it looked incredibly cute.
Before I could do anything about it, I felt the heat start to come to my cheeks, my heart beat
frantically, and my stomach begin to flop around uncomfortably. You see, I am a, um, a
connoisseur of what you might call "bed-head." I find it absolutely adorable, it is just the sort of
irrational penchant that one is unable to control. The Japanese call it "moe," but when I tried to
search for that in American all I got was some comedian with a funny haircut. Moe basically
means "turn-on" or, in some cases "fetish." There are several well-established moe, like maids, or
girls with glasses. Some guys even seem to dig the shrine maiden look. Me? I guess I have "bed-
head moe."
"Wha's all th' yellin?" she mumbled, rubbing her eyes. Ami proceeded to drag me into a standing
position and push me towards the door.
"Just Mr. Watanabe saying he's about to go. Aren't you, Mr. Watanabe?" she said, looking directly
into my eyes with a pointed look.
"Awwwww, well Ah suppose...need yer beauty sleep, Kenny?"
"Yeah," I said, rubbing my healing head curiously, "but at my rate, it'll take a few years,
haha...oof!"
I wasn't even able to finish my brilliant, self-deprecating humor as Ami fairly shoved me out into
the hallway. Behind her, I could hear Cathy mumble something about badgers and wander back to
bed. Despite my best intentions, I tried to sneak one last look at her adorable hair trainwreck
before she disappeared, but instead got a face full of very serious Ishii.
"Mr. Watanabe."
Ulp.
"Yes?"
"I would like it, Mr. Watanabe," she began strong, but she was beginning to falter. The last part
came quickly, clumsily, "I'd like it if you didn't do that thing you always do."
"Wah?"
"Cathy's a nice girl. I'm taking care of her, so I don't want to see her unhappy."
"Um... what am I going to do to make her unhappy?" I almost wanted to point out that she was
the one who tried to propose to me earlier this morning, but I thought better of it.
Ami allowed herself a tiny smile. "You have no idea, do you? You really are a moron," she leaned
against her doorjamb and shook her head, "just...don't do what you normally do around her,
okay? We don't need another one running around that school."
Wait a minute. Just what is she insinuating?
"Another one? But? Who? Then? What? Do you mean to say...?"
Her smile got bigger, just a little bit bigger, almost microscopically bigger.
"I'll let you know about the hair appointment tomorrow, okay? Good night, Mr. Watanabe."
And she shut the door in my bewildered face. Honestly, I have some idea of what she might have
been getting at...but honestly? Really? No way. Do I have some kind of, I don't know, power over
women? Do I leave a lasting effect on them? Does this explain the situation I find myself in,
because I'm such a figure that ladies find it difficult to get me out of their head?
Ha, certainly not! How arrogant and self-centered! Ami's just blowing this all out of
proportion...they all are. It's just a big game, they've got an idea about me that just, well, isn't me,
and the moment they realize just who I really am, it'll all be over and my "magical spell" will be
broken by the harsh hammer of reality.
"Oh, and Mr. Watanabe?"
A voice from beyond the door!
"Grown ladies don't go to barbers, just so you know."
Ah. Ishii, always one to have the last. I can't be certain, but I swear that her voice sounded
downright, um, friendly. Who knows, maybe I should crash my head into things more often!


Ami's comments earlier in the evening managed to confuse and baffle me to the point of firing up
the old Famicom and spending the entire night gaming away down memory lane. There was no
possibility of sleeping tonight, not with my mind as wound up as it was. Between Ami's words and
Cathy's adorably demolished hair-do, my brain was bubbling over like a pot set on the stove too
long. Words, phrases, sound and pictures were slamming together at breakneck speed, to the
point of where I didn't even know what was going on anymore...or if I was even thinking them.
When I said to my class that I hear voices, I wasn't kidding. When I sit down to sleep, I've found I
sleep more restfully if I don't have any extraneous noise in the room, like a radio, a TV, or what
have you. However, for about ten minutes before I go to bed, my mind's just like it is now: an
absolute maelstrom. Everything crashing together in a din that makes it almost impossible for me
to sleep without a conscious effort on my part. Basically, I have to imagine a black void, without
sound or light or anything, and force myself to stare into it until I get tired of thinking of nothing
and I eventually fall asleep. For example, here's a smattering of things heard rocketing around my
head on my way back to my room from Ami and Cathy's:
"Don't do that thing you normally do."
"nikuman..."
"you sound retarded."
"New for 2008!"
"the carpet is soft on my bare feet."
"bare feet."
"bear feet."
"bear rug."
"badgers."
"bed-head moe."
"fried noodles!"
"you big baby."
"if a pretty girl likes you, then something is wrong."
"single."
"you big baby."
"chamomile."

and so on. Now imagine all of that basically ramming around at the same time, creating an
absolutely unfathomable, um, big...ball of thought. Think of all of your favorite foods: noodles,
soup, pizza, carrots, whatever, and then mash them all into one big ball. Not as appetizing, is it?
Well, the thoughts aren't exactly as appetizing when you can't pick them apart and enjoy them
separately. As such, I decided to drown out my mental torrent the only way I knew how: video
games.
Now, I know the bad things about video games. I know that every other month some kid (usually
an American) goes crazy and thinks he can jump on his sister's head because he saw Mario do it to
Luigi. You really can't blame video games for stupid people being, well, stupid. To me, video
games are a therapy. Sure, I can't take out my frustration on the people in life, but I can pour my
energy into a video game for a healthy release. Complete immersion and love of a video game is
no different than reading an amazing book, and I suppose reading would be the same as video
games if you actually got to make the choices as you were reading...maybe that's why people write
stories...
All that aside, I hadn't even noticed the sun beginning to climb in the sky when a sharp knock
came at the door. In a game-added daze I stumbled through the little path to the front door, my
brain still running at lowest-possible efficiency. Imagine my surprise when I saw Ami Ishii
standing in the hallway, arms crossed, looking thoroughly uninterested as usual.
"Eleven o'clock."
"What?"
"Eleven o'clock. AM. Meet me downstairs?"
"For what now?"
She leaned forward ever so slightly and scrutinized me with narrowed eyes.
"Have you been drinking?"
"No! No! I just forgot...about...y'know...the, um...the thing..."
"The hair appointment," she fired back. It wasn't a suggestion, but an order.
"Right! Right!" The spark plugs were finally allowing little puffs of fuel to explode inside my brain.
The entire previous night came back in a flash, with the early-morning game-a-thon a seemingly
fuzzy addendum.
"Is your head okay?" she asked with one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah, yeah...it's fine," I answered, though in truth I hadn't looked at it in hours. For all I know a
giant robot was leaping out of it as we spoke.
"What did you do all night? Looks like you didn't get any sleep," I could tell her mind was going
into the absolute worst case scenario (something involving binoculars and a Japanese to English
phrasebook, no doubt) so I figured the truth wouldn't seem quite so bad.
"Actually, I was on Famicom the whole night."
"On what?" She recoiled as if Famicom was some kind of drug. Wait, maybe it is...
"Video games," I said, rubbing the back of my head embarrassedly while also checking the wound.
It had healed up nicely. I just feel sorry for the barber, er, stylist, er, hair-cutter-person who may
find part of a bandage somewhere in my dark brown tangle.
"You played video games...all night?"
"Yep," I said with gobs of false pride.
"Couldn't you have done something, I don't know, productive with your time?"
"Hey, I'll have you know that last night, I wrested two precious elemental gems away from
nefarious fiends, got a canal built, foiled an evil elven king, awakened a bewitched elven prince,
saved a town from starvation... and got a canoe!"
I suppose I shouldn't have been all that upset that Ami wasn't turning backflips about my
adventures. She was never all that expressive, um... outside of a towel, anyway. Be that as it may,
she seemed particularly uninterested in this.
"Uh...huh. So eleven, then?"
"Right. Downstairs," I confirmed my orders like a cowed corporal.
"Yes. You're paying."
"Right. Cathy coming?"
"No, she uses weekends to talk to her parents. It's some weird time zone thing," she said this in a
casual, offhand manner, but suddenly it was if an alarm had gone off inside her head. Her face
suddenly fell into an angry scowl, and she prodded me painfully in the chest with her index finger
as she glared at me with hooded eyes.
"Why do you want to know, anyway? Are you planning on asking her out or something?"
"What? No! I was just curious! She's your roommate and all, I just figured..."
My words faded away like an old soldier as I quailed under the fabled Ishii Wrath.
"Remember, you're not allowed to do...what you do to her, got it?" She jabbed my sternum one
more time for emphasis. Ow, that really hurts, Ami.
"Yeah, okay. I'll do whatever it takes...er...I mean I won't. Or I'll not do whatever it takes, or I'll do
whatever it doesn't take, or..."
"Just meet me downstairs," she sighed agitatedly, and shut my own door on me, nearly catching
my shirttail in the process. As I toyed with the frayed shirt end, all the thoughts started clamoring
for pole position again:

"Eleven AM."
"What time is it?"
"Where's the clock?"
"Wonder if we'll grab lunch."
"Seven. Hm. I've got some time."
"I'm starving."
"Breakfast?"
"bunny."
"where's the tea?"
"Are we going just the two of us?"
"Found the tea!"
"bunglers."
"I'd better save the game."
"Mishima. What does Mishima mean? Isn't that some guy's name?"
"Now where's the damn kettle?"
"Do I have a date with Ami Ishii?"
"I've got to reorganize."
"redecorate."
"when was the last time I had fish?"
"tea first, or wash my hair?"
"tea."
"no...breakfast."
"breakfast, then tea."
"then wash my hair."
"don't want to spill anything or get dirty after I wash, that'd be stupid."
"so put the kettle on and grab some toast, dummy!"

...
Hold on a minute. Spool that tape back a little.
"Do I have a date with Ami Ishii?"
...
Wait, do I?
Apparently it's just going to be the two of us for part of the afternoon. Is that a date? Did I just do,
um, "that thing I do" without even knowing it? Was me crashing my head into a coffee table my
way of picking up women? Does Ami think it's a, um... a date? Does she know? Does she...want to
know? Should I tell her? Should I ask? Oh no...what have I done? If I don't watch this, I'll wind up
with another blazing kick to the head, won't I? Why do I do this? Why do I let myself get into
these situations? It's ambiguous, it's frustrating...it sucks! What about my rule about staying away
from these girls? It's just a haircut, it's not a date, I'll be okay, right. Just a haircut. Just a girl
telling me to get a haircut. Because, you know, girls always care about the hair of guys they don't
like...right?
Right?
...
Speaking of hair... did you see how she was trying to hide her "morning hair" with a ponytail? Hee
hee... oh man...
I am going to die.

mmmmm...that's some good tea.
Now, where was I?
Oh yes.
I AM GOING TO DIE!
I can see the headline now:
"Obsessed former teacher found beaten to death on the streets of the shopping district by former
student."
Ken Watanabe (the other one), formerly of Hokkaido, age 33, was found pummeled into dust
earlier today as a result of a one-sided assumption of romance between himself and a former
student, Ami Ishii, 28. Eyewitnesses were quoted as to saying that Watanabe "deserved it," and
there were several comments of, "what a perv." No funeral arrangements are currently underway,
and authorities are expected to toss the remains of the scumwad into the nearest waste water
treatment facility, in hopes of purging his lecherous evil from the world."
It could happen. Can't you just imagine the public outcry? "He brainwashed all these young
women ten years ago!" "He abused the trust and authority given to him as a teacher!" "We should
take away his license, or at least burn him at the stake!" And all the time, I'll be trying to plead my
case, but it will be no use. It doesn't matter what you say sometimes. If you're a guy, you're going
to be wrong.
I finished breakfast with that maudlin thought, and set out to wash my hair and try to get some of
the disinfectant out. However, the application of hot water to my head just made the rest of me
cry out for equal treatment. However, there is a one hundred percent chance that if I hopped into
the bath right now I would promptly fall asleep and miss my, um, agreed upon time with Ami. No,
it's not a date, it's an agreed upon time, because I said so. Besides, I still had to decide what to
wear, and that was a trail in and of itself.
As a teacher, my dress has become easy, almost robotic. For the entire span of my practice
teaching, I wore a shirt, tie, slacks, and a blazer every day. Yes. Every Day. Sometimes it was
unbearably hot, sometimes it was uncomfortable, sometimes it was downright torture, but I kept
on doing it out of respect. Respect for all of the good teachers I had, respect for all of the good
teachers I know, and most of all out of respect for the students. If a teacher can't be bothered to
dress professionally, what message does that send to the students? "I don't want to be here." But I
do want to be there, and I want them to know that I mean business. I suppose someone like Haru
or Mei can get away with not being so businesslike, but I think it's safe to say that not most people
are Haru or Mei. In that respect, I suppose I'm proud of my "brainwashing," because Ai, Ami, Eri,
and Ms. Arakawa all take the time to dress nicely as I do. Akira always wears his stupid black suit,
thinking he's a famous country singer or something, but at least it's decent. The minute I see
someone dressed like they aren't ready to work, I immediately take them less seriously.
However...this is Saturday. Day off. First day off since school started, really. My programmed
route of shirt and tie certainly won't work today. If I dress too formal, Ami will either think I'm a)
too lazy to dress differently on the weekends, b) unimaginative and uptight, or c) far too serious
about going out for a haircut. Sorry, ties and blazers, but you're being forced onto the bench for
today. So then, I suppose, what do teachers wear when they are out on their day off? What do I
wear when I'm out on my day off? As you've probably noticed, I don't do this much, unless I'm
running to the store or something, and then I just wear some of my old college clothes, mostly t-
shirts and jeans and whatnot. But now that I think about it...I'm thirty-three now. I should really
start dressing more like an adult, not just when I'm at work. I shouldn't use the nice clothes as a
shield, or sloppy clothes as camouflage. So, holey jeans and t-shirts, join the suits on the bench.
So there we go. Not too formal, not too sloppy. An outfit that can say "Hey, Ami! Oh, yeah, I just
threw this on, it's not big deal. Why yes, I suppose it does look perfect on me, thank you for
noticing." An outfit that a metropolitan male would wear on his way to a big city haircut. An outfit
that just might possibly trick the girl you're with into thinking that you should actually be
standing next to her. So...what outfit is that?
...
Yikes. My closet suddenly looks so empty. I guess I have less "trendy metropolitan male" clothes
than I thought, choosing to spend my money instead on "sitting in front of the TV eating snacks"
clothes and "professional-looking teacher man who wishes he was in front of the TV eating
snacks" clothes. There's still a few of my clothes from back on the farm, but unless I'm going for
the look of a complete rube in the big city, I'd better not. No, wait...maybe rubes are in? Country
music was really popular in American round about the middle of the last decade...
No. Unless I'm swinging a pitchfork in the shopping district and singing about bringing in the
harvest, it'll never do. What if... I do one of my "teacherman" shirts band one of my "TV-boy"
pairs of jeans? That oughtta look good...but not too good, right? Right? Do I turn the collar up,
like those cool looking guys from manga, or is that just a manga thing?
"Marr," I mumbled as I pulled on a light green shirt I hadn't bothered to unbutton when I took it
off the hook, "It's times like this I wish I would have read something that was less than a hundred
years old in high school...merr."
I scrutinized myself on a wall mirror, which was covered mostly in old, historical newspaper
headlines.
"Well, it's not too bad, I guess...I think I'm gaining weight again, being back in the city...maybe I
could stretch my walk out in the morning, there's no need for me for me to get there two hours
early anyway, and now that Cathy's following me...marf."
There goes my brain again. Fourteen directions at once. Maybe a little music will drown it out.
Shuffle mode, activate!
Oh, wow. I haven't heard this song in a long time, a real old 80s techno jam. It sounds familiar,
but I can't remember which one it was. Maybe when the lyrics start I'll remember... wow, drum
machines were never cool, were they?
"I-I-I love little girls, they make me feel so good..."
For those who are curious...yes, that's a real song. It's from one of those silly 80s bands called
Oingo Boingo. The lead singer went on to make music for a bunch of American movies, I think.
And yes, that's how the song actually goes. Akira sent me it as a joke when I was student teaching
(great friend, isn't he?), and I'd forgotten I even had it in the library.
Needless to say, this song did not make my mind any less cluttered. They say that when someone
has a heart attack, they know they are having one because the feeling is something unlike
anything else. If I didn't have a heart attack right then and there, I'd like to think that my body
was just playing a very, very funny prank. I felt every hair on me stand straight up, and every
muscle I had suddenly felt compressed and crunched to half its size, successfully keeping me from
moving as the Song From Hell kept on playing. Finally, the mind triumphed over the body, and I
was able to purge the massive amounts of lactic acid from my muscles long enough to fairly
levitate over to the computer and smash the mouse into sweet, silent submission.
My heart was hammering. My head hurt. My chest was falling up and down, expanding and
deflating at breakneck speed. Oh man, oh man... I hope no one downstairs heard that.
What time is it?
Hmph. Still got an hour. I'm bad like that, always trying to be on time, and I end up being far too
early. Still, I suppose I've got some time before I'm supposed to meet Ami, I might as well see if I
can get through the Citadel of Trials before I go. It's interesting how much easier these games
seem to have gotten since back then. Maybe it's because the games held less information, so
maybe they had to be harder to get lots of time out of it. Whatever it is, I'd better get ready and
save. Ha, wouldn't it be nice if you could save in real life?
In about fifty minutes, my virtual trials had finished, but my real ones had yet to begin. The
problem with playing games to distract you from your problems is, when you hit that switch and
the screen goes black...your problems are still there. Oh well, nothing left but to do it, I suppose.
Wallet, watch, sunglasses and shoes...what else? I feel like something is missing...probably
because I don't have a tie on and my shirt has a collar. Maybe I am forgetting something...no, I'm
just stalling. Off we go.
I had very nearly shut and locked my door before I realized I didn't have my keys. Launching my
arm into the doorway, I was rewarded with a smash to my forearm... but at least I wasn't locked
out. There, keys, just where they always are, in the jar by the door. The jar's actually a vintage
cookie jar that I don't use anymore. You see, when I had cookies in the apartment...I ate them. A
lot. You do the Math.
Okay, now I really am stalling. Watch, wallet, sunglasses, shoes and KEYS.
Here we go.
Just a haircut, nothing special.
It's not like Ami's going to show up looking like a million bucks or anything. Hm, what would be
in Yen, I wonder? I'll have to ask Eri sometime. Eri. Mei. Ai. Tomoko. I hope we don't run into any
of them, that would probably make things rather difficult. Besides, my head just healed, and...
wow. I've managed to think myself all the way down to room 1C. How did I even get here? Last
thing I remember, I was locking a door with a sore arm, and now...poof. Ah well. Knock knock,
anyone home?
"S'open," Ami sounded like she was chewing on something. Late breakfast. Early lunch? Maybe I
won't have to buy her some food then? Shame, I kinda wanted to, to say thanks, but that might
complicate things. However, I've noticed "dates" aren't quite what they used to be. I mean, it used
to be that holding hands in public was a big to-do, so paying for a lunch would have been a big
deal. These days, I don't know...wait a minute, I live in "these days!" What am I talking about?
"Gi'ee a mi'it," I heard Ami say from the inside of the apartment as I stood in the entryway,
wondering if I should take my shoes off or keep em on, depending on how long a "mi'it" was.
"Should I take my shoes off?" I ventured a question. Interrupting a woman while she's getting
ready can be very dangerous.
"'oh, i'a'igh... f'yu wah-a, ah-nah."
If any of you understood what I just typed there, secret government agents will be coming to your
house to enroll you in a covert translation program of alien texts. Me, I speak Japanese badly and
English worse, so I just sort of danced back and forth in slight boredom as a "mi'it" turned into
several "minutes."
Nice place. Nothing too overdone or overly-sanitized, like the apartments you always see in the
brochures. You just know no-one really lives there, know what I mean? But this place... it's got
class, but it's comfortable. Lived in. Probably wouldn't take much to make this a room for
showing, but it still feels gentle enough that I could sit on the couch and not be afraid of ruining
some thing's secret astronomical value.
Then again, there's Cathy's little corner, which took on the appearance of a besieged community
holding out against an encroaching horde. A mass of wires and technology, the corner's only
relatively soft object was a cheap futon that had been rolled up and shoved between the wall and
what looked like some kind of futuristic nerve core, which I surmised to be her actual computer. It
almost looked like it was breathing, with scary, green gills poking out from the black plastic
casing. As I looked a little closer, I noticed a coffee cup sitting on top of the tower. Seems careless,
until I realized that the top of the tower used the computer's heat to brew and heat an integrated
coffee maker. God Bless America.
But on the whole, the place looked very inviting, if meticulously cleaned. Judging from Cathy's
affects, it was obvious Ami did most of the cleaning, which didn't particularly surprise me.
However, I wonder if she knows about her snoring. It certainly doesn't seem very clean or
ladylike, does it? Ha, I can just imagine the walls in her bedroom shaking, framed photos rattling
and falling onto the floor, the entire room compressing and expanding with each breath...and I
bet her hair looks adorable when she sleeps, but she doesn't let anyone see it...
"Are you just going to look at the wall all day?" she asked from the hallway. I turned slightly at the
first discernible words I'd heard.
"Marf?"
"I told you to stop saying that, you moron."
I was really in no shape to respond to the jibe. Remember when I said that she wouldn't show up
looking like a million bucks?
I could make a fortune in Opposite-Day Fortune Telling.

Opposite Day Fortune Telling? What kind of a line is that? You'll have to forgive me, my brain
isn't working as it should be, because in front of me stands a drop-dead knockout, who is five
seconds away from walking, with me, alone, into the downtown area.
I've never seen anyone pull off the "young urban professional" thing better than Ami Ishii. Those
years spent as a child, a teenager, times to run about in the sunlight and be carefree? Waste of
time for Ami. I bet she had a business going with three of the neighborhood kids working under
her by the time she was eight. Something about her, from the cat-like, hooded eyes to the simple
ponytail to the immaculate, wrinkle-free clothes said that this was a young woman who was all
business, and she really didn't miss all those years of playing jump rope. On one hand, it's a little
sad to see someone so unimpressed and businesslike in their lives, but on the other hand, it's
amazing. I really admire her for that...which I suppose is the same as admiring someone for what
makes them scary, and that just doesn't sound too good, does it?
"Come on, Spacecase," she said and headed out the door. I followed, although I still wasn't much
able to say something. I suppose if I was a "cool" guy, I'd have some kind of witty comeback to
impress her. Unfortunately, I'm not James Bond, I'm more like that little guy who always gave
him his gadgets. What was his name again?
Ah well, it doesn't matter. It's a beautiful day in early spring, one of those you don't get very often.
I'm always trying to like spring, but it makes itself so darn unlikable. I mean, you're supposed to
rejoice that the long, cold winter is over, but then you just get almost a solid month of cold rain
instead. Is that really better? And at least during the winter there were days when the sun would
shine nice and bright, spring always seems completely gray. I guess days like this are not
something to be wasted, good thing I have plans today.
*Plans... with a girl. One of your former students.*
Shut up. It's just a haircut.
*And hell is just a sauna. So, are you going to make a move there, stud?*
No, and you know I won't.
*Ahhh, so you're going to keep playing all seven at once, eh? I never thought you had it in you.*
"Would you mind?"
Oops. I said that part out loud.
"What? Do you not want me to take my bicycle?" Ami asked. Without my knowing it, we had
apparently managed our way out into the front courtyard of the apartment complex where most
of the tenants kept their bikes. Ami was in the middle of unfastening hers, and I couldn't help but
notice how sleek and fast hers looked chained up next to my rusted and bent one.
"Um, no, but actually, um, yes. If it's all right with you, I'd rather walk."
She gave me a look someone might give a traveling salesman selling a home plastic surgery kit.
With a sigh, she snapped the lock back into place.
"Okay, fine. It's a nice enough day, I suppose."
Now it was my turn to sigh. I'd really hate it if I had to show anyone what a danger I am on a
bicycle.
"But no funny business, all right?" Ami waved a dangerous finger in front of my face, which was
depressingly almost at the level of hers. When did I get so short?
"You try to hold my hand or something and I'll break it off."
I gulped painfully.
"M-my hand?"
"Maybe," her voice was like ice in my bloodstream. I quickly jammed my hands in my pockets and
took a few steps away. Ami seemed to enjoy that little exchange, so with a little spring in her step
she started walking, and I followed.
As it was nearing noon on a Saturday, the place was, shall we say, bustling. However, I still
managed to keep a fair distance from Ms. Ishii as we virtually plowed ourselves a path through
the throng of bargain hunters, fashionistas, and pushy street vendors.
"Hey, shaggy! Why not get something for your girlfriend there?"
Honestly, I heard that at least six times from street vendors. Luckily, I didn't have to do anything
but stand there and look worried (Watanabe default mode) while Ami deployed her signature
brand of displeasure and managed to get each one to apologize profusely. She even got a free ice
cream from one of the cowed vendors...just her though, I had to be content to sit and watch.
But... I really like ice cream.
"Blegh," Ami frowned about halfway through, "that's the problem with this stuff, it's too sweet.
You get sick of it before you're done."
And with that, she promptly tossed the dish into a nearby trash bin. I almost cried. Ami...did you
have to throw that away? I would have finished it for you, I swear...and I wouldn't have eaten the
parts you ate off of, I promise! I've heard that drinking out of the same cup is called an "indirect
kiss," and I'd only assume that the same thing applies to solid food, too...and ice cream is kind of
half solid, half liquid...
"Why are you staring at a trash can?"
"Myar!" I jumped so much I almost fell into the trash can.
"Knock it off. Hurry up!" she scowled and disappeared into the mob, daring me to keep up with
her. It was like chasing a ginger cat through a wheat field, with her ponytail constantly bobbing
just above the throng and just barely within my sight, only to duck back down again and continue
the hunt. I suppose I could have looking about for a haircutter-ers nearby and beaten her to the
punch, but I didn't dare lose track of my only reliable guide in a veritable churning sea of
humanity.
Until, of course, I almost stepped on a young boy who appeared to be confused with a tetherball.
Upon further inspection (after getting tangled up in the cord) I realized that it was actually a sort
of leash/harness system for parents to keep track of their children with. You know, not unlike
what prisoners of war would have worn around five hundred years ago. It's bad enough anyone is
out in this buy-and-sell crush, but to bring your children too, trussed up like some kind of beast of
burden? What next, a yoke across their shoulders to help carry things?
"Oh, I'm so sorry sir. Now now, little Riki, apologize for tripping the nice man!" Despite my
decrying, the mother was actually very kind.
"Sorry, mister!" The kid was equally kind and probably very cute, but I had no time to notice as I
had lost my ponytail guide.
"Don't worry about it. I apologize myself," I managed to mumble before I went about trying to
plow through the people once again. Left, right, forward, backward...I felt as if I was getting
crushed, like more people were constantly being funneled in for the sheer purpose of smothering
me. Maybe I've been out in the country too long, but this just seems ridiculous. How can so many
people exist in one place, and yet be only so few people for all of Japan, or even all of the world?
Bah, I'm getting philosophic. Must be losing oxygen to my brain. I've gotta get out of here!
With many an "excuse me" and "so sorry," I began cutting through the crowds like mad. It felt as
if there was suddenly no oxygen left on the earth, only carbon dioxide from the exhaling masses I
was trying to hack through. I forgot all politeness or protocol, and began to bull through the
crowds in a mad dash for a little room to breathe. All of the sights, sounds, smells and otherwise
began to smear together into some kind of demented carousel, whirling around my head at
ridiculous speed.
Where could she be? Where am I? Is there any way I'm going to be able to get back, or am I stuck
here until the shops close, just sort of wandering around inside the crush? That would be awful.
Not only would it ruin my Saturday and no doubt upset Ami (which is never something you want
to do if you can help it) but I'm also getting really hungry! Is that Ami? No. Is that Ami? No. Is
that Ami?
...
Yes, actually. But why is she looking at my so strangely? Ah, maybe it's because I emerged from
the crowd not three feet in front of her, and I haven't stopped half running/half stumbling in her
general direction. Now it looks as if there's no possible way to avoid a collision.
...
Fantastic.
To her credit, she did try to dodge out of the way, but my pattern of destruction was far too
arbitrary to anticipate. I felt my forehead ricochet off her shoulder, which felt none too pleasant,
but slightly better than hitting the sidewalk in front of the barbershop, or stylist, or whatever.
Whether it was the speed and lack of control on my part, or my particular brand of stupidity, I
didn't find time to put out an arm to break my fall. Instead, I wound up looking like some sort of
new-age yoga guru performing the very difficult "Bear Who Stands on Own Face" pose. By some
cruel trick of gravity, I was actually able to balance like that for an agonizing moment.
"...ow."
My voice sounds compressed and nasal when jammed into concrete. Who knew?
"Are you okay?" I heard Ami ask as the rest of my body finally crashed to the ground.
"I'll be fine," I mumbled as I made sure my nose was still in one piece, "any way I could maybe get
some ice inside?"
"Maybe. What the heck happened to you, anyway?" Her words were less than comforting.
"I got tangled up in some little kid on a leash."
"You mean dog?"
"Nope. Kid."
"Hh," Ami scoffed derisively, "That's the next thing they'll want us to use. We'll be like
professional dog walkers, just with kids."
I wanted to ask "don't you mean students?" but Ami gave me a look that succinctly said that the
conversation was over. So, I dusted off my half-nice, half-not clothes and followed her inside to
get my unruly hair cut. It was a nice enough little place, but it had that smell that haircut places
always has, I think it's some sort of chemical, it's just so cloying. Add to that the added torture of
having to sit still while the hair gets cut, and the average haircut seems to take about fifteen hours
from my perspective.
However, it wasn't all bad. For starters, the hair-cutter was Japanese, but he had either studied in
France, had visited France, or watched a few movies about France, because the entire time he
talked with this awful accent.
"Oui, oui! Zee hahr, eet must look lyke zees!"
"Zees hahr, eet ees tres difficile!"
"Vous must take bettar cahr off your hahr, Monseiur!"
And so on. I saw Ami twitched every once in a while from behind a magazine whenever the hair-
cutter would talk. As a language teacher, the accent probably drove her right up a wall. Still, it was
nice to have someone there, even if she was trying to pay as little attention as possible. Though
thinking back, I hardly think that the movers and shakers in Japanese pop culture were as
important as she was making them seem by studying the magazine so judiciously. Finally,
mercifully, I heard the faux-French...
"Voila! Eet ees done! Eye am a zheeneeus!"
As if programmed, Ami stood stiffly and put down the magazine. Looking at me for a few
moments, she voiced her (near as I could tell) approval.
"Looks good."
"Cherie, eet does naught seemply look gooud! Eet es phenomeenahl, tres chic! Trooly, Eye haff
pehrfohrmed a meerackle!"
Ami blinked once through hooded eyes.
"That doesn't mean you'll get paid more. Pay up, Mr. Watanabe."
So I said goodbye to some of my Yen and left the shop with Ami, barely having a chance to see or
voice my own opinion on what currently resided on top of my head. But wait, am I really qualified
to say anything? I ever even do anything with my hair anyway...
"You'd better actually do something with your hair now, or you'll look like an idiot," Ami stormed
into my thoughts with her quietly intense voice, scanning the crowd which had still not abated.
"I'll do what I can, I guess," I said, attempting a little self-deprecating humor. All of my merriment
energy was crushed as it entered Ms. Ishii's proximity zone.
"We don't have to go shopping for a hairbrush now, do we?" She began, still scanning the roiling
masses.
"No! No, not at all! I've got a hairbrush, a really good one actually! I've also got some stuff I can
put in my hair, but I don't really now how to use it, but I'll definitely try, and--"
"Ken."
Her using my given name stopped me colder than a bulldozer in my bathtub. Glancing sideways
at me, she cocked an infinitesimal half smile.
"That was a joke."
For a few seconds, I couldn't laugh. I wanted to, but I couldn't. There was still a bulldozer in my
bathtub, you see, and that's not something that's easy to get used to. Thankfully, I was able to pull
out a too loud, too forced laugh when it appeared as if she was disappointed in her own joke,
which saved the situation somewhat, although she still seemed so darn serious. How am I
supposed to know what's a joke when everything's so deadpan all the time, huh? Still, she did
actually attempt a joke, and I think that was a smile she aimed at me, maybe...
"Hey, Ami?" I began, looking up at the warming afternoon sky.
"What."
"You hungry?"

Yeah, it was really only just some light cafe food, but it felt great. I felt like I was finally making a
connection with Ami as we engaged in that oh-so-crucial martial art of small talk. To be honest,
I'm probably at the lowest level of that fine art (I think they call it "okuiri"), mainly because I don't
often talk to people. When do I choose to talk to people, it's usually something important, so I
have trouble talking to others about, well, things that aren't important. It's not called "small talk"
for nothing, folks.
I never quite caught on to the concept of "small talk." What's the point? You're basically talking
about nothing in order to keep an uncomfortable silence from smothering everyone like a big
piece of plastic wrap. Things said in small talk are hardly ever necessary, important, or even
remembered. It's like the hot dog of conversation: nothing but filler. Just "please, let's talk about
something and shut off our brains because we can't stand silence." I say, let there be silence, but
don't worry so darn much about it. Silence is not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with quiet
reflection, just being alone with one's thoughts and no distractions. In fact, I'm beginning to think
it's quite healthy.
...
Wait, am I really saying this? I can't sit in silence for more than thirty seconds without my brain
going haywire and everything spilling into a giant mess. Maybe it's not so much uninterrupted
silence...as it is silence with a purpose. For example, in silence I can notice how Ami's nose turns
up a little at the end, or how she's currently dousing her chicken with enough hot sauce to send all
of Tokyo up in flames. Ooh, maybe that's not the best analogy. But still, she's really pouring that
stuff on! She's also got one of those super sour drinks to wash it all down with, making her a
bona-fide culinary daredevil in my book. Then again, I usually don't go above the "medium"
setting on my curry, so maybe I'm not one to talk.
"You okay there?"
Speaking of not one to talk, I've apparently not said anything for a good amount of time.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine..."
"Do you want some of this?" She said, pointing at one of the deadly pieces of chicken.
"Erm, no, that's all right," I mumbled, feeling my lips burn just from talking about eating it.
"I don't think you're that much of an idiot to just stare at my chest for that long..." her voice was
level as always, but her eyes may as well had death's heads in them.
"No! No no! No," my words came out in a jumble as my hands flailed in front of me, "I just spaced
out, is all, honest!"
Ami chuckled a dark chuckle at that, and popped a practically nuclear piece of chicken in her
mouth, apparently not showing any after effects. I picked up my tea and tried to calm the
psychosomatic fire that was raging in my own mouth, thankful for something to do with myself
after such an awkward little moment.
"Besides," she said around a mouthful, "my legs are where you ought to be looking, anyway."
Poor Ami. She almost wound up soaked in cold tea. After a few uncomfortable coughs, I found my
voice.
"E...excuse me?"
I was answered only with an enigmatic smile. After that, it was back to the small talk.
Eventually, it became past that time when lingering in restaurants feels unsavory. At a certain
time, it becomes less fond out-going and more just plain loitering. It appeared that the time was
right, so we made ready to go. The walk back to the apartment was nearly serene, if it weren't for
that despicable small talk. Honestly, Ami, I don't care about your favorite shoes, and I'm sure you
don't care about the History roundtables I go to. However, I did find out that her peculiar sounds
back at the apartment wasn't because she was eating a late breakfast.
"Why would I eat at eleven AM?"
I don't know, maybe because you didn't want this creepy old man asking you to lunch?
"I had hair pins in my mouth. My hair takes forever to get into place in the morning, but I couldn't
just let it go. I'd look like yours!"
Um, thanks? Speaking of which, I still hadn't seen my new haircut yet. I lacked the brilliance to
realize that I could have sneaked away at lunch and checked it in the bathroom, so for all I know I
was walking around downtown with a blue spiked monstrosity sprouting out of my head. As we
walked down the hall to room 1C, curiosity got the best of me.
"Ami, would you mind if I popped my head inside your place for a second?"
Her eyes were absolutely non-reflective, like a cat's when it's ready to strike.
"Why."
I wanted to run my hand through my hair embarrassedly, but I remembered it was newly cut so I
stopped halfway there and wound up tugging on an ear instead.
"Actually, um...I haven't seen my hair yet."
"Can't you look at it in your place?" Wow, such a quick response!
"Yeah, but if you made me look like a dummy I want to be right there to yell at you!" Such a quick,
witty response on my own part, wow! And was that a charming smile I was throwing? This can't
be my body.
Her eyes turned back to normal (reserved, but still deadly) and she stepped into the apartment,
leaving the door open. I took it as a sign to walk in. There was no noise this time, leading me to
believe that Cathy was out and about (though thankfully in a different part of town than we were)
and had finished talking to her parents in Georgia. Was it Georgia? I think so.
Anyway, I watched Ami stroll over to the fridge to grab a bottle of water. Taking a pull, she jabbed
a slightly agitated thumb to her left, which I followed to a small mirror by the door. No doubt she
checks her hair before she leaves, ensuring its immaculateness.
"Well, moment of truth, here goes."
I decided to do it all in one go, to lessen the pain. Closing my eyes, I leaped sideways in what I
hoped was a fairly dignified fashion in front. Summoning all my courage, I forced my eyelids open
to take a look.
...
Not bad. In fact, quite good! Still a little messy, but definitely trimmed down and straightened
out. I've got to say...I actually look handsome.
"Wow! This is great, Ami! I look ten years younger, I mean, well, except for the annoying gray
hairs, but it looks really good! What do I have to do to keep it like this?"
Ami walked right past me and sat down on the couch. "Little gel, a decent comb, maybe a hair
dryer."
"Well, I've got the first two," I muttered, admiring myself like Narcissus, "but I don't know if I'll
be able to keep this up. Do you have the number for that guy, so I can get my haircut regularly?" I
know that sounds dumb, but I've kinda just been letting it go lately until I can't see anymore. A
regular haircut would be quite nice.
"Hrm?" Ami murmured, about to take another drink. She put the bottle down grumpily and
shuffled over to the telephone. After paging through the local directory, she scribbled a number
on a sheet of paper and thrust it at me.
"There. Don't know why you couldn't have just looked it up yourself."
"I never looked at the name of the place, actually. Haha..." my nervous laugh did little to dispel
Ami's gaze, which was giving me a reading of "irresponsible" loud and clear, "but thanks, now I
won't have to come and bother you again."
I took the number and turned to leave, but as I got to the door I felt a strange force compelling me
to turn around and keep talking, although I think it was clear Ami wanted to be Ken-free for the
rest of the evening. But I'm an idiot, so I heaved a big sigh and went at it.
"I really had fun today, Am--"
In a flash she was close to me. Not close in the good way where you're not sure what's going to
happen next, but close in a bad way, where you KNOW what's going to happen next.
"No-no-no-no-no-no," she said in rapid succession like some kind of pessimistic machine gun,
"You are not going to say that. Saying that implies that it was something more than it is, which it
isn't, so you're not going to say that. This was not what it could have been, got it? It's not one of...
those. This was a one time deal, understand? Don't go getting any funny ideas."
The only funny ideas I can see are the ones coming out of your mouth, but okay...
"And you can NOT tell anyone about this. Not co-workers, not your parents, not your dog..."
"I don't have a dog--"
"Whatever! If you tell people what we did today, they will assume things."
Well yeah, when you say it like that...
"You tell anyone, and I'll destroy you."
Ah, much more to the point. Understood, Madam Ishii. And somehow, I don't think she was
talking about destroying my career as an educator. As I withered backwards and fumbled for the
doorknob behind me, I was instead punched in the kidney by my own fist as the door flew open,
knocking me flat onto my face for the second time today.
"Hey, hey, Ahmi! Ah mayde dinner! Makudonarudo!"
The American South accent. The over-stylized Japanese pronunciation. The smell of cheap
American fast food.
Must be Cathy McIntyre.


"Oh ho ho! What's this naow?"
Yup, sounded like Cathy. I say sounded like because, at that moment, I was still eating floor tile.
"What were yew two doin' in heere... awl alohhhhne?"
"Nothing. Don't be an idiot."
"Oh really?" I suddenly felt a tug at my hand. No, that's all right, don't worry if I'm alive or dead,
just grab the scrap of paper out of my hand. I'm fine, thanks.
"What's this? Ya give him yer phone nuhmber?"
"No! It's the phone number for the hair place I took him too."
Ami was starting to sound frustrated. That's not a good sign.
"Oooooh, so ya got him awl cleaned up, huh?" I was finally managing to prop myself up ever so
slightly by this time in the rapid exchange, but Cathy decided that she'd help me up, collar first.
"Woah-woah, Kenny! Lookin' purdy sharp there!"
"...thanks," I mumbled, feeling like my face was on fire. Was it because I just fell onto the floor, or
something else? Yeah, you probably know. Cathy put her free hand on her chin and looked me
over scrupulously as I found my footing.
"It's nice ta know he don' awlways wear that suit, too. Although, he's a li'l soggy rownd th' belly..."
Hey, stop poking at me! That belly took ten years of hard work to get where it is, I'm rather proud
of it.
"...but yeah, he's cute, kinda like a puppy."
No guy wants to be called a puppy. No guy wants to be called cute. Guys want to protect people,
be strong, be cool...puppies aren't cool.
"Excuse me..." I tried to finally get some words in.
"Would you stop antagonizing him, give him the phone number back, and let him go home?
You're terrorizing the poor guy!"
Well, so much for me talking. Oh, and thanks Ami, for making me feel like a helpless little puppy.
Maybe Cathy has a point...
"Oh, Ah see...yer done with him, so now you want him gawn, eh? Yew two got one a' them
relayshunships goin' on, do ya?"
Ami's face was now turning red, but unlike the "puppy," her red was dangerous.
"Ah was listenin, ya know, Ah heard ya!"
She affected what she hoped was an accurate representation of Ami's voice.
"Saying that implies that it was something more than it is."
Not a bad impression, but Ami sure wasn't feeling like praising her.
"So, Ami...what is it shouldn't Ah be implyin?"
"Shut. Up."
"Yew 'n' Kenny here gawt a li'l 'Booty Cawl' goin' on here?"
"I will murder you."
"Booty Cawl! Booty Cawl! Booty Ca-awk!"
Ami's hands were planted firmly on Cathy's rosy cheeks, and squeezing. Both were making
inhuman grunting noises. I expected a full on catfight to ensue any minute, so I hurried up and
got out of there while there was time. In hindsight, I should have called Akira, and charged him
admission, but I was much too afraid for my life. Back in my apartment, I heard a few screams,
growls, and the occasional crash or scream, but mostly it seemed to die down when the catalyst
(um, myself) left the equation. Wow, Cathy sure knows how to get to her, doesn't she? The idea of
doing, um, that...with me...such anger, she seemed so upset...I wish I could say it was the first
time!
I sighed deeply and heavily as I slumped into the chair next to my computer. Ha, my computer is
on every day now, and with the internet and technology the way it is, I can basically watch TV
right here while my real TV gathers dust in the corner. Sorry, old girl, but I'll still fire you up when
I need an old, nostalgic videotape fix. It'll be our guilty little secret, eh? Until then, it's back to
doing everything at the speed of light with my computer.
Computers seem to speed everything up. Want to look something up? Bam, it's there. Want to do
something? Bam, it's done. Want to talk to someone? Bam, they're there.
Like the internet terrorist known as hunnybun03.

hunnybun03: hiya Kenny!
otaku4America: hi.
hunnybun03: you angry at me? ;_;
otaku4America: not really. How's Ami?
hunnybun03: oh, she's fine. Sounds like you two had fun today, though... ^_~
otaku4America: we didn't do anything crazy! It was just a haircut, then a light lunch!
hunnybun03: LUNCH? Oh ho ho, she didn't tell me about LUNCH!
*user hunnybun03 is away*

There was a horrible, agonizing silence, then more screaming and crashing from downstairs.
Crap.

*user hunnybun03 has returned*
hunnybun03: lol
otaku4America: she's going to kill you one of these days.
hunnybun03: nah, she loves me! My family hosted her back in her freshman year for a summer,
that's how I got over here!
otaku4America: oh really? neat.

Dammit, Ami. You've been to America? I'm jealous!

hunnybun03: yah, we go wayyy back. she knows I luv her!!

Careful. That's a Haru Yamamoto-level of exclamation points there.

hunnybun03: what about you? do YOU love her? ^_~

I almost fell out of my chair. Man, those Americans are blunt.

otaku4America: she's a great teacher and a terrific student. I respect her.
hunnybun03: yeah, whatever.

Take me seriously, dammit!

hunnybun03: well, I can't let Ami have all the fun with li'l Kenny. How bout next week, we go out
on the town, huh?

Wait...what? No! li'l Kenny? Huh?
This is the beauty of the internet. See that up there? That's what I was thinking. However, I was
able to come across as oh-so-suave and together by simply typing...
otaku4America: I don't think that would be a good idea.
hunnybun03: Awwwww, come on, Kenny! Don't make me cry! ;_;
otaku4America: crying? Aren't you 22?
hunnybun03: I guess you're right :-P
hunnybun03: Maybe I'll just trash your hard drive instead!

Before I could even think "what?" My cursor started to move on its own again, opening up what
must have been seventeen different windows of indecipherable code. However, at the bottom of
the last window I read very clearly:

system reset y/n?

The IM window popped back on top.

hunnybun03: so, Kenny, what's it gonna be? We going out, or do I have to trash all your hentai?

That's supposed to be a secret folder, I mean...gah!

otaku4America: okay! okay! I'll go. Just please don't kill my computer.
hunnybun03: yay! I can't wait!
otaku4America: could you close all these code windows, then? I don't want to inadvertently
trigger the apocalypse here.
hunnybun03: psh! You're so hopeless, Kenny! Besides, at the age of your box, it'd practically be a
mercy killing! See ya at school on Monday, and start thinking about next weekend! I'll be waiting
^_~
*user hunnybun03 has signed off*

...
...
...
.....
Crap!

Wheel of Immorality

Sunday was mercifully uneventful (unless you count Ami's snoring, which I could now both hear
and identify from the floor below) so I was able to enter Monday morning feeling fairly refreshed
from a fairly hectic weekend. With a liberal application of tea and toast, a return to the brainless
fashion choices, and a battle with my new and hip hairstyle, I was out the door. I stopped trying to
get to school early because, well, at this point Cathy probably has my room wired for sound or
something. It would all be in vain, so why not get an extra hour of sleep instead?
Unfortunately, the morning walk was a little less than jovial thanks to Ms. Ishii and her generally
deadpan aura, which had the feeling of a deep, slate gray. Her mood matched the weather
perfectly, as the two days of bucolic splendor that made last weekend a paradise had given way to
the more normal spring climate: gray. The sky is gray, the rain is gray, even the air seems gray,
whipping right through our clothes as weather fronts engage in an epic battle. It's like some sci-fi
epic, really, if you think about it... winter's like The Empire oppressing the little guys, and every
year they have to fight back against the cold and damp to bring sunshine and happiness to the
world, striking a blow for clear skies and the freedom to not wear a jacket anymore.
This is what I thought about to keep my mind off the situation at hand. Picture, if you will, myself
on the left, Ami on the right, and Cathy right in the middle. The mischievous little gaijin spent the
entire walk vacillating between one of us to the other, her blue eyes sparkling with a sort of
sadistic glee, trying to coax some kind of deep secret from us with her indelible, cat-like
expression. She was a ray of sunshine between two great storm clouds on a cold spring morning,
her tan skin and rosy cheeks seeming out of place with the fairer complexions of her compatriots.
Now that I think about it, us teachers really don't get out enough. We all look so pale...
"Ya know..." Cathy shattered the silence like a ball peen hammer on a Faberge egg, "yew two not
sayin' nuthin...makes it seem lahk y'all got sumthin' ta haide."
Ah, I'm so proud. Ami has become a student of my unorthodox style of Tai Chi, as we both
simultaneously performed the "Bear Standing on His Face" pose.
"Cathy..." I started, rubbing my reddened and sore nose.
"Shut up," Ami finished my statement with a sentiment I wouldn't have been able to verbalize.
Her voice was often so level and unadorned that it was difficult to tell when she really meant
something... without the proper context clues, of course. And as for this situation...let's just say we
didn't need Sherlock Holmes.
Silence reigned again as we shuffled nervously under clouds that looked fit to burst with rain at
any moment. The three of us stepped through the door, and as I went to step right to Ami and
Cathy's left, the blonde American couldn't resist one more bit of fun.
"What, aincha gonna kiss him g'bye, Awmi?"
The foreigner was prepared, I'll give her that. Within nanoseconds of uttering the phrase, she was
down the hall like a bolt of lightning, the Wrath of Ishii hot on her heels with a frightening growl.
Exhaling heavily, I tried to shake my head clear as I walked on over to the teacher's room on the
second floor. I still don't know where the rest of those teachers go, but there was no way I was
asking this morning.
I was about halfway up the stairs when I heard it. As quickly as an assassin's knife, the clouds
overhead were sliced open and the watery entrails quickly spilled out onto the poor, unfortunate
souls below. Among them...
"KYAAAAAA~H!"
Was Tomoko Arakawa.
It was a combination of gentlemanly upbringing and nostalgia that sent me back down the stairs
to hold open the door for a very quickly dampening Ms. Arakawa.
"Come on, get inside!" I shouted over the rain, which was splattering loudly on the concrete
outside.
"Aaaaaah!" She just kept wailing as she ran toward the open door. She ran in the kind of way you
would expect her to run: completely inefficiently. Hands out at her sides, little, tiny pigeon-toed
steps, and a face that looked ready to burst into tears at any moment. There was something else to
note, but as I'm trying to keep things on the level, let's just say that my eyes went up, and down,
and up, and down, and up again before I had a chance to realize what I was doing and send a
cease and desist order posthaste.
"Thank you so very much, Mr. Watanabe!" she gasped as her breath came in heaving gulps. Yes,
that's right, I said heaving. ahem.
"Shouldn't you have an umbrella or something?" I asked, although I knew darn well I didn't have
one myself today.
"Ehh, I do... but I forgot it today. Oopsie..." she straightened her back and look at me with the
cutest little red-faced, embarrassed smile. I smiled back in all good faith, but as they say, the flesh
is weak. Particularly when the downpour had politely requested that Ms. Arakawa's sweater
become extra-especially clingy, and the sweater had agreed with gusto.
*Man! I knew they were big, but I didn't know they were THAT big!*
Would you know it off?
*heh heh...knock...*
Don't you dare.
"Mr. Watanabe? Are you all right?"
Oh crap, my eyes are still in No-Man's-Land. This won't end well, will it?
"With that kinda floor show, Tomo, I'd say he's more than all right!"
I hadn't even noticed that a looming yellow figure had appeared behind us in the doorway,
speaking with the voice of Mei Tanaka.
"Floor show?" Ms. Arakawa blinked her eyes slowly, adorably, "I don't under...EEK!"
Now she understands. And there she goes, ladies and gentlemen, looking to set a better time trial
than this morning's previous race.
*She looks nice when she runs away from us, too*
Hush, you.
"So, Kenny-boy, You keep outta the rain?" Mei said, peeking out from an enormous hat.
"You look like you should be selling fish sticks," I muttered in my best Ami Ishii voice.
"Huh?" She muttered stupidly as she began unbuttoning the slicker.
"Nothing," I mumbled. I keep forgetting that my references might not work in mixed company.
"Here, Kenny-boy, experience the joy of nature!"
In a trice, Mei had upended her hat on top of my head, splashing all of the repelled water onto my
newly-sculpted hair. I could only blow water out of my nostrils and sigh. Easy come, easy go.
"Aw, come on, Kenny, yell or somethin!"
I had a better idea. An evil idea. A nasty idea.
"Nah. I can't yell at someone who smells so nice."
Ha ha! Stopped her in her tracks. Success!
She was still frozen in the entryway, a look on her face that showcased slight embarrassment
along with the disbelief that pudgy little Kenny-boy had just shut her up. As I topped the stairs, I
shouted back over my shoulder for extra effect.
"Mmm. Vanilla. It must be Monday!"
I knew it would probably incur me a jaw-shattering "love pat" later, but it felt good to finally have
a little ammunition in my belt, for once. Now, I just need to duck and weave my way into the
teacher's room before any other dangerous types show up, because that was the only bullet I had.
"Made it!" I sighed as I slumped into my chair, noticing that I was the only one in the room. I
guess I was still early after all. As I set my bag down on my desk, I thought back to the morning so
far: a rocky start, but a definite goal scored already, and the benefit of a wet Ms. Arakawa...and
I'm still early! This is going to be a good day, I just know it!
...
Oh, how wrong I was.
How did I know something was going to go wrong? Well first, Akira walked in. Yeah, walked in.
Didn't sleepwalk, didn't tumble out of the coat closet, actually WALKED in. With papers, no less!
Official looking papers! What kind of bizarre alternate universe did I step into, and what does the
ice cream taste like here?
"You're early," Akira said almost seriously, walking over to my desk.
"You're...ambulatory," was all I could manage. Akira gave me a curious look and handed me one
of the pieces of paper he was carrying.
"What's this?" I asked, looking at the official school letterhead.
"Crap," Akira said, and proceeded to plunge himself a cup of tea from my vacuum thermos.
"Akira? That's not..."
He spit out the bland hot water with so much force that it splattered onto the window. Aw, Akira,
I have cleaning duty this week!
"What is this?!" he spluttered, wiping his mouth on a black sleeve.
"The tea hasn't steeped yet. Give it a minute. Or, I don't know, maybe you could try actually being
polite and asking first."
Akira pretended to think about it for a moment.
"Nah!"
And that's just how it was with us. I glanced at the paper in my hand one more time, really in no
mood to read some administrative jargon.
"So what is this, really?"
"Administrative hullabaloo," he muttered, staring at the thermos as if that would make the tea
steep faster, "apparently the new vice-principal has some ideas for improving morale around
here."
"New vice-principal?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"You didn't know? Don't you ever read the memos?
Do you?
"We've got a new vice-principal," he began, enjoying knowing more than me for once, "well, not
really. He's still working over by Yokohama, but he's double-dipping at both places as we speak,
pulling in two paychecks and laying down ridiculous decrees like this," he jabbed an angry finger
at the piece of paper. I decided to read it for myself, because Akira was apparently in no mood.
"Starting this week, every teacher will be required on their free period to observe another
teacher's classroom management and instruction styles in order to better understand their co-
workers and synthesize new and invigorating strategies for education."
"They love using words like 'synthesize,'" Akira snorted, still glaring at the thermos.
"So basically," I said, leaning back in my chair, "we've got to take our free period to go see the
other teachers?"
"Yeah. Apparently administration thinks we should all be buddy-buddy and start working
together. Like that'll ever happen."
I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was already working on some team-teaching classes. I
decided to bend to peer pressure and commiserate.
"We've got to take our free time to do this...seems awful unfair."
"Darn skippy," Akira grumbled, "cuts into my sleeping time like you wouldn't believe.
"Exactly how many hours a day do you sleep, anyway?"
"Actually, it's more like days of the week, when you add it all up," he said with a grin. Then, he
mumbled something about my tea being deliberately slow, and left me alone again. In reality, he
probably wanted to find another teacher to complain with about this great injustice. Teachers love
to complain.
"Ugh," I groaned, "So now I have to go sit in on a class a day. Just great. And then there's this
weekend..." I could already feel the old chest pains from my student teaching days twinging again.
One class with each of them...this ought to be interesting. When that new vice-principal
eventually gets here, I'll have to give him a piece of my mind!
I decided to adhere to this new mandate from the phantom vice-principal as soon as possible,
with the hope that it will be done sooner if I get started early. Akira returned in a few minutes,
feeling refreshed and holding a very strong smelling cup of coffee.
"Yo, Akira."
"What's up?" He asked, taking his usual spot on top of my desk, his long legs dangling. I'd taken
to not stacking any papers there as of late, for butt-papers are enjoyed by no one.
"Those are some kind of evaluation form for this new...assignment, right?" I said, pointing at the
stack of papers still under his left arm.
"Yep," he said flatly, grumbling into his coffee.
"And there's no way out of this, right?"
"Nope."
"Gimme a paper. I'll take a look at your class this afternoon."
Great. Now the window has weak tea-water and coffee on it now.
"M-my class?" Akira sputtered, wiping his mouth.
"Yeah. I figure I should get this done with as early as possible. Plus, I like your style of teaching,
and I don't want to kill you most of the time."
"Most," he accentuated with an index finger.
"So let's just get this over with. I'll watch you and you can watch me."
"Ah-ah-ah..." Akira's finger was waggling at me reproachfully, "We're not just 'watching,' Kenny-
poo, we're 'evaluating.' There's a profound difference?"
I cocked an eyebrow and lowered my eyelids.
"Meaning."
"Meaning," he took a sip of coffee, "that you get bored out of your brain and fall asleep with your
eyes open...BUT you write out a little sheet of paper afterwards," he handed me a sheet with a
smile, "say somethin' nice, will ya?"
"No problem," I returned the smile. Akira's a real old-school lecturer, but a good one. I spent
some time in his History class before lunch, watching, er, observing him, noting how very little
had changed in the ten years since we last compared teaching styles. Akira had one of those voices
and temperaments that loaned itself well to teaching: completely effortless. No student is going to
mess with a teacher who is unflappable, and Akira just exudes that from the moment he walks
into the room. Sure, it's just an act and he's just as big of a spaz as I am, but the kids, er, students
don't know that, do they? All they see is a teacher who knows his stuff and is oh-so-fantastically
aloof about it all. I was jealous then, and I'm still jealous now.
"Jealous?" he laughed as we walked back to the teacher's room together for lunch, "jealous of me?
How can that be?"
"You seem so...laid back," I began, running a finger through the hair Mei had ruined that
morning, "the students don't mess with you, because they think you don't care."
"Well... I don't."
"Really?" I said with a squint.
"It's like this, Ken," he put on his best I-finally-know-something-more-than-Ken voice, "When I
step into the classroom, I basically turn off my humanity. I become sort of like a teaching robot.
I'm programmed to teach, and I do it. I basically don't think...I just do."
"Wow," I said, genuinely impressed, "I wish I could do that."
"Naw, ya don't," Akira chuckled, "it ain't your thing, man. You are that eccentric, eclectic
professorial kinda guy who remembers everything about your subject but nothing about being a
human being. It's your shtick, and it works."
"Hey! You make me sound like some kind of emotionally crippled socio-phobe!"
Akira stopped on a dime and spun, blocking my entrance to the teacher's room with a lanky arm.
"Who are Japan's modern emperors?" he asked with a flat face.
"Meiji, Taisho, Showa, Heisei."
"And who are Henry VIII's six wives?"
"Catherine Paar, Catherine Howard, Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, Anne Boleyn, and Jane
Seymour."
"Now," he said with a perverse glimmer in his eye, "what's the name of the lady who just checked
you out walking down the hallway?"
I felt like a broken lawn sprinkler as my head rocketed left, then right, then left, then right again,
finally settling back on Akira with such speed that my eyes had to take a moment to regain focus.
"What?"
"Case in point," Akira shrugged, pulling open the door.
"No, really, was someone checking me out? Tell me!"
"No. You need professional help. Telling you would just be enabling someone with mental
problems."
"Akira! Mowr..."
I sulked over to my desk and reached into the drawer that usually held my lunch. Instead of my
beloved miso instant noodles, however, I found only a mostly inedible note.
"Home Ec room. Lunch. Don't bring the idiot."
I could only expect such a to the point note from Ai or Ami. Mei wouldn't have taken the time to
write a note, and Ms. Arakawa probably would have taken her time to write it on kitty stationery
or something. Eri wouldn't have bothered with so many extra words, and Haru would have added
many, many more words. As Ami was probably still trying to pretend I didn't exist, I figured it was
Ai.
*Whoever it is, just go! I'm starving!*
Like you're the one doing any work.
*At least I know who was checkin' us out in the hallway, heh heh...*
I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. Akira had already ducked out to find some hot food
elsewhere (the guy can't cook paste) so I pulled my ravenous self downstairs to the room wherein
lay the ovens and refrigerators. Surely there would be some food to find here!
I didn't find any food. Well, not right away, anyway.
I found Ami Ishii.
We had apparently headed down opposite staircases at roughly the same time, and arrived at Ms.
Arakawa's room simultaneously. There was a terse silence before I jerkily ripped the door open
for her.
"After you?"
Why did that sound like a question?
Ami sniffed and went inside. I followed her, still a little worried. My little bit of worry turned into
a great, stinking ball of worry once I took a look around the room. Not only were all of the Rogues
present, but the main table held an enormous wheel, rigged upright to some contraption like a
demented game show. Each of the six segments on the wheel were pasted with ridiculous
caricatures of each lady, in various stages of exaggerated emotion. Haru and Mei's eyes were
almost invisible, confined only to jolly, twin arcs, and their mouths were crowbarred open into
massive laughs. The caricatures of Ami and Eri were sufficiently dour, and Ms. Arakawa's face
was awash in red, not unlike our encounter this morning. All in all, it was a fairly professional set-
up, which of course lead me to ask:
"Just what the heck is this?"
"You have to spend a class with each subject, Kenny!" Haru shouted with a voice like champagne,
"so we're going to find out who gets you when!"
"With any luck, there'll still be a little left of you by the end of the week for the sixth," Ai purred,
tracing her finger around the rim of a teacup. Someone get that lady a lab coat that fits!
"Just give 'er a spin and find out who you'll be evaluating tomorrow!" Mei laughed, dislocating my
lungs with a friendly pat on the back. When I could breathe again, I began my line of questioning.
"So, let me get this straight... this memo went out this morning, right?"
"Yes." Ms. Arakawa smiled over her shoulder from one of the stovetops. I see she still wasn't all
the comfortable showing me her, um, front.
"So...you spent all morning building this...thing?"
"Naught awl mornin'..." Cathy rolled her eyes as she sat down next to Ami at the table. She
reached for the bowl of apples, but found her hand neatly slapped away by Eri Ozawa, who
immediately went back to looking at me with big, complicated eyes.
"We finished it before you went to see Mr. Sato's class. Then we added the flourishes!" Haru
giggled, waving about a stack of colored pencils. How did I know those manic caricatures would
be her handiwork?
"None of you went to see another's class today?" I said, scratching my head in disbelief.
"No way!" Mei laughed, "We had to make this, didn't we?"
Sound logic I suppose...
"Besides..." Ai gave me a smirk, "we all remember the classes we had with you... you can't blame
us for wanting to feel that...tingle...again, do you?"
"Fun."
It was as if the very atoms in the room stopped their quantum vibration for Eri Ozawa. Everyone,
of course, turned to gaze at the normally reticent Math teacher, who proceeded to blush slightly
and look downward into her teacup. Ms. Arakawa tried her best to break the silence that followed.
"Er...lunch will be ready in a few minutes, so if you'd like you can...you know... spin the wheel..."
I looked around at the hopeful, embarrassed, alluring, jovial faces and realized I had no choice,
should I fear those faces going sour. Sour sort of like...
"Ami," Ai finally took her eyes off of me, "you're awfully quiet."
"I'm only here for lunch, just like every day."
A-ha! Is THIS where they run away to all the time?
"But your name is one the wheel, Mi-mi!" Haru had those names for everyone, didn't she?
"I didn't put it there," Ami's face was like stone as she turned to implicate her foreign betrayer.
Cathy, in the face of what was surely certain death, laughed.
"Aw, come awn! It'll be fun!"
Ami growled slightly and went back to studying the table's surface. Sorry, Ami...again.
"Well then, Kenny-boy," Mei was suddenly looming behind me, a Vanilla scented assassin in a
windsuit, "are you gonna spin the wheel, or do you need some help gettin' there?"
She cracked her knuckles expertly, which was all the motivation I needed. Grabbing hold of one of
the pegs (which looked to be made from chopsticks from the cafeteria) I took a deep breath and
spun.

Round and round we go, until we stop on the reticent Math teacher and former kendo prodigy. I
stole a sideways glance from the wheel over at Eri, who once again found herself fascinated by her
own cup of tea. She didn't even look up to grab her customary apple out of the bowl, prompting
Cathy to attempt scooting the bowl just out of Eri's reach. One withering look from Ami put the
kibosh on that plan, and the quiet young lady was allowed to continue her ritualistic lunch as
usual.
For me, that's torture. I couldn't count my food, or weigh it, or even measure it. When I cook, it's
usually just throwing things in and hoping for the best. Fat? Calories? Carbs? Bah on the whole
works. If I want to lose weight, I'll go get some exercise, but you'll be prying my indulgent
foodstuffs from my cold, dead hands. Food should be enjoyed, not endured. With such tasty
things in this world, it's a shame that people confine themselves to the drudgery and culinary
slavery of the diet...particularly an unnecessary one. Yeah, Eri did a bit of filling out in the past
ten years, but it was a good thing. Believe me, her rail-thin physique of her high school days
looked plain painful, and I was glad to see her actually looking like a woman. However, I suppose
it's hard to deal with your appearance changing without your intent, but...
"Eri! You lucky duck, you!"
Mei had decided to voice Eri's happiness at being chosen in Eri's vocal absence. However, she also
decided to clamp a powerful hand on each of the girl's narrow shoulders, causing Eri to zap bolt
upright like some kind of super-electro-magnet. Her large eyes were almost completely black with
surprise, boring straight into me, pleading for an escape from the borderline psychotic P.E. Lady.
I tried to shoot her back a quick glance that said:
"It's okay, Mei's just like that. She's trying to get a rise out of you, but don't let it bother you too
much."
But that's awful hard to convey without speaking. I needed to study from the unspoken master a
little more.
"Come on, girl! You get first dibs on Kenny! Aren'cha at least gonna crack a smile?"
Mei was now rocking Eri side to side like some inflatable bop-bag gone horribly wrong. The look
on her face was absolutely torturous, pleading for a respite, but most of the others were either
sulking in their loss, beginning lunch, or enjoying the show themselves. At the other end of the
table, still standing by that ridiculous wheel, Eri might have been a hundred miles away for all the
help I was going to give her, and she knew it.
"I bet we can get old Kenny-boy to get you to smile," Mei continued her assault, which was
probably fueled by equal parts jealousy and good-natured compassion for the quiet one, "Huh?
Whaddaya say we bring him over and we can sit you on his lap?"
I immediately felt the heat start in the center of my body and spread like mad to all parts of my
body, giving me the appearance of a freshly boiled lobster. Eri saw me turning red and decided to
turn it into a competition.
"Oh ho! That did it!"
Mei was taking this a bit too far, and Eri's red face was more that just embarrassment. Putting
down her cup of tea (which had miraculously not spilled a drop!) Eri's right hand shot out like an
arrow and latched onto Mei's wrist. Mei, caught off guard, yelped in surprise.
"Ow-ee!" she pulled her hands away, rubbing at the sore wrist, "What didja do that for, Ozawa?"
Eri turned and looked behind her at the face of her tormentor. I couldn't see her face, but I could
see Mei's, which suddenly looked, surprisingly, scared. Eri stood up slowly, with measure and
purpose, until she was face to chest with Mei. In reality, she was only taller than Ms. Arakawa,
and not by much. Why hadn't I ever noticed that?
"Please."
I don't know what she looked like, but I could hear her voice, even from across the long table.
Now it was Mei's turn to go red-faced, but she attempted to hide it by waving a dismissing hand in
front of her face.
"Baw! Come on, Ozawa, I was just kidding around!"
Eri didn't move. Eventually, Mei did. Eri turned around and returned to her seat, silently
returning to her apple and tea. Before I went over to get some lunch for myself, I caught her
stealing one last glance at me. In typical Ozawa fashion, the look was unreadable. However, I'm
usually awful at interpreting nonverbal signs, or verbal signs, or really any signs whatsoever from
women.
Have you ever caught someone's eye from across a room, and had them quickly look away? It's
happened to me more than once, mostly because I'm kind of, um, twitchy in social situations and
my eyes roam to take off the pressure. Now, when you find someone looking at you, and they
quickly look away once they've been discovered, what is someone supposed to think? I figure
there are three ways to go:

A) It was an accident, and they feel bad for giving off stare-vibes to someone they never wanted to
stare at to begin with
B) They're looking at you out of some normal human curiosity, or
C) They, um, "dig" you.

Notice the order I put them in? Because that's how it goes inside my head in that situation. I know
it's pessimistic, and it's an awfully bad habit, but I just couldn't live with myself if I thought
everyone loved me all the time. Then I'd be, well...I'd be Akira. Marr, a great dig on him and he's
not around to hear it...figures.
The lunch was terrific (Ms. Arakawa shines again) and the rest of the day passed in a fairly
uneventful manner, except for the gloom clouds from Ami still matching those overhead and the
occasional rib from Cathy McIntyre:

"Hope ya plan on dressin' naice t'morrow, Ken!"
"Daon't be too hard on her, naow!"
"Tell her she 'awgmints yer matrix.' See if she gets it!"

In truth, I dressed as I always did, and I had no plans on turning this into some kind of
schoolwide dating game. As a corollary, it should also be mentioned that I wasn't
planning on using any lame Math jokes as pick-up lines...wait, did I just use one and not
even know it! Murrr...
Eventually, my crushingly disinterested students parted before me like the Red Sea, and it
was time for my no longer "free" free period. Scooping up papers and stuffing them into
my bag, I quickly made my way to the back of the room. Now, let's see, what had Eri told
me on that infinitely creepy phone call I received last night?
"Tomorrow."
"...Is this Eri?"
"...yes."
"You mean the class evaluation?"
"...yes."
"You want me to sit in the back of the classroom or something?"
"...yes."
"Okay, I'll be there."
"..."
Ah, that oh-so-unsettling feeling of dead air, when you THINK someone's there.
"Eri? Are you there? About this afternoon, I--"
Click, and dial tone. Was that just a conversation? It didn't feel like one. Then again, it
was refreshing to have such an impersonal conversation for an impersonal medium like a
telephone. Really, I prefer talking in person, it's much easier to understand. Then again, I
could barely decipher Eri's eyes in person...
The door opened quietly, yet every student in the class seemed to hear it. In an instant,
they turned from the disinterested rabble of my class to the rank and file orderliness of a
military unit. Each student sat bolt upright with eyes straight forward, pencils and
notebooks on their desks and open before Ms. Ozawa was even through the door. Her
slow, measured steps landed softly on the floor like a cat's paws as she headed up to that
same ancient podium we all used. In one hand was held a very old-style leather attaché
briefcase, with a kendo shinai slid under the handles like a British man might hold an
umbrella.
Wordlessly, Eri padded to the bored and with quick, deliberate strokes marked out which
section of the notebook would be covered today. There was an immediate flutter and
flash of paper as the designated page was found by everyone in the class, even the ones
who normally sleep through my spastic exhibitions. Eri herself flipped slowly, gracefully
to the page in her own text, taking time to allow each student to reach the destination
before looking up, apparently the Ozawan sign for "is everyone ready?" Twenty-odd
heads nodded in unison, and Eri began the lesson.
It was at this time I noticed that, even though I had chosen to dress in my usual
lackadaisical way, Eri had added a few subtle changes to her ensemble. She had swapped
the black slacks and white button up shirt for a black, knee length skirt and short sleeve
top that sat high on the neck, giving her a very graceful air. The top had accents of white
around the collar and sleeves, which were made to go with the white headband affixed
above her bangs, which usually fell hard under gravity's spell. For once, the entirety of
her face was shown, which helped to offset all of the hard, masculine black. She looked
quite cute, really, and, um... I can now say with confidence that those ten years did not do
her a disservice, no sir.
*She may eat apples, but she's turned into a real pear, heh heh*
Please, I'm at work AND in school
*Business with pleasure, my friend...*
Yikes.
Thankfully, any other disturbing inner dialogue was scared out of me as Eri went to
work. She slid the shinai out of the case with hardly a sound, and with a flick of the wrist
she attached a piece of chalk to the end of the wooden sword, which had been cleverly
modified to hold the little white stick. Raising the shinai above her head, I saw her close
those lamplike eyes and fall into deep concentration. I glanced at the clock in disbelief.
Amazing, this class had been perfectly silent for almost three whole minutes. There was
usually always someone jabbering in mine...usually me.
"Haaa-i!"
That voice. It was so powerful, so raw, concentrated like a laser beam. Did that really
come from Eri Ozawa? I snapped out of the dream state caused by the silent classroom
quickly enough to see the young woman spin on her heels like lightning, dealing the
chalkboard what seemed like a thousand dizzyingly fast strikes that made my head spin.
There were chalk fragments flying every which way, along with Ms. Ozawa in a stunning
display of aerial combat, but never once did I hear that trademark, ear-splitting chalk
screech on the blackboard. As quickly as it had exploded, the moment passed, and as the
chalk dust cleared I saw a board that was literally covered in equations. Setting the shinai
down on the old podium with an enormous exhalation, Eri looked up at the class once
more.
"Solve."
Immediately pencils and pens went to paper, scratching and scribbling frantically. Every
once in a while a hand in the class would shoot up silently, and Eri would glide her way
over to the desk in question and silently scribble on the student's paper along with the
student, silently speaking the language of numbers, a language I am completely ignorant
of. After a few minutes, the student would make a noise of success, and Eri would move
onto the next question, until each hand was down and each student was working
furiously. I sat in stunned silence for so long that I bird could have made a nest in my
gaping mouth. Such silence, such discipline, such prowess...I'd never seen anything like
it! I looked about at the students near me, expecting to see abject fear, or at least worry
etched on their faces. I saw no such thing, just extreme concentration and, when each
problem was completed, a look of silent joy and pride in their work. It was surreal.
After the bell rang for the next class, each student politely packed up his or her things,
stood, and bowed reverently to Ms. Ozawa before turning to leave. Eri returned the bow
with a smaller one of her own (as tradition would dictate) and soon the class was almost
empty. I managed to catch the sleeve of a departing student's gakuran before he had gone
too far, hazarding a question.
"Do you like this class?"
"You bet! It's amazing! Not that yours isn't, Mr. Watanabe, I mean---"
"No time for that!" I didn't need any butt-kissing students! "What do you like about this
class?"
The young boy put a finger to his lips for a moment before replying with a smile.
"I guess...it's because Ms. Ozawa is just so cool!"
With that, I let him go. I got a similar answer from one of the female students I asked, but
instead of cool, I got:
"Ms. Ozawa's such a good role model for us girls!"
Ah. So they boys admire her strength and ronin-like personality, and the girls think it's
great that she's a strong and independent woman who doesn't take any guff. Wow, that's
quite a scheme you've got there, Eri! Too bad as a male teacher I'm branded as a pig and
a perv from day one, the female vote is almost completely lost.
*Are you really saying that?*
I consider what happened to me a special, demented circumstance.
Needless to say, I marked Eri as high as I could mark on the evaluation sheet, but that just
wasn't enough. To put it plainly, I was jealous. So what does a jealous person do? Why
compliment the person that they're jealous of, in hopes of gaining some kind of moral
victory.
"Wow, Eri, I'm impressed! I can never get these kids to stop fidgeting, or to pay attention
the way you did. How did you do it?"
Without a second's hesitation, Eri flicked a piece of chalk onto the top of my head, then
neatly smacked it off and into the blackboard with one clean swipe from the shinai. I
suppose I should have needed a change of pants right then, but it was either because I
trusted Eri, or that it just happened too darn fast to worry.
"I...I see. They know you mean business, then?"
"..."
I'll take that as a yes.
"Really, though, I'm jealous," Admitting you're jealous gives the loser a bit of salve to
rub on the burning scar of defeat, "You've got this class doing great, and they really
respect you. To be honest, it's what I always wanted in a class."
"I..."
She was trying to form words, I could tell, but it looked like I was going to have to resort
to the unspoken Ozawan language again.
"You what?"
"I...I..."
"You respected me?"
"..."
"..."
"..."
"..."
"...yes."
She looked upset. Maybe upset that I forced it out of her, or maybe upset that she couldn't
say it herself? Notice which one I listed first.
"Well, I appreciate it, Eri, I really do," I said with a sigh, debating whether or not to ruffle
her hair in a friendly manner, "Sadly, I can't have a class full of you's. I'd sure like that,
though..."
"..."
Oops.
I don't think I meant to say what I said. Eri's large, dark eyes suddenly seemed to fill to
the brink of tears, but those tears were immediately thrown away with an angry shake of
the head. With a sniffle, she picked up her case and shinai; and in a flash she ran out of
the room, nearly tearing the door off of its frame in the process.
"Hh," I couldn't help but snuffle a little bit as I was left to myself, "The more things
change, the more they stay the same. Well, at least this time she wasn't barefoot."
Eri was more silent than usual at lunch that day, despite a great deal of good natured teasing by
the three resident psychopaths: Haru, Mei, and Cathy.

"oooooh, Ms. Ozawa!! Don't you look PRETTY!!!"
"How did Kenny-boy take to it? Nosebleed?"
"Aincha hawt with awl that black awn?"

Aside from that, lunch was becoming more and more a normal habit. Maybe this would mean no
more miso noodles for me at noon, replaced with, well, actual food. I'd better watch it, though...
those pounds are threatening to come back at any minute with my sudden drop in backbreaking
manual labor. Today's spin of the ungodly, demonic torture device they called a wheel would wind
me up in the care of Ms. Ai Hasegawa for my free period on Tuesday. Fantastic. Not only do I have
to take on my two worst subjects right away, but Ai's already giving me a look that says a lot more
than "I look forward to working with you."
Really, I just don't understand the woman. She's got all her ducks in a row, if you know what I
mean, and she's smart as a whip to boot. Why on earth she seems to find me, um, something...I'll
just never know. It's been this way for ten years now, with very little difference. The same low-cut
ensembles (how she managed that in the old sailor uniform I'll never know) the same pouting lips
(not that I was looking) and the same armor-piercing look from deep, glossy, shining brown eyes
over small square glasses perched halfway down her nose. I suppose I should thank my lucky
stars she didn't get a career as a librarian, that would just be too much.
And then you've got me: a borderline chubby career academic who has more experience with
women who lived a century ago than the ones he sees every day. Ai Hasegawa should be looking at
some guy with a motorcycle and oh-so-cool stubble on his chiseled jaw, not the nervous wreck in
the wrinkled shirt. As an academic, I'm used to things making sense. As a historian, I'm used to
things having specific cause and effect and patterns. This woman is not something I'm used to.
And there she is, folks, gazing at me from across the table as a lion gazes at a particularly fat and
lame gazelle. There's something in Japan we call manganekko, which translates roughly as a
person who personifies a sort of glasses fetish. Now, I'm no fetishist when it comes to eyewear,
but you can't tell me she doesn't wear those things for effect. Wouldn't contacts be less of a hassle
in the lab, Ai? You know, with all the acids and bases and tetracyclines and tetrasodiums and all
the other unpronounceables that riddle the average pack of instant ramen? I mean, they're really
not even covering your eyes, they are nothing but bait, aren't they? She's like some sort of sexy
anglerfish, dangling those glasses out there (along with a couple other things I won't dare
mention) for the poor, little, innocent guppy like myself to come along and be gobbled up...in a
bad way.
Luckily, I was able to escape said trench-dwelling predator fish for the rest of the day, and later
that night I received the second of what I hope is only a series of two distressing telephone calls.
"Hello?"
"Why hello, Mr. Watanabe," came that low, sultry voice. I wonder if she practices it.
"...Hello, Ai," I said with a little sigh.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell me...what you're wearing tomorrow?"
That was not the question I was expecting. At all. My entire mind came to a churning, grinding
halt like Napoleon outside of Moscow... or Hitler, take your pick. Anyway, it's safe to say that
there was a small amount of Ozawan dead air over the line while I tried to pick up the pieces of
my brain and answer the question. No one asked me what I was wearing. I don't even ask myself.
I pretty much grab a something and go, and it usually works out. Sure, that one time I had the
yellow shirt and the red tie, but that was one time...the system in fairly sound. To be honest, I
think I choose my clothes in the dark, by touch. The early morning mind of Ken Watanabe is a
barren wasteland, and something as trivial as fashion choices definitely loses out to analysis of
last night's dreams or, the perennial favorite, fervent wishes that I was back in bed.
"I...don't know..." was all I could manage into the receiver.
"Oh my. I don't suppose I could come over and help you pick something out? You could always
tell me what you're wearing right now..."
Only she could make me blush over the phone. And hey, isn't the guy supposed to be saying things
like that?
"Hold on, just give me a minute!" I fumbled into the phone as I walked one of the narrow paths
carved through historical bric-a-brac until I reached the closet.
"Erm, well, um...blue?"
"Blue?" There was the hint of a giggle in her voice. Wait, does she giggle? I figured she'd have
some husky chuckle like one of those 1930s screen vamps...
"Yeah, something blue maybe?"
"Is that all then?"
"Well, I've got green, or red, or brown, or bla--"
"What I wanted," I could almost hear the smile in her voice, "was something a little more
descriptive."
Descriptive? What do you want, woman? I wear jackets, shirts, ties, and trousers. There's really
not much to describe! Do women really go on and on about the fine differences of blue jeans or
something? A shirt's a shirt, pants are pants, or at least I always thought.
"Uh...I've got dark blue and light blue shirts."
"I don't really much like blue," she said dismissively, causing me to almost bite my phone in two.
You frustrating female! Why didn't you say that in the first place, then? You enjoy seeing me
suffer, don't you?
"Ah, all right...how about green?" Of course, the voice that came across the phone was calm and
polite. You'd be surprised how well teaching trains you to smile at a person while imagining them
getting an anvil dropped on their head. Anvil? I've been watching too much Tom & Jerry, or
something.
"Oooh, I like green," she purred, almost making the phone vibrate, "Green's the color of plants, of
life, of vitality and..."
Don't say it. Please, don't say it...
"fertility."
She said it. She barely whispered it into the phone. It was like smoke: light and airy but with the
possibility to do serious damage. Of course, my response was anything but: clumsy, cumbersome,
and absolutely harmless.
"Okay then, green it is, thanks much for calling, bye-bye!"
And I hung up the phone. Luckily, she didn't call me back. Then again, she'd probably fulfilled the
amount of embarrassed energy needed to keep her alive for another twelve hours until she saw
me again. Who needs food when you can just deconstruct the male mind?
Before I knew it (or wanted it) it was the next morning. I fought with myself for a good five
minutes (which is four minutes and fifty-eight seconds longer than I usually take to decide on
what to wear) on whether or not to actually wear green like Ai wanted me to.
*No, don't. I'm not controlled by some woman, especially some woman whose only connection to
my life seems to be making me uncomfortable.*
But, I don't want to upset everyone, because upsetting one might upset the whole "gallery..."
*No! Be a man! She ain't the boss of you.*
But she could probably kill me with all those crazy plants of hers.
*Really?*
Yeah.
*...Oh*
Yeah.
*Well, I don't think we like dying*
Me either.
*So I guess we've got to do this, eh?*
Yeah. I mean... it's just clothes, right?
*Yeah, whatever! Just clothes. Like we care...*
Right! Who knows, it might ingratiate me. Maybe Ai'll stop tormenting me.
*Or maybe you'll get lucky. She seems an adventurous type*
Yeesh.
*What? For all you know maybe she hasn't crossed of "meek, pudgy schoolboy-type" off her "to-
do" list!*
OK, that's enough. Green shirt. That's it. Just a little splash of green, you know, to kind of attract
the eye, and... what am I saying! Just get dressed you idiot!
"Hey, Kenny! Ya look good in green!"
Great. Has Cathy been tapping my phone line now?
Thankfully, that was the only uncomfortable moment of the morning. I've got to say that Ami's
even beginning to soften up a bit, taking the time to even look at me and say "Good morning."
Compared to Monday, that's like Lenin playing the stock market. Cathy was her usual bubbly,
gregarious self, but it's almost welcome on these gray spring mornings. Reports say the clouds are
supposed to burn off by noon, but I feel like I can never trust weathermen...
Have you ever noticed how something you dread comes to you much quicker that something
you'd like to experience? For instance, the end of my student teaching all those years ago, back
when these girls were busy tormenting me in their own, vaguely-illegal ways. It seemed to drag on
forever, and the final day felt like it was some sort of cruel dream when it finally came. However,
having to spend an entire class period in the care of Ms. Ai Hasegawa, something I surely do not
want to come, seems to be approaching at roughly Mach Five, as my first two classes fairly
whizzed by. Oddly enough, I think this is the best reactions I've gotten from a class yet. Maybe if
I'm preoccupied, I don't try so hard in class and it's more comfortable for the students? That's a
topic for further discussion, because right now, we're at Zero Hour.
Unlike yesterday, I had to walk down to the Science room, which was located on the bottom floor
where most of your "shop" classes were: Home Ec, Tech Ed, and pretty much anything that
required more than some desks and a chalkboard. Gathering all of my materials and pulling out
that all important (read: things no one will really care about or be bothered to read) evaluation
form, I took a seat on a stool towards the back of the room. Have you ever noticed that those lab
stools are ridiculously uncomfortable, and don't seem to be built for anyone of any height? If
you're tall, your feet reach the ground, and your legs are put to sleep by pressing awkwardly
against the seat, and if you're short your legs kind of dangle with a similar result. There are a
chosen few that are perfectly suited to rest their feet comfortably on the integrated foot rails that
run around near the base for stability, but that's got to be about 3% of the population, in all
honesty.
You might wonder why I'm writing about stools. Gee Ken, you must be thinking, didn't Ai do
anything to embarrass you in class or anything? Didn't she give you a tickle or a squeeze and
make you call out like a young girl in the middle of class? Didn't she reference something
disturbing or draw a suggestive picture on the blackboard, burning you with those oft-maligned
eyes you described?
Well, the short answer is: no.
The long answer is: Hey! I don't always scream like a girl!
She was an absolute professional for the entire class period. She introduced me very politely,
conducted her class with utmost care and knowledge, and basically performed in such a way that I
had no choice but to write a glowing review. She just made it sound so EASY: going in, I really
couldn't have told you anything about DNA or ribosomes, but coming out I could have given you
an expert's opinion on human cloning. Heck, she made it sound so easy I almost wanted to try it
out for myself. Does the local convenience store sell restriction enzymes?
I was absolutely blown away by Ai (or maybe I should use "Ms. Hasegawa in this context? Or
maybe something even more honorific?) and her control of the classroom. I figured she'd have
most of the male students hypnotized (one button, it's all I ask!) but even the female students
were studying hard, and answering more of the questions, too! I don't claim to know anything
about feminism (well, I could tell you about it, but only in an academic sense, which doesn't mean
a whole lot, does it?) but I suppose these strong-willed, intelligent women teaching these classes
might serve as good role models. With Ai, it's almost like she's encouraging the, um, feminine
aspect of being in the workplace, which isn't something I exactly, um, hate...but I'm really in no
position to discuss it. Let's face it: these girls are making darn fine teachers. That's two for two on
the Ken Watanabe (the other one) scorecard of Inspired Former Students.
"I almost can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring," I thought to myself as I went to head next
door for lunch and another (more jolly) spin at the wheel. Ai had finished the class as I was
putting the final touches on the positive evaluation, and by the time I was heading out of the room
I had no idea where she had scuttled off to. I nearly had a hand on the door when I suddenly felt
an odd choking sensation wrap itself around my neck, which was quickly followed by a slapping
blow done to the broad side of my back. It took me a few moments to realize that someone had
grabbed me by the tie and smacked me into the wall adjacent from the door, which was mercifully
free of any thumbtacks or fire extinguishers. By the time I regained my senses, I was almost eye to
eye with that scientific succubus herself, who was busy fondling my tie in a manner that even a
silk merchant would not affect upon his merchandise.
"So...Ken...what did you think?"
"Vuh-very...good, Ai. Really..."
Wow, I can't believe I made that many words!
"Do you think I deserve some kind of...reward?"
"Gulp."
Okay, now I can't make words. Also, my legs seem to be made of a special kind of gelatin that is
fast acting when I try to move forward, but ineffective when I'm being forced backwards back into
the classroom by a wild-eyed science teacher in a clingy lab coat.
"Mmm...yes...just a few more steps and I think I'll have my reward..." she cooed. I tried to think of
what might be a few more steps behind me. Crap, my mental camera is overheated! All I could
think of is possibly her own desk, but that's got things on it...doesn't it? I can't remember!
"There...we...go..." she kept on in her silky voice, until her torturous forward advance finally
halted. I expected to reach out behind me and find purchase at the side or top of a desk, but found
only air. Just where was I, anyway?
"Perfect," she growled, looking over those glasses like a bespectacled Jaguar. Reaching out a well
manicured right hand, I felt her soft hands run across my cheek, which coincidentally was in bad
need of a shave. Her hands are so soft, how does she do it? Probably some plant, it's always some
sort of plant with her...why can't I breathe?
Her hands finally parted with both my face and my tie almost instantaneously, leaving me a
glorious half-second to catch my breath. I say half-second because, before I could even move my
jelly legs, Ai had reached out with hands like lightning and yanked the emergency chemical
shower chain. Being an idiot, I immediately looked up to confirm my fears and, like a classic
cartoon, wound up with a faceful of cold, particularly unsavory water. This stuff wasn't made for
drinking, after all.
The faceful became a shoulderful, then a backful and finally two anklesful, until I was almost
completely soaked to the bone. It had succeeded in, um, cooling me off, but it sure wouldn't bode
well for my afternoon classes, which I had the ridiculous idea of teaching while dry. By the time I
finally blinked water out of my eyes and looked down, I saw no visible trace of Ai Hasegawa, only
an uproarious, unrestrained laugh that cartwheeled down the hallway outside.
"That laugh," I thought as I shook my soggy head, "it just didn't fit her!"
Let's face it, I don't often look tough. Every time someone has thought I looked tough, I wasn't.
I'm just not much of a tough guy. My face is too found, my nose too much of a button, my cheeks
too high and bulbous to look tough. I'd have to starve myself for about a month to look tough and,
frankly, I like food too much to do that. Add to that a scooter, a stodgy pattern of dress, and an
apartment filled with sixty year old newspapers, and you get a fairly un-tough individual. Not the
kind of guy you would fear in broad daylight, but more of the twitchy guy you would fear in a dark
alley after you've been drinking.
All that said...I think I looked pretty tough when I blasted into the Home Ec room for lunch on
Wednesday.
Soaked from head to toe in decades-unused water that had stored up in the ancient pipes of the
Science lab emergency shower, I fairly ripped the door in two as I stepped inside. My indoor shoes
made disgusting, wet slapping noises as I stomped with purpose toward the lab-coat clad
demoness currently enjoying a bowl of curried noodles. My finger never felt more powerful as I
leveled it right between the lenses of her glasses, ready to cast some kind of Level Eight, super-
powerful spell that would no doubt drain my MP for the rest of the day.
"Hasegawa!"
"Hm?" She replied innocently, slurping up an errant noodle with eyes that screamed "who? li'l ol'
me?"
"You...you! You're toast, you hear me! I'm going to get you. You wont' know where, you won't
know when, and just when you least expect it..."
Before my tough-guy speech could climax, Ai took the initiative. As easily as one would, say, reach
for a bottle of mayonnaise, Ai simply reached out and nipped the end of my accusatory finger.
Now, I'm not ashamed to admit it, that was the last thing I could possibly have expected. I am
ashamed to say that I proceeded to flail about with my free arm, generally making a spastic fool
out of myself. However, no one in the room seemed to notice. Don't tell me they're used to me
acting like this!
"Just what do you think you're doing, huh?" I bellowed at the bespectacled cannibal. She tried to
respond but, of course, she couldn't quite articulate words while still chewing on my finger, only
managing a few mumbles. I hate to admit it, but the vibrations said mumbles produced tickled
slightly, so I had to hold back a giggle with my righteous fury.
"Let go of me if you want to say something!" I managed to snarl.
Well, judging by her response, I suppose she didn't want to say anything. I mean, why say
anything when you could simply begin playing with the finger instead, and further your ambition
of driving me absolutely insane?
Dear Lord, not the tongue...
"Aigh! Guh...umm...c-can I get a little help here?" My pleas fell on deaf ears, or ears that heard
perfectly, but were too busy or far too sadistic to come to my aid.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Watanabe! I...I can't burn the noodles!"
Thanks, Ms. Arakawa. I'm glad you have your priorities straight.
"Oi, Tomo. Can't you make these noodles any spicier?"
I now rank below noodles AND hot sauce. Thanks, Ami.
"Hee hee hee! Lookit Kenny-ken's red face!"
"Dang, Hasegawa, what're ya doin' ta him?"
"Now that's talent!"
Haru, Cathy, Mei...traitors, all!
"..."
And, as usual, no response from Eri Ozawa. I can feel the nosebleed starting...any second now. I
screwed my eyes up tight, trying to think about anything that could dissuade my perverse
imagination: dead kittens, asparagus, bad 1980s music, bad 1980s fashion...the 1980s...no good!
*Bonk*
My eyes popped open at the foreign sound, which seemed to leap out from the frying of the
noodles, the slurping of lunch, and the, um, well let's just not describe the sounds Ai is making
right now!
The science-teaching temptress had finally abated her, um, assault, and was staring upwards at
Eri Ozawa, who was wielding a rolled-up file folder like a club, dangling it like Damocles over
Hasegawa's head. Her face was like a loyal samurai, etched in stone but unyieldingly loyal and
faithful. Her dainty little eyebrows were furrowed, her other hand was balled into a tight fist, her
jaw drawn tight. It looked very much like a little lion cub coming to the defense of the pride's
leader and king.
"Enough."
Ai silently relented and mercifully released my finger. Gah, now it's cold.
With those padding footsteps that seemed very much like a wild cat, Eri slowly walked back to her
spot at the far end of the table, tucking into her meager tea and apple. The catcalls and jeers had
stopped from the spectators, but Ami's noodle-slurps and Ms. Arakwa's noodle-sizzles were still
audible throughout the room. Without blushing or even looking cowed, Ai Hasegawa gave me a
quick wink, as if to say "more where that came from" and neatly pivoted back to face the rest of
her lunch. In the fashion of a coma patient that had just awakened after twenty years, I wobbled
over to find my seat, and was soon served by an adorable Ms. Arakawa in an equally adorable
apron. Too bad I was too shell-shocked to enjoy hardly any of it, even the delicious thick noodles,
which had just the right balance of heat and flavor. I'm no masochist like Ami.
The rest of the day was a dizzying blur, with my finger exuding a queer feeling until my bath that
night. My next trip to the Wheel of Progressively Embarrassing and Particularly Uncomfortable
Tortures yielded Mei Tanaka and Physical Education class, so I was in the middle of packing an
extra change of athletic clothes when the phone rang.
I'm starting to dread that thing.
"Hiya, Kenny-boy!"
sigh.
"Hi, Mei."
"Whaddya feelin' so down for, huh? It better not be 'cause you got me for class tomorrow!"
"No, it's just...it's been a long day."
"I bet. Ai try to pull anything else on you?" I could hear her trying to hold back raucous,
boisterous laughter.
"Thankfully, no."
"Don't worry. I'm not that much of a tease..."
What was this? Actual kind words from Mei Tanaka?
"If I'm gonna get you, I'll just grab you!"
...I spoke too soon.
"I appreciate the, um, frankness, Mei...is this why you called me?"
"Oh, right! No...duh, stupid me!" That woman would get distracted by a cicada in the middle of
summer.
"So?"
"Haha! Right! Just wanted to let you know to bring an extra pair of clothes for PE! That shirt 'n'
tie stuff you usually wear won't fly in my class, mister!"
"I'm packing them as we speak. Anything other than a shirt, shorts and some sneakers?"
"Lemme think...oh! If you got a baseball mitt, be sure to bring it!"
"We're playing baseball?"
"Well, softball, but I don't have a lot of spare mitts, okay?"
"Okay, I'll see if I can dig mine up. Anything else?"
"Nope. Why, you wanna boot me off the phone or somethin?"
"No, it's not that, it's just..."
"Pfft, whatever. I get it. After the Silent Siren and the Lab Coat Vixen, the Butch Girl just can't
hack it, right?"
"No! It's not like that at all!"
"Well, just for that I ain't gonna take it easy on you tomorrow!"
"Wait, Mei, I..."
"heh heh heh..."
Wow, that laugh was absolutely bone-chilling. I think she just wanted an excuse to wail on me
tomorrow. Remember that boy who finally asked her out all those years ago? I think he still has
night terrors of vanilla-scented fists. For Mei Tanaka, I guess, affection is a full-contact sport.
With that lovely thought, I settled down to a fitful night of sleep.
I can't yet tell if it was a good decision to come back to teaching. Granted, I'm starting to get a
little older, and I can't exactly do farm work for the rest of my life. However, I find it hilarious to
think that manual labor is actually proving less stressful than teaching. I'm not sure exactly what I
was thinking, maybe I was hoping it would be a little different, and every indication seemed to
point to it. I was coming back to the same school I did my practice in for a fresh new start, but in
reality it became more of a blast from the past than I ever could have expected. Six girls, now
young women, had each decided to come back and teach their own respective subjects at the same
school they once attended. Sounds heartwarming enough, until you find the main impetus of
most of their decisions: me. As a teacher I managed to captivate the hearts and minds of these six
former students to the point at which they dropped their respective careers at the chance to be
near me once again.
Sounds like paradise, don't it? Well, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially
when each individual good thing has a slightly frightening or frustrating quirk to it. You may cluck
your tongue and say that I simply don't know how to accept a good situation, but let's just see how
you fare in a softball match against one Mei Tanaka and see if you still consider it a good
situation.
To be positive, it was a nice day. One of those warm spring days that you really should cherish by
being outside. I suppose it was a superior stroke of serendipity that I got to enjoy part of my day
outside as I observed the PE class and, more importantly, the PE teacher and her style of
teaching. You see, the idea is that by observing all of the other teachers and their styles we can
create a universal curriculum that deliciously blends all subjects and tactics into one gigantic,
lovely cake. The only problem, to continue with the metaphor, is that most of these ingredients
have no interest in making said cake. Imagine if the sugar was just fine being sugar and, although
the flour is open to new ideas, the eggs simply don't want to contribute. The cake is a shambles
before it can even begin. Teachers are just stubborn eggs, selfishly protecting their educational
yolks. Darn it, now I'm hungry!
Hunger would have to wait, as the order of the day soon changed to sport. I felt a little silly in a
pair of shorts and t shirt that not only had been brought out of mothballs, but made me look like a
prematurely gray seventeen-year-old. The curse of my round face often left me praying at night
for more wrinkles or the ability to grow decent facial hair, but answer came there none. Instead, I
was greeted by some of my students thusly:
"Hey, Mr. Watanabe, is that you?"
"You look weird in shorts, if you don't mind me saying..."
And so on. There's a reason why I'm not a PE teacher, okay? Still, I'm glad it's softball today,
because at least it's a sport I'm vaguely familiar with (via baseball) and one I actually have played
before. Had we done, I don't know, volleyball or something, I would have looked like an absolute
idiot.
"All right, kids, let's do a bit of a warm up!" Ms. Tanaka shouted, adding three more ties to her
extensive ponytail. I wanted to tell her about the whole "kids versus students" thing, but, in
typical Mei fashion, she didn't give me much chance to speak.
"Watanabe!" she bellowed, pointing an accusatory finger at me from across the pitch, "I see you
brought you glove."
"Um, yeah," I said, holding the battered, decade old thing aloft. Mei responded with a smile full of
bloodlust.
"You 'n' me, right?"
"Excuse me?" I attempted to ask what exactly she meant, but there was barely time to breathe
before she flung a ball at me at what must have been Mach Two. With a startled squeal, I was able
to throw up my glove in time out of sheer instinct, hearing the satisfying slap of synthetic leather
on the genuine article.
"Not bad, Kenny-boy!" I peered over my glove to see the Amazon, arms akimbo, not unlike the
Colossus of Rhodes.
"Thanks," I allowed myself a little chuckle as I extricated the ball from its velocity driven position
in my glove's webbing, "I used to work with a guy who had a tryout with the Fighters back in the
day."
"Really?" Mei's eyes widened slightly as she held up her own glove, signifying she was ready to
receive.
"Yeah!" I shouted as I flung the ball back, hoping that making some noise would put a bit more
zing on the ball. I was satisfied with the result, but Mei looked thoroughly unimpressed as she
casually caught the ball, looking as if she was about to yawn.
"Not bad...I guess," she said as if I was offering her convenience store sushi, and proceeded to
fling the ball back at me like Halley's Comet. This went on for a short while, until Mei decided the
class had warmed up enough. We split into teams (with the two teachers as captains, regrettably)
and began the game. My team voted me clean-up batter, which I can only hope was a result of the
fervent hope that my fully-mature body would prove to add some extra "Adult Man Power."
Aren't they in for a surprise.
The first batter, a skinny kid (student!) with shaggy hair, managed to get a hit between third base
and shortstop. The second managed to strike out, which seemed odd, as he looked a fairly athletic
sort. I did notice him mumble something about how he wished we were playing baseball instead
as he stomped back out of play, as well as some fairly angry comments about the game of softball
itself, mostly about the style of pitching and the ball itself.
"Stupid underhand garbage! That ball is ridiculous! The harder you hit it, the shorter it goes, I
swear! Hmph! Damn watered-down baseball is all it is."
I leaned over conspiratorially and shared his grief.
"I agree with you one hundred per cent. Did you know that, in the 1940s, American women played
baseball, not softball? I think softball's sexist, giving them a smaller field and I bigger ball, makes
it seem like they're too weak or something, don't you think...?"
I got a reaction not unlike letting a box of frogs loose at a funeral. Coughing nervously, I tried
another tactic.
"Why don't they let you play baseball anymore, anyway?"
"A kid got hurt two years back," he grumbled, "if you ask me, if you don't have the sense to cover
your head on a fly ball, you deserve it!"
I nodded sagely, trying to commiserate, until I realized that I probably would have been that kid
(student?) back when I was in high school. You'd be surprised how much practice you can get by
working with an old semi-pro over ten years, especially when it's your Dad...wait, did I just say
that? Let's pretend that didn't just happen, OK?
The third batter should have hit into a 6-4-3 double play, but the poor second baseman bobbled
the ball and wound up with a whole lot of nothing. Mei took the opportunity to let forth a cascade
of laughter she usually reserved for when I do something stupid, and I couldn't help but think feel
for the poor second baseman as well. If there's a pop-up, I hope he slaps his glove on his head.
So, finally it became time for the second coming of Sadaharu Oh to step into the batter's box... not
really. I thought back to all the games I used to watch after coming in from the farm, trying to
emulate the super-cool attitudes of the Nippon-Ham baseball stars I had come to root for over the
last ten years. As I knocked the dirt off my sneakers and gave the bat a few practice swings, I
could see the rest of my team giving me a look that said, "who does this guy think he is?"
Deciding to finally give up on pageantry, I stepped into the box and leveled the bat across my right
shoulder, giving the pitcher what I hoped was a tough, yet aloof gaze. You know, not caring that
I'm going to knock this ball out of the park, but still giving the impression I could. It's all about
not caring and caring at the same time, really...
"Time out!"
Oh no. I know that voice. It wasn't the highest in attendance (some of the boys' voices hadn't
changed yet) but it still smacked of a smothered femininity.
Mei Tanaka.
There she was, trotting in from center field, where she had been barking out orders like a
madwoman. Upon reaching the pitcher's mound, she made every one of my worst nightmares
simultaneously combine into one giant beast by taking the ball out of the startled boy's hand.
"I'll take this one, Yuu," she said, barely containing the glee in her voice. Poor little Yuu could do
nothing but nod and look at up at his PE teacher, because looking forward would have put him
eye-to...um... a rather uncomfortable situation. With a wave of her hand, Mei sent the boy
scurrying out to center field, rolling the ball over and over in her hand with carnivorous relish.
What was with this lady, anyway? Was this her way of trying to get to know me? Was this her way
of flirting? Maybe this is a bit of payback for all the times I made fun of her and her perfumes,
maybe she feels she has to be in a position of strength to be comfortable, or maybe she thinks that
by defeating me, she's winning some kind of contest? Maybe...
"Strike one! Yahoo!"
Crap, the first pitch had already gone by!
"C'mon, Watanabe! Don't make this so easy!"
Her voice was so taunting that it actually inspired a bit of team pride in the hastily assembled
group of boys under my command.
"Come on, Mr. Watanabe! Knock it out of the park!"
"Kick some ass!"
"Yeah, stick it to that Amazon!"
"..."
All movement for a five mile radius seemed to stop. The wind stopped blowing, the grass stopped
growing, and I think I saw a hummingbird frozen in the distance. That last one is particularly
amazing, as hummingbirds have been extinct in Asia for a very, very long time. Mei's eyes were
like stilettos as she stared down the poor, unfortunate boy who had dared used the "A" word. He
fairly shrunk from view, and all positive chatter from my "bench" ceased immediately. Great, now
she's angry. This pitch ought to come in at at least 160 miles an hour now...
I tentatively leveled the bat again for a second pitch, but there was no need. I flew outside, far
outside, where it wedged itself in the chain-link backstop. Now, let me just say that that is an
impressive feat for a baseball to do, as the spaces in a chain-link setup are only slightly smaller
than a baseball. However, a softball is at least twice the size of a baseball, if not more, so the force
exerted to force itself into that gap must have been, well...I'd rather not think about it.
"Come on, Takahashi!" she snarled like no pitcher had ever snarled before at a 1-1 count, "dig that
damn thing out and let's do this!"
"Yes, Ms. Tanaka! Sorry, Ms. Tanaka!" the terrified boy replied, yanking on the fence until the ball
finally popped free. I don't know if I can give a fair picture of Mei's classroom environment, I
seem to be polluting it...
The third pitch was delivered with a windmill arm motion that was completely illegal for a
playground game, but a pitch is a pitch, and I didn't feel like arguing. Suddenly, a smattering of
kind words from a kind, old voice started flying around my head like angry bees that had gained
the ability to jump to lightspeed.
"Step forward now, not out."
"Keep your eye on the ball. No blinking!"
"Snap those wrists! Batspeed batspeed batspeed!"
"Shoulder to shoulder, make sure your chin touches both!"
It came automatically after ten years of farm league training. There was a sharp, metallic "ping!"
and a line drive flew out to right field, a textbook opposite field drive. Knowing I wasn't the
speediest of people, I immediately dropped the bat and took off. Apparently, the defense had
figured me some kind of power hitter, as they had shifted to the left. Once again, what were they
thinking? Because of this, I had a good chance of making second before the ball was fielded.
Already regretting leaving my farm job behind, I huffed and puffed my way into second base, as
the hapless second baseman missed his second attempt to get someone out in the first inning.
Jeez, sorry kid. The ball sailed past his outstretched glove and far into left field, causing Mei to
bark out orders like she was Tojo.
"Backup, dammit! Backup! Get the ball!"
My team had finally come back to life and were cheering me as I rounded third, heading for home.
Takahashi, the designated catcher, was nowhere to be found in my field of vision, rather I found
myself running raggedly to the steady form of Mei Tanaka, waving frantically for the throw in
from left field. I could hear my own voice in my head pleading "don't let her get the ball, don't let
her get the ball," but as I glanced upward toward her face I saw her eyes widen in such a way that
could only signal that the ball was on its way to her glove.
Now, I'm not much of an athletic person. However, I am still a man, if only barely. When my
blood is roused by such a thing like competition, I turn into a Roman Gladiator with a
Kalashnikov and something to prove. My legs churned as I headed to home, my mind a fine red
haze of mist except for one last instruction from the old semi-pro.
"Remember, if that catcher's in the way, bowl him over! If he drops the ball, you're safe as safe can
be! Haha!"
Now I know why I didn't play sports a lot as a kid. I turn into a monster. Lowering my
considerable shoulder, my feet pounded the last few feet to home plate. I vaguely remember
seeing part of Mei's midsection pivot as I approached, but soon everything was a mass of body
and limbs as we smashed into some kind of compacted ball at home plate. There's a video game
where you smash everything into a ball, isn't there? I can't remember it. Anyway, everything
became disorienting: up was down, left was right, and Mei and myself seemed to become one
creature with four arms and legs. My adrenaline was pumping full bore at this point, at such a
level I haven't felt since I went to defend Akira at a local bar in college, and wound up with a
puffy, greenish blackish eye. Why did he always have to hit on the girls who had great, big, beefy
boyfriends? It didn't matter, because out of the corner of my eye I saw three flashes of white.
The ball, hopping back down the first base line.
Home plate, partially covered by my own hand.
And something else that was white and indistinguishable, but was quickly turning red.
I was safe. Yahoo. Too bad my vision was too blurry to realize what that third whitish, reddish
thing was.
"Holy cow! Mr. Watanabe!"
"Mr. Watanabe!"
"I know, I know. Home run, right?" I said jovially to my team as I rolled onto my side, still in the
heat of the moment.
"No! Your nose...it's bleeding!"
"Is it?" I said groggily in a hormone-induced trance. Drawing a sluggish hand to my face, I
checked that it came back covered in red. Blinking slowly, I looked down at that reddish whitish
thing, which wound up being Mei's t-shirt, which was slowly being saturated by my blood.
As I lay on top of her. Of course.
In an instant...no...a nanosecond, all the manly, gladiatorial fervor drained from my body. Maybe
it was because I realized I was hurt. Maybe it was because I realized I was on top of a gradually
reddening Mei Tanaka. Or maybe...it was because I had bled all over a pair of b-cups where my
face had previously been.
Who knows.



Every woman, when she sleeps, is an angel.
It doesn't matter what she does, what she says, what she thinks or who she kills...every woman is
an angel when she sleeps. Just look at the bed next to me. Go ahead and look, I'm okay. Just a
bloody nose is all, mainly because Mei's spinning home-plate tag out wound up putting a rather
powerful elbow into my face. In contrast, all of my weight came barreling into Miss Mei, knocking
her down and out. I guess she isn't that tough after all, eh?
...
But don't tell her I said that. She'd probably kill me.
I managed to calm down the students and told them to get inside, as class was pretty much over
for the day. Once they were all assured everything was fine, I bent down and slung the
unconscious Mei, who had quite a bit of my blood on her, over my shoulder and headed inside. Of
course, we didn't get very far before there was a big hubbub and to-do about the entire thing, as
there almost always is in a school. You see, being a teacher is so crushingly boring that any little
thing is treated like the Emperor just died. I had to mutter all sorts of excuses, lies, and
paraphrased stories as I made my way inside the building. Ironically enough, the poor teachers
starved for action actually impeded the process as they bustled around me, eager to help. I guess
every teacher dreams of being the hero, but they don't seem to realize that, before I got to carry
the girl off into the sunset, I had bled all over her.
Yeah, I was back in the nurse's station. My second time in almost a month now, both caused by
Ms. Tanaka and her personal brand of physical expression. This time, however, I had a roommate,
if you will. Mei's next to me and, after coming back into consciousness, was culled back to sleep by
a sedative dose so strong it would have put down Rasputin. You see, the nurse was afraid that Mei
would try to do too much too soon, and recommending bed rest to the, um, effervescent PE
teacher would have been, well, a fool's errand in every sense. She's in a spare change of clothes
now, and I'm back to my comforting suit and tie, both of us completely blood-free. Oh, and if
you're wondering, I had the nurse change Mei and clean her up. I'm no idiot, and I'm certainly
don't want to get branded a pervert.
So there she sat, or... laid, rather, right next to me. I opted for a makeshift sort of cot, because all I
had to do is lie down until the blood stops pouring out of my nose. I felt like Prince Alexei with all
this tissue crammed in my nose...and what's with the Russian references, anyway?
Mei, Mei, Mei... what's with you, huh? Seems like you want some guy to boss around and play
sports with, yet you constantly bother me. While I may be fairly easily bossed (under an
emergency shower, for instance), I'm not exactly a sporty kind of person. Believe me when I say
that today's softball exhibition had me set for athletic activity until Japan has a bid for the
Olympics... in which I will not be participating. Yet, she still won't leave me alone... am I just that
fun to annoy?
I suppose it's like tickling yourself. It's hard to annoy yourself, because you'll know it's coming.
Although, unlike tickling, it's a lot harder to subconsciously tickle yourself, but subconscious
annoyances can happen an awful lot. Take, once again, today's earlier escapades. I'm rather
annoyed at myself for acting like such a (um... what's a good word? Goon? Yeah, let's go with
goon.) I'm annoyed with myself for being such a goon because I usually don't like to let myself get
all snarly and competitive like that. I guess Mei just brought it out of me and, I have to say, I
haven't felt that, um, energized in a while!
I was testing the tissues in my nose as Mei started to stir, making surprisingly adorable groaning
noises. She just looked so, I don't know, peaceful and innocent lying there, it was very...un-Mei.
She's usually so energetic, and fierce about it, too...it was amazing to see her...vulnerable, I guess.
Great, now I sound like some kind of creeper.
"Urf..."
Well, it looks like my nose has finally stopped imitating a faucet, and just in time for lunch to be
almost over. Fantastic. I'm bloody AND hungry. Still, I know I'd feel really bad if Mei had to miss
any classes...and speaking of classes, how am I supposed to rate this one, anyway? The thought of
another "observation" period between Maniac Mei and Competitive Ken sends a chill through the
very fiber of my being.
"Wah."
Wah? Water? No, you idiot, she's not speaking English!
"Wah...Watanabe... this ain't finished, you know..."
I finally got enough courage to sit up (this jacket needs dry cleaning after all, I don't want to bleed
on it) and found Miss Mei Tanaka lying on her side, looking at me with a sly, but warm and
slightly drugged up smile.
"How are you feeling?" I asked in what I hope was a good bedside manner. Florence Nightingale
I'm not.
"Pretty good, especially since ol' Nursie's got me ramped up on the happy stuff," her smile grew
larger, showing surprisingly white teeth. A shock of errant, black hair drifted in front of her face,
and she agitatedly blew it away.
"Ugh. Someone untied my hair, didn't they?"
"We had to," I began sheepishly, "You kinda cracked me in the nose at home plate, and, um, there
was a lot of blood..."
"Phwaw! It ain't the first time I've been bled on, Kenny-boy!" She laughed with a drunken wave of
her hand. Is it just me, or does that comment sound...weird?
"Why, back in my old high school basketball days, I used to say, 'if I ain't bleedin, we ain't
winnin!'"
I added whatever laugh I could manage at the time, but in reality I was just a little worried. Mei
pulled herself up on one elbow and ran a hand through her ridiculously long hair which, I've got
to say, had become satisfactorily tousled during her little nap...hee hee...
You see, now THAT'S how you annoy yourself!
"So, you bled all over, but I'm clean now," Mei gave herself a quick look over under the covers,
"am I to believe that you cleaned me up and changed my clothes, Kenny?"
"Whah? No! I had the nurse do it! I'd never do something like that, honest!" Mei responded with a
rather un-Mei-like pout. What drugs did the nurse give her, anyway?
"Awww, that's too bad, Kenny. I was kinda hopin' you'd get a look at what I got goin' on here..."
she finished with a wink that seemed more up Ai Hasegawa's alley, and elicited a similar
response.
"M-Mei I, um, I think you, um, your medication is a little, um, high...I'll...uh...where's the nurse?"
This could get dangerous. This lady's way too strong, I wouldn't stand a chance if she...agh!
"Cripes, why's this school gotta be so damn hot?"
Keep those close on this second, Miss!
...
Why aren't you listening to me? Nurse! Nurse!
Wait, I hear someone outside! Salvation is here!
...
or not.
Nope, it's the whole Gallery, in full Lunchtime Mode, cramming themselves all into the tiny
nurses' station, along with that detestable wheel. By the end, there was barely room to move
around, so I kept my hands firmly in my pockets to avoid any groping allegations. Although, with
this lot, would they be allegations?
"Hey, Kenny-kenny! We heard you got all knocked up!"
"I don't think that's the right terminology, Haru..." Ami stepped in quickly to cover the gaffe,
"wait...what the hell is going on in here?!"
Let me explain it to you. You're Ami Ishii. No, you have to act more disdainful. There, now you got
it! Just pour a bunch of hot sauce on your food and it'll be perfect. Now, picture you're Ami Ishii,
and you've walked into the nurses station to find:
1) A red-faced, out of breath, worried looking Ken Watanabe (the other one) and
2) A similarly red-faced Mei Tanaka, in the act of disrobing.
Now, what do you think the kinds of thoughts being thought to think of right there...do you think
it would be thoughts of bad thoughts and thinking being thunk?
You'd be absolutely correct.
"What, did you two stage this whole accident to get a little 'alone time?'" The Ishii Wrath was in
full control.
"Actually, that's pretty smart of them," Ai noted, chewing on one of the stems of her glasses.
"Booty cawl! Booty cawl!" Cathy and Haru began dancing as much as they could in the confined
space calling out that infernal chant. Ms. Arakawa, on the other hand, merely stood by a glaring
Eri Ozawa, looking close to tears.
"This isn't true, Mr. Watanabe...is it?"
"No! No! No no no! No no no no no no..."
"Can it, Kenny-boy," Thankfully, Mei spared my any further embarrassment, "no, the little
scaredy-cat didn't try anything...figures," she continued to grumble disappointedly as she pulled
her shirt back on. Why do you sound disappointed?!
Ms. Arakawa breathed a sigh of relief.
"Anyway, we, ah, well...we decided to bring lunch to you! I hope you don't mind!"
"If'n he turns daown yer cookin, Tomo, Ah'll know he's sick!" Cathy threw me a million-watt grin
as Ms. Arakawa began handing out bento lunches.
"I could eat, Kenny-boy, how bout you?" Mei smiled, hoisting herself into a sitting position and
taking a bento from Ai. So much hair means so much bed-head, after all...
"Yeah, I am a little hungry. I don't often get that much exercise before noon," the minute the
words left my mouth, I knew they would be swept up in the previous conversation. Sure enough,
Cathy, Haru and Ai asked about just what kind of "exercise" I had been getting. I shoved my
mouth full of omelet and pretended to go deaf.
In the confined space of the nurse's station, it was hard to get a decent spin on the wheel. It came
out to English class with Ami and Cathy, which could, depending, be an awful lot of fun or an
absolute nightmare. Ami managed a curt apology to me as lunch was ending, which made me feel
a little better, but it's just so hard to tell if the lady-who-doesn't-like-anything is all right or not.
Cathy, of course, was overjoyed, and I cringed at the thought of the internet barrage of messages I
was likely to get at home tonight. Oh, and coincidentally, I had one of my softball "teammates" in
class that afternoon. Of course, he asked about everything, and seemed glad everything was okay.
"I sure am glad nothing bad happened to Ms. Tanaka. She's so much fun!"
"Really?" I said with a cocked eyebrow, "she seems so brash."
"Are you kidding? It's PE! It's not like we'd expect Ms. Arakawa out there in the dirt!"
"So it doesn't bother you that she's a female teacher teaching both of the PE classes, boys and
girls?" I asked, figuring the school was possibly treading on thin ice there.
"Ha! Believe me, it's nice to have something to look at during PE," the boy winked roguishly,
causing me to blink stupidly in response, "plus, she's more of a tough guy than most of the guys in
class, so I really don't notice it."
Now, as an academic I'm absolutely dead-set against just going on one person's opinion, so I
asked around to whatever other students I could find from this morning. Surprisingly, every
student (even that poor, hapless fool at second base, bless his heart) gave a positive review for Ms.
Tanaka, saying that class is competitive, fun, and always very important because of it. Ms. Tanaka,
I heard often, was exactly what a PE teacher should be.
Consider her evaluation rated at excellent.

It's funny what people choose to spend their money on. The apartment downstairs from me, for
example, is well furnished, if a little austere, and very much the kind of apartment you would
expect from that upwardly-mobile kind of character you find in Ami Ishii. However...

hunnybun03: Hey hey, Kenny!
otaku4America: what's up, Cathy?
hunnybun03: I was wonderin' if I could work out a deal with you ^_~

Oh good lord, what else could she want from me? She's already blackmailed me into a date this
weekend with her computer hacking skills, and that date could, if seen by the right pairs of eyes,
be the last thing I ever do on this plane of existence. Now that I think of it, I really should update
my last will and testament.
What more could she want?

otaku4America: yes?

Once again, the passive emotion of Instant messaging saves the day!
hunnybun03: well, we don't get hardly any English TV down here, and I noticed you got one of
those fancy mini dishes for your place.

It's true. Being a freak about all things America, I opted to spend my money on a fancy television
reception, featuring lots of English language programming, instead of, you know, actually making
my apartment look presentable. Like I said, the things we spend money on...

hunnybun03: so I figure, why not split the bill and let me piggyback on your cable? I'll let you
split our internet service in return, but we'll have to do it under the table so Ami doesn't know
^_^
yes, Cathy, that would be for the best.

otaku4America: Is all of this really legal?
hunnybun03: it's not really illegal... ^_^

great. Do I really have a choice in this issue, by the way?

hunnybun03: so you've got two choices: you can either agree to share, or I pirate it off your signal
anyway and make you pay in full. It's only 'cuz I like you, see, that I'm offering to split the bill with
you.

I really don't have a choice. Lovely.

otaku4America: It's not like I can say no, Cathy...
hunnybun03: I know! hehehe ^_~
otaku4America: so that's that?
hunnybun03: that's that!
otaku4America: Anything I need to know for class tomorrow?
hunnybun03: Oh! I didn't even think of that, haha! Let me check...

There was a bit of silence over the ether of cyberspace, during which I took the opportunity to flip
on one of the aforementioned English-language stations. Suddenly,

hunnybun03: Ami says you won't need anything, and not to embarrass her tomorrow.
otaku4America: I'll try, I mean, it's not like I want to or anything, but...
hunnybun03: You realize she's not actually here, right? ^_^

Instant messaging is still a little weird for me, I'll admit. I'd still rather actually talk to the person,
but going downstairs seems to always end badly for me.

otaku4America: Okay okay. I'll see you tomorrow then, okay?
hunnybun03: okay!
otaku4America: I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to shut down now, there's a show I wanted
to see.
hunnybun03: Oh! Is it an American one?
otaku4America: I think so, some sitcom or something.
hunnybun03: Well, don't go thinking that's what life in America's like, now! Those things are way
off base!

Funny, Ms. McIntyre. From the only American I've ever met (you), I'd have to say these sitcoms
have it pretty well. Then again, I guess all of us really aren't showing her the typical Japanese life
either, are we? Oh well.

otaku4America: Thanks, Cathy. See you tomorrow.
hunnybun03: bai bai, Kenny!
As a History guy, I suppose it's my job to look at things in relation to what has come before. I
mean, hey, I'm trained to do that, right? Just like how a doctor is trained to look at someone and
diagnose because of certain things, I look at things and see patterns and ideas throughout
history...or the lack of them.
I've got to say, I'm very upset with the current state of American comedy. If I were to pop in an old
tape of American comedy that I've squirreled away in my ridiculous amounts of collections, it
seems different. It seems more... tangible. American comedy these days seems to be all about
abstract things, like irony or a bizarre reference, rather than something everyone can really grab a
hold to. That one show with all the foul-mouthed little kids, I can't remember what it's called, it
came over to Japan and was really confusing to all of us because we didn't know all the little bits
that made it funny to certain people. It seems confusing, over-complicated.
For instance, say I look at one of the old comedy teams from America's past. It's a very simple
formula: one of the guys says something that sets up the joke, and the other guy hits on it and
makes it funny. It's not something that's funny because it's not funny, or funny because it wasn't
funny twenty years ago, it's just... "funny" funny. It's funny everyone can laugh at, there's no
research to do or dogma to follow to get the jokes. It used to be that there was a very simple
formula to comedy, I wonder why America stopped doing that...it was funny.
They take the formula too far sometimes, in the interest of being clever or ironic, I suppose, and it
ends up not being funny. Like I said earlier, there's a straight man, and a funny man. Japan has a
version of this, we call it Manzai. It's a universally accepted way to make a joke...yet lately
American shows just keep going. There's a set-up, a punch line...and then another punch line. You
can't have two chickens and feed them the same amount of feed, or both will starve...does that
make sense? It weakens the entire joke to keep adding punch lines, it becomes tiring...almost as
tiring as paging through numerous American webpages to understand all the references.
Although, now that I think about it, Japan's got a couple of shows like that too. One just came out
not too long ago, and it was so full of references it felt like I had to do homework to understand
what one of the characters was saying. Since when did comedy require homework?
I tried discussing this with Cathy on our walk to school the next morning.
Well..." the Georgian looked up at the blue morning sky, "Ah guess it's laike, it's funny 'cuz Ah get
it, and it brings up a lotta memories, y'know?"
"So it uses what you remember to make you laugh?"
"Yep."
"But what if I don't have that memory?"
"Ah guess ya won't laugh."
"But what's going to happen in forty years when none of our kids had the same memories we
had?" Cathy stuck her lips out a little with concentrated thought.
"They won't be laughin, Ah s'pose."
"But don't you watch TV shows that your parents watched?"
"Yeah, sumtahmes."
"Are they funny?"
"Ah s'pose so."
"See the problem?"
"Ah guess so. You've heard of 'fifteen minutes' right, Ken?"
"What do you mean?"
And so we went on to talk about how a famous artist in America said that "everyone in the future
will be famous for fifteen minutes) back in the 1960s, and how it's coming true. As we talked
about behavioral patterns and mass media, I had this really funny feeling wash over me. Maybe it
was just the tan skin, and the blonde hair, and all the smiling teeth...but I had, um, sort of
assumed she was, well...dumb.
But, in reality, the dumb one was me.
"Cathy, you're really smart, aren't you?"
"Haha!" The gaijin slapped me on the head with her briefcase and rolled her eyes, "Sure, Kenny,
whatever!"
"I've got to say, I'm finding you really attractive right now."
Creation stopped on a dime. Ami Ishii burned a hole through that dime with a vicious glare. I owe
my life to that dime, or I probably would have been cut in two. I had completely forgotten about
Ami's, um, embargo on Cathy, if you will, and I had really stepped in it here.
"Talking about television, and now flirting with her...my my, Watanabe, aren't you high-class?"
Her low, monotone voice was as piercing as her glare.
"Sorry! I'm sorry! It just sort of slipped out! I didn't mean anything bad, honest! Cathy, please
forgive me, I didn't mean it!"
Cathy was, well, oddly silent for the rest of the walk. By the time class rolled around for me to
observe, I had noticed a genuine transfiguration of Cathy McIntyre. Her blouse, which had been,
um, carelessly buttoned on the days before was suddenly very much in order, complete with a
complementary pink neckerchief. She was wearing sensible flats in class, as opposed to the
sneakers I usually saw her in, and her medium length hair was pulled back in a ponytail that
seemed anemic by the standards of Ms. Ishii. Topping it all of, of course, was a pair of large,
wireframe glasses perched high on her nose as she took copious notes during Ami's lecture. If I
didn't know any better, I'd think Cathy was trying to look like a teacher. Does she do this kind of
transformation every day? And if so, is there some kind of incantation she has to say, or a magic
wand to wave? I must know these things.
As for Ami, she taught the class with a sort of ruthless efficiency one would expect by one of
Japan's top students of yesteryear. I didn't see any of the students falling madly in love with her
(well, except for some of the male ones, who obviously were either masochists or spent their spare
time hunting unicorns) but I saw a level of respect that I'm really not getting from my students
when I teach. Perhaps I need to start scaring them some more, or something. It's obvious to them
that I know the subject matter, freakishly so, but I still don't quite think there's a motivation to
care that I know it. Ami makes them care, which is something I wish I had the power to do. I'm
just not threatening. Ai stuck me under a shower because she knew I wouldn't fight back. Cathy
gave me that ultimatum last night because she knew I wouldn't say no, and she's only known me
for a few weeks...I think I need to be less of a pushover, especially in class. Knowing the stuff is
one thing, but getting them to know it, and care about it...that's something else.
Unfortunately, I ended up scoring Ami a little bit lower than the rest of the classes I've seen so far.
Yes, her fundamentals are sound, and I'm sure the students all do well, but it's lacking, I don't
know...humanity? As has become my habit, I caught a few students as they were leaving.
"What do I think of class? It's...class, I guess," one student muttered, "I learn a lot, but it's really
not very much fun."
I kept hearing that over and over. Not "fun." And then I started thinking, does a class have to be
fun? I posed the question to the English teaching duo after class.
"Of course not," Ami grumbled, neatly organizing her papers before placing them in her case.
"Well, a class cain be fun, ah guess," Cathy shrugged, "but ah remeymber maykin' class fun bah
mahself, y'know?"
"Do you have any students like that now, Cathy?"
"Ah think we got a few. Whaddya think, Ami?"
Ami showed us a rare, small smile that looked sick. I think her smiles need to do a little more
cardio.
"We have a few. You see, Mr. Watanabe, it's not our job to entertain. It's our job to teach. I was
plenty entertained in your class by the information, I didn't need the theatrics."
Wait...she was entertained...in MY class?
"B-but...you were always scowling!"
"That's because you were prancing about like an idiot," she said in that no-nonsense voice that cut
to the bone. I'd never thought of it that way, perhaps just the information itself was enough to
make a class out of. I guess I just always assumed that everyone hated History (because, my entire
life, I've heard people say "I hate History"), so I was trying to dress it up to make it fun. But I
enjoy it just the way it is...why can't others?
"Ami, I like the way you think. I'm bumping your evaluation back up. Except for your demeanor,
you really should smile more."
She stared at me like a demon who was ready to eat.
"I don't smile."
"But, Awmi, ya just did laike, two seconds ago..."
She turned the gaze to Cathy, who fell silent and readjusted her glasses. It wasn't particularly
malicious, it was just a simple "your soul is mine" gaze in a very matter-of-fact way. It really was
interesting to see those two interact, they were almost like sisters, really, right down to the elder
bullying the younger.
"Well, I was very impressed at the way you presented the material. I'd be happy if you came and
helped me teach my class a few days. Honored, even."
"Honored?" one of the evil eyes cocked an eyebrow.
"Sure! Any bozo can skate through like I did, but you've actually done the leg work to get where
you are. THAT'S impressive."
With a quick mumbled excuse, Ami quickly buttoned her satchel and bolted out of the classroom.
I turned to Cathy with a quizzical look, and the now-intellectual-looking American had an equally
intellectual answer.
"She doesn't know what ta do when sum-one gives her credit, is all. She's used ta workin' in yer
shadow, after all, so she doesn't git told 'good job!' often. Hearin' it from you, well..." she flashed
those familiar pearly whites, reminding me that it still was Cathy deep down, "it's interestin."
She closed up her own bag and jerked a thumb toward the door.
"C'mon," she said, quickly stowing the glasses and kerchief in a side pocket, "lunch time, right? Ah
hear Tomo's makin' okonomiyaki! Ah'm curious ta see how this Jayupanese pizza stacks up!"
As we walked down the stairs to the first floor, I didn't have the heart to tell her what lay in store.
Besides, I was more intrigued with what had just happened with Ami. I suppose I never thought
of myself as anyone to look up to before. I remember people all through college calling me
"Golden Boy," and stuff, but I figured it was all a big joke. People are actually looking up to me
now? Oh boy.
Maybe I should shell out a few extra yen and put a few paintings in my apartment then...
The name "Japanese Pizza" for okonomiyaki is a bit of a misnomer, actually. Number one, it's
grilled, not baked, and it definitely doesn't taste like the kind of pizza you'd normally find. Also,
the toppings are nowhere near what you think of when you think of "pizza" in the western sense. I
think it's closer to a kind of pancake, and it almost makes more sense to call it a Japancake
instead of a Japizza, which I've heard before and sounds, to me, a little silly. It's really...just a
pizza, ya know? And yeah, we've got Pizza Huts in Japan. Neat, huh?
Still, Cathy had a blast at lunch. I'm not sure exactly what kind of experience she's going for. At
times, I get the feeling she's just here to have fun and make a little cash while doing so, but other
times it seems like she's craving the real "experience." Then again, I've only known her around a
month, so I guess it's a little early to think about these things. I should be more concerned about
today's spin of the Wheel.
Although, with the last two left to pick, it's not exactly anything I'm dreading. I glanced up from
from my lunch to that cobbled-together monstrosity, where caricatures of Haru Yamamoto and
Tomoko Arakawa stared across the diameter that separated them. I would have said that the cute
little drawings were staring each other down in some kind of fierce competition, but I really don't
think Haru or Ms. Arakawa have any idea how to be competitive. Just imagine if one of them had
to cover for one of Mei's classes.
"Haha," I laughed a little too loudly into my lunch, which of course gave one or two of the Rogues
excuse to pry into my life. I really should keep my mouth shut.
"Whatcha laughin' about, Kenny-boy?" Mei asked as she stole a piece of my okonomiyaki.
"Nothing all that important, really," I answered, fully aware that there was nothing I could do to
keep Mei from stealing my entire lunch. Hm. Maybe after that she'd take my pocket money, too?
"Maybe he was thinking about his next two classes to observe?" Ms. Arakawa said, untying her
apron and sitting down at the table. She always ate last, how selfless.
"Kind of, yeah," I muttered.
"He's probably scared stupid," Mei chuckled, "we all know he can't sing."
"Uh-huh!" Came a chorus from the entire table. Even you, Ms. Arakawa? Forget the kind things I
said earlier.
"And he'll probably be an absolute wreck in the kitchen, eh Kenny-boy?"
"Actually," I said, putting my cheap chopsticks back in the paper sleeve, "I've been known to cook
a little."
There was a general look of shock all around. I couldn't tell if it was good shock or bad shock, so I
hazarded a question, being careful to err on the side of least, um, destruction.
"What, don't you all believe me?"
"Frankly? No," Ami's voice was as cold and flat as ever.
"Isn't that a bit sexist, though? I mean, just because I'm a guy doesn't mean I can't cook, does it?"
"I suppose not," Ms. Arakawa said quietly, politely. She fidgeted in her seat as she worked up the
courage to say what everyone else wanted to. I got the feeling that all were waiting to see if timid
Tomo would get the guts to insult the vaunted Mr. Watanabe.
"It's just...well... you're always eating those cheap instant noodles..."
"Uh-huh!" came another mass response. I felt like I was in some kind of congregation.
"And...well...please forgive me, Mr. Watanabe..."
"Go ahead," I indicated with a nod.
"Well, you're, um, ah, well, it's just that you're sort of...well..."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" Mei shouted, always the most tactful, "she's tryin' to say that you're a bit
of a pudge, Kenny!"
Ms. Arakawa turned as red as one of Eri's customary apples, then buried herself in okonomiyaki. I
suppose I should have been upset, or offended, or something, but after thirty years of being
picked on for one thing or another, it really didn't seem to sting anymore.
"Oh, that?" I laughed like an idiot, "I see. You all think I eat a lot of junk, then?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Haru shrugged apologetically.
"I'm just unlucky, is all. I've never really been able to keep all the weight off, even when I was
working on the farm I was a little soft round the middle. It doesn't seem to matter what I eat, so I
eat what I like."
"You like noodles, then?" Ami fired a sarcastic barb.
"Love 'em!" Nice counter, Watanabe! But then, I had a sudden moment of vanity.
"Wait, wait! Are you saying I look worse than I did ten years ago?"
"No, no!" Ms. Arakawa's face was still red, but now she had added two frantically waving arms.
Good think she put down the chopsticks, or Eri would need an eyepatch, "You actually look...quite
good, really...I'm sorry, Mr. Watanabe, I shouldn't have said anything, especially when I'm
overweight myself, I'm so sorry..."
Suddenly, all those baggy sweaters made sense. Absolutely ridiculous sense, but sense.
"Oh, now, don't do that, Ms. Arakawa. I think you look just fine. In fact, I think every lady at this
table looks fantastic..." I fired a strong glance at the taciturn Ms. Ozawa, "everyone."
As I half-expected, it was the stupidest thing I could have done. There was lots of red faces now,
and waving arms, and hastily made excuses. It got me thinking: why are these ladies all in such a
hurry to deny that someone, a man (although, admittedly, not much of one), calls them pretty? Is
it some kind of maiden hardwiring, or are they... upset with themselves. If the latter is the
case...why?
"That's very kind of you, Mr. Watanabe," Ms. Arakawa was babbling like a broken faucet now,
"but I really could stand to drop a little of this weight..."
"Shut up, Tomo!" Mei laughed good-naturedly, "you know I'd kill for knockers like yours!"
"Your muscle tone is nothing to sniff at, you know," Ai said with just a bit of melancholy.
"These legs of mine look a little weird without hips like yours, Eri," Ami confessed. Eri bowed her
head and stayed silent. I wasn't surprised.
"I'd just like it if people would stop calling me a boy when I wore a hat!" Haru huffed angrily,
folding her arms in front of her and sulking.
Dear God...what have I done? I suddenly feel like I'm in some kind of privileged, locker-room sort
of conversation. I don't know whether to run out screaming or charge admission.
"If you wouldn't mind..." I manage to sputter as I examined the fake woodgrain in the tabletop.
"Oh! Haha!" Mei almost broke the windows with her special brand of laughter. She slapped me on
the back with what I can only describe as comradely, with misdirected malice, "looks like we're
bothering Kenny-boy here!"
The conversation gradually ground to a halt, thankfully before they started physically comparing
things. With the subject of their own supposed shortcomings put to an end, the conversation
naturally shifted back to mine.
"So, you call yourself a cook then, Mr. Watanabe?" Haru said in a voice that sounded like a kung-
fu master addressing an impetuous new student, "If that's the case, I'm willing to give up my turn
to be evaluated until Tuesday, and let Ken all make us lunch on Monday!"
Of course, this suggestion was met with thunderous applause by the table. My version of
"applause" of course, was made by contact between my forehead and the table. When I brought
my head back up, I was greeted with a few malicious smiles, a few well-meaning ones, and, of
course, Eri Ozawa's blank slate.
"...I don't even have a choice, do I?"
"No!" Are they rehearsing these mass responses? Ugh.
"Murr," I grunted as I put my head back down on the table and stayed like that until lunch was
over. Thankfully, mercifully, the bell rang quickly, almost as if it was feeling for me and did so out
of pity. Each of the ladies left in their own special way: Mei walloping me on the back, Ai slowly
running a finger down my spine, Haru humming a little tune, Ami grumbling about something or
other, and Eri passing by like an almost untraceable spring breeze. I figured Ms. Arakawa was
busy preparing the room for the next class, so she wouldn't leave, but that still left one more...
Suddenly, a warm, giggling voice in my ear.
"So, what tahme tamorrow?"
In all the, um, bedlam this week had brought, I had completely forgotten about my blackmail
"date" with Cathy McIntyre.
"How 'bout three?"
I think I mumbled something that sounded like "OK." Either that, or it was something else that
got her to leave happily, I really don't know. You see, I was too busy thinking of how many lawyers
would help me write a will on a Friday night. Better safe than sorry.

otaku4America: Cathy?
hunnybun03: hey! Kenny! Sorry, I was making dinner. What's up?

I can't believe she's taking this so calmly. Does she not understand the amount of danger I could
possibly walk into?

otaku4America: Well, about tomorrow...
hunnybun03: Just stop on in whenever you're ready. I might be talking to my parents, but don't
worry about it, k?

Yeah, sure Cathy, I won't worry about it at all, except that if your roommate saw me coming down
to take you out on a "date," she'd probably pull out my eyeballs.

otaku4America: Are you sure I have to come there?
hunnybun03: well, if you'd like I could come up there, but it's not very gentlemanly...

Oh, she's clever. Trying to play on my own sense of personal decency, eh? Well, we'll see how she
deals with it when I...break and agree to her terms. But wait...

otaku4America: OK, fine...but wait, if you were talking to your parents in...Georgia, right?
hunnybun03: very good! 10 points ^_~
otaku4America: 10 points?
hunnybun03: forget it. what was your question?
otaku4America: If you're calling your parents at 3PM our time, wouldn't it be something like...
hunnybun03: yeah, it's like four in the morning for them.
otaku4America: do you mind if I ask...why?
hunnybun03: lol!
hunnybun03: of course! ^_^
hunnybun03: Mom works in a hospital and Dad's got third shift, too. Dad even took third shift so
they could leave for work together, so if I were to call them at a normal time they'd be fast asleep!

That's...very interesting. Not particularly important or pertinent, but interesting nonetheless.

otaku4America: ah.
hunnybun03: so I'll see you tomorrow? Sorry to ditch you, but my dinner's getting cold!
otaku4America: oh, no problem! go eat, please!
hunnybun03: oh, now you're trying to get rid of me, huh?

it's a trap!

otaku4America: no, it's just I don't want your food to get cold.
hunnybun03: food's more important than us talking, eh?

you idiot! get out!

otaku4America: that's not what I meant! It's just that I don't want you to make special exceptions
for me or anything?
hunnybun03: but...what if I want to, Ken?

oh no. Please tell me she's not getting all serious. I don't think I could deal with that if she started
confessing some sort of deep love for me. And she's only known me for a month, how can she be
that in love with me? It couldn't be love at first sight, could it? I don't even know if I believe in
that, really, it always seemed kind of foolish, although I suppose that one time...

hunnybun03: ^_~
hunnybun03: gotcha!

And here we see Ken Watanabe (the other one) falling prey to one of the cardinal problems of
instant messaging: misinterpreted emotion. Note how he is like a sick and feeble Indian tiger,
crawling forward in hopes of a quick and easy meal, but does not notice the all-too-suspicious
liberal covering of the ground with extra foliage. Instead, the stupid tiger steps on the false floor
and falls directly into the pit, never to emerge again. Poor tiger. Stupid tiger.

otaku4America: haha
hunnybun03: you're too easy, Kenny. see ya tomorrow!!!

An addendum: the tiger was not tricked into falling into the pit, per se. The tiger was forced into
the pit. You see, the tiger had a lot of information stored on his computer back home, but a cruel
hunter was going to destroy the poor tiger's computer if he didn't jump into the pit, and possibly
steal the tiger's cable TV, so the tiger had no choice, see?
Tigers with computers. Talk about a metaphor out of control!
Sleep was hard to grasp that night. Whether it was Ami's snoring, my lack of a decent dinner, or,
um, something else...I couldn't quite get my brain to quiet down to get to sleep. I used to always
have music or the television on to sleep, so it would basically dull my senses into finally passing
out. When I started working on the farm, I knew there was no way I could run a radio while
everyone else was trying to sleep in that little cottage, so I had to learn how to do without.
Basically, I exercise my brain to sleep. How? I try to think about nothing.
You'd be surprised how difficult it actually is to think about nothing. Almost everything in the
world is trying to foil you in this plot, so you pretty much have to try to phase out every little
smell, sight, touch, taste and sound you're experiencing, well, all the time... but you have to make
sure you're not focusing on not thinking too hard, because then you'll think of not thinking, and
then that's some sort of thinking, and... it gets complicated and then my brain's usually tired
enough to fall asleep.
But not tonight. My mind was a veritable maelstrom as I tried to plan out my day: where to go,
what to do, what to wear, how to act. Little things like "when is a good time to start trying to end
it?" or "How can I possibly not wind up being seen by the wrathful roommate?" You know, little
things. Eventually, even my jangled nerves lost out to fatigue, and before I knew it, it was time to
ask for a blindfold and a cigarette. Without even offering myself the luxury of shoes or slippers, I
padded down the hall with as much silence as I could muster, shoes safely tucked under one arm.
Placing my ear to the door of room 1C, I listened for any indication of Wrath.
...
Wow, all I can hear is Cathy on the phone with her folks, talking a mile a minute in no English I
could comprehend. One of these days I'm going to actually go to that darn country and learn how
the actual Americans speak it. It's really not fair that Cathy gets all this practice on her Japanese
which is, admittedly, a little textbook, but not too bad. I've only been able to practice my English a
few times... but that's always the way, isn't it? People don't come to another country to speak their
language, that's no fun... but it's no fun for me either to speak my boring old language! No fair!
"Oi."
I jumped about a foot as the cleaning lady shuffled by with her little rolling basket of wonders.
"You peeking on these girls or something?"
I'd write what my response was, but it really would be the same as if I just mashed both hands on
the keyboard. Surprisingly, I didn't get a shriek, or a shout, or even a dirty look from the cleaning
lady...I got a thumbs up.
"Good job! You sure know how to pick 'em!"
And then she trundled off. No, no! Not when I had so many questions to ask you, come back!
And then I was back to the door. Cathy was still there, going a mile a minute, but what was that
she said at the end?
"Hould awn, Maw. Ah thank summun's ayut th' dorr."
Wait...wait...decoding...
!
Did she say?
Too late. Cathy had already pulled the door open, leaving me to sprawl into an undignified heap
on the genkan. What shall we call this unorthodox pose? How about "dog with no front legs?"
I managed to scramble to my feet before Cathy stopped laughing, but not before she took the
initiative and explained to her parents long-distance what was happening. The moment I pulled
the last bit of dirt and, by association, embarrassment from my shirtfront, I found a cordless
phone jabbed into my face.
"Mern?"
"They wawnna talk t'ya," Cathy said with a smile. Her blond hair was in a really nice up style,
which was just messy enough to seem adorably disheveled.
"...me?"
"Yeh! Ah tawk abowt ya awl th' taime!"
That sounds just horrible, Cathy. Nevertheless, because I am incredibly weak, I picked up the
phone with a quavering hand.
"H...hello?"
"Wehl Koh-nee-chee-waw, Waw-taw-naw-bee sen-say!"
That was the worst Japanese I had ever heard...but it was strangely endearing.
"Hello. This is...Cathy's father?"
"Hey! Y'all speek Inglish, huh? Thaynk Gawd, thayut was th' ownly Jayupuhnese Ah knew!"
His voice was smooth and relaxed, but with just a hint of that fatherly care that probably lead to a
backyard full of suitor gravestones on the McIntyre plantation. Yet still, the voice was kind, warm,
welcoming, and it was something more than the accent.
"It is good for me to practice my English, so thank you."
"Ah herd y'all wer takin' mah gurl owt this ayufternoon."
Decoding...decoding...
"Yes...yes, I am," I tried not to squeak when I said that.
"Wehl, y'all tayk good care of 'er, ya hear?"
"Yes, I will, yes. Thank you."
I heard the man's voice grow distant and become replaced with a female's voice, higher in pitch
but still dripping that kindness I never really expected from an American.
"Kohnichiwaw," she said in slightly better Japanese, "Ah'm Cathy's Mawm," she continued at a
mercifully slow clip.
"Hello, it is nice to meet you. Your daughter is a very good teacher, and--"
"Do yew hayve a pict-cher?"
"...pardon?"
"Ah wawnt a pict-cher of yew. Ah wawna see this man Cathy's--"
The phone was wrested from my grasp as Cathy attached it to her own ear, showing bits of red
underneath predominantly tanned cheek. Just what has she told her parents about me, anyway?
Maybe her Mom looked up "Ken Watanabe" on the internet...won't she be surprised when she
sees my picture!
Meanwhile, Cathy was putting an end to the conversation. I can only guess so, because she
exchanges seem to be getting shorter, and for the life of me I still don't know what they're saying.
Eventually, she pushed the "end" button on the phone, and looked at me with laughing blue eyes.
"Ya know, yer awf'lly cute when yer losin' yer mahnd."
I don't know whether or not to take that as a compliment. Before I had a chance to think about it
further, Cathy was taking me by the hand and dragging me out of the apartment, forcing me to
put my shoes on in the hallway.
"What's the deal?" I groused, pulling on my shoes.
"Ya came daown here without yer shoes, Ah figured ya could put 'em on in th' hawl."
That's not what I meant. In fact, it went more like:
1) why did you drag me out in the hall?
2) why did you grab my hand like that?
and I suppose at a distant third would be
3) Let me get my shoes on.
"'Sides, Ah daon't think ya wawnted ta deal with Awmi t'day."
I blinked at her from my crouched position, sliding on my second shoe.
"She was comin' outta th' bayuth. Figgered ya didn' wanna scene."
I straightened up and took a deep breath.
"You're absolutely right. I take it this is some kind of covert date or something?"
"It's whatever ya wawnt it ta be, Kenny," She said with a wink that reminded me of her very
muscular sounding father.
"Ah'm kiddin!" she set me partly at ease with a giggle and a jab to the ribs. Sometimes I think
she's taking lessons from the others, "so...where do we go?"
"I don't know," I tried to act aloof, "where would you like to go?"
"Ah know a fun playce, a reel fun playce!" She said with more energy than I expected.
"Where's that?"
"Let's go ta...th' growcery stawre!"

"A grocery store?"
"Yep!"
...
"Seriously?"
"Yes! Naow let's git!"
On the walk there, naturally, I had to examine the motives of my captor. After all, this really
wasn't so much a date as it was a payoff on the ransom for my TV and computer.
"It's kahnda embarrassin, ack'tchally..." She began, thoroughly fascinated with the concrete of the
sidewalk, "ya see, Ah spent a lawtta tahm watchin, ya know, mahnga 'n' anime 'n' stuff."
"It's not a crime, you know," I smiled a smile I hope she caught out of the corner of her
downturned eye. I was rewarded with a small giggle.
"Ah know, Ah know...it's just...Ah see awl th' charackters eatin' awl this good-lookin' Jayupanese
food and I always wanted to..."
"You wanted to know what it was like, huh?"
"Yeah!"
It's funny. I watch American TV and see them eating great, big hamburgers and I want to try
them. For Cathy, she can just drive down the road for that, I bet. Or, I bet she's down in the South,
so they have those delicious looking biscuits... anyway, here she is feeling the same way cheap
chow I take for granted every day. Score one point for the "authentic Japanese experience" team.
"So I suppose you're really liking Ms. Arakawa's cooking," I looked down the road as we
approached the local market.
"Aw, yew bet! Ah feel like Ah'm really gettin' th' reel expurience with all y'all at school. Awmi's
really been a pal about workin' me inta her lahf 'n' stuff. Kahnda makes me feel bad abowt not
helpin' her owt moar when she was over in mah country."
Let's see...Ami in middle school would have meant you were...what...somewhere around eight
years old, so I don't think anyone holds it against you.
"You'll have to tell me some stories about Ami in junior high," I grinned as we walked into the
store. In retrospect, I really don't even know if those words reached Cathy's ears, as she was
already falling into some kind of out-of-body, drunken, psychedelic experience. I swear to you, I
don't even think she moved, I think she just existed in one place and then, pop, she existed
somewhere else. All the time chattering like some kind of caffeinated piglet, sniffing around every
aisle and display as if they were priceless truffles.
"Oh mah Gawd, Ah saw this awn..." enter anime show here.
"This was..." enter character's name, "fayvorit food in..." enter manga title.
"Ah could nevah fahnd this back in th' States!"
"Ah wondah if this's really as spahcy as people say!"
"Waow! Th' pro-duce's so esspensive here!"
And so on. Really, it was adorable watching her flit around the place, knowing I'd probably do the
same thing at her local Georgia Wal-Mart. And yeah, before you say anything, I know Wal-Mart
bought out one of Japan's stores, but you know it's not the same.
I felt a little cheap living my foreigner fantasies out through Cathy, but it was empowering and
liberating at the same time. Not only could I pretend to be an expert on things that were common
knowledge to your average Japanese person, but I was also taking copious mental notes on how
not to act when in another country. I would have warned Cathy against acting so, um, silly in a
public place, but it's an entirely different situation for a young woman traveling abroad as
opposed to a young man. For example:
A) You see a young woman like Cathy doing, um... what Cathy is doing. You smile and you laugh
and you go "Silly gaijin, but that's culture shock for you. Still, doesn't she just look adorable?"
in contrast...
B) You see a young man like me doing what Cathy is doing. How do you react?
"Jeez, what's his problem?"
"Dork."
"He should really get it under control, he looks pathetic."
"I'd say I feel sorry for his wife, but that's definitely not a possibility."
And other such slings and arrows. Truth be told, there is a gender gap no matter where you go,
and for a guy like me who is, um... less that masculine, let's say... the world can be a particularly
difficult place.
Eventually, Cathy calmed down from bending the laws of time and space to a simple joyous quiver
as we walked around the store. We must have gone over almost every single item in the shop that
afternoon, comparing things like prices, exchange rates, name changes on international brands,
and the wild and wonderful world of corporate mascots. The sun was well onto setting when we
finally staggered out of the place, laden with bags of food and chased by several quizzical looks
from staff and patrons alike. I guess some people just don't know how to have fun in a grocery
store. I pity them, really.
"That was great!" Cathy said, laughing out loud, "Ah feel like Ah'm ten years owld agin!"
"Ten years old?" I said as I shifted the load.
"Mah Maw always used ta tayk me ta the store on th' weekends," she said, still smiling with all
those brilliant teeth, "Ah remember it was some of th' best tahmes of mah lyfe. But when Ah got
owlder, a'course, Ah had less tahm ta do those things, an' Ah kahnda missed it. So...thanks, Ken,
fer comin' alawng with me."
"No problem!" I answered, inwardly thanking whoever was responsible that she didn't want to
have a more, um, "date-y" date.
"Ah know it was weerd," she blushed a little, "but it mayd me feel lahk Ah was back howm...it was
nahce."
Now normally, upon hearing the word "Nice" (or "nahce," if you will) I would have flinched or
adopted the posture of a boxer on the defensive. You see, "nice" is a death sentence for any guy
whilst talking to a girl. "Nice" basically means that you're a fantastic person, but you're not going
to, um, you know, win the race. Thankfully, I never even put my horse in (as far as I know) so
hearing such a cursed word has little effect on me.
"It was nahce..."
See? No effect! I didn't even squirm!
"...ta just do some, ya know, normal stuff, lahk a reggalar Jayupanese person."
"No problem at all. I needed stuff for Monday's lunch anyway, so it was really nice to be able to go
with someone else. Single guys my age usually get some weird looks being all alone at a grocery
store on a Saturday afternoon."
"Yeah, yer pathetic, Kenny," she replied with a wink.
"Thanks," I fired back and stuck out my tongue, "Besides, I wasn't the one giggling over Pocky..." I
added under my breath, which incensed the young American.
"Hey! Yew leeve Pocky outta this!" She shouted, giving me a kick to the shin. I know it was meant
in jest, but the sharp pain was very much legitimate.
"Ow!"
"Awww, ya big baby! C'mere!"
And so, laden with what must have been three weeks worth of food, we engaged in a vicious
kicking battle on the streets. A few people walking by laughed, a few cheered one of (or both of) us
on, and about two guys gave me a look that was either "gaijin perv" or "lucky bastard," I couldn't
tell which.
Besides, I didn't have time to think about it. Between planning my attacks, dodging Cathy's, and
trying not to yelp when I was struck, I didn't even notice the cadre of people walking towards us.
The cadre, of course, contained Mei Tanaka, Tomoko Arakawa, Ai Hasegawa, Haru Yamamoto,
Eri Ozawa, and Ami Ishii, fresh from their homes on a Saturday "girls' night out."
My eyes felt as if they were starting to shrivel inside my head. My heart felt as if a professional
wrestler had given it a top-rope dropkick, sending it down around my kidneys with sickening
speed. I broke out in a full-body cold sweat, and my legs felt as if they may fail me at any moment.
Still, didn't they all look nice...
...
I'll tell you how nice they all looked later, but for now I have to make friends with the fence to my
right and make my escape. I can only hope and pray to every deity I can remember that they
didn't see me...

...They saw me.
Weighed down by several grocery bags (or at least that's what I tell myself) I was unable to
successfully vault the fence and make my escape through an unknown stranger's yard. It could
have been the yard of an axe-wielding maniac, or some crazy old women with a maniacal
penchant for pudgy, graying academic types...it would have been a more acceptable situation. As
it turned out, the situation wound up with me half over a fence when Mei finally caught up to me.
With a combination of fantastic muscle tone and the kind of strength usually reserved for mothers
in moments of crisis, she hoisted me off the wall as if I was the sedan that had fallen on her baby
boy.
"Well, well, well! Would you look at the state of this town? There's just garbage hanging around
all over the place!" Mei cackled with delight as she swung around her trophy by the waist of his
trousers. Might I also add that the trophy was feeling rather uncomfortable with the entire
situation?
"Hi-hi, Kenny-ken! Whatcha up to?" Haru bounded up to meet me face to face, which was finally
possible due to the, um, dangling, "gonna paint the town red?"
"I think he already has..." came a low grumbling from the back of the group. I glanced over Ms.
Arakawa's shoulder and saw a reddish-brown ponytail quivering with the infamous Wrath.
"Huh? Whatcha mean, Aaaaami?" Haru replied in a saccharine, singsong voice.
"Yes, Ami, please elaborate..." Ai purred in her usual, um...hungry manner.
"Cathy didn't tell me she was going out to the store this afternoon," Master Interrogator Ishii
began, immediately forcing Cathy's blue eyes to the ground and her tanned face to register a
reddish saturation, "and by the time I got out of the bath she was gone. Now usually," she turned
to the assembled group, who had become some sort of impromptu jury, "Cathy always lets me
know where she's going, when, and why. This leads me to believe that she wanted to be out with
Mr. Watanabe without anyone knowing...especially me."
She threw one last murderous look back at the foreigner, who had begun chewing her nails
vigorously. The limpid pools of Ms. Arakawa's eyes began to fill with bitter tears of dread.
"You don't think it could be a...could...could be...a..."
"A date?" Mei's voice fairly exploded into the encroaching night. With a fury that felt like it was
hammered down by Hephaestus himself, she began shaking me furiously from my belt, "You
devious little twerp! What do you have to say for yourself, huh? She's almost ten years younger
than you, you know, and she's Ami's roommate, and..." she fumbled for something else to fling at
me, "her hair... it's weird! Yeah! Weird! Come on, Kenny-boy, defend yourself! Answer me!"
"He... he can't answer if you're shaking him like a rattle," Ms. Arakawa came to my rescue and
said what I wanted to say, "besides, I'm sure it's just...a...a misunderstanding, is all!"
Mei set me back onto my feet with no unnecessary gentleness. "Exactly! That's exactly right! I was
only out here because Cathy, she..." I made to implicate the foreigner on her various counts of
blackmail against me, but one look into her reddened face told me I might as well kiss my hard
drive goodbye.
"She what?" Ami's voice was so calculating that it felt like a guillotine blade hanging above my
head. I slumped back to my knees and hung my head in defeat. This was like one of those times in
an RPG where you haven't gotten your characters strong enough, and no matter which door you
go through, there's a boss waiting to destroy you. Unfortunately, I've already saved, and there's no
way to go back on this but to start a new game, and I'm in no mood to live all of this over again!
What am I going to do? I have to say something! If I don't, I'm leaving their imaginations open to
all sorts of perverted suggestions!
"Ah...ah wawnted sum-one," Cathy began, taking some of the glaring kryptonite lasers off of my
huddled form, "ah wawnted sum-one ta go ta th' showp with me. Ya see, Ah was, uh...scayred of
creepy gahs awn th' streets..."
"So you wanted to have Ken along to keep away perverts and stuff?" relief was painted on Ms.
Arakawa's features.
"Yeah..." Cathy said with a nervous laugh, "thass right."
"You couldn't wait for me to get out of the bath?" Ami asked with a skeptical eyebrow.
"Naw, Ah didn' wawna bug ya," Cathy was getting good at this lie.
"I guess it passes," for Ami, that was the equivalent of someone pardoning your execution. I
almost rejoiced with the angels right then and there, except for...
"You really thought a guy like Ken would keep away predators, huh?" Mei said with a laugh.
Suddenly, it seemed like the entire gallery were aiming arrows at me, each letting loose with
vicious precision.
"He's not all that tough looking," Mei sniffed.
"He's pudgy," Ami scowled.
"It's more to love, honey," Ai, you're not helping!
"I could probably beat him up!" Haru said, brandishing a tiny fist.
Thankfully, Eri and Ms. Arakawa respectfully abstained from perforating my spirit any further.
Now riddled with injuries, I pulled myself to my feet like General Custer, determined to see this to
the last. There were really no words I could have said at that point to either improve or destroy
my current situation, so I swayed dumbly on the warm spring breeze and let go.
"So what did you get from the store, Kenny?" In a flash, Haru's little hands had pulled open the
bags on my right hand and began rummaging through them like some sort of stray cat in an
alleyway. Coming up or air, she wrinkled her nose.
"You sure eat a lot of junk."
Fine, go ahead, I don't care anymore. Let loose your barbs, and I'll just sit here and take it, it's my
lot in life, isn't it?
"She's right, Kenny-boy, you really should eat some more fresh stuff. All this pre-packaged
garbage is probably why you're carrying around that thing," Mei jabbed at my soft underbelly
none-too-gently, as if judging it for some kind of grotesque contest. By now most of the group had
swarmed around me, enjoying the idea of rummaging through my personal belongings. Did it
bother me? Of course. But what am I going to do?
"Mei's right, Mr. Watanabe," Ai made sure she got a handful of leg from inside the bag that was
too, um, energetic to be an accident, "You really should eat some more vegetables, or at least take
a vitamin."
Only you could make the word "vitamin" sound dirty, Ai!
"Wait..." Ms. Arakawa's timid voice broke the chatter from my left side, "he's got some nice things
over here...carrots, onions, some cabbage..."
"Yeah," I finally found my voice, which sounded so small and dejected, "that's what's going to be
lunch for all of you on Monday..." seizing an opportunity for a tiny bit of sympathy in my
direction, I kept on, "it was going to be a surprise for all of you, but now..."
"The surprise will be if it's edible."
Darn it, Ami! Feel sorry for me, just this once!
Eventually, the crush receded (and no, it didn't feel great to have all those women crowding
around me. It should have, it could have...but it didn't!) and the whole gallery backed away. Mei
took the opportunity to speak for the group, as I suppose she was the main, um, instigator of this
whole, well, inquisition on the city streets.
"Well, I guess everything checks out..."
I shouldn't have to report to you!
"So we'll be on our way. Listen up, Kenny-boy..." she threw a comradely arm around my shoulder,
an arm that could equally choke me out with only a few more inches of movement, "here's the
plan, all right? We're all gonna go and get some karaoke going..."
Karaoke? Aren't you a little old for that?
"And afterwards we're going to be at that little bar that's about a block from your apartment
building. Let's say, oh, ten o'clock or so. Now, when we get there, you're going to be there, and
there's going to be beer ready for all of us...get my drift?"
"...what if I say no?"
"You'll find out what's on the other side of that fence," she jerked her free thumb towards it with a
malicious grin, "as I put you through it."
"..."
"...?"
"... Ten o'clock?"
"Ten o'clock!"
"...okay."
And, one by one, each reason for my high blood pressure walked on by. Some gave me happy
waves, some gave me smug grins, some gave me expressionless faces, some gave me ravenous
glances... I'll let you guess who is who. Cathy was the last to depart, before giving me a completely
innocent smile and asking only one more thing of me for, well, basically saving my life...or at least
most of my head.
"Ah'm, uh...Ah'm gonna go alowng with 'em...wouldja mahnd...puttin this in yer playce? It's awl
snacks 'n' stuff, so it doesn't need the 'fridge...couldja just put 'em awn th' floor're sum-thin?"
Maybe it was the setting sun. Maybe it was the tousled hair. Maybe it was the fact that she was
just a genuinely nice person and we had a blast today. Whatever it was, she could have handed me
a bag full of C4 and I would have taken it home.
"Thanks, Mr. Watanabe!" She lit up that million-watt smile of hers one more time and sort of, um,
twitched in place. This was a different kind of twitching than I saw at the store: she would twitch
in my general direction, then stop. Twitch, then stop. She did this one more time before finally
grinning sheepishly, giving me a quick wave and running off to join the pack, leaving me to a few
hours alone in my apartment, probably on the old Famicom, until I was to become generous host
for their beer bonanza later that night.
I smiled and sighed to myself as I carried both of our groceries back to the apartment building,
allowing myself to think of nothing but the beautiful spring day and how everything looked like it
was dipped in melted gold and rubies in the lovely sunset. It wasn't until I reached my
apartment's door that I realized the twitching was actually a botched attempt at a hug, but the
pressure was probably too much to go through with it, especially after all the lies she had just told
to save my skin. I let my head thud against the door as I turned the key and walked inside. As I sat
on the floor and battled my way to the King of Dragons, I couldn't help but think of three things:
A) Why she wanted to hug me
B) What would have happened if she had and
C) If I really would have minded.
The biggest problem with teaching cute girls is that, sometimes, they grow up into cute women
and come crashing back into your life. And sometimes, they bring along friends who complicate
matters even worse. I honestly don't know why I get so upset over these former students and
their, um, adulation of me, but more and more I get the feeling that the number one thing I
should start looking at isn't any problems associated with them, but problems associated with
myself.
The Pledge

The evening at the bar went as you might expect, with lots of shouting from the shouters, lots of
drinking from the shouters, and, well... lots of everything from the shouters. Those being, of
course, the bombastic trio of Mei Tanaka, Ai Hasegawa, and Cathy McIntyre, the latter of which
was having the time of her life living it up Japanese-style. The beer flowed like a river, thanks to
the bank account of yours truly, and a generally good time was had as we stretched the limits of
what that little bar could hold. But, as all things, the evening had to come to an end round about
closing time...unless you've got me.
"Closing time! Boo!" Mei shouted, semi-drunk as we left the establishment into the quickly
cooling night. As a form of apology for their rambunctious actions, I left a particularly fat tip,
which was probably silly because the amount of beer consumed by our party probably set the bar
on easy street for the next three months. I groaned as I looked at my now completely empty
wallet, which almost seemed to flap its leathery lips and chide me for giving in so easily. Oh well,
at least it was over.
...
right?
"Hey, Kenny-boy!" Mei hung herself over my shoulders, giggling excitedly, "I don't think we're
done partying yet!"
I strained under the muscular weight being pressed down on my shoulders, and tried not to think
of two other things pressing down on my back, "Too bad, all the bars are closing," I said with a
small sense of pride and victory.
"How 'bout the convenience stores?"
And with that, my feeling of victory was dashed as quickly as the preliminary measures for D-Day.
"Yeah! There's one raht daown th' blawck!" Cathy slurred from the rear of our little group,
hanging onto Ami for support.
"How bout gettin' us some more drinks and snacks, Kenny?" Mei babbled into my ear. Her breath
felt warm and slightly ticklish, but the overpowering smell of beer proved to ruin any enjoyment
that my haggard brain may have produced. I tried my second line of defense.
"But I'm out of money!"
"You got a credit card, doncha?" Tanaka's troops had breached my second line of defense in
record time. It wouldn't be long before my headquarters would fall into the hands of drunken,
vivacious athlete-warriors, and she knew it. I turned my head slightly to smell first and see second
a massive smile pasted on her features.
"We'll be waitin' in Ami's apartment for ya, Kenny-boy... whaddya say?"
"No way!" Ami broke in with a shout as she repositioned the tipsy gaijin on her shoulder, "You're
not going to trash my place! Use Ken's, his is already a pigsty!"
Thank you so much, Ami, for nominating me in your stead. Really, I appreciate it so much. I'll
send you a fruit basket. Also, you drank easily as much as the other shouters, so how come you're
not even giddy? Unreal.
"Oooh," Ai lifted her head from Ms. Arakawa's fluffy, sweatered shoulder to voice her approval,
"I'd love to see where Mr. Watanabe sleeps."
"It's decided then!" Mei said quickly, thrusting a fist in the air, "Gimme your key, Kenny-boy!"
"Excuse me? I'm not going to give you my key!" I was possessed by what I felt was a righteous
indignation.
"Then how are WE going to get in while YOU get the drinks?" Mei tightened her arms from
around my shoulder to around my neck, and I knew it was only moments before I'd find myself in
some complicated submission grapple.
"Mr. Watanabe..." I heard Ms. Arakawa's gentle voice approach me from behind, still bearing Ai's
figure on her own, "if it's all right, um... I'll take the key from you. I...I just don't want to see some
of them try to get home right now, you understand?"
When you say it like that, with those big, pleading eyes, how can I possibly say no? In the space of
a few moments I was lifted of my Tanaka-sized burden (Eri handled it surprisingly well, actually)
and off to the local 24 hour shop. After a ridiculous charge on my credit card for snack foods and
all varieties of drinks, I weakly trudged back to my apartment building and up the stairs to my
flat. I felt so embarrassed, with all of them seeing my room in such disarray. But then again, it's
not like my apartment is ever NOT in disarray, so I guess there was no time like the present.
Besides, maybe after they see the ridiculous circumstances in which I live they'll give up their silly,
seven-pronged quest for...whatever it is I'm supposed to be offering.
...
Again, I was proven wrong.
"Ooooh, look! This one's from the year I was born!" Haru giggled with a red face as she held up a
newspaper. Are you really that young? I feel dirty...
"This is an amazing sword, it must be ancient!" Mei cackled, swinging the legitimate antique
around, "What do you think, Eri?"
"Indeed."
"Oh, how interesting! Old boxes and labels from the past!" You too, Ms. Arakawa? Here I thought
no one would enjoy my fifty-year old toothpaste package collection.
"All these magazines, and not one porno?" Ai said with a coy glance over an old imported copy of
Time. Like I would leave those things lying around anyway!
"Naw, Ai!" Cathy hollered from her seating position, still leaning on Ami, "All the good stuff's on
his comp--"
"HEY, EVERYONE!" I bellowed above the commotion effectively drowning out Cathy's divulging
of my, um, personal affects, "SNACKS AND DRINKS, DIG IN!"
Thankfully, the idea of food for a group of girls who had spent the evening living on beer was well
enough received to keep them out of my personal stuff. As they tore into packages of cookies and
candy, I went about trying to straighten things up as best I could. I never thought I'd need more
furniture than for a few people, some of them are just going to have to lay about, I guess...not that
they would mind.
"Wait a minute," Haru's head snapped up, the stick of a lollipop protruding from her mouth,
"should we be pigging out like this in front of Kenny?"
"Bah, like he'll care!" Mei said as she grabbed for some cookies, "besides, I'm going to try my
damnedest not to wind up with a hangover tomorrow!"
"You're right there," Ai chuckled as she tore open a package of potato crisps, "diets be damned, eh
Eri?"
The kendo teacher said nothing, merely watching everyone with her great eyes like polished stone.
Eventually, the feeding frenzy died down, and casual conversation came up between snacking. As
was a disturbing habit, having all seven of them together brought the conversation around to their
collectively favorite topic of conversation: me.
"So..." Ai began, surveying the group in their tribal circle around the sacred goddess of junk food
like it was a political roundtable, "we're all here for the same reason, right?"
There was a general consensus of nodding and syllables to the affirmative. I pretended my drapes
needed fixing.
"And you all do realize that things could get ugly?" Ai continued, snapping a piece of Pocky in a
fairly dangerous manner.
More nodding, more syllables, more drapes.
"Friendships could be shattered, lives broken, bodies...crushed!" Haru punched a bag of crisps,
completely caught up in the moment. Ai patted her on the shoulder.
"I don't know if it'll get that bad," she said, shaking her head.
"In fact, um... why don't we do something to make sure it doesn't, you know... it doesn't happen
that way?" Ms. Arakawa raised her hand like a polite class member.
"Not a bad idea, Tomo. Not at all. And put your hand down, dummy." Ai leaned back and
stretched. It was probably to get my attention, and to show that her blouse's buttons were
stretched to the limit...but I was too busy to notice. My bookshelves are so dusty, did you know
that?
"So, representative Arakawa!" Haru pointed her little finger at the domestic, who had retracted
her hand with a furiously blushing face, "what say you, eh? Do you have a plan to back up this
idea of yours, or are you merely in a filibuster?"
I wanted to tell Haru that a filibuster didn't work like that, and she obviously never paid attention
in my class, but any glance given to the little coven might get me a little unwarranted attention.
How sad, it's basically a conference deciding what to do about me, but if I were to inject my
opinions in, I'd probably really be stepping in it. c'est la vie.
"Um, well...I don't have a...a plan, really, but..." she took a deep breath and clenched a soft little
fist, "I think we all should take a pledge!"
There was a few moments of silence as the idea sunk in. Of course, the next natural question
was...
"What kind of pledge?"
Thank you, Mei.
"It should be a...a pledge that says we won't...we won't be mean about Ken-er, I mean...Mr.
Watanabe..."
"Define mean?" Mei said from her position flat on her back, cracking knuckles experimentally.
"We won't, you know, um...we won't try to hurt each other or be cruel if Mr. Watanabe..." Ms.
Arakawa's eyes looked ready to burst with tears, "picks one of us over another...I'd hate for all of
our friendships to get destroyed."
"So basically, we shouldn't let our friendly competition for Ken become anything but that...a
friendly competition?" Ai looked judiciously over her glasses, as if reading a case before court.
"Sisters before Misters!" Haru squealed, both hands in the air. There was a general amount of
smiling around the circle at the suggestion...except from Ami and Cathy. The former of which was
trying to rouse the latter, who had passed into an adorable slumber only minutes before. How do I
know it was adorable? Because every woman is adorable when she sleeps, remember?
"Hey. Hey, Cathy! Get up!"
"Whah?!" the American mumbled, propping herself up onto one elbow and rubbing at her eyes.
"You're going to want to get in on this," Ami advised, almost dragging the poor girl upright.
"What is it?"
"Just shut up and put your hand in here!" Ami flopped Cathy's semi-conscious arm into the center
of the circle, on top of a pile of snack food casualties.
"Sisters before Misters?" she proposed to the group, who all put their hands in energetically,
except one.
"Come on, Ami, you've gotta put your hand in too!" Mei spoke out in favor of unanimity.
"Like I even want the schmuck," Ami rolled her eyes, but the glares of everyone else around (save
the sleepy Cathy) prompted her to grudgingly slap her hand into the middle.
"Sisters before Misters!"
"Ssers 'for Mizrs..." Cathy mumbled before slumping back onto the floor with a gentle snore. Ami
looked at her with a smile akin to a kindly older sister. Standing and stretching, she made her way
for the door.
"Well, as much as I'd love sleeping on the floor, I've got a bed downstairs calling for me, so I'm
going to head out."
"Arencha gonna sleep here, sister?" Mei goaded, halfway asleep herself.
"No thanks," came a simple reply, and then a door shutting. Ha, I thought, Ami can't fool me. She
doesn't want to keep everyone else up with her snoring! Oh well, it's too late and I'm too tired to
care. One by one, all six remaining fell where they were onto the floor and began sleeping soon
after Ami left. When I was finally satisfied that everything seemed quiet and peaceful, I unfolded
my own futon and settled down for sleep, fully clothed and wrapped as tightly as I could manage
in the blanket. I didn't want to give anyone any ideas, after all, but I was too tired to manage
anything else. My last thought before drifting off into unconsciousness was something along the
lines of: "really? a pledge? This can't be happening. Surely, I am not worth something like this."
When I awoke the next morning, things began to become very real on that exact subject.

I had figured since I had drunk the least amount of alcohol last night (i.e. none), my penniless self
would be the first one to awaken the next morning to tiptoe around my apartment like a cartoon
mouse who wakes up to find himself in a cave full of tigers. However hilarious as that eventuality
may have been, things have a tendency to not work out exactly the way I plan them.
For example: I woke up next to Eri Ozawa.
Not in the sense of she had fallen asleep in my general area. And no, not in the sense that we went
to bed together, you pervs. When I say I woke up next to her, I mean she was RIGHT next to me.
Which, come to think of it, is a little strange, because she originally fell asleep nearly the entire
length of my one-room apartment away in an admittedly cute little solitary ball. So why, for the
love of all things good and decent in this world did she find her way, undisturbed, across my
muddled mess of an apartment to lie down with her face not three inches from my own?
Naturally, I dealt with the situation with as much tact and maturity as I could, meaning there
were many contorted facial expressions and flailing appendages. I can't help it, I'm an excitable
person. Impressively, I managed to do all of this while only managing mute squeaks of distress, so
as not to wake up the other sleeping figures strewn about my apartment in such a way that made
me even more embarrassed for the slovenly nature of my upkeep. But wait, why do I only see four
sleeping forms when there should be six?
Oh, that's because Mei was busying herself rooting through my kitchen, apparently having
exhausted the previous night's snack foods, and Ai was...well, I had no right idea where she'd
disappeared to.
"Heh. I see you're up," Mei's voice was surprisingly quiet as she mocked me from the kitchen. Was
it because she didn't want to wake the others, or had the hangover she dreaded from last night
finally sunk in?
"You don't have any good hangover food," she grumbled, tossing aside my, truly, ridiculous
amounts of tea. If the conventional wisdom says drinking tea will make you live longer, just call
me Methuselah. Also... so it was the hangover! I was right! Haha!
"I could always make you something," I continued the whisper, both for the safety of the sleepers
and my own. I got the feeling that one good shout from me might buy me a ticket on Tanaka Air
straight out the second story window.
"Awww, you'd do that for me, Kenny-boy? Even after I was so mean to you last night?" She
blinked her eyes and pursed her lips, playing up a girlish innocence that was just, um... not her. I
figured after saying that, some sort of apology would be in order for her formerly brusque
handling of last night's festivities, but no such luck. She just drove a knuckle into the top of my
head, tittered "that's sweet," and went off to see if my drapes would close any more to keep about
that assaulting sunlight. I didn't know much about hangovers, as I'm not the biggest beer-blaster
(despite the belly) so I just went with my mother's old standby of miso soup for whenever
someone's feeling low. If you've never tried it, I suggest you do, a bowl of good miso is like health
in a bowl, and makes me wonder why more soy products haven't caught on elsewhere.
Thankfully, I had bothered my mother enough before I left to find out how to make good miso like
she does. Not-so-thankfully, I didn't have anything fresh like she usually does, so it was the
package deal through and through. I set on some tea to get ready as I began the stock. Mei had
busied herself in a twenty-year old newspaper, using it as some sort of light-blocker as she tried to
get a few moments of fitful sleep. Eri was still curled up next to my futon, and had in fact started
to inch her way into the mattress ever so slightly. Haru was asleep in what looked like some
bizarre ritualistic pose, draped over my table in the middle of the room, while Cathy had not
moved one inch from where she had hit the floor several hours ago. Ms. Arakawa had managed to
purloin a cushion for her head, though I wondered why she needed any extra cushioning...
"Oi, Watanabe."
I know that voice. That's a Hasegawa, and may my tongue be plucked from my head if it isn't!
Now where did that coy, low, sultry voice come from?
"There's something wrong with your bath, here."
Ah-ha, so it reveals itself!
I decided the stock was doing well enough and added the store-bought Miso to simmer. Without
bothering to save, or even taking the time to equip myself with a shield or protective charm, I
wandered into the lair of the succubus haphazardly.
"So what's wrong with the..."
"The only thing wrong with this bath," a submerged Ai Hasegawa purred, swirling her long,
elegant fingernails in the bathwater, "is that you're not in here with me."
"...bath," I finished my thought, mainly because it was the last cogent thing that passed through
my head. I remember stumbling blindly for the light switch, effectively robbing my eyes of any
further, um, distraction, and then finding my way out of the bathroom quickly enough to escape
the clutches, but not quickly enough to avoid the catcalls on the heels of my retreat.
"Ooh, you want the lights off? You don't need to be so shy..."
Miso! Miso soup! Yes! Let's think about Miso! There it is, cooking on the stove, lovely miso, miso
miso miso...stop laughing, Mei, this isn't funny! If you don't stop your silent giggle-fit over there
I'll open up the drapes and then we'll both be in trouble! What do you think about that, hm?
"You're hopeless," Mei snorted from underneath the newspaper, "and who's this Ray-gen guy,
anyway?"
Apparently, my classes don't have much of a lingering effect. Oh well...miso!
As the soup became ready, the smell must have triggered a few noses in the room to relay a
message to the boss that something interesting was going on. Within five minutes of Mei getting
her bowl, each of the others had awoken (each with glowing, serene cases of bed-head, I might
add) and asked for one themselves. Even Ai, dripping wet and wearing my own robe (which,
sadly, looked much better on her) helped herself to a bowl. The last to rise, Eri, balked at being
served a bowl, instead settling for her customary tea.
"Sorry I don't have any apples," I shrugged, trying to lighten things a bit with the constantly-
serious former kendo champ. She gave me a look that seemed a little contemplative, a little sad,
and a little dangerous, like always, and took her tea over to lean against the wall and sip
appreciatively. My miso went over well with the assembled group, although I chalked it up to the
cheap knock-off soup settling well on over-drank bodies. As the day wore on into afternoon, we all
began to regret our late starts. Some of us had papers to grade, others had household chores to get
to, and some were missing out on very important exercise routines that seemed all the more
important due to the mass consumption of junk food last night. And so, after a bit of small talk
with nothing in particular of consequence (at least, nothing as bombastic as the previous night's
mass, cult-like vow) they all began to trickle out.
"Thank you for a wonderful time, Mr. Watanabe. I...I'm sorry if I acted a little...crazy or anything
last night, I...I really can't remember..." Ms. Arakawa was as red as a tomato as she gave a quick
bow and exited. Apparently, it only takes a few to put her in the bag, and last night was as crazy as
she gets. Someone call the police, huh?
"Nice time, nice robe, nice bath," Ai began as she sauntered out the door, "but that last one could
have been nicer," she sealed her comment with a wink and was gone.
"Thank you," was all Eri Ozawa said, not even mentioning the journey she took during the night.
Frustrated, I decided to get a few more words out of her...if I could.
"How was the tea, then?" A stupid topic, but anything to get even one word from this lady.
"Good."
One word, I said? Can I risk it all and go for two? Too late, she's already gone.
"Don't worry about Eri, Kenny-boy," Mei laughed as she walked on by, stealing a pair of my
sunglasses without asking, "we put her over there by you to get a rise out of you. Sure worked,
huh?"
"You can't be serious!" I interjected a little too loudly, causing Mei to slap me upside the head.
"Nah, maybe I'm not serious," she said, now taking one of my baseball caps and slamming it on,
pulling her ponytail out the back, "maybe instead she stumbled across the room, half-asleep,
mumbling about a 'teddy bear' and finally settled down next to you."
"That's even more implausible than the last!" I blurted, but managed to keep my voice down,
"which one's the truth, Mei?"
"That's for me to know," she wrenched the end of my nose playfully, but still painfully, "and for
you to want to know."
Oh well, at least she didn't steal anything else of mine. And I'll want that hat back, you know!
"Sheesh, who in yer apartm'nt does awl that darn snorin?" Cathy asked with a knowing grin,
which I returned on account of severe and sudden infection of happy, "Thanks fer ever'thin. Fun
taimes, eh? Ah'll see ya laytuh, Aligaytuh!" And she made her way out, her hair even more
deliciously tousled than yesterday.
Let's see...one, two, three, four, five...where's the last one?
Eventually, I found Haru Yamamoto hiding behind a particularly large pile of newspapers from
the 1960s.
"Aw, nuts," she pouted, "And here I was gonna do all sorts of crazy stuff to your place when you
weren't looking!!!"
"Out, Haru. I'm tired and I've got work to do," I was trying to hide my smile at her antics, and I
wasn't hiding it well.
"Oh, fuu!!! You're no fun at all! Ah well, at least I got some beer and grub out of the deal, hee hee!"
She practically bounced from wall to ceiling to floor on her way to the door, constantly bopping
her head and singing whatever song or piece of music came to mind. Stopping to let me open the
door (something that seemed very, well, ladylike of the little sprite) she clasped both hands
behind her narrow waist and gave me a crazy grin with those narcotic, laughing eyes.
"It was fun, Kenny-ken, we'll have to do this again sometime!" she said, pivoting her shoulders
back and forth.
"I don't think that'll be happening any time soon, Haru," I said, leaning on the door. For as much
sleep as I got, I was still dog tired.
"Oh really? Then what if I went to school tomorrow and told the whole lunch club that you and
that Cathy girl were out on a DATE?!"
My shoulder slipped on the edge of the door and I neatly cracked my forehead into the wood.
Ignoring the goose-egg that was no doubt forming on my noggin, I spun around to the diminutive
little music teacher like a rabid hyena.
"What did you say?"
"Come on," she stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry, "She was afraid of shady guys? You
and I both know that there's no shady guys in this part of town!"
True. I suppose I would be the one classified as the most shady, and that's sad on several levels.
Still...
"How would you know?" I narrowed my eyes judiciously.
"Kenny, I'm a twenty-eight-year-old who looks like she could be sixteen. I'm what perverts dream
about."
I was surprised, first by the hooded appearance of her eyes and second by the deadpan, sarcastic
tone of voice I had not yet heard from this one.
"What do you mean?"
"I know you two were out on a date," the sweetness was back in her voice, but it was as sweet as a
cupcake with a piece of glass inside, "and if you don't want me to let everyone else know..."
Oh no, what's she going to demand? Money? My scooter? My apartment? Some part of my body
for a grotesque trophy?
"You'll take me out next weekend!!!"
...
And there it was. Suddenly, Haru was back to her old sugar-pink self, the glass in the cupcake
completely removed. However, that piece of glass had found its way into the side of my head,
where my temple was suddenly throbbing with a stress-induced headache. Another weekend
trying to have a covert, blackmailed "date," without anyone else knowing. I bet a lot of guys would
kill to be in this situation, but I'd kill them to get out of it!
"I'm thinking Saturday night. We'll see a movie, whaddya say?"
I couldn't say anything. It felt like a dentist was missing the mark and drilling directly into my
skull.
"Glad you agree! Bye-bye, Kenny-ken! I can't WAIT!!!!!"
And she skipped out of my apartment and down the hall. I half expected to see daisies and pink
unicorns come fluttering out of thin air in her wake, but instead all I saw was the shell-shocked
cleaning lady, her mouth gaping open as she slowly trundled her cart past my door.
"Six in one night, kiddo? Way to go! I didn't know you had it in you!"

I never thought I'd be so happy to see Monday and go back to work. That was easily one of the
most difficult weekends in recent memory...except for the one before that...and something tells
me this weekend won't be much different...tell me again why I came out of hiding?
The answer is: to cook lunch for seven lovely ladies, of course!
And, of course, I almost forgot about the whole thing until Cathy McIntyre caught me outside my
apartment for our customary walk to the school, with the deadpan, leaden eyelids of Ami Ishii as a
counterpart.
"Hi, Mr. Watanabe!" the excitable foreigner was in particularly high spirits.
"Uh," Ami's, in contrast, were registering their usual reading of "aloof."
"Morning, folks," I threw a short wave, still tugging on my shoes as I met them on the sidewalk. I
don't know about you, but I just can't tolerate that thing where the back of your shoe folds over
and rubs against your Achilles' tendon. It's just not right.
"Where's th' food, Kenny?" Cathy's blue eyes twinkled with innocence in the early morning
sunlight, even though she knew darn well that I had forgotten the food I had just bought on our
tandem supermarket excursion on Saturday for the distinct purpose of cooking on Monday.
However, never one to let them see me sweat, I handled the situation coolly.
"Aw, crap!"
"Hee hee!" the foreigners giggle seemed to take the edge off of Ami's "forget the food and I'll gut
you like a fish" stare.
"I'm sorry, you two. You might as well head on up to the school, I'm going to be late grabbing all
that stuff."
Ami scoffed and walked off without thinking twice, but Cathy lingered behind. I turned to head
back in and was acutely aware of her presence.
"..."
"Yes?"
"Need a hand?" Came a clumsy reply, "Ah mean, it was a lowt'a stuff you had, an' th' school's a
lawng walk..."
I smiled. I probably shouldn't have, but I did.
"Sure, just hurry up so we're not late, ok?"
Her smile made mine look anemic.
"OK!"
After a mad dash and a quick shuffling of parcels, we were on our way...again. I had to admit, she
was right about it being a much longer walk to the school than to the supermarket, and it
probably would have been a pain to schlep all this the whole way. It's not what you would call a
burden or anything, but small weights after a long time can feel the same as big weights after a
short time, in my experiences.
"Ah daon't know if Ah thanked ya fer Satterday...an' Sunday," she added, sounding a little
embarrassed. I suppose, out of context, it sounded a little shady.
"No problem, it was fun," I didn't have to lie there, it actually was a lot of fun. I suppose the only
non-fun things were the threats from Mei and the, um, advances from Ai.
"Ya know, Ah only started bein' sweet on ya 'cuz Ah knew it'd drahve Awmi up a wawl," we made
our way up the gradual slope to the school, "but yer actually kahnda...nahce."
She gave me a smaller smile than her usual 1000 watt output, but there was something extra
hidden inside it. However, I was too busy fretting about her use of the N word... but I'll let it slide
because she's new to the language.
"Well, I appreciate the stamp of approval," I chuckled, reshuffling my grip on the bags, "after all,
you're part of the Pledge now."
"Plehdge?" She said it like.
"Yeah, you don't remember?" I said with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek, "oh, that's
right, you were partially unconscious for the whole thing, weren't you?"
If I were working for the Academy, I'd give myself an award for that acting display, especially
because it elicited the desired result in my audience: Cathy looked thoroughly worried now, her
brow furrowed and her eyes feverishly moving back and forth, as if trying to re-chronicle the hazy
events of Saturday night. Finally, she gave up and, as a true American, resorted to anger.
"Grr, that stupid Mei! She jus' kept pushin' beer aftuh beer at me, even aftuh Ah dis-tinctlee said
no more! Ah even did th' oh-ffishul Japanese 'no more' sahn language over th' rim of th' glass, but
she wouldn' listen!"
"That Japanese beer will get you, I suppose," I kept up my sagacious facade, all the time giggling
like an idiot on the inside.
"Ah think Ah'll have some words with that tawl drink'a wawter," her fists were tight little balls
brought up close to her face, the grocery bags dangling sadly, forgotten. As much as I craved
front-row tickets for what was bound to be a titanic confrontation, I had to say good-bye to Cathy
after we dropped the bags in the Home Ec room's refrigerator. I was preparing for my first class
(like any good teacher, thirty minutes before class begins) when Akira walked in, taking his usual
place on top of my desk. Picking up one of the two cups I always have set on my desk for he and
myself, he guided the little ceramic curio over to the thermos. Remembering his misfortune of a
few days ago, he shot me a sideways glance.
"Go ahead," I said, not even looking up from my hastily scribbled plan, "it's brewed and ready."
Apparently satisfied, Akira grabbed himself a cup of tea and began blowing on it.
"Haven't seen much of you lately," he said, gazing out the window for the freedom that was almost
eight hours away.
"Yeah, sorry," I felt in fine form this morning, waiting for the perfect comedic timing. There, he's
taken a drink, do it!
"I spent Saturday night with seven women,"
Ha! How do you like having tea on the windows when it's your turn to clean up, Akira?
"W...what did you say?" he coughed and spluttered drops of green tea all over himself.
"And most of Sunday morning," I leaned back with an exaggerated sigh, putting my feet up on the
desk.
"You do realize that a dating sim on your computer doesn't count, right?"
"Oh yes," I was relishing this moment. I wasn't sure whether Akira would go pale with shock, red
with jealousy, or green with envy. So many choices...
"Was it...them?!"
"Yep," I indicated that he should pour me a cup of tea, which he gladly did in exchange for
information.
"I'm surprised you made it to work today, champ," he handed me the cup with a wink.
"Oh, it sure was tough," I blew cautiously on my tea, "took 'em all out for drinks..."
"Yeah?"
"Brought 'em all back to my place..."
"Yeah?!"
"They started to get sleepy..."
"Yeah!!"
I really had him dangling now. It was time to reel him in.
"So we all went to sleep. What, did you think something dirty happened? Sheesh, you're such a
perv."
As if on cue, the bell rang for first classes. In a fine act of mock-indignity, I smartly finished my
tea, got up, and made my way out of the teacher's room, leaving Akira flabbergasted with two
empty teacups in each hand. It's a good thing he has first class on break, it'll take him that long to
recover.

Home Ec Class

I have to admit, classes are getting better. Perhaps seeing me in a different environment where
I'm not the authority figure is helping change some of the students' personal opinions of me.
Maybe my own brand of lunacy is spreading. Maybe they're hoping I'll knock out Ms. Arakawa
too, because if anyone expects more of their students than they are expecting to give, it's Ms.
Tomoko Arakawa.
In my class, you expect it. I'm wearing a tie, I do a lot of talking, it's a sit down and learn kind of
class. In Ami's class, you've got to expect it, or you're dead. Those are History and English, the
kinds of subjects you'd figure people would be used to sitting in a class and working hard at...but
Home Ec? Never.
A lot of the students come into the class with the idea that it's just something to goof around in.
Not so with Ms. Arakawa. I think it is her goal to put out a 100% self-reliant population out of this
school that can do everything from making the boss and impressive dinner, to darning his socks
of they tear, to performing CPR on him if he happens to pass out... probably because he's
surprised you just darned his socks.
I took the liberty of asking around in my classes beforehand about Ms. Arakawa's style, and I was
surprised at the results. I figured that sweater-clad, sweet-voiced innocent would be a pushover in
the classroom.
"Her classes are a pain," the first student I talked to grumbled, "I was never expecting to work so
hard in Home Ec!"
"Surely it can't be that bad," because you never work very hard in my class, I'll have you know.
"It's horrible! She asks you to do something, and she's so damn nice about it, so you end up doing
it absolutely perfect because you don't want to see her get upset!"
Ay, there's the rub. Figures, Ms. Arakawa would use her natural gifts as a damsel in distress to
inspire her students to work hard. After all, could those students even bear to imagine what would
happen if they had the audacity to fail her? There may be tears!
"I just couldn't work for a C," the student said, shaking his head in sorrow, "I couldn't stand to see
her disappointed little face."
Well done, Arakawa, well done. Talk about working from a position of strength... and I could
make a leverage or balance joke right about now, but I won't.
With this knowledge already loaded into my memory banks, I went into her classroom armed
with several new weapons. I discarded my signature jacket and tie for one of the spare aprons in
the classroom, and upon my head I placed a battered old baseball cap, turned backwards.
Suddenly, I felt like it was twelve years ago, and I was at my old college part-time job. The same
old hat had that same old smell, and I flexed my fingers eagerly as all of the old habits and
mannerisms of the short-order cook came flooding back to my memory.
"Oh, Mr. Watanabe! I see you're dressed to work!" Ms. Arakawa's smile was worth the couple of
grease burns I would no doubt receive today, "you've had some cooking experience?"
"A little," I said with a satisfied grin. Just wait, I would show those Rogues that I knew a thing or
two around a kitchen!
"Would you like to help those two over there, then? They're...well...they need help."
I was like a whirlwind that day, all around the classroom helping students with whatever they
needed. Then, like some kind of superhero, I would whoosh away to the next person in need of my
assistance...because Ms. Arakawa sure wasn't any help. It seemed like every time I turned around
she was spilling something, tripping over something measuring something wrong, what have you.
With each mistake her face got redder and redder, until she resembled a tomato in a sweater.
"I'm all right, Mr. Watanabe, I'm all right! Please, just go help the students, I'll clean up here!" she
fidgeted nervously after managing to pour flour all over one of the countertops, prompting me to
ask if everything was okay for the umpteenth time. After a long class period of countless goof-ups,
the students finally ate their own cooking (which, with my help, turned out to be fairly palatable)
and cleaned the place up for the next class which was, oddly enough, our little lunch club. I
removed my hat momentarily and dabbed some sweat away from my brow as the students filed
out of the classroom.
"Sheesh, what was the deal with Ms. Arakawa today?"
"I don't know, she's usually got it together!"
My ears perked up at that little bit of scuttlebutt and, like the idiotic glutton I am, I hungered for
more.
"Do you think it had something to do with that other teacher?"
"You mean Watanabe? Probably. I mean, Ms. Arakawa hasn't done anything like that for any of
the other teachers in here."
"What do you think it means? You couldn't possibly think that..."
"And what reason do you usually turn bright red for, Aiko?"
Of course, as the word spread like wildfire, the general consensus became that Ms. Arakawa had
become a spastic fool as a direct result of my presence. The reactions ran the gamut, from some of
the female students:
"It's so romantic!"
"What's so special about the dorky History teacher?"
to the male students:
"What's so special about him? I've got a better chance with Ms. Arakawa!"
"Yeah, who does he think he is? If he wasn't a teacher I'd..."
So, by the time the classroom was empty, I was bombarded by roughly 48% angry glares, 26%
supportive smiles, and another 26% confused glances. The girls seemed fairly split, and the guys
seemed fairly mad. But, as is my curse, there's really nothing I can do about it. Ms. Arakawa came
shuffling up to me between the class and lunch and spent about five minutes bowing her
forgiveness and saying "I'm sorry" fourteen different ways, and in three different languages. It
was actually quite impressive.
"You're lucky," I said with my arms folded across my now-splattered apron.
"Wh-why?" she looked on the brink of tears as she finally stood up.
"I asked some of the students before class about you as a teacher, and they told me you were good.
If I only had this performance to go by, I would have had to give you a bad evaluation."
"Oh no! Please don't! You just surprised me, Mr. Watanabe, is all...I had no idea you could cook,
and you worked with the students so well, I was just amazed and then I stopped paying attention
and...oh, I'm sorry! You could come in later in the week, I promise I'll be better!"
I laughed a little and gave her a little knock on the head with my baseball cap. She responded with
an adorable little squeak and confused eyes, which seemed now to be pulling back the tears.
"No need," I said, "I trust you."
I added that little bit in what I hoped was a nice and friendly smile, but Ms. Arakawa's reaction
was probably not quite as friendly as I would have liked to see. I think she would have gone in for
a hug if the rest of the gallery hadn't stormed in that very instant and started demanding food,
specifically mine. I have to say, that was the first time I was happy to see them all come barging in
like that, because if Ms. Arakawa would have, um, attacked me, I don't know if I would have been
able to control myself!

Of Noodles

"So!" Haru plopped into a chair, "what's for lunch, Kenny?"
"That's for me to know, and you to find out," I said, twirling a spatula expertly.
"It's noodles, isn't it?" Ami's voice cut through the lunchtime chatter like a knife, effectively
silencing all other noises as the entire group of them waiting to hear my answer. Suddenly, this
was some kind of duel, and Ami had just pulled an assault rifle to my slingshot.
"...yes."
The room exploded with laughter from everyone (besides the reticent duo of Ami and Eri,
naturally) but I wasn't all that worried. After all, I'd spent almost three years in college working at
one of the local fried noodle stands, I had the skill of it down to an art form. Akira and I both
called that place our home away from home, dishing out some of the best noodles in Japan from a
secret family recipe. I can still remember the old owner kicking us out of the kitchen at night so he
could put everything together for the next day. If I remember correctly, the guys we trained as
replacements ended up buying the place from the old man. If only for a few different twists of
fate, I may have become Japan's Golden Boy of Noodles instead of Education...but that's how life
is, I suppose. Besides, after almost twelve years of experimenting, my only basis being the
delicious memory of the old man's recipe, I think I've finally managed to figure out his secret.
My hands knew all the motions, still after all these years. The smells, the sights, the sounds were
all the same, so much so that I slipped into a kind of higher state of consciousness. My actions
came before I could even put them into a thought, as if I had been brainwashed into being some
kind of noodle-frying robot. I guess this is what they mean when they say something becomes
"second nature." It's like breathing: you don't think about having to breath in and out, but you do
it anyway. For me, all those years of frying noodles had made it as simple as breathing.
"Here we go," I said, slinging seven plates up on the counter, "now tell me those aren't the best
fried noodles you've ever had. I dare you!"
Mei, Haru and Cathy took the plates as a personal challenge, snatching them away with fierce
gazes, determined to prove me wrong. Ai took hers from me with a wink, purring "I wonder what
the secret ingredient is?" Ami grabbed the plate with a thoroughly unimpressed look, and Ms.
Arakawa nearly put her plate out the window as she tried to make her way to the table. With a
quickness that even surprised myself, I managed to snag the plate before it completely left her
grasp, and shot out my other hand to catch the woman herself around the midsection before she
got a face full of linoleum. Polite applause came from the trio who had just seconds before
threatened to dishonor my noodle cooking ability, and scared little squeaks came from the lady
my right hand was currently supporting.
"Eep! I'm...I'm so sorry, Mr. Watanabe...I don't know what's come over me today, I'm not
normally like this in a kitchen, you have to believe me, I--"
"Don't worry," I deftly tossed the plate of still-steaming noodles onto an open spot at the table,
"didn't I already tell you it was no big deal?"
"Okay then, I guess so, but...um...Mr. Watanabe?"
"Yeah?"
"Are you going to let go of me?"
With an "eep" of my own, I quickly returned Ms. Arakawa to a standing position, taking a lot of
care not to touch, or even look at, any place on her body that might be considered indecent. With
the tottering steps of a newborn colt, she found her way to the table and sat down to eat. As for
myself, I went back and leaned against the counter with my own plate of noodles. I never felt right
sitting down to eat when I was in the Noodle Zone, so I decided to keep the tradition going. Heck,
if this was twelve years ago I never would have even gotten a break to eat on my shift. I was just
finishing my first mouthful (They were perfect, by the way. The old man would be proud.) when I
noticed that there was still one plate left on the counter.
A-ha. Of course.
Ozawa.
Little Miss Apple'n'Tea hadn't even gotten up from her seat where she remained like a doll, only
moving to sip her tea or nibble on her apple. I don't know what came over me, but I decided that
this wasn't going to happen today. After all, my noodles were getting rave reviews!
"WOW!!! I've NEVER eaten noodles like THIS!!" Haru squealed with delight.
"Ah jest maht eat th' chowpsticks too!" Cathy giggled. The two then decided to to portray rabbits
and started gnawing on the cheap little pieces of wood.
"I gotta admit, Kenny-boy, they're damn good," Mei patted her muscular stomach and gave me a
grin, "are there seconds?"
I threw a sideways glance at the neglected plate.
"Not yet."
"Mmm," Ai was taking her sweet time, eating each individual noodle in her own, um, special way,
"phenomenal."
"Y-yes, they're very good," Ms. Arakawa was still a light shade of red, "is this your own recipe, Mr.
Watanabe?"
"It reminds me of some noodles I once had at a shop over by Tokyo U."
Thank you, Ami, for raining on my parade yet again.
"It's good," she continued, "but I always thought they could use a little more spice."
Somehow, I'm not surprised... wait, you carry hot sauce in your purse?
"Actually, Ami," I tried to look aloof and modest as I leaned against the counter, "Akira and I used
to be the head chefs over at that noodle joint. In fact, you probably ate noodles cooked by the boys
I trained."
There was a general sense of astonishment and admiration around the table. I couldn't tell if it
was a good thing that made me proud, of if I should feel a little insulted that they were so
surprised. However, all of that took a back seat to the fact that, despite the ranting and raving, Eri
Ozawa had not even twitched an eyebrow. Sip, munch. Sip, munch. Sip, sip. Munch, munch,
chew. That cup of tea and that apple were mocking everything I stood for, and I would not stand
for it. No inanimate object mocks Ken Watanabe!
(the other one!)
I put the plate on the table, the noodles still warm enough to eat. Little by little, I edged the plate
across the table by centimeters until it was directly in front of her.
Still no reaction.
I took the apple from her hand as it journeyed to her face.
She merely took it back and took a bite.
I snatched the teacup from her hands and drank it all myself.
She reached for the kettle. Now that's just too much, Ms. Ozawa. Not only did you do all of this
with absolutely zero expression, but you didn't even flinch when I drank you tea, which is as good
as an indirect kiss! You just sit there with your big old lantern eyes, looking straight ahead and
eating the same lunch over and over. Doesn't that get boring?
...
Wait, maybe it does.
Maybe, like me, she's just become a robot when it comes to eating and doesn't think about it
anymore. Maybe she needs something to break her out of it, because eating the same thing day
after day and actually thinking about it would probably drive you bonkers. I wonder...
"Ms. Ozawa."
I managed to get her to turn her head and address me with a tiny nod, the teacup still clasped in
her surprisingly small hands.
"Ms. Ozawa, it would mean a great deal to me if you had some of these noodles. I made them for
everyone, after all, and everyone includes you."
There was a slight quiver under her left eye, as if something was breaking inside. She turned back
to face front, and brought the teacup to her mouth again. I stuck out my arm and grabbed her
wrist, a move that very easily could have gotten me beaten to a pulp by the former kendo champ.
Once more, she slowly turned her head to face me.
"It would really mean a lot to me," I said in a voice I hope only the two of us could hear, "I want to
know what you think."
The teacup twitched and bounced as Eri kept trying to drink from it, but I kept stopping her.
"You don't need to torture yourself by doing that," I said, throwing a glance at the tea, "please,
have a noodle or two...for me?"
That last part was a little cheesy, I'll admit... but darn it, I was desperate!
Slowly, the teacup came back down to the table with a small thud. With slow graceful movements,
Eri neatly picked up the half-eaten apple and handed it to me, like a cat presenting a
disemboweled rat as a sign of gratitude. I gave her a smile, and she turned just the tiniest shade of
red. Whatever was breaking behind her eyes had either been smashed completely, or had been
sealed up and buffed, because there was something in her eyes that was shining now. With the
practiced skill of a Zen monk, she carefully split her chopsticks and, with everyone looking on,
began to eat. I turned around quickly and tossed the apple away, spinning around just in time to
see a noodle disappear into her mouth. Even her eating seemed awfully quiet, like the entire room
had been wrapped in foam.
"Well, how is it?"
Nothing lasts forever. Thank you, Haru.
I saw her swallow the noodles and take a sip of tea. She looked at me with those shining eyes, and
gave what I thought was the ghost of a smile. Turning back to everyone else, she took another pile
of noodles in her chopsticks and nodded.
"Good."

There are days where you look at a clock, or a calendar, or a sundial, or whatever you have handy,
and that shocking sort of realization just rushes into your mind like the deluge of Gilgamesh:
It's Only Monday.
Maybe it's because you stayed out particularly late during the weekend and your body hasn't
caught up yet. Maybe what was supposed to be an easy beginning to the week ended up turning
out like someone nailed you in the head with a hammer. Then, there are those especially horrible
kinds of Mondays, where you know it's going to be tough, and you try to prepare, but you still find
yourself looking at the clock as the day winds to a close and saying:
"It's only Monday?"
"You said it," Akira slumped on top of my desk, neatly covering up the work I was trying to
complete, "just one of those days, huh?"
I tried to commiserate with him, but I know the look on my face said something more akin to
"don't even start with me." Akira must have been able to read me (what are friends for, anyway?)
because he pulled a face at me and continued in a mocking tone.
"Of course, I'm sure your day was so much worse. Tell me, was it the one with the giant breasts or
the one with the awesome butt that attacked you today? Or maybe it was the adorable energetic
one, or the mysterious silent one, or maybe any other of the gorgeous women who have had a
crush on you for a DECADE?"
I made to yank one of the papers out from under his chin, which neatly pulled his head forward
and his throat into the edge of the desk, effectively silencing him and causing him to stand back
up. Massaging his neck, he put on a satisfied smile.
"You know, you could always loan one or two of them out to me if you're feeling a
little...overworked?"
"I don't think that's a good idea," I said, placing a paper into the "done" pile. To be brutally
honest, Akira? Three of them would rip you in half, two of them would run you ragged, and one of
them would dispatch you samurai-style before you even got the second finger on her. How can I
say this, Akira? You leer.
"Anyone ever tell you you're selfish?" he stuck his tongue out at me.
"Anyone ever tell you you're a pervert?" I shot back, trying to sound angry but unable to keep the
corners of my mouth from levitating into a smile.
"Only my therapist...but she was hot, so I didn't pay a lot of attention."
"That's it," I groaned, "I'm done."
I tried to hide the fact that I was collapsing into giggles by shoving myself away from the desk and
the ridiculous amount of papers that lay on top of it. Because I had left after my initial student
teaching, I had never actually had my first official year as a teacher. In the first year of official
teaching, well...let's just say you're under the microscope. Yes, you're under the microscope, and
someone keeps zooming in, crushing you slowly with the magnifier, little by little as all of your
little bits of goo squish out into the slide. Eventually, the entire slide breaks and is discarded,
where another one is waiting to take its place and be...examined.
What am I teaching? To whom? When? Where? Why? How? What kind of shoes will you be
wearing? How many times do you blink during the average class? Are pandas white with black
spots or black with white spots? Also, keep in mind that a single wrong answer could doom your
educational career forever, leading you to find only the kind of work the most destitute would
want to do, like work in fast food. What's that? You like working in fast food? Then we'll make
sure to find something you hate. Why? Because you didn't file your weekly progress report with
the staples in a vertical direction. Have a nice day!
"You look pretty harsh, pal," Akira said as I leaned my chair back on two legs, "wanna grab a bit,
or maybe a couple of beers?"
I let the chair fall back on all fours.
"It'll probably only be one beer, but that sounds like a good idea. Besides, I've got quite a story to
tell you."
So, over a few yakitori and some beers (I took the lion's share of the chicken skewers, but Akira
made up for it by enjoying the vast majority of libations) I explained the entire situation:
After Eri finally started eating, there was something of a miniature celebration in the Home Ec
room. Through all of the excited talking about Ms. Ozawa's startling openness, or the suggestion
of other foods for her to try, Eri silently inhaled the fried noodles I had cooked with rapid,
military-like precision. As I stood next to her, I didn't hear a single slurp of a noodle, click of
chopsticks, or even sounds of happiness or displeasure as she ate. Yet somehow, I could tell it was
the happiest anyone had seen her in a while. By the time the bell rang, Eri found herself in a
position she really wasn't used to: a position of attention. With a week full of dinner-dates with
her girlfriends, the glorious combination of fear and excitement was almost written on her face as
they all went to leave. I've got to say that that feeling is probably one of the most exhilarating in
the world: a new challenge awaits you, but you can't wait to get there.
Then, of course, there are the challenges that sneak up on you, and you're dragged into them
kicking and screaming.
"That sure was good, Kenny-ken!" Haru erupted as they all filed back into the hallway and,
ultimately, their first afternoon classes, "maybe I'll just have you cook for me on Sunday!"
My heart crammed itself into a swimsuit two sizes too small, then climbed the high dive and did a
pretzel-twisting dive into my stomach. Had she really just said that? Had she really just said that
in public? Had she really just said that, in public, around the entire rest of that group? Wait, wait,
hold on... it was between classes, so it's perfectly feasible that no one heard it.
"What's going on Sunday?"
Mei Tanaka. I think I would have preferred the Marquis de Sade.
Haru, naturally, froze her face into a picture of startled, embarrassed, poleaxed shock, rendering
her completely useless. I myself found my feet to be surprisingly heavy as I tried in vain to rescue
the situation, but apparently in that last five seconds the door to this classroom moved five
hundred miles away. Mei's eyebrow twitched as she jumped to the worst possible conclusions...or
at least, the worst as far as she was concerned.
"You two don't have...anything planned...do you?"
"Eegh, aagh, ergh, yah, muh, neh..."
Haru's avant-garde poetry was doing nothing to calm Mei's building fury. By now, of course, the
rest of the ladies had caught on that something was fishy, and had formed a bit of a bottleneck at
the entrance to the Home Ec room.
"Please, students, it will be a moment before class can begin," Ms. Arakawa said sweetly as she
closed the door, effectively sealing me into what was quickly becoming some kind of tribunal. Her
kind demeanor dissolved as soon as the door shut completely as she joined the inquisitive mood
of five other pairs of eyes.
"Seeing as how Haru's...unresponsive," Ai glanced sideways at the still-frozen Haru, who was
mumbling through nonsense syllables as if they were some kind of regimen, "I suppose we'll have
to ask you. Now, there are two ways we could do this..." she pulled out a chair and leaned over the
seatback (If I hadn't been so terrified I probably would have noticed that her blouse was in
desperate need of a few more buttons), "we could do it the easy way...or the hard way."
I gulped audibly, the taste of fried noodles replaced by nervous bile.
"Easy way, please," my voice cracked.
"Oh, fuu," Ai pretended to pout and walk away, but her animated eyebrows told a much different
story. My next inquisitor was Ami Ishii, who was flanked like a Mafia don by Eri and Ms.
Arakawa, both affixing a serious glare to their faces. Ami, on the other hand, looked at me with
hooded eyes that had already passed judgment before a word of defense could be uttered.
"So what are you doing on Sunday?" Her voice was mockingly friendly, almost conversational. If I
hadn't made the food myself, I would have sworn Ami was about to tell me it was poisoned.
"Well, er, I, ah, haha..." my hand rocketed to the back of my head in a classical sign of discomfort.
I could feel myself breaking into a cold sweat all over as Ami moved ever closer, most likely
flexing her talons for the death-strike.
"Well?" Her voice was like the cold shudder of the guillotine blade. Finally, I couldn't bear it
anymore. My head sunk into my chest and I said what may as well have been a confession of
treason.
"Ha...Haru and I have a d...we're going to go out on Saturday. Saturday...night."
In the old days, a man would be lined up against a wall and shot at by six or seven guys with rifles.
Before this would happen, they would often offer him a cigarette to calm his nerves, or a blindfold
so he didn't have to see it happen. What did I get? Fried noodles. Good fried noodles, but
nonetheless it didn't quite have the same...panache. I screwed my eyes up tight as I waited for my
punishment, and wondered what it might be: a roundhouse kick from Mei, perhaps? Or maybe I'd
get a kendo blow from Ms. Ozawa? Who knows, Ai might have some kind of plant toxin that will
make my eyeballs turn inside out or something. Whatever it is, I hoped that they would make it
quick. Then again, for such an egregious affront (in their mind) they may want to make me suffer.
Hell hath no fury, et cetera.
When I finally found the courage to re-open my eyes, I didn't see accusing eyes, but disinterested
backs. Now, I'm not saying that the back sides of any of these girls were disinteresting, but rather
they had taken their attention off of me...and turned it to Haru. As an interesting side note, When
cornered and worried, Haru apparently loses all control of any sort of native language.
"Is this true, Haru? Are you and Kenny going out Saturday?" Mei leaned down from her towering
height to be at eye-level with the little music teacher.
"...uiii..." Haru managed to gurgle.
"Oui?"
"Yaaaa..."
"Ja?"
"Dahhh..."
"Pick a language, girl!"
Haru finally chose something most people could understand: a nod. She had seemed to turn red
all over which, despite their common root, does not match well with her sugary pink ensembles.
This seemed strange for Haru, who usually would say whatever came to her mind with no thought
of the trouble it might cause someone else. As the music teacher was put through the paces of just
how, when, where, and why, I saw her toss an occasional glance through the inquisitive crowd
towards me, as if to apologize. Why apologize, I thought, you're taking most of the heat off of me.
In fact, they're probably so surprised that the "little girl" actually beat them to the punch that
they've put me from their mind almost completely!
In the little time there was left before the next class started, the rest of the Rouges must have
gotten the Sunday morning story out of the little lady at least six times, with poor Haru struggling
to insert different verbs for the sake of originality. Eventually, they all left, most of them shaking
their heads and laughing at being beat out by the runt of the litter, so to speak. As the students
were finally let into class, I said my goodbyes to Ms. Arakawa (once again telling her not to worry
about the evaluation) and caught up with Haru near the stairwell.
"Hey, Haru, can--"
"Waah!" her eyes were brimming with tears as she rounded on me, immediately falling into a
successive pattern of bows that got deeper and deeper, "I'm so sorry, Mr. Watanabe, I'm so sorry!
I didn't mean to say that, it just slipped out, and now we're both in a sticky situation and I could
have avoided it if I just would have kept my mouth shut but I never do and I really should because
it gets me into trouble like this and now--"
"Haru!" I shouted and waved my hands as if I were trying to scare off a bear.
"Waaah! I'm so sorry! Now I've gone and talked too long and I know you want to say something to
me but I'm just so embarrassed and nervous and you've got to believe me I'm new at all of this
kind of stuff, Mr. Watanabe, I'm even surprised I asked you out in the first place and--"
Seeing no other choice, I reached out and prodded the end of her button nose with an index
finger. It managed to stop the torrent of gibberish and, after a comical crossing of the eyes, she
looked up.
"Aren't you going to beep?" I said with a smile.
"b...b..." the tears in her eyes and the sobs in her throat were proving to be a little too much. Haru
Yamamoto was finally off-key.
"beeep..."
"There, that's better. Now," I took the finger off her nose and handed her a tissue, "there's no need
to be so upset, Haru."
Surprisingly enough, the girl even blew her nose on a clear, unwavering note.
"Th...thanks, Kenny," she stammered, "I'm actually really impressed you're handling all that
happened to you so well."
"What do you mean?" I asked, happy that she'd stopped all that 'Mr. Watanabe' nonsense. I mean,
she didn't even call me that when she was my student! "From what I saw, you were taking most of
the damage from the others."
"Oh..." Haru dabbed at the corner of her eye, "I guess you didn't hear then."
My eyebrows, which had been previously high with curiosity, had plummeted to a low and
furrowed line.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Er, well..." she fiddled with the tissue until I snatched it out of her hand and tossed it in the
nearby bin. With a startled squeak, she began.
"Well, you see...now that they know about you and me and Cathy..."
"They know about Cathy?" that lovely feeling in the pit of my stomach had returned with a
vengeance.
"Uh, yeah...haha...sorry?"
My face probably said anything but "it's all right," but that's what I said.
"Go on."
"Um...yeah, so they know now, and, well...I guess you could say that the games have begun. Yay?"
Don't make this sound like it's some kind of fun! And since when did I become a game?
"Games, Haru?"
"Kinda-sorta, yeah... like a tournament, I suppose. Last one standing gets the prize!"
"Oh..." I smiled sweetly, "and just what is the prize, then?"
Apparently, Haru wasn't all that well versed in sarcasm.
"You, silly! So you'd better get ready!" Her bubbly mood seemed to have reappeared inexplicably,
so she gave me a cheerful good-bye and skipped off down the hall to her classroom, while I
climbed the stairs to endure an afternoon as a marked man. Every dropped pencil, every strong
gust of wind, every cough from a student had me ducking behind whatever was near. Something
my students took great care not to snicker at. I suppose I should appreciate that, but them not
knowing the situation made them appear particularly heartless.
"Mr. Watanabe?"
"GWAH!"
"...?"
"Oh, sorry, Hanako. Did you have a question?"
"Shimonoseki. Was it a battle or a treaty?"
"Er, actually both, you see...eep!"
"Mr. Watanabe, why are you trying to hide behind the podium?"
"Didn't the door just open a tiny bit?"
"...not that I know of. So, which one is going to be on the test?"
"Which what?"
"Shimonoseki! Is everything okay, Mr. Watanabe?"
"Yeah, yeah...everything's fine, Hanako, but thank you for being concerned. Er, try to focus on the
treaty for the test."
"Thanks, Mr. Watanabe. And, if you don't mind me saying, you might want to cut down on the
tea."
See what I mean? Completely heartless. They don't know that I could be attacked by violently
affectionate women at any point, they don't know that I have to keep myself in a cat-like state of
awareness at all times to avoid such attacks, and they don't know that I could very well be torn
into seven pieces before Winter Break!
...
But they do know about Shimonoseki. I guess you take the victories where you find them, eh?
Cracka-boom

"So that's my story," I said, stealing away the last chicken skewer in the vain hope that it might do
something to dissuade my melancholy. Alas, it did not. Akira, meanwhile, was dissuading all over
the place by drinking basically everything that wasn't nailed down. I managed to stop him before
he drank the water in the table's vase, but only barely.
"So now they're stepping up to their 'A-game,' huh?" he said, reaching for a yakitori but realizing I
had eaten the last one. With a pout, he crossed his arms in front of his chest. Yeah, sure Akira, as
long as I'm paying you'll eat them.
"I suppose you could say that," I grumbled, jabbing at a napkin with one of the empty skewers, "I
really don't know what to expect. I mean, Golden Week isn't even here yet and I'm terrified for my
very own well-being."
"You might get a break for Golden Week," Akira said, coming into the idea, "I bet a lot of them
will go on vacations and stuff."
"Yeah, but then it'll be nothing but 'I bought you this souvenir, Mr. Watanabe, please say mine's
best!' seven times over, and if I choose one I'll be bludgeoned by another."
"Oof, right," Akira leaned back in this chair, "I never even thought about that. Tell me, does that
thought pattern come with experience, or just from being a sad sack for most of your life?"
"A little of column A, a little of column B," I smiled over my beer and drained it, "Okay Akira, your
round's next."
"Aw, man..." my skinny compatriot whined, "you know, these suits don't come cheap," he crowed,
pulling at the lapels of his signature black ensemble.
"Then you're getting robbed," I snorted as a seam busted loose under Akira's prideful grip, "now
go get me another beer."
Grudgingly, he roused his lanky frame to pick up another round, and I had a moment to think
which, depending on the circumstances, can be a good or a bad thing. However, the beer had me
feeling warm inside, so I wasn't being too hard on myself. Isn't it funny, though, that the time I
spent as a student teacher taught me so many valuable lessons on dealing with young women?
Not dealing with in the sense of actually accomplishing anything, more "dealing with" in the sense
of learning how to properly jump out of a foxhole when a tater-masher plops into your lap. When
I first started student teaching, I would walk into class and a student would say "hey, I like your
shoes." Originally, I would have smiled and accepted the compliment, but now I know better than
to cuddle the grenade to my bosom.
It has come to my attention that no youngster does anything without wanting something in
return. No matter how selfless or kind it may seem, a young man or woman will always have some
ulterior motive to benefit themselves. It may be something as simple as buttering up the teacher
for a good grade, or it may be something more abstract such as a subconscious feeling of
satisfaction in the act of doing good to someone else. Yes, it often seems that well into adulthood,
people rarely do things for no reason other than to just be kind. Even the smallest decisions can
be done for some reason to benefit oneself, which is I suppose a very primitive part of our
development. I mean, the monkey-men of yester-eon didn't go about procreating and evolving for
the sense of duty in continuing the human race, they did it because of the, um, well, personal
reward...and how did I manage to make myself uncomfortable in a conversation involving only
me?!
Before I could confuse myself any more, Akira returned with two beers. Cheapskate, I buy you
four and you only buy yourself one. Those suits better be made by magical elves.
"There ya go. Yebisu, right?"
"You know it," I said, taking my second glass as he took his...what...fifth?
"I suppose if I was drinking the fancy stuff I'd only have two as well."
I gently cultivated the foam like a mother hen tending to her nest.
"What, you're trying to say I'm some sort of beer bourgeois?"
"Yes, and you exist only to oppress me, the Pilsner Proletariat!"
"I think we've found the real opiate of the masses," I chuckled to myself as Akira poured it down
like water. Does he ever taste the stuff? Then again, drinking such cheap beer, I wouldn't want to
taste it either. Living in Hokkaido for a decade really allowed me to craft my love of beer into an
art form. Let's just say my old man loves to take brewery tours when he gets a day off.
I was just about to enjoy my brew when that familiar little pitter-patter sound began to ring out
on the roof of the little izakaya next to my apartment.
"Hm," Akira looked at his empty beer sadly, "looks like it's starting to rain."
"Right," I said, taking my first glorious sip, "I heard something about the possibility of it storming
up tonight."
"Fantastic. And here's I've got a ways to walk until I get home. Stupid rain."
Akira returned to pouting and gazing hungrily at the still-empty plate where the yakitori had
been. I put down my beer and listened to the rain start to increase.
"Sounds like it could be a real boomer," I said, turning my eyes to the nearest window, "I kinda
hope so, actually. I've got to say, I love--"
"NO! No no no no! N-O! Do NOT say it!"
I put down my glass and gave Akira a strange look.
"Don't say what?"
"Do not go for that old, cheesy, hackneyed line of 'I love storms.' It's absolute garbage! No one
likes storms! Storms can flood your house, wash away your town, and royally mess up your
upholstery! Storms aren't cool. If they were, people would have storm-clouds over their heads
when they are happy, but they don't! What do they have?" He jabbed an accusatory skewer at my
nose as I fumbled for an answer.
"I, er, uh...a happy, smiling sun?"
"That's right! A happy, smiling sun! It is universally agreed upon that sunny days are happy days,
where stormy days suck! Think of those old radio shows: 'it was a dark and stormy night,' and
then some old duffer gets axed! Or how about Hemingway? Bad things ALWAYS happen to that
guy in the rain!"
Wait, you've read Hemingway, Akira? I'm impressed.
"Rain isn't cool. Rain is garbage. No one likes to be cold and wet, or struck by lightning, or blown
away. Do you like having that suit of yours soaked through?"
"No..."
"Do you like the idea of a couple thousand volts pulsing between your ears?"
"No, but..."
"How about the idea of being caught up in a typhoon and thrown 500 miles away?"
"Well, of course not!"
"There, you see? No one likes storms!" Akira put down his glass with a thud, and it was at this
time that I noticed the rest of the patrons were watching him like some old orator in the days
before radio. It's too bad no one had a soap box.
"No one likes storms. If someone says they like storms, they're lying. The only people who say
they like storms are the people who want to convince you that they're cool, or intelligent, or 'dark
& mysterious' or 'tortured & dangerous,' so you'll go ooh and aah and think that they're something
special. Believe me, I've tried it before and it works...but it's not true! It's like people who force
themselves to be sad so they can seem more poetic or artistic, and trust me, that one works too.
But mark my words, here and now... no one really likes storms!"
By this time, the semi-drunk Mr. Saito was posed like Sir Edmund Hillary at Everest's summit:
one leg up on the chair, one arm raising his empty beer glass high like a standard. Upon
completing his spontaneous announcement, he sat back down with a satisfied look on his face,
and was chased by a few scattered bits of applause. As I tried to hide behind my beer, an old man
walked up behind us and tapped Akira on the shoulder. I was almost certain he was going to ask
us to leave...but no, not before I finish my beloved Yebisu!
"Young man, can I have a word with you?"
"Fire away, sir," Akira began casually, but ended formally.
"I just wanted to say..." I started drinking my beer faster and faster, determined not to be kicked
out with it unfinished. Oh, but I was losing so much of the complex flavors, my father would be so
ashamed! Forgive me, Dad, but you know it's special circumstances, glug glug glug...
"I just wanted to say that I agree with you 100%!" The old man cackled through wrinkled cheeks. I
am so sorry, Father, because now there's Yebisu running down the front of my shirt as I gape in
surprise. How callous of me.
"I'm always hearing these young people talk about how much they love storms, but I bet none of
them ever had to work out in the rain and the lightning! They just want to seem like they aren't
scared, like they're all tough."
"I know!" Akira laughed, "It's like, if they say they're not afraid of lightning, they'll become some
kind of superhero! It's ridiculous!"
"Ah, but they're just kids. They wanna impress us old folks 'n act all tough. Although, I've gotta
say you're doing a number on your old man over there, ghee hee hee!"
Old man?! I'm younger than he is, for crying out loud! Is it the gray hairs? It must be the gray
hairs. Stupid Akira and his high school physique.
"You know what, kid?" The old man continued, "I think I'm gonna buy you a beer, cuz I like the
way you think. You think the old guy can handle another?"
"I think so," Akira nodded, throwing a wink at me that almost got him a beer glass up-side the
head, "two Yebisu, if you wouldn't mind?"
"Oh ho ho! And the kid even has good taste! I might just have one with you, Sonny!" the old man
then tottered off to get our beers, as I quickly dabbed at the beer on my shirtfront and fixed Akira
with a deadly glare.
"Yebisu, huh? Whatever happened to the Pilsner Proletariat?" Akira only answered with a wink
that looked far too cool with his roguish features and sharp goatee.
"Hey, it's not bourgeois if you get grampa to pay for it!"

Music Class

The rain eventually abated, and it was late by the time Akira and I stopped being force-fed beer by
an old man and made our way home. As such, I missed the call from Haru, but there was a
perfectly perky message on my answering machine:
"HEY Kenny! Just calling to remind you that you've got MY class to observe tomorrow, hee ha
ha!!"
She sounds a little too...gleeful about this.
"So, make sure you're there and stuff and, you know, get ready for some FUN! Oh, and sorry
about today and everything, total ditz move on my part, huh? Oh, and make sure you get LOTS of
sleep because it'll be a high energy class, you better believe it!"
I wouldn't doubt it. Also, don't worry about the sleeping, I'm so full of beer I won't last five more
minutes. Also, could she throw in another sentence that begins with "oh?"
"OH, and I almost forgot!"
Game, set, and match.
"Make sure you start thinking about DESTINATIONS for our little, tee hee, get-together
Saturday! You know I'm a proper lady, so it's your responsibility to show me a good time! Okay,
g'bye Kenny!"
One more saccharine giggle, and the message was over. I went to bed soon after, but thankfully
the amount of alcohol in my system allowed for me not to be plagued by noises, thoughts, or
really anything else. John Philip Sousa could come marching by, and I wouldn't wake up. All of
the worries and cares I went to sleep with would have to wait until another day.
Or, roughly five hours.
It wasn't until I was halfway through washing my hair that it suddenly all came rushing back. I
have to be ready for her class? Is she going to make me actually do something? Great, I could
either wind up as a noodle pro, or with a bloody nose. And what's this about I have to find out
how to organize the, um, thing we're going on? She's putting me up to this, why do I have to set it
all up! When Rome invaded Carthage, they didn't ask the Carthaginians to salt their own fields!
And what's this about her being a "proper lady?" She's basically blackmailing me into a...into
a...you know...a DATE!
The thought occurred to me to just drown myself right there and end it all. But then I
remembered I hadn't finished all my Famicom games, and I couldn't leave the fate of that tiny
world hanging in the balance, now could I? With a grimace and a sigh, I toweled off, switched out
of the clothes I fell asleep in, and changed into what I was going to wear today. And yes, before
you ask, there was a difference. The tie was blue.
Before I knew it, the first few classes had flown by without hardly a hitch, and the hour of my
dreading was nigh. The auditorium was almost recognizable from the first day of school, where I
had found Haru screaming at her student's lackluster essays, and I suppose the only way to
describe the remodeling was to say that the place had been...Harufied. What was once a bland,
brown stage of wooden floors and dull curtains was suddenly adorned almost everywhere with
bright, vibrant colors, teaching everything from the scales to classical Japanese music to Andy
Warhol-esque portraits of the great European composers. No doubt the fusion of sound and sight
would be breathtaking...but I couldn't tell if it was going to be in the good way, or the bad way.
"KENNY!"
The bunny rabbit masquerading as a music teacher bounded off the stairs and up the aisle until
she was far too close to me for any two instructors who weren't, you know...together.
"Do you like what I've done with the place? It was just so BORING before!"
"It's definitely...you, Haru," I said, scratching at an eyebrow. I don't think she got it, because she
responded with a gleeful cackle.
"Nya hahaha! I know! And my class ain't like anything you've ever seen, either! Have a seat near
the back there, but make sure you pay attention! If you don't, I might just call on you..."
The jabbed at my chest with a little finger to drive home the threat, then bounced off again to take
her place behind the desk on wheels that had been put on the stage for her. One by one the
students trickled in and, no matter what their mood, Haru managed to get them smiling before
they sat down on the folding chairs.
"Hey, Mr. Kurosawa, lookin' sharp!"
"Yo, Ishikawa! High Five me, girl!"
"Awww, come on, Mr. Yamada, don't look so glum. Can I get a little bitty, teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy
smile?"
In the face of such ageless cuteness, no one could defend. Mr. Yamada eventually broke down, but
only until after Haru began crossing and uncrossing her eyes in a ridiculous manner. Haru really
knew her strengths, and she played to them, but thankfully none of the students either disliked
her enough, or were crafty enough to exploit her weaknesses. Truly, it almost seemed like Haru
could have been a student along with them, rather than their instructor...but hey, it works for her,
so who am I to judge?
"Hey! Where's Tamura?"
Haru glanced around the class like one of those gopher arcade game, seeming to pop in and out of
different places.
"Ms. Yamamoto," the formerly grumpy Mr. Yamada raised his hand, "I heard from a friend that
Yuki was out in the rain last night and caught a cold."
The color drained from Haru's normally rosy cheeks, much like they had done yesterday.
"R...really?"
"Yeah. Sorry, Ms. Yamamoto."
"It's OK!" she punched the air in a false display of fortitude, "luckily, I've ALWAYS got a backup
plan!"
Anyone in the class could she that was an absolute lie. I don't Haru ever planned for what could
go wrong. The class probably tried to make sure nothing did go wrong, because no student ever
wants to console their teacher. It's not pretty. Much like when one of your teachers springs
something on another one of your teachers in the middle of class, and the other teacher has to
pretend like nothing's wrong, and it's all gone as planned.
"My backup plan is...right back there!"
Yeah, she's pointing at me.
"Mr. Watanabe has agreed to show us a little bit of his musical talent today in the place of the
aforementioned sickly Ms. Tamura. We couldn't just let him sit back there and do nothing, right?"
The class seemed awfully into the idea, probably because they couldn't wait to tell the rest of their
classmates how the new History teacher had just crashed and burned like a Spitfire shot down
over London. I smiled embarrassedly and waved to the class, accepting their eager faces and,
concurrently, Haru's challenge. As the class began on their first assignment for the day, Haru
bounced over to me with that smiling face. I'm starting to crave Hasenpfeffer, and here's the little
rabbit for it!
"So, it'll only be ten minutes or something, you can wing it, right?"
"Are you insane? You know damn well I can't sing!"
"Aw, I think you're singing's cute, Kenny!"
"This isn't a time for cute! This is a music class, not some silly little History class diversion! I can't
come up there and sing, it'd be a mockery to every music ever performed!"
"Fuu, Kenny, you're too hard on yourself!"
"Can't you just manage something else?"
"But...I've already promised my students," she began to pout, poking her index fingers together,
"and they seem really into it. I don't wanna lie to my students, Kenny, but if you're really not okay
with it, I guess."
"Fine!" Lousy loli guilt. I still had an ace up my sleeve, but I really hadn't wanted to pull such an
embarrassing card, "I'll do it. Just...stall them for a while, okay? I've got to run to the cafeteria."
"The cafeteria?!" Haru's whisper was bordering on no longer being a whisper, "this is not time to
get hungry!"
"Just stall them, dingbat!" I hissed as I got up and skittered out of the auditorium as quietly as
possible. Haru should have known I wouldn't ditch her. Not only wasn't it not in my own personal
character, but she was still blackmailing me for the weekend. Then again, the cover had been
blown, so what do I care about this weekend?
I suddenly had a picture of a crying Haru Yamamoto. Damn my charitable heart.
By the time I returned, Haru was doing her best to stretch out that morning's lesson on
pentatonic scales. She gave me a bit of a sour look as I entered, and I shot one back that I hope
said "I'm sorry." I managed to vault onto the stage in one swift movement (sometimes I amaze
myself) and took my place next to Haru as she finished up in a rush.
"OK, so, that's it, put all your notes away, and remember we'll go over it again on Monday, just so
you didn't forget anything...right, now! Mr. Watanabe's going to give us a little impromptu
concert, so all of you can see how important it is to have music in your life, no matter what you
study! Mr. Watanabe, do you need anything?"
I stepped forward, looking for all the world like I wasn't carrying anything. I could tell Haru was
nervous...was I actually planning to sing? Thankfully, I already knew the truth, so I was able to
reach into my jacket's inside pocket with a bit of a flourish to really play up the drama of the
moment.
"Can anyone tell me what I'm holding in my hand. Anyone? Anyone?"
The students all looked at me as if I had pulled my still-beating heart out and was going to play it
like a barrel organ. Finally, Ms. Ishikawa tentatively raised a hand.
"Yes, Ms...Ishikawa, was it?"
"Yes, sir."
"All right, what do I have in my hand?"
"They look like...I think...are they...spoons?"
"Ab-so-lutely! High five, Ms. Ishikawa!"
Somehow, mine didn't quite have the gusto of Haru's. Oh well.
"Yes, I am holding two ordinary spoons from the school's cafeteria. Thankfully, they serve plenty
of noodle soup, so there were a few spare ones I could borrow. Now, why would I be bringing two
spoons to a music class...anyone?"
I threw a glance over the class, and even Haru looked befuddled. With a grin, I took one of the
spoons and placed it under my last two fingers with the bowl pointing downward. I put the other
spoon between my thumb and index finger, then formed a fist.
"Now, I've had most of you in class," I began, and was greeted with a good number of nods, "so
you all probably know that I'm a big fan of American stuff."
More nods.
"In American folk music, especially in the South of American, it used to be common a while ago to
play these spoons," I waggled them a bit and let them clack together, "as a musical instrument.
See?"
There were few nods this time. I think most of the students thought I was full of it. I decided that
the only way to get them to believe me was to give them the real deal. Once again, living in remote
Hokkaido for a while allows you for a lot of free time to do what some people might consider
really boring. Not me, though. I had those spoons clicking and clacking in a furious rhythm on
anything I could get my hands near: walls, tables, myself, the students, I even bounced a few off
Haru's head, who was still in a bit of shock at my unknown mastery of quaint percussion. Not to
be outdone, Haru began plunking out something on the piano, both of us matching up until the
students had no choice but to smile and laugh. Some even clapped along.
It seemed like I had just started when I heard the bell ring, effectively ending the nerdy jam
session and sending the kids off to lunch, most of them shooting ridiculous looks at me before
leaving. Let's just say I'm not the coolest teacher in this school and be done with it, okay?
Haru, on the other hand, was absolutely enamored with my slight talent for something musical.
By the time we had reached the Home Ec room for lunch, not only had she grilled me on the
entire history of musical spoons, but had even snagged mine from me and was making a decent
show of playing them herself.
"See? It's really not all that hard, Haru. I just needed something to pass the time and keep me
from biting my nails. It's really not anything special."
I held open the door and Haru walked in, throwing me a rather strange look as she passed by. It
was surprisingly mature, and just a little bit unnerving as to just how, um, meaningful it seemed.
For the first time, I think I saw Haru as "pretty" rather than "cute."
"Oh, Kenny-kenny...you just don't get it, do you?" she bonked the spoons off my forehead, which
was as high as she could reach, "It IS special, because you're doing it."
My own look was probably much less mature and pretty. Haru just shook her head and let loose
that little giggle.
"You're hopeless."

Haru spent most of lunch banging on anything (and anyone) in sight with the spoons she had
snatched from me. As expected, I didn't really get a whole lot of warm, thankful looks from the
rest of the Rogues for introducing the music nut to a new time-killing noisemaker. Finally, on the
ridiculous pretense that she needed the spoons for something, Ms. Arakawa was able to spirit
them away to some out-of-the-way little alcove of the Home Ec room.
Haru, still being...well...Haru, busied herself by drumming merrily on the tabletop and humming
something I couldn't quite place. Maybe I was having trouble discerning the tune because some of
the extra percussion was so off the beat. You see, on the other end of the table, Mei Tanaka sat
grinding her teeth so audibly that it was interfering with Haru's solo. The little musician, of
course, was lost in her passion and absolutely oblivious to the fact that she was beginning to
annoy almost everyone in the room.
"For the love of everything good and decent, Yamamoto..." Mei's voice was like a growl. Lunch
hadn't been served yet, and I didn't completely put it past Ms. Tanaka to simply eat Ms.
Yamamoto in order to get her to stop the racket... but don't tell her I said that. Finally, I decided
to take the initiative, slapping both of my hands on top of Haru's. This effectively stopped the
drumming and sought to bring Haru out of her musical state of euphoria. Unfortunately, Mei had
also decided to take her own brand of action regarding the situation, and by the time I had leaned
over to stop Haru's drumming hands, the cookbook was already mid-flight.
I think I said something like "blarf," but I can't be certain. When I came to, I found that my head
was now accompanying my hands on top of Haru's drumming fingers. The little music teacher's
voice was the first thing I heard.
"Do I move him?"
"It could be dangerous," said Ai in a very professional tone. It's nice to know she only pulls out the
purrs and growls to torment me...or is it?
"His brain's not gonna fall out or something...is it?"
"Sheesh, Haru, don't be dumb. It's just a book, he'll be fine."
Although I appreciate the compliment to my personal fortitude, I do not approve of you trying to
avoid punishment for nearly braining me with a book.
"Someone has to do something!" I heard Ms. Arakawa's tentative and worried voice, "he could be
suffocating or something, couldn't he?"
"Only if he fell into those things of yours, Tomo."
Ami Ishii, glib as usual. At this point, my own personal spec-check had cleared, so I raised my
head slowly.
"Ow," was all I could really manage. However, it was enough for everyone to assume I was all
right.
"Thank goodness you're all right," Ms. Arakawa breathed a sigh of relief from the counter. Wait,
are you telling me you didn't even leave your cooking to see if I was all right?
"I think I'll be okay, even though I may be taking a few aspirin with my lunch. What's on for
today, anyway?" I picked up the book-cum-projectile and glanced at the title, rather happy that
there was no blood on it, "I hope it's nothing from Mount Fuji, I may have an aversion to it after
being attacked by the whole mountain."
Ms. Arakawa gave me a smile and mentioned what was for lunch, but it really wasn't anything
worth remembering. Her food's good, but if it's not noodles I tend to tune it out. I went to turn my
attention back from the counter to the table when something registered just on the edge of my
vision. Turning my head as far as it would go to the left, I was surprised to see Eri Ozawa perched
over me like a vulture.
"Gah!"
The remained motionless, like she was made of stone, those big, lantern eyes blinking at me with
deep brown irises that registered worry. Recovering from the shock of having someone behind me
who apparently made no noise, I swallowed hard and addressed Eri shakily.
"Ms. Ozawa?"
She nodded slightly.
"Is everything... okay?"
She blinked once more and placed a hand on my head where the book had hit, rubbing gently.
Although it felt really good, it wasn't all that necessary.
"It's all right, it's all right, um, Eri...I'm okay, really. You can...you can go sit down, okay?"
She gave me a look that seemed to question my own assessment, but relented and silently padded
back to her seat, her apple, and her tea. I was about ready to fight another battle over Ms. Ozawa's
culinary choices when...
"Ummm...Kenny?"
I turned back to the table at the sound of Haru's worried voice.
"Yeah, what?"
"Umm...you're still holding my hands."
I got embarrassed. That was my first mistake. Doing so took any of the discomfort away from
Haru and allowed her to play up the whole situation as, well, Haru would play it.
"Ooooh, Kenny, kenny, kenny...if you wanted to hold my hands you should have just said so!"
"No, it's not like that! You were drumming on the table, and..."
"Did you think it was a mating song?" Her voice was silly sweet, and her face had the kind of smile
you'd expect the boatman to have once you paid him two coins.
"What? No! That's ridiculous!" My hands were starting to wave around wildly. I was walking right
into the trap, why couldn't I stop myself?
"You do lots of ridiculous thing when you're in loooove, Kenny..."
Like a cat you just fed an entire steak, Haru began rubbing her head on my shoulder and making
sickeningly sweet mewing noises. I could feel the blood rising to my face as I ran a quick check
around the table. Thankfully, Ms. Arakawa had gone back to her passion of cooking, and was
blissfully unaware. Mei was cracking her knuckles dangerously, fixing me with a particularly
cutting stare. Cathy gave me a big thumbs up, which, although positive, really didn't help in the
situation. Ami soon pulled her away for a conversation about English class, barely even bothering
to even look in my direction.
Ai had a look of cold satisfaction on her face, and I didn't quite understand why until she pulled a
syringe containing a strange, viscous green liquid out of the front pocket of her lab coat. I'd say
breast pocket but...you know...and more importantly, what the heck was in that syringe that made
her seem so confident? Finally, Eri had returned to her position, but was eating her apple
particularly voraciously while glaring not at me, but at Haru and her antics. For the sake of Haru's
well-being, I gently pushed her away, trying my best to not give her a look that would give her the
wrong idea. Let's see, how does one use a single look to convey the message, "knock it off or you'll
get kendo-slapped into the next prefecture?"
"Haru, could you please?"
"It's all right, Kenny, I understand..." she placed both hands in her lap shrugging her shoulders
upward and looking the picture of an innocent maiden, "we'll save the rest for our..."
No, please, don't say it...please. I'll do anything. I'll re-tune the piano, I'll scrub the stage, I'll even
sing, just don't say...
"date!"
If I don't make it out of this room alive, tell Akira he's entitled to nothing.
"Argh! This isn't fair!" Mei screamed, now picking agitatedly at the end of her long ponytail, "we
shouldn't designate who gets to spend time with Kenny-boy here just by blackmailing him over
and over again. Besides, the guy's got enough gray hairs as it is!"
If I wasn't so sure you were doing this for your own benefit, Mei, I might even be touched. Aw, to
heck with it...thanks, Mei.
"We need to find some way to figure out who gets Ken, and when. What do you think, Tomo?"
"This sauce isn't right yet, sorry!"
"About my idea, bird-brain!" Mei was now chewing on her ponytail.
"Oh? Wait..." she tried to remember what Mei had just said by tapping the ladle to the bridge of
her nose a few times, leaving a little mark of sauce each time. It appeared to work, because it got
her approval. Ai voiced her support for the idea as well and, thankfully, put away that dangerous
looking syringe with an only slightly unsettling wink in my direction. Ami couldn't be bothered to
answer, but Cathy gave a covert nod to her approval. Eri took time out of winnowing her apple
core to give to quick, sharp nods, obviously very much in favor of the situation. Finally, it all came
down to Haru, who thought about it for a moment with a finger to her lips, as if thinking on what
kind of flavor shaved ice she wanted from a street vendor. Finally, she answered.
"Does it mean I'll get to take Kenny-ken out on more dates?"
Stop using that word! It's just...weird!
"Of course," Mei said with authority.
"Now, wait, just a minute here," I stood up from the table looking just a little perturbed, "aren't
you basically arguing about my life and my time here? Since when am I some kind of commodity
to be traded around like a comic book you all pooled your money to buy? This can't be legal,
it's...it doesn't even seem humane!"
"All those who care what Kenny thinks about this, raise your hand!"
I raised my hand in defiance, determined to win the impromptu vote Haru had proposed so
gleefully. Sadly, even if I would have raised both hands and my feet while managing to somehow
levitate, there still would not have been enough votes. I was voted into irrelevance, and placed on
the trading floor like sought-after stock. If you think this sounds like fun, I'll gladly switch with
you. Most guys can't control one woman in their life, and here I am being forced to juggle seven.
Think about it for a second, guys...being thrown around this Rogues' Gallery is not as fantastic as
you think.
But I wonder...will they bring back that ridiculous wheel?

Let me just give you a quick run down of everything that happened to me before Saturday. Now
that the theoretical gloves were officially "off," I was facing a future as a marked man within the
walls of this high school. As it was the first week before Golden Week, our first big vacation of the
year, all of the Rogues thought it best to really bring their "A" game and make an impression on
me before we all departed for separate vacations which, knowing them, would probably be time
well spent thinking of new ways to torture me.
First off, I figured the dark cadre would give me a moment's peace after a lunch that saw me come
under heavy fire via cookbook mortar. Sadly, the second half of Tuesday would not turn out to be
a rest stop for me, as I found myself alone and locked in the teacher's room with a ravenous Ai
Hasegawa. After chasing me around the room for a good five minutes, I managed to trip over my
own feet and get a face full of floor. Seizing the opportunity, Ai leaped on top of me like a mule
that had gone lame, and proceeded to give me a disturbingly enjoyable full body massage with,
um, her full body. Only the appearance of the janitor spelled my salvation, opening the door to the
curious scene and distracting Ai long enough for me to scuttle out into the hallway like some kind
of overweight crab. I couldn't tell if the janitor was looking at me with surprise, jealousy, or anger
that we may have made a mess in there, but I didn't stop to ask as I galloped my way out of the
school on all fours, only hoping not to pull a Dan Patch when I hit the front door.
Wednesday saw a return to my harrowing days of student teaching, which was less nostalgic and
more neurotic. However, I like to think that I've gotten a little more clever in my absence and, as I
passed the ladies' room on the first floor, I remembered enough instances of Mei hurling the poor
Ms. Arakawa into my path to deviate my walking far to the other side of the hallway. The only
problem was, the other side of the hallway was now the Home Ec room.
push.
"KYAAAAH!"
And I get a face full of sweater-filling. Ah, just like the old days. Good thinking to Mei, knowing I
would remember and switch to the other side. If I wasn't babbling like an idiot and making red-
faced excuses to an equally red-faced Ms. Arakawa, I might find time to congratulate her but...you
know how it goes.
Haru attempted a flying hug/tackle on me after school on Wednesday, but thankfully her habit of
constantly drumming on things and signing to herself alerted me to her presence. The old Ken
Watanabe would have heard that and, like a moron, turned around and said "what's up, Ms.
Yamamoto?" But the older, more wiser me quickly dropped to all fours as the little music teacher
turned missile flew overhead, one of her gaily colored sneakers cracking me soundly in the back of
the head. I checked to make sure the only thing bruised was Ms. Yamamoto's pride, and crawled
off to find another second's peace, all the time lamenting the fact that I was spending a lot of time
down on all fours like some kind of cornered animal. Sorry, Haru, but I'm sure you'll let me hear
all about it on Saturday...
Saturday.
If I even make it that long.
Thursday morning saw Cathy and Ami walking with me to school, while Cathy seemed to make a
point of commenting on the heat by way of exhibiting her, um, airy ensemble. If only I weren't
such an American nerd, I wouldn't have known that her clothes were made by a famous American
designer, and I wouldn't have wound up talking about it during the entire walk to school, which
only prompted Ms. McIntyre to flounce about in the thing more and more. Looking at that outfit
(or, more accurately, NOT trying to look, if you know what I mean) I can see why Ms. Arakawa
favors sweaters that sit high on the neck. The, um, security issues of any other neckline can prove
quite hazardous, even on Ms. McIntyre who, while nowhere near Ms. Arakawa, still has enough,
assets to worry about an, um, flooding of the market? You'll have to excuse me, it's warm and I'm
trying to walk with my neck cranked at an odd angle...I think it's cutting off the blood to my brain.
Ami, of course, sniffed and snorted about the whole show, which no doubt she found
disrespectful, but those snorts turned to snarls when the crafty Cathy managed to, with Mei's
help, shove the both of us into the tiny closet in the teacher's room. If you're wondering, yes,
Akira's little cot is still there, and it sure didn't help the situation. In the darkness, the only light
seemed to come from the murderous fire burning in Ami's eyes. As Mei and Cathy cheered me on
from their position barricading the closet door, the fire only seemed to burn hotter and hotter
until, in a feat of superhuman strength, Ami tore the closet door open, scattering the two
schemers like ninepins...but not before they could tease Ami about her face being red, even
underneath the makeup. By the time I dared peek my head out of the closet, Ami was long gone,
and the other two were chiding me for not "going for it," which they both said in English...with
varying degrees of success.
Thankfully, a truce was obeyed during school hours, more for the sake of all of our jobs than for
my own personal safety or sanity. However, as soon as that final bell rang, all bets were officially
off. Any time I was spotted, I felt like some kind of spy who had to simply disappear or face being
captured by the enemy. I was diving behind garbage bins, into classrooms I'd never even seen
before, even out of a first floor window into a bank of hedges to avoid the piercing gaze of Ai
Hasegawa. Any detection on their personal radars would result in looks, touches, smirks, smiles,
winks, nudges, rubs, pats, pets, and a few other things I'd rather not mention, all in the hopes of,
um, wooing me. If I show any appreciation or enjoyment, I risk angering six other dangerous
women, but if I won't at least show some kind of recognition, I'll enrage one dangerous woman,
which is still one dangerous woman too many.
By the time school was over on Friday, I needed that vacation. Hurling myself (or being hurled)
into various confined spaces, along with my full load of my own, um, energetic style of teaching
left me naught but a withered husk of a human being by Friday afternoon, and I had no choice but
to fall asleep in my chair in the teacher's room. I hadn't even been able to get a decent night's
sleep, what with the phone calls to merely wonder "what I'm up to," and the distractions from
Cathy downstairs, who always seemed to show up needing a cup of sugar wearing very little and
with her hair tousled in an almost irresistible manner. She can't know my embarrassing, secret
moe...can she? No, never...I've never told anyone! Ever!
The thought of my secret shame being discovered jolted me out of my calm respite, only to jolt me
even further when I discovered one Eri Ozawa...asleep on my lap.
Yeah, here is where you would put the requisite freak-out.
Apparently, at some point between when I clocked out and when I woke up, Ms. Ozawa managed
to sneak into the room and, seeing me in no fit state to woo, decided that, gee whillikers, she must
have been plum tuckered as well and kneeled down to rest her head in my lap and fall asleep. I
suppose it's adorable, and sweet, and lovely, but it's also two teachers doing something that looks
HIGHLY INAPPROPRIATE in the school they work. Now, factor in that one was the other's
former student ten years ago, and you start wandering into one of those ridiculous American
forensic dramas, with me playing the part of the disturbed teacher who enacted some sort of
hypnosis on my students in hopes of returning to complete his perverted mission. If that's the
case, can I not be on that one in Florida? It's terrible.
Adding to all of this, remember, is Miss Ozawa's former standing as a kendo champion, and her
current standing as a lady who if, say, was suddenly jangled out of a peaceful slumber could,
instinctively, snap my neck like a twig. Not saying I have a pencil-neck or anything, but...oh, you
know what I mean! Suffice to say, I really couldn't make much of a movement in this situation,
aside from the odd quiver and whimper from my chair, trying very hard not to even breathe too
violently. It's not that I fear Eri like I fear, say, Mei and her 300 megaton roundhouse kicks, but I
really don't want to take the chance of waking her until she was plenty good and ready. I've been
known to destroy an alarm clock or two, and I'd rather not have the same involuntary fate befall
my poor soul.
Thankfully, it was either my darn, pesky involuntary breathing every minute or two or my
frustrating habit of contracting my muscles every once in a while that eventually brought Eri
around, blinking owlishly and sitting back on her knees. Her usually blown-straight razor-shorn
bob had not weathered the time on my lap well, and the left side of her head sported an absolutely
heart-melting sideways distraction. I didn't get a whole lot of time to enjoy the mussed and
distressed appearance of the reticent Math teacher, however, before she realized the situation
and, turning red on the top of her round cheeks, she gave a quick bow along with an "I'm sorry,"
and vacated the premises in, well...true Eri Ozawa fashion. To this day I still don't know what she
was planning on doing...perhaps the world will never know.
It struck me as I made my way home that tomorrow was my, um, date with Ms. Haru Yamamoto,
and I had yet to think of something to do about it. Sadly, all of the worried thinking in the world is
no match for a weary body, and I fell asleep before I could even make tea or dinner, knowing full
well I would wake up to an even more stressful situation, craving the vacation that seemed so
close...and yet so far.
Yes, before I knew it, it was time for me to get awaken, wash up, eat a little something, and then
start stressing over exactly what I was going to do that evening. Haru Yamamoto should come
with a label something along the lines of "contents under pressure: do not agitate." Sure, she
looks all sweet and cherubic on the outside, but need I remind you all of the wrath that was very
nearly incurred on an innocent passerby (read: me) on the very first day of school? I can still
remember those keening shrieks of displeasure at the mere idea of someone not understanding
that which Ms. Yamamoto had spent her life adoring: music.
Needless to say, a trip to some local rock 'n' roll club is not in the cards. Like I even know where
any of them are anymore, things change so much in ten years. I suppose I could find some kind of
symphony or something, but once again, I really don't know where to go...and I'm not made of
money. No, the order of the day is something light and fun, yet not too uncultured, much like
Haru herself. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, I didn't think so either.
It's one thing to ask a lady out, then fret all week about putting together a perfect date. It's quite
another to be blackmailed into a date knowing that if you don't deliver, she's got six other friends
who would probably rough you up merely for picking the wrong restaurant, and heaven forbid
you even think of standing her up...the mere thought of thinking such a thought sends a shiver
down my spine and leads to phantom pains from a Mei Tanaka roundhouse kick. I had to come
up with something wonderful, perfect, laudable, and fast.
This would probably be a difficult task for even the most accomplished of Lotharios, but for a guy
who has been on a total of, well... zero dates in his entire life, it's proving darn near impossible.
And before you ask, I'm not a complete social cripple, and I suppose I've had a few close calls to
what some people might consider a date, but I find that "thirty-two years and zero dates" sounds a
lot better than "thirty-two years and four or five maybe-kinda-sorta dates." Just makes the whole
situation seem more...tangible, don't you think?
So, here I go. I'm in my apartment, scrubbed, pressed, tressed, et cetera, et cetera. I pop onto my
computer, trying to keep the small talk with Cathy to an agreeable minimum, all the while
scouring the internet for places to eat, sit, look, watch, smell, see, be entertained, or whatever it is
people do. Honestly, I'm perfectly fine with a DVD and my apartment, but you'd be surprised how
infrequently that works with the ladies. Oh, sure, they all say they're homebodies and they want to
stay home, but as soon as some guy shows up with disposable income, they're suddenly the
Duchess of Glastonbury and only the finest champagne will do. Generalization? Maybe. Does it
happen? Absolutely.
So far, my search is turning out like a plum tree in Siberia: fruitless. Nothing really seems to say
"Haru!" to me yet: some things seem a little too stuffy, but some things seem too childish. That
must be the problem with Haru: she's very much an adult and isn't an idiot, but tends to skew
herself toward more childlike things, possibly because of her diminutive appearance which, even
for Japan, is tiny. The $64,000 dollar question boils down to this: do I want to challenge Haru
with something that may seem a bit more adult-ish?
(no, not like that, you pervs.)
Or...do I want to just keep on the straight and narrow and not rock the boat, continuing to play
the fun-time game with a twenty-eight year old woman who is, indubitably, a woman?
Call me crazy, call me a target for a roundhouse kick, or some bizarre botanical experiment, or a
kendo-smack to end all kendo-smacks...but I think it's time Haru got told "no." She's so small and
adorable that people probably just let her do whatever, be whatever, even if it's something that is
frankly too young for her age. I think it's about time to challenge her a bit, make her into the
fantastic adult that I see glimpses of, and who better to do it than the person whom Haru was
rubbing against like a cat not twenty hours ago? It may be the last thing I do, but I'm going to
challenge the very way Haru Yamamoto lives her life. Why? Because she's worth it.
So, full of vim, vigor, and whatever else inspires a man to do a genuinely foolish thing, I strode
over across my apartment and reached for the phone. Oddly enough, it began ringing as my
fingers were about three centimeters from the little piece of plastic. Oh no, maybe Ai has my brain
bugged with one of her concoctions, and she read my thoughts, and she's here to deliver a
preemptive strike!
(I hear they're all the rage these days in America.)
I'm running through every possible painful predicament I could find myself in for this bold move
on my part (which, I needn't remind you, I haven't even done yet, but that's just me. Expect the
worst and you'll rarely be disappointed.) However, when I take a minute to glance at the caller ID,
it's not a number of anyone I work with. Heck, it's not even a number of anyone in the city.
It's my parents' number calling from Hokkaido.
...
Why on earth are they calling me? Why are they calling me now, just when I was about to make a
brave and stupid gesture! Why are they calling me so close to Golden Week, when I was supposed
to hop a plane and spend most of the week with them? Why are they calling on what appears to be
a cell phone which, if I remember correctly, my father still thinks of as some kind of Black Magic?
"Hello?"
My voice really couldn't have sounded more confused. But, in my defense, I really, really was
confused.

Boog Powell

"Mom?"
"Hello, dear!" Came my mother's customary warm and chipper voice. Honestly, I don't know how
she keeps in such good spirits when the snow starts falling.
"Why are you calling me, and from a cell phone, no less?"
"Isn't it great? I finally managed to pester your father into buying one when the price came down.
We're stepping into the information age!"
Now, I don't know about the rest of you folks out there with parents tentatively stepping into the
world of internet, cell phones, and GPS, but for me this concept is only slightly terrifying. Just
imagine, your parents always being able to find you, contact you, harass you. Popping up on your
computer screens with embarrassing questions about your love life, or disturbing text messages
wondering if you're all right because, you know, you haven't called in three days. The idea of my
mother, lovely and compassionate woman that she is, having almost constant access to what used
to be my technological haven...keeps me up at night. Oh, and Mom? Dad wasn't balking at getting
a cell phone because they were too expensive, he was trying to keep you from going mobile. No
doubt he can't even find a moment alone in the tractor anymore without my mother's misguided
adoration pinging away on his pocket communicator. Sorry, Dad. At least I'm miles away.
I suppose that's what happens when you're an only child, though. Especially with a mother who
has so much love to give. Honestly, I don't know why they didn't have four or five kids, then
maybe Mom's love could have, um, been spread out a little more. As it is, Dad and I love her to
death, but I think she's going to need to find a new hobby...and no, that doesn't mean the cell
phone.
"That's great, Mom," I lied into the phone as those last two paragraphs whipped through my
mind, "is that why you're calling?"
"Partly," I could hear the grin in her voice, "your father and I are actually calling you from a train!
Isn't that wonderful?"
Remind me never to introduce my Mom to Haru. The combined jollity could rip a hole in the
fabric of reality. Pushing that thought aside, I did the idiotic thing and continued feeding her
questions.
"And... why are you on a train, Mom?"
"Well, we decided that it's been so long since we've been off the farm,"
Uh oh.
"And things are going so well that your uncle decided to give us a little free time..."
Family businesses. Gotta love 'em.
"So we decided we'd catch the train down to the big cit and pay our son a visit!"
And there it was. I couldn't even begin to tell my mother than a plane is actually cheaper than
taking the tunnel from Hokkaido, I was too much in shock.
"B...but I thought I was coming up there?"
"We figured your money is tight as it is, so we'd let you save a few yen."
Well, that is true. But I'd budgeted the plane ticket into my expenses, honest!
"So we're coming down to see you for the week. Aren't you excited?"
NO!
"Of course!" I don't know why I was forcing a smile here. After all, we were on a telephone.
"Well, we'll be into town on Monday. We're turning the whole trip into a big to-do, and we're
going to stop at a whole bunch of places on the way-- Oh! But listen to me, just talking and talking
and talking...here's your father!"
There was a brief moment of dead silence, then the first distant grumbles of my old man turned
into full fledged words as the phone was brought closer and closer to his protesting face.
"Unh...hello, son. Hope things are well, not much to say, I guess...we'll be seeing you on Monday,
and BEEP!"
I pulled my phone away from my ear at the strange sound, which was probably a good thing,
because my father started uttering a stream of obscenities one only learns from a career on the
farm. By the time I felt brave enough to put my ear back on the receiver, I only got the tail end of
it:
"...stupid piece of garbage. I feel like I'll break this thing. What was that noise, anyway?"
"I think you may have taken a picture, dear," came my mother's voice, seemingly from far away.
"A picture? Isn't this a phone? Good grief!"
To prevent any further grousing, my mother reclaimed the phone in enough time to say her
goodbyes. Before hanging up, however, she managed to leave just one more cryptic message to
keep me awake for the next two nights.
"Can't wait to see you, son. And we've got a surprise for you!"
As I hung up and set the phone down, I tried to put the idea of this "surprise" as far from my mind
as possible. Besides, I still have a kind of, sort of, pseudo date to plan for this evening with the
mighty mite of the music department, and time's running short. My earlier vitriol shattered by the
surprise parental announcement, I suddenly couldn't find myself dialing Haru in the hopes of
challenging her very lifestyle. Maybe, after chatting with my mother, I realize that some people
can just stay in a sunny disposition and live a very long and enjoyable life. My Mom's approaching
seventy, for crying out loud, and she's still a ball of energy...maybe there's hope for Ms.
Yamamoto, after all.
In regards to little miss music teacher, I finally caved and went the horribly classic route of
"dinner and a movie." I met her at the train station at the agreed upon time, myself dressed in my
usual "it's not work but I have to look nice oh no oh no what do I do?" ensemble, while Haru had
decidedly taken to the evening, wearing the first skirt I saw her in since her high school uniform
and a very Victorian looking pink blouse. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she looked...like a
woman. Now, to you and me dinner and a movie may not seem all that amazing, but to Haru
Yamamoto, the resident Peter Pan, such a concept seemed particularly grown up.
"Wow!" Her eyes goggled out of her head as we walked into the restaurant, "this place is REALLY
nice! A real, grown-up kind of date, how COOL!"
In truth, it really wasn't anything special. But it was a nice, sit-down kind of restaurant and, given
Haru's usual diet of snacks and sodas, this probably felt like a Rockefeller buffet. Maybe the junk
food was what stunted her growth...
"Mmm!" she squealed, not even halfway through the appetizers. Maybe this was going to be easier
than I thought. However, Haru's particular brand of, um, zeal for life was garnering me more than
a few disconcerting glances. Of course, we ended up being sat in the almost exact center of the
restaurant and, to the untrained eye, it looked like this graying academic was having dinner out
with someone who looked young enough to be his daughter. Haru was having a ball, but I was
growing more and more uncomfortable.
"Um, Haru?"
"What's up, Kenny?"
"I feel horrible for saying this, but...could you...um...calm down, just a little?"
"Oh! I get it!" Haru cried with her fork raised in triumph, "you're afraid people will think you're
some kind of cradle-robbing pervert! It happens all the time, it's why I don't get a lot of dates, and
most of the guys who want to go on dates with me are either still in high school or just plain
creepy! But just you wait, Kenny-kenny, I've got something that will put everything right!"
I couldn't even find the words to object. Mortified as I was, I don't think I was even remotely
prepared for Haru reaching into her pink clutch bag and pulling out a piece of paper that read "I
AM TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD" in bright red marker. Affixing the makeshift sign to her
necklace, Haru smiled in satisfaction and gladly accepted her entree from a waiter trying very
hard not to laugh. I, on the other hand, may have started laughing, but it would have been that
out-of-control laughter one had when they are about to lose their mind. What, you've never done
it?
"Haru!" my whisper flew like a stiletto across the table. Haru was startled by the pointed noise,
and with a noise similar to "Muh?" dropped the piece of chicken from her fork, neatly bouncing it
off the sign, and onto the floor.
"Wow! This thing even works as a bib! Best idea I ever had!"
My palm hit my forehead with a surprising amount of volume, and now I heard some of those
other patrons who formerly looked down on my choice of company begin to chuckle. Glancing
around, I saw one middle-aged gentleman give me a wink and a thumbs up, which got him a
sturdy wallop from his wife's purse. The other tables and booths were merely full of couples
chuckling and shaking their heads, no doubt all thinking roughly the same thing:
"What a lively girl. What is she doing out with the boring looking one?"
Sure, they weren't saying it...but I knew.
Finally, the meal came to an end and, despite how many times I mentioned she remove it, Haru
kept her billboard on, only regretting the decision when she was charged full price at the movie
theater.
"Darn. I wish I would have thought of that. Could have saved you a few bucks, Kenny."
Believe me, the look on the ticket taker's face was worth it. Against her better judgment, Haru had
suggested we take in a scary movie.
"It's fun to be scared sometimes!" was her reasoning, so we sat down with a soda the size of Henry
VIII's belt and got ready to watch. As it turns out, Haru doesn't just like to be scared at a movie,
she enjoys every emotion a movie can deliver, and insists on letting everyone else in the theatre
know what emotion she is currently feeling.
"Grrr, that big jerk! I hope someone rips HIS guts out!"
"Ewwww, I think I can see what he had for breakfast!"
"Oh no! I hope those two make it! They're such a cute couple!"
"Yeah! Kill him! Kill him good! I never liked him anyway!"
By the end of the movie, Haru was more of an attraction than the actual schlock on screen. Let it
be said right now that I am not particularly a fan of the average celluloid gore-fest. Maybe after
studying battles and massacres, the idea of someone coming up with new and ridiculous ways to
disembowel someone else just isn't all that pleasing, who knows. Whatever the case, the audience
soon fell into a recognizable pattern:

A) something happens on screen
B) the entire audience whip their necks around with a vigor usually reserved for someone naked
running through the Tokyo Dome
C) Everyone watches Haru's reaction, which is ultimately more entertaining than seeing
someone's fake organs go splat.

By the time the ending credits rolled (with Haru mercilessly booing the killer who, like in all of
these movies, escapes to de-gut another day) most of those in attendance were applauding not the
movie, and not the fact that it was over, but Haru's performance itself. For the record, I was
clapping because the awful flick was over. After more headshaking and smiling, no doubt drawing
the "lively/boring" comparison again, the theater was emptied for the next cattle call of hapless
folks that have no idea what kind of junk they're in for once that film starts rolling.
"Wah!" Haru exclaimed as we exited into the street, "the air in those places always feels
so...gross!"
I didn't have any idea what she was talking about, but I smiled and nodded. Remember, an angry
Haru is a dangerous Haru. We walked along the street, chatting about this and that, finding
ourselves in the popular nightclub district. Now, I think I've mentioned at this point that Ken
Watanabe (the other one) and Nightclub really don't go together. Thankfully, Haru knows her
limits.
"I'm almost a certifiable midget. Me going into one of those things is a sure way to get myself lost,
abducted, or at least really sweaty from all the bad dancers. Gross."
I quite agree. Once again, Haru's maturity shows through. Then again, maybe she just had a few
bad experiences when she was younger, and now is older and wiser.
"Nah, I've never even gone in," she waved a hand at me and stuck out her tongue, "the music is
absolutely terrible!"
Once again, I feel inclined to agree. I can only hear the same repeated bass line for so long before
my head starts to hurt. You know, I'm actually liking this. Not in a date sort of way, because I can
still remember her as a high-schooler and it does not sit well, but just in the fact that I managed to
challenge her childlike ideals just with a simple date concept. If I would have known it would be
this easy and, admittedly, fun...I wouldn't have lost so much sleep about it over the week, and
then I wouldn't have fallen asleep at my desk, which would have lead Eri to fall asleep...well, let's
not think about that anymore, shall we? And where did Haru go?
I noticed that, in my revelry, I had continued walking even though Haru had stopped dead in her
tracks. She stood, transfixed, as if caught in some invisible alien tractor beam. Before I could
wonder if she was going to shoot up into the night sky, she gave a reason for her sudden
poleaxing.
"What is that music?"
She looked like one of those hunting dogs from England. I swear to you, her ears were actually
moving to a raucous beat that seemed to not be far away. Grasping my hand with small fingers
that seemed surprisingly strong, Haru took off on the trail of her musical quarry.
"It's so interesting!" Haru's elated voice came in gasps as we ran, "It's raw and simple and kind of
ugly...but it's interesting! What is it?"
The sounds got louder and louder until we came upon one nightclub, a small and out of the way
one, blaring music that, instead of relying on synthesizers and drum machines, was actually made
up of real guitars and drums. As we finally got close enough that my mere mortal ears could
identify the music, I allowed myself to slap on a satisfied smile.
"What?" Haru pouted as we stopped outside the club, "you know something I don't?"
"It's called punk rock, Haru," I said with a little chuckle, "the music's pretty simple, but usually
sound. Mostly chords and a lot of old rock 'n' roll kind of sound to it, like Chuck Berry and stuff.
Usually, the words are more important than the words, though, so I don't know if you'd like it."
"Are you kidding?" Haru's eyes shone with the prospect of something new, "Why don't you go and
tell Mozart that words aren't important, then see how the Marriage of Figaro goes!"
I didn't have a smart comeback for that one, so into the club we went. Haru looked primed for a
sensory overload, so I stayed close to her as we combed our way along the wall, trying to keep
away from rockabilly-themed fellows in leather jackets and tough-looking girls with crazy hair.
Over the din, Haru managed to scream a few words at me:
"This music...I don't know! It's...good! Really get my heart pumping, even if I don't know the
words! The guys are singing...and they're in tune...and it really...it feels like music, Kenny!"
"I have a few CDs, I'll lend them to you!" I managed to bellow back, tugging on Haru's arm
enough to get her to finally leave the place. I felt sort of bad raining on her parade, but some of the
clientele were beginning to regard us rather, um, coldly, so I figured it was best we make our
escape.
"WOOO!" the little music teacher squealed into the night as we hit the street once more, "That.
Was. AWESOME!"
"I never figured you for punk rock, Haru," I replied, genuinely surprised.
"Me either, but it...it..." she furrowed her little brow looking for the right word, "it ROCKS!"
We continued down the way back to the train station, with me throwing out some bands Haru
might like to look up, and Haru teaching me the intricacies of older music. Apparently, it isn't all
called classical.
"No! There's classical, baroque, romantic, medieval, renaissance, even a modern category to what
you would call 'classical music.' My personal favorite is the Romantics." she said proudly, as if
that made her less likely to die by the next century. I decided to take some of the wind out of her
sails with a sly jab.
"Can't say I know any of the romantic stuff, except all those songs you wrote for me all those years
ago. Would you like me to lend those to you as well? I'm sure you'd love to hear them..."
As anticipated, Haru's enthusiasm quickly swung from energetic to embarrassed, with a red face
and little balls as fists. Punching me with what felt like two tiny pillows, Haru let loose.
"You still have those?! I can't believe it, you crazy idiot! You should have burned those years ago,
they were HORRIBLE! I wish I'd never written them, they were musical nightmares! Oh, you
could blackmail me FOREVER with those things, Kenny, that's so mean!"
I put my hands up in supplication, but Haru took it as a sign to start boxing practice on them.
"Honestly, I haven't listened to them in years, I don't even know if they still work, or if the papers
have crumbled in the dust! I just thought it was a cute little token to remember my time as a
teacher. Little creepy, yeah, but it always nice to know you're noticed!"
Haru stopped her punched then and dropped her arms to her side, looking up at me with two
watery saucers for eyes.
"Oh, Kenny...you never get it, do you? You're always noticed."
She attacked me with one of those patented Haru Hugs, burying her nose into my chest. After a
few deep breaths, she released me, wiping her eyes with the hem of her blouse in a very childlike
manner. It's okay, Haru...you got most of the tears on my shirt anyway.
"Kenny, Kenny, Kenny...you never change..." Haru gave me a small, sad smile as she walked
toward her train. Standing in the door before departure, she gave me one last parting smile.
"You still smell like an old man."
And with that, the train was gone. It was nearly Sunday by then, but I wasn't particularly tired. I
walked the block for a little bit more, thinking to myself and, sometimes, out loud. I thought
about Haru, and how she was caught between two worlds, wanting to keep both but feeling
pressures from each extreme. It must be a little frustrating at times. As far as my life's gone, I've
always been a little more mature and, yes, nerdy, so maybe it was easier for me to make that
transition. Maybe having a real grown-up date for Haru was like taking a big step for her. I think
she's ready.
I never change, eh Haru? Well, I can't say the same for you.
...
And how exactly do I smell like an old man?!

Sunday passed mercifully quickly, which basically meant I spent over half of it sleeping. There's
one thing to be said for a more traditional classroom setup: you don't spend half of your waking
hours grading assignments no one cares about. Call me old-fashioned, but group activities every
day tend to take the power out of giving out grades. It waters down the eventual product. Rather,
to have a few assignments due at key points during the unit would make more sense, as both you
and the students realize that it actually means something. For them, less assignments means they
have to do better on what they do have to turn in, and for you it means the fewer assignments
need to be looked over with a fine-toothed comb so you can make sure everyone is following
along. Too many assignments just bludgeons the student and the teacher into complacency.
All of that aside, however, I knew I had a few doozies to correct once this vacation was over. I told
you about where "doozy" comes from, right? Thought so. Anyway, you can really have the
students go away for a week and completely forget about school, because heck, the teachers don't
have that luxury, why should the students? There's always one or two students you wind up
pulling for, you wind up hoping they'll catch on and get a good grade, because you believe in them
and want them to succeed. Even on vacation, you hope those students are still succeeding in
whatever it is they're doing.
Yeah, I'm one of those who can't leave work at work. I take my work very seriously. Fortunately, I
take myself much less seriously, so I like to think it evens out. For instance, when my parents
called to inform me they were in the big city, and that they wanted to know where I lived, I wasn't
going to worry about damaging my self-confidence by lying.
"Honestly, Mom, I can only really tell you how to get to the school I work at, the shopping district,
and, if I'm lucky, a barber shop. I'll give you and Dad the nearest station, and you can grab a train
and meet me there...yes, Mom, I know where the station is...it's on my way to work, that's
why...yes, I know I should get out more...no, I'm not having trouble talking to people...no, I'm
certainly not having trouble meeting women...no, I didn't mean it like that! I'll just meet you in a
few minutes, okay?"
My Mother was considerate enough not to ask why I went into exile from teaching, and I think if I
told her the entire asinine situation I found myself in, she would either A) be ultimately happy
that I'm finally making friends or B) chide me for running away. Mothers are often hard to read,
Fathers even more so. I can almost see the crestfallen face of my father who, to this day still prays
at the local shrine for a grandson to carry on his name. I try to tell him that Watanabe is one of
the most common names in Japan, but then he just smacks me with the Nippon-Ham Fighters
cap that is almost constantly attached to his thinning scalp. Your parents are your biggest
cheerleaders, but they can also be some of your harshest critics.
They can also, sometimes, be absolutely insane. Like when they came to my apartment on
Monday with my "surprise."
It was a box.
A box that wiggled.
And sniffled.
And made a few other bizarre noises.
...
"Mom? Dad?"
"Yes, son?"
"Why is there a dog in this box?"
"Surprise!"
Thanks, Mom. You really know how to seize a moment.
"He's no more use on the farm, son," my Dad said, scratching under his cap, "got into an accident
with one of the machines, lost one of his back legs there. I wanted to just put him down, but your
mother..."
"I just couldn't! Look how cute he is!"
He was a cute, young dog, a Hokkaido breed. They were my family's preferred farm dog, possibly
out of island pride than anything else, but I remember having plenty of good experiences with
them over the years. But still, a dog, even a medium-sized one like this, in this tiny little
apartment in the city...what were they thinking?
"We've had that same family of dogs on the farm since before you were born, son," my mother
began an explanation that only she could really explain, "and I really didn't have the heart to put
him down because of it. We, that is to say, your father and I, decided to bring him down here as a
little friend for you. You know, a piece of the farm here in the big city, so you won't get lonely."
Lonely, ha. Would you believe there were seven ladies in here only a week ago? No, you wouldn't,
which is why I won't even bring it up.
"He won't move like other dogs will," my father jabbed the little pup in the nose and, surprisingly,
the dog made to lick my father's hand lovingly. Don't tell me Dad taught the dog that his special
breed of callousness actually meant love?
"He'll probably not live as long as other dogs, either."
You're a ray of sunshine, aren't you Dad?
"You probably won't have to worry about him being too jittery or anything, the accident mellowed
him out quite a bit. We just didn't have room for him on the farm if he couldn't work, and we
didn't want to kill him because he's obviously not ready for death."
That's true. The little thing looked awful happy just to be alive, its eyes darting around the room,
seeking to take everything in at once.
"He's already house-broken," my mother interjected, singing the dog's praises, "and he's really
sweet. Just take him for walks every once in a while, but not too far, his leg gets tired back there."
She tickled the dog's single hind leg playfully, to which the little dog gave a playful little bark.
Good thing Cathy and Ami went out for a while, or no doubt that would have brought them up
here faster than an Ohka jet...and probably just as destructive.
"So, you took this dog with you on the train...for several days...just to deliver him to me because
you felt guilty?"
"It was your mother's idea," my father's weather-beaten features left me no possibility of doubting
him.
"We've got everything you'll need to take care of him in this bag over there," my mother pointed to
one of their bulging satchels, which was no doubt full of a peace offering of dog food and other
luxuries I wouldn't have to pay for, "say you'll at least give it a shot, won't you? Just try living with
little Baka for a while and, if you really can't stand it, bring him back on your next vacation,
okay?"
Like I'm going to say no to my own mother. She knew she had me. It was probably the same
reasoning she used on my father to bring the mutt in the first place. And wait a minute...
"You named him Baka?" I said with one eyebrow up.
"Not so much named..." my mother looked a little guilty, "your father just kept yelling it at him so
much that he started answering to it."
"And you're surprised he lost one of his legs?"
"Not particularly," my said dryly, "I'm surprised it was only one."
"Oh, you big grump!" my mother slapped him playfully, which allowed my father one of his rare,
wrinkled smiles. As I was playing guests to my parents, I of course invited them out for dinner
with me. However, my mother would hear nothing of it, partly because she didn't want me
spending the money, partly because she wanted to flex her maternal muscles in my kitchen, and
partly she wanted me to get to know Baka a little better.
Baka...you call someone "idiot" enough, and they'll start to think it's their name. Good grief.
And so I, Ken Watanabe (the other one), came into possession of a young, three-legged Hokkaido
dog to bring some joy and excitement into my no doubt boring and dull life...or at least that's what
my parents thought. The next challenge to face would probably be trying to hide the little idiot
from my landlord without having to pay more for a pet, along with hiding him from not only my
neighbors downstairs, but the rest of the Rogues as well, because adding a dog to the equation
would only complicate things further. By the time my mother had whipped up a respectable
dinner for the three of us (nothing lavish, as we're good old country folk, after all) I had already
created and destroyed three possible scenarios for the successful concealment of this furry little
bundle. As if I needed more stress in my life. Still, as Baka sat by my side and nibbled on a chew-
toy my mother had given him, I couldn't help but feel him start to grow on me. Problem is, there
are a lot of bad things that can grow on you just as much as good things...so which one will the
little puppy be?

My parents stayed in town for another day, but then they found it time to continue their
whirlwind tour of all Japan had to offer. Honestly, I'm glad to see them finally getting out, off the
farm, and into those things they always wanted to do, but felt they couldn't because of either A)
money or B) me. Still, it doesn't keep me from being jealous that they'll be hitting Kyoto over the
next few days. Even me, a confirmed American lover, can't resist the salacious historical delight
that is Kyoto. I really should thank Cathy for not burning that one to the ground, or bombing it
into oblivion. Although actually, did you know that the US government actually spared Kyoto on
purpose, partly for its historical significance, and partly because they figured Kyoto was smart
enough to realize the situation? Neat, huh?
Yes, as you can guess, I've had a lot of time to think over the Golden Week vacation. All of my
normal tormentors are off on various vacations of their own or, if they live close enough, they're
visiting family. I know for a fact that Ami and Cathy wound up going to visit Ami's family in the
suburbs, which means I have no idea when they'll be back, which means I have no idea when the
botheration from downstairs will start. Thankfully, they weren't around for my familial visit, or
things no doubt would have gotten a little north of crazy. Now, if I remember correctly, I think
Mei and Haru took off for a getaway that includes (get this) Mei taking Haru to American football
games and Haru taking Mei to symphony concerts. I know they have a common meeting due to
their, um, energetic behaviors, but if they return from that little excursion unscathed I'll be a
monkey's uncle.
Ai, dutiful little botanist that she is (and I have the suspicious rashes to prove it from her various
herbal "remedies) is off with a bunch of her geeky science pals no doubt trying to find a rose that
is capable of flinging its thorns like javelins or creating some kind of sentient mushroom. I know I
don't know a lot about science, so I usually don't ask. Besides, my imagination is far more fun
anyway, and Ai would sure look a lot better on the movie screen than your average mad scientist.
Did I just say that? Ignore that, if you would, please...
Ms. Arakawa is baby-sitting her younger brother as her parents took the opportunity for a trip of
their own...I think to Okinawa or something, and why you'd want to go some place even warmer
than the already well-warming spring here in the city, well, I don't know. I should mention that
Ms. Arakawa's parents are fairly young, so I suppose they're living it up while they can, before
they turn into the crippled, wrinkled old decrepits they know doubt think my Mom and Dad are.
Oh, and I should also mention that Ms. Arakawa is really only "baby-sitting" in the figurative
sense, as her brother's in his second year of high school. Somehow I get the feeling that Ms.
Arakawa's mother and father are somewhat protective of both daughter and son. I missed having
the son as a student, and I send a little prayer for that divine favor. It's bad enough having the
sister to deal with.
As far as I know, Eri's not in town, but with that girl, you never know if she's halfway to
Vancouver or standing right behind you. It's really amazing, sometimes, to see her make almost
absolutely no noise. I say only amazing sometimes, with those sometimes being times where it's
not meant to freak me out. You should see when she lines up at the drink machine. The person
ahead gets their drink, turns around, and usually spills half of it on themselves in shock. I usually
laugh, then go back to my own drink while I do a little reading during my recess. I swear, Akira's
rubbing off on me, I'm assigning less and less homework and having more free time when, well,
when you're supposed to! How shameful, right? So, long story short, I have no idea where Eri is;
and yes, I do double and triple check my apartment before I lay down to sleep. Consider it a once
slept on, twice shy sort of thing.
As far as the newest addition to my apartment, little Baka is getting along rather well, and living
up to his name in champion form. Early this morning, he managed to get himself locked in a
cupboard and, at four in the morning, set up such a pathetic whine that I dragged myself across
the floor in order to free him. Hey, I'm on vacation, I shouldn't have to get up until at least noon.
Yesterday, the little idiot succeeded in discovering what the shower was for, and spent the rest of
the day pouting and wet. Oh, and why is it he keeps trying to steal whatever food I cook, yet when
I offer him something, he seems skeptical? Do I not seem trustworthy or something?
Ugh. I'm starting to understand why he lost the leg to begin with. Oh, and did I mention that he
still doesn't always remember that it's gone? Every once in a while he'll go to take a left turn and,
oops, he wind up in a face-first pile on the floor. Even better has to be when he tries to scratch
himself in the ear with what's left of his leg. I know I shouldn't laugh, but it's just so ridiculous
that I can't help myself. As every day dawns, I understand more and more why my father called
him what he did.
...
Yeah, so that's pretty much my Golden Week. Lots of sleeping, some good reading, and getting to
know a stupid little dog named Idiot. After the crazy first month of school I had, this seems anti-
climactic, like I'm almost expecting Eri Ozawa to drop down from my ceiling in ninja regalia, or
for the houseplant my mother bought me ("your apartment needs some life!") to try to attack my
in my sleep and carry me to Ai's house. In short, I guess...sorta...It's like...I almost feel...lonely
without all those psychopaths warring over this or that. You might even say...I miss them?
But don't ever tell them I said that!

Doug Flutie

Golden Week came to an end and, grudgingly, I found myself trudging back to work. Don't get me
wrong, there's nothing I would rather do... as work. If someone gives you the choice of work or no
work, though, you'd be a fool to pick work. Having no responsibility is always better than having
to do something, at least that's what I believe. Still, bills have to be paid (even if your TV and
internet are halfsies with your downstairs neighbors) so you might as well do something you enjoy
to pay them, right? A lot of people can't say that, probably, but I can. I enjoy teaching.
...
It's all the extra things that just might kill me.
As you can imagine, the week of travel yielded souvenirs for each of my little troublesome
burdens. However, while the usual practice of souvenirs is to have something for you yourself to
remember the trip of the experience, this particular occasion resulted in buying souvenirs... for
me. Soon, the First (and hopefully last!) Annual (I said last, darn it!) Ken Watanabe Souvenir
Impressing Challenge.
"You know, if it wasn't for the food, I wouldn't come down here," I grumbled dryly as I poked into
a salad.
"Oh, right, Kenny-boy," Mei chortled, slapping me on the back as if I were choking.
(note: I wasn't.)
"If you didn't come down here, we'd find you, and you know it!"
She was right, of course, but I can't quite decide whether it's laudable, flattering, or just plain
creepy. Mei's face was treating the affair as a light-hearted joke, but I really had to believe that the
mental images of her tearing the school off its foundations looking for me weren't that far off the
mark. Moving heaven and earth for someone you have a crush on sounds adorable, but is much
more terrifying when it actually begins to apply itself.
"Stop spacing out and take my present, dummy," the PE teacher poked a small square into my
nose with a smile that practically screamed "I hope he likes it!" I unwrapped the modest package
to discover a CD from one of the Kanto regions most illustrious orchestras...or so the sticker on
the shrink-wrap said.
"Haru and I saw these guys last Thursday," As Mei began explaining the gift I noticed something
strange taped to the back of the CD case, "Oh, and that's a picture of us there, so you can't go
calling me a liar. I try to get culture...sometimes! Even when I don't know what's going on..."
Her last words trailed off as I peeled the picture off the back. It showed Mei and Haru,
mismatched as they were, standing outside a concert hall, mugging for the camera. Haru had on
the same dress she'd worn on our exploitation...date... thing... and was giving a "V" sign to the
camera. Her expression was so ludicrously happy that her picture almost seemed to scream
something at me like "MOZART ROCKS!" Mei, on the other hand...
"Mei, you really look fantastic in this photo!"
There I go, speaking without thinking again. I looked up to see just the cusp of redness forming
around Mei's cheeks. She let loose a torrent of gibberish that seemed as skillfully crafted as the
high-necked, Chinese style dress she had worn.
"Oh, that wasn't anything special. I just bought it because I needed a dress. I just grabbed one off
the rack, really... I don't like it. I don't fill it out well enough in the chest. I'm starting to get a
belly, too. The slit in the leg makes me look too tall."
"No, dummy, standing next to me makes you look tall," Haru said with an outstretched tongue.
"And what's this about a belly?" I said, squinting at the photo, "Maybe on a water flea..."
I would have continued on that vein, perhaps shrinking even further to a subatomic scale, but Mei
had swatted playfully (well, playfully for her) at me and managed to thrust three fingers into my
windpipe in the process.
"Shut up! I know you're lying!"
"Graghk."
"Mei, let him go before he turns blue."
Ai's voice was perturbed, partly because she didn't want to see me dead (thanks?) and partly
because Mei was holding up her place in line. Even more embarrassed, the Amazon finished her
little presentation in record time.
"I hope you like it. They played this one song, or piece, or whatever you call it, and I liked it, so I
asked Haru to find me the CD with it on it...so here it is! Track one."
I scanned the CD cover quickly. Track One: Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. Glancing up
again, I saw Mei still fidgeting with the hem of her t shirt like she was an eight year old.
"Copland?" I said, a little surprised.
"It's what I'd want to hear when I hit a home run."
Ah, there was the Mei Tanaka I knew. The glittering eyes, the cocky smile, even if the hands were
still wrapped up in the bottom of her shirt. She didn't say "if I hit a home run..." she said "when."
Next was Haru, still seemingly on the high from our...date-thing a week ago. She bounced up to
me, back in her usual sneakers and fluffy blouses, with such energy that, if Ms. Arakawa had done
that, she'd probably knock herself out. Haru, however poses no such risk...wait, this is getting
perverted, stop!
"Gotcha a football, Kenny-ken! One of those weird, lemon-shaped American footballs, too!"
"Thanks, Haru," I tried to be polite, but I got the aching suspicion that Haru had no idea how to
even inflate a sports ball, let alone play.
"I didn't really get anything about the game..."
A-ha! She confesses!
"It was loud and crazy and the music was terrible, but people were yelling and the people on the
field were hitting other people and...I don't know...it just kinda gets to ya and you start screaming
too! It was fun, even if I didn't know what was going on, but that guy running the PA system
oughtta be fired!"
Haru then took her seat at the table, sitting down next to Mei and trying to convince her that the
William Tell Overture would psych up the players more than something about letting dogs out.
Next in the ridiculous queue that had formed was Eri Ozawa, who handed me a bag of tea leaves
that seemed almost the size of my head, her big, dark eyes terrified of anything that might register
my displeasure.
Silence.
Blink.
Blink.
"You like tea."
Wow, four words. That's pretty impressive for her. And yes, I do like tea, but how on earth did you
get so much of it? I don't see a price tag, so it doesn't look like it was bought somewhere...just
what kind of tea is this?
I didn't get a chance to ask as Eri skittered back to her chair at the far end of the table, tea and
apple at the ready. One of these days, I'm going to get a big, apple-shaped lump of tofu and paint
it red, just because...
I glanced over to Ms. Arakawa, who hadn't had a gift outside of this lunch's salad, which was a
lovely, healthy affair that apparently had come from the modest garden on her family's
homestead. I don't get to eat this healthy very often, so I was trying to make it last, making sure to
thank the mousy little Home Ec teacher for keeping me eating something green outside of the
little onions floating in my ramen.
"Oi."
I snapped my attention back to the queue, and just in time to nearly fall backwards out of my
chair. You see, Ai Hasegawa had just walked forward in line, and, um...she was standing, I was
sitting, and she often wears rather tight, low-cut, form fitting...do I really have to say it?
*I don't suppose those two can be my gift, eh? heh heh heh...*
No, I didn't just think that, I swear!
"Mr. Watanabe," Ai put a hand to my forehead as I had suddenly seemed to break out into a
sweat, "you doing all right?"
"Y-yes, I'm fine."
"You sure? Because if you ever need someone at your bedside, my number's in the phonebook..."
Please don't talk like that, please stop bending over, and please take your hand off my head. No,
don't leave one finger on my forehead. No, please don't slide your long fingernail down the bridge
of my nose, it tickles! Please don't trace the outline of my lips with the aforementioned finger, I
have classes to teach this afternoon, and I can't rightly think about the policies of Tokugawa
Ieyasu with the memory of, um, stuff like this!
"Myerr..." the noise seemed to escape my lower lip as Ai's fingernail dragged it downward. It
sounded like a little bit of my spirit leaving my body. Over at the table, I saw Ami Ishii peek over a
book she was reading with a hooded look that said, very clearly,
"Stop making stupid noises."
"Here," Ai finally took her hand off my mouth, finally stood up, and finally took her other hand
out from behind her back, in which rested a clay pot, filled with dirt.
"What's this?" I asked skeptically. Although it didn't look like it could be dangerous...yet.
"Lilium auratum," she said with that kind of plain wondrousness that comes from knowing your
stuff, "it's a lily native to Japan. I figured it's about time your apartment got a little bit of Japan
instead of all that Western junk," she said that with a smile and a wink that signified a good
natured ribbing. Reaching into the breast pocket of her lab coat (I'm surprised she doesn't stash
things down the front of her blouse) she handed me a small envelope, which I later learned were
instructions for the plant's upkeep.
I figured Ai was about to leave, but instead she leaned in closely and whispered quickly into my
ear. Now, knowing her previous records, I expected her to set my cochlea on fire, but her voice
instead sounded high-pitched and excited, even a little...geeky.
"And make sure you let me know when the flower blooms! I've been cross-breeding a few different
plants and running some experiments, trying to make a new color pattern. Let me know how it
goes!"
She straightened back up, and was the same old sultry Ai again, sauntering back to her own seat
with hips that looked ready to dislocate with each swaying step.
Finally, Cathy stepped forward, looking a little embarrassed.
"Ah didn' do annuhthin fancy lahk a flow'r," her bright blue eyes gravitated to the floor, "but Ah
fownd this in Awmi's ol' room. It was sumthin Ah gave her bayck when she visited Jaw-ja all those
years ago."
Wow, what a different a week makes. I found myself re-tuning my ear to Cathy's accent, which
always made the Japanese sound...interesting. She handed me a book that looked well worn, its
paperback cover nearly gone. The cover (or what was left of it) showed it to be written in English,
and it looked to be a fantasy novel aimed at a middle or high-schooler.
"Mah Mawm 'n' Dad awlways had me readin," Cathy said with a giggle, "so Ah was readin' books
fer big kids when Ah was in elemeyntry school."
"I can see that. Looks like it'll be a challenge for my English skills."
I heard a scoff from the table, where Ami put down her book (written in Japanese, I might add)
and fixed me with another glare.
"I finished in freshman year of college."
"But you're an English teacher!"
"Feh. I expect to talk about it with you eventually...whenever you get done with it."
Ohhh, that does it. I'll finish this book in two days, just you wait and see, Ms. Ishii!
Problem is, I have been slacking with my written English lately. Why is it that most of the words
don't look like they should be spelled? It's downright ridiculous sometimes.
Finally, with barely any time to spare, I was able to enjoy my lunch, even though I could barely
reach the bowl for the gaggle of swag that loaded up my desk. If this is going to happen every time
something big occurs, they either need to buy more stuff that can be used up, or buy me a bigger
apartment. As a sort of apology, Ms. Arakawa helped me carry the bundles back to my desk.
"I'm sorry my gift wasn't all that special..." she muttered as we went up the stairs.
"Are you kidding?" I said, probably a bit too loudly. I guess I thought that being obnoxious would
somehow burn off her apprehension, "Food is never a bad gift for me!"
She looked at me and blinked with those big, amber eyes that always seemed to be on the brink of
tears. Is there something in the water here that gives all these ladies voluminous eyes?
"I...I like that, Mr. Watanabe. That's good to hear. I--ooh!"
As usual, my presence has turned the cooking whiz into a klutz, and she tottered on the final step.
The football that had been perched so precariously on top of her armload (I had thought about
suggesting she put it under her arm, but I don't know if there'd be enough room down there)
toppled off and bounced lightly on the floor. In her hurry to overcompensate, Ms. Arakawa made
to take one giant step onto the second floor, but the giant step turned into a kick, rocketing the
football into the adjacent wall, which just so happened to have Akira walking by, suddenly under
attack.
"Hey, Ken...wah!"
Akira was a goalie for a short time in a former life, and it was a short time because he was a very,
very bad one. He threw up a forearm to deflect the rapidly rising ball, neatly sending the
regulation size, and regulation inflated, football ricocheting back toward the staircase with
surprising speed, nailing me directly into my face.
"Ms. Ara...bwagh!"
The colossal bag of tea was the first thing to go, lightly rustling as it hit the top step. Thankfully, it
was well sealed. The potted lily, however, took the plunge with me, careening back down the stairs
in what could have only been something that looked very comical to people who were not me.
Through each thud of the stair on my back, hip, knee, shoulder, et cetera, I managed to keep the
pot out of harm's way, sometimes twisting my body in a sort of avant-garde, artistic circus way, so
as not to let the poor little bulb get damaged. I came to rest in a heap, one of my feet over the right
guardrail of the stairs, which was odd considering I had started my descent on the left side. In my
act of idiotic chivalry, I managed to save the plant to the very end, but ironically the weight of the
clay pot connecting with my forehead sent me on a one-way ticket to Blackout Junction. To the
two upstairs, it probably looked like the pot had completely crushed my noggin and, judging by
the way Ms. Arakawa was squealing and crying, she probably thought it had. I could feel the
softness of her sweater (or something else) pressing against my face right before I lost
consciousness.
"Mr. Watanabe, I'm so sorry!"
"Sokayyyy...dat was a gooood kick therrre....last drop-kick was iiiiin 1941, errr...no wait....it was
only a few year agohhhhhhhhh......."

Now I know why the nurse likes me so much here. I'm her best customer.
During my little nap, my subconscious decided to have itself some fun. Suddenly, it was all those
years ago, and I was an overweight, under-experienced trainee teacher facing down a gaggle of
girls in my assigned homeroom. It was early into the school year, much like it was in the world
where I was conscious, and I was being put through the paces by the girls who would eventually
become the Rogues' Gallery. Sometimes I wonder if all of the teachers sat down at the beginning
of the year and decided which class to assign me, the so-called "Golden Boy" of Tokyo U's Ed
program.
"So, he thinks he's so hot, huh?"
"Scoring so well on the exams, we'll show him. Let's give him class 3-C!"
"Yeah, all those crazy girls will tear that little nerd apart! Nya ha ha!"
"Oh ho ho!"
"Hee hee hee!"
And so on. My theory gains credence in the fact that the class' usual teacher, a boring, middle-
aged fellow, fairly disappeared as soon as it became my turn to teach. Whenever I asked him
about it, he would just say that it's "experience."
Yeah, right.
"Mr. Watanabe!" A high school aged Ai Hasegawa shot up her hand.
"Er, yes, Ms...Hasegawa?"
There were a few mutters of excitement and surprise that I had gotten all of their names so early,
but Ai kept going.
"Mr. Watanabe, you've been teaching here for almost two months, right?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"So why don't we know anything about you?"
"Ehrm?" There were giggles now at my syllable-and-a-half of confusion. I'm really not used to
people asking about me, I'm really, really not used to females asking about me, and I'm really,
really, really not used to my little female high-school students asking about me...particularly when
some of them, um, aren't so little?
"Erm, um, eheh...what would you like to know?"
Smooth, real smooth, Watanabe. And the dumb smile really seals it.
"Anything, really," I saw what seemed like a prototype version of that dangerous Hasegawa smirk,
a smirk that would come to inspire terror in whatever innocent male wandered into the
crosshairs.
"Well, there's not much to know, really," I was being genuine here. My life really used to be quite
boring...used to.
"Do you have a car?" The young Hasegawa touched it off.
"No. I have a scooter."
"Ah, environmentally conscious, then?"
"Sure."
Actually, I'm just incredibly cheap.
"Favorite color?"
"Probably blue."
"Height?"
"About 170?"
"Weight?"
"I'd rather not say..."
"Favorite food?"
"Noodles."
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No."
...
Crap! She got me! Her line of questioning was so fast and so innocuous I was downright
bamboozled by the time that last question appeared. Out-witted by a student, how embarrassing!
And I wish I could say it was the last time...
I looked out into that sea of faces. Most looked slightly interested, that one in the back was
sleeping as usual, and of course the six little she-devils were paying apt attention. A long silence
followed, during which I remembered hearing my father's advice in my head to lie about having a
significant other. I am sorry father, I have failed you. Finally, another hand broke the agonizing
silence.
"Ms. Tanaka?" I ventured, so eager to see some movement that I even energetically awaited the
Amazon’s response.
"...So do you have a boyfriend, then?" Her words were quick and cutting, and I had to place both
hands on that trusty podium to steady myself. Do I seem like one of, um, those guys? Do I give off
that kind of, I don't know, energy or ki or something like that?
"No..." I blurted, the word clumsily tripping over my lips, "No, Ms. Tanaka, I don't...I don't have
either."
"That was mean, Mei-mei!" I heard a pipsqueak voice whisper from Mei's left. Mei merely turned
to the teenaged Haru (who didn't look all that different) and cracked a wolfish smile.
"Um...excuse me?" A trembling hand rose into the sky like an earthworm during a rainstorm.
"Yes, Ms. Arakawa?" Surely she would save me from this hole of embarrassment, whose sides
seem to become slipperier with each passing second.
"So how old are you then, Mr. Watanabe?"
It's no use. She's intrigued, too.
"Erm...28?"
"Hah!"
A snort of disbelief came from the far left of the front row, nearest to the door, where a younger
Ami Ishii, her hair in a businesslike ponytail even back then.
"You're twenty-two, teach. If you're lucky."
Something in my face must have given me away, because the front row of class suddenly became a
coffee shop chatter session.
"Twenty-two?"
"He's only five years older than we are!"
"My Dad's seven years older than my Mom, now that I think about it!"
"Mine's ten!"
"And he's so sweet! I bet he'd make a great husband!"
"I dunno, he'd have to lose some weight, maybe..."
"Oh, I have a few ideas for that..."
"WILL YOU IDIOTS SHUT UP?!" Ami shouted, neatly snapping her pencil in half, "we're in the
middle of class, for crying out loud!"
The other five. like scolded pups, silently and grudgingly went back to their work, but each took a
moment to throw me a look that I, as a teacher, did not particularly want to see.
"Besides," Ami mumbled in a voice that still carried like a call to prayer, "You think that bozo
would even know what to do with a woman?"
And there's where my sad little scene ends, on a masculinity-crushing note courtesy of the ever-
eloquent Ami Ishii. I suppose there's some sort of great paradoxical nature to it all, because in
effect I created the situation I find myself in presently. Not on purpose, mind you, but the entire
thing almost rings Oedipal...although I suppose in this situation Elektra is a little more
appropriate...
"Hey, are you in there, Mr. Watanabe?"
The problem with trying to wake a person who is having a very vivid dream is that the eyes will
always snap open suddenly, and the person doing the waking will almost always be startled by it.
"Wah!"
Ai Hasegawa snapped back from her previous position leaning over the bed, and in doing so
managed to slam her elbow into the side table, knocking the clay pot from its perch and, once
again, into contact with my body. Thankfully, it wasn't my face this time, but rather my
midsection, resulting in a rather odd "Buuh!" Noise as most of my breath was forcibly evicted. If I
wasn't awake yet, I sure was now.
"Sorry about that, Mr. Watanabe," she said with a small smile and trying not to laugh, "It's
amazing, though, the pot stayed upright here on your belly. You haven't managed to spill one little
bit of soil, even."
"Well, I'd hate to throw dirt," I replied sarcastically, rubbing my forehead and feeling a rather
large butterfly bandage.
"You knocked into that thing pretty bad," she explained as she replaced the plant. Yeah, thanks
for commenting on the dirt before removing the obstruction, bio-nerd, "Poor Tomo came running
into the Home Ec room, I thought her face was going to melt off with all the tears. All the others
had gone to their classes, and I was finishing up the dishes when she about tore the door of its
hinges. Between the two of us, and that skinny pal of yours, we managed to drag you into the
nurse's station, and she got you all fixed up. Now, either you're defying medical and scientific fact,
or..."
She began to poke and prod up and down my midsection, which felt...shall we say...weird?
"You've gotten a little bit of muscle on you since you were our teacher. You were like a little fluff-
ball back then, but you sure were heavy to carry over here."
Is that supposed to be a compliment?
"You've lost some of the fluff and replaced it with flex, I'm impressed!" she readjusted her half-
glasses and gave me a big grin, "I see you're still trying to wear your chubby clothes from back
then, though. Look, the pants don't even fit right..."
"They fit just fine! Keep your hands out of there!"
"Aww, you're no fun," the grin turned into that classic Hasegawa, sex-kitten pout.
"I don't really have the cash to buy a bunch of new clothes, you know. I had these in mothballs for
years because I figured I might need them again, they're almost still brand new."
"Ah, yes. Mr. Watanabe's teaching costume," The look on her face seemed far away, her eyes were
suddenly very deep, and almost misty. No doubt she was probably traveling back to the day I had
just returned from, with markedly different result.
"You're just adorable, Mr. Watanabe," she tweaked the end of my nose with her long fingers and
meticulously sculpted nails, "do you wear a shirt and tie all the time?"
"No, of course not. When I'm not in a professional setting, I dress casual like everyone else."
I really should have seen it coming, but sadly, I'm an idiot. Also, I'm still technically a head
trauma patient, so be gentle, ok?
"I'd like to see that," her voice had reverted from gentle nurse to sultry siren, "how about this
weekend, then?"
"What?"
"Come on, Mr. Watanabe. You and me, we'll light up the town. Is seven good for you?"
"What?"
"It's the least I can do for you so gallantly protecting my baby," she reached over to pet the side of
the pot, as if she expected it to purr or coo in response, "so let me take you out this weekend. You
don't have...other plans, do you? One of those other girls didn't get to you first, did they?"
"No, not exactly."
"Awww, I was hoping I'd get to wrestle one of them or something," she snapped her fingers
irritatedly, "or maybe we'd have a swimsuit contest?"
Where does she get these ideas?
"Come on, Mr. Watanabe, let me say thanks... for everything, okay?"
There was something in her voice, in her eyes, even in the slight downturned end of her smile,
that said to me that she wasn't fooling around this time. This wasn't some joke or innuendo, this
wasn't Ai doing her usual antics...this was Ai really being genuine, and it was something I don't
know if I've ever seen.
"All right. Okay. Just...go easy on me, okay?"
"No promises," her eyebrows danced up and down playfully. She gave me a one last poke to the
belly, one last wink, and headed for the door. She was half into the hallway when my brain came
back up to speed and I lurched out of bed into a sitting position.
"Hey, wait a minute, Hasegawa! I thought you had a boyfriend!"
Whoa. Shouldn't have sat up, or started thinking, quite so fast. Ai curled her fingers slowly around
the door frame and leaned back into the nurse's station, fixing me with a glare that was like a
crossbow bolt.
"He got me a job here, and that was it. I've only got eyes for you...Ken."
She blew me a kiss and walked out the door. My brain was torn between embarrassment from the
kiss and the comment and a triumphant "I knew it!" dance because I called the situation with her
apparently now ex-boyfriend to a tee. I flopped back onto the bed, my head still aching a bit. I
decided I would take the afternoon off. Surely they'll find someone to cover my classes, right?
Either way, I just want to think about nothing for a little while, and I especially don't want to
throw a glance tableside, where the potted lily stood: proud, satisfied... mocking me.
You little jerk. This was all part of the plan, wasn't it?

Tomoko Arakawa.
They got Tomoko Arakawa to fill in for me.
Well, not exactly "got." More like, she volunteered. Probably as some sort of unnecessary apology,
knowing her. I heard the entire story when I returned to my afternoon classes the next day. My
students described the scene with what I can only define as a sort of bemused horror, like seeing
something bad happen, but at the same time trying not to laugh. Perhaps if someone were to re-
enact the siege of Stalingrad, but with adorable balloon animals?
"She tried, Mr. Watanabe, she tried."
"She managed to mix up Ii Naosuke and Hotta Masayoshi."
"Every time she would mispronounce a word, her face would get really red."
"She tried hard, but I'm glad she sticks to Home Ec."
"However," one of the more serious students in the front row had his hand to his chin quite
thoughtfully, "for a Home Ec teacher to come into a History class and actually try to teach it,
that's pretty suspicious. Most of the time a substitute would just go through the motions."
"Hey, Kenta's right!" a girl in the third row piped up, "Ms. Arakawa kept saying things like 'oh, I
remember him!' and 'right, that's what happened!' I never would have expected the Home Ec
teacher to know any of the crazy stuff you do, Mr. Watanabe."
You say crazy...is that a good thing or a bad thing?
"Very suspicious indeed," Kenta, the practicing sleuth kept nodding and humming to himself,
"she must have had a very good History teacher when she went to school here."
As if on cue, every pair of eyes in the classroom gravitated toward me slowly, painfully, like a
sniper carefully lining up a shot. Me, being an idiot, took the opportunity once again to prove that
I should just buy a shirt that has a heart painted on the sleeve. I immediately felt my face get
warm, against my own fervent efforts, and a tiny trickle of sweat scampered out from under my
hairline to run into the cut on my forehead from yesterday. The sharp sting I felt from that was
nothing compared to the slings and arrows that were being set upon me by a bunch of high school
students.
"Mr. Watanabe," Kenta began, in desperate need of a deerstalker and a meerschaum, "isn't it true
that you used to be a teacher at this school many years ago?"
Not that many, really, but...
"Yes?"
"And isn't it true, Mr. Watanabe, that Ms. Arakawa was once a student at this school as well?"
If I tell a lie now, they'll smell it out for sure!
"Yes," I hung my head.
"Could it be, Mr. Watanabe...that you were once Ms. Arakawa's teacher?"
The young man said it with such bombast that either A) he's in the drama club or B) he's been
playing that handheld game far too much. His performance was so energetic that it elicited a
collective gasp from the classroom, most of whom immediately fell into wild speculation.
However, I wasn't in any hurry to stop them, because wild speculation is just that, speculation,
and I hadn't yet answered Sherlock Kenta's last query.
"Oh my God you guys, do you think Mr. Watanabe used to be Ms. Arakawa's teacher?"
"Who else would know all that boring crap about History?"
I can hear you, you know.
"And I can sure bet I'll remember the stuff I learned in this class years down the road, this guy
really makes you study!"
"I bet that's it, I bet Mr. Watanabe used to be her teacher! Then that would explain..."
"Yeah! Remember what I told you about Home Ec class before the break? How Ms. Arakawa was
acting so weird?"
"So maybe..."
"Yeah!"
"It could be..."
"I know!"
"That means..."
Five of the girls in the back corner of the class fell into a morass of giggles and sighs that were so
incomprehensible I could no longer distinguish what was being said...but I had an idea. Still, like I
said, I'd rather have them make up wild rumors that can be easily discredited, rather than
knowing the truth. Now, what will get them back on task...? I know, how about a reminder about
the upcoming midterms? Yes, that will do nicely.
At lunch on Wednesday, Ms. Arakawa kept herself particularly busy, seemingly so busy that she
couldn't sit down and enjoy lunch with the rest of us. I managed to sneak a glance halfway
through my meal (which, by the way, had "I'm sorry" spelled out in sauce) and saw her attempting
to make counter-scrubbing a matter of great importance. I decided not to press the issue, because
she seemed close enough to tears as it was, and I don't think I'd like to give those speculators any
more fodder, if you know what I mean.
Still, I found myself sitting in my apartment that night, tearing myself up about it. Ms. Arakawa
was always such a hard student to deal with, and not much had changed. Much like her students,
I hated to inconvenience her in any way. You wouldn't go around popping all of those adorable
little balloon animals, would you? I'm no sadist. Yet, seeing her no doubt kicking herself for
kicking that ball...I felt like a jerk by NOT doing anything. At least I could take a little comfort in
knowing that she probably wouldn't demand my company this weekend (like some other women I
know) as a means of gratitude.
I was idly scratching Baka between the ears when it hit me. For the rest of the night, and for most
of the morning, I was a whirlwind of energy, only getting a few hours of sleep before it all began
again, but it was worth it. Thursday's lunch was a modest affair, except for a grand centerpiece of
a large, chocolate cake. Yeah, it cost me a pretty penny, but it was worth it to hear everyone go on
and on about the mysterious dessert.
"This is GREAT, Tomo! Why'd you make it?" Haru mumbled around a bite of cake that was surely
the size of her own head.
"Um, I didn't, actually...I don't know who did..." she took a dainty piece to her mouth, using one
hand to serve as a catch-all underneath her chin.
"What, it was just here when you got in this morning?" Mei cocked a skeptical eyebrow.
"Y...yes..." Ms. Arakawa fairly threw her eyes down onto her plate, but thankfully Mei didn't press
the matter.
"Well, whoever left it, they make a damn fine cake," Ai took a forkful and directed it towards my
mouth. Deciding to play along for once, I opened up, but was robbed at the last moment as she
directed the fork back to her own mouth.
"Sorry, Mr. Watanabe, this is too good to play around with."
I was busy throwing a scowl at the science teacher (to counter her cheeky wink) when little Miss
Raincloud decided to do what she does best.
"It's a good enough cake," Ami said, splitting time between the cake and an English novel, "but
whoever made it sure isn't much of a decorator. Look," she jabbed the fork contemptuously, "the
frosting's a complete mess."
Indeed, the white frosting had all the appearance of a haphazard, clumsy pastry chef, that
appeared to have either been in quite a hurry, or had tried to frost the cake whilst having some
kind of fit. Now, normally I, as the mysterious baker, would have been upset by Ami's particular
brand of, um, loquaciousness...but I knew the truth.
That cake was not initially frosted a mess.
That cake was initially frosted to read "It's all right."
Mae West

Friday dawned with a bit of drizzle, enough to warrant me having to dig my umbrella out from
under a stack of old magazines from the 1920s. I might also make note of the fact that Baka, my
Hokkaido puppy, had absolutely no concept of time, and even though I leave every morning at the
same time for work without walking him, he still believes this morning, THIS special morning,
will finally be "walkie time." I really hate disappointing him, but I can barely walk myself in the
morning, let alone him as well. Plus, if certain people saw me with an adorable little dog, it would
lead to...complications.
Things were complicated enough walking to school with Ami and Cathy, the latter of which
decreed that Ami's umbrella was "too small" and that she needed to share mine. Honestly, they
were the same size, I swear. Thankfully, Ami pounded down the wet pavement at a relatively
quick clip, and we soon out of the rain.
"For crying out loud," she growled, angrily shaking out her umbrella, "She's even younger than
the rest of them, can't you give it a rest?"
"You think I'm trying to do this?" I snapped back.
"I don't hear you saying 'no' at any point..."
Immediately, I turned directly to Cathy, who appeared to be enjoying the conversation as on
would a tennis match.
"No! No, no, no, no, no!" I said with gusto directly into her eternally smiling face.
"Awwww, ya big liar, Ah know ya lahk it," she cooed in a singsong voice, hands clasped behind her
back and hips swaying to and fro, "Yew lahk awl sortsa 'Merican thangs, so why nawt this one?"
Cathy, it's a cold, rainy morning, why isn't your shirt properly buttoned? And stop swinging back
and forth like that, it's, um, distracting!
"Knock it off, Cathy," Ami grumbled, turning to head down the hallway. Cathy's retort was like an
expertly aimed blow to the solar plexus, and suddenly I became the spectator to some kind of
climactic clash you would normally only see in an over-blown, over-budgeted kung-fu epic.
"Come awn, Awmi," Cathy purred, taking a page out of Ai's playbook. She threw her arms around
my neck, drawing herself uncomfortably close, "Jest 'cause yer jealous..."
In a nanosecond, the crook handle of Ami's umbrella wrapped itself around Cathy's neck, yanking
the gaijin down the hall with murderous intent. As Cathy squawked and gurgled, Ami's ponytail
bobbed up and down violently as she beat a hasty and angry retreat. I decided not to pursue,
leaving Cathy alone to face the Wrath, but I couldn't help but notice a bit of red around Ami's
cheeks as she stormed off.
I can't bring myself to the conceit of thinking she's embarrassed because of my, um, machismo, so
I'm going to go ahead and chalk the red face up to fury at the mouthy foreigner. I mean, this was
the lady who saw me fall face first onto the pavement and didn't bat an eye, I find it hard to
believe that she would be flustered by a simple questionable comment.
However, there was something about that comment, something about her momentary insanity
there, it reminded me of something...something I'm not supposed to forget...something
important...but what could it be?"
I was scribbling down a few last minute notes for class when I remembered what it was. However,
I can't take the entire credit for my memory being jogged. There were...prompts.
"Hasegawa," my voice came out as a tense whisper.
"Mmm," came those sultry tones, "How did you know it was me?"
"Firstly, you have a special perfume," I began, looking straight forward and finishing up my
scribbles, "second, I noticed the sudden...presence of two...bodies on either side of my head. Is
this how you greet everyone, Ms. Hasegawa?"
"No, Mr. Watanabe. This is reserved just for you."
She wiggled her shoulders one after the other, and let's just say I was treated to a rather curious
neck massage.
"I know they're D's, Mr. Watanabe," she cooed, barely audible due to the, um, earplugs, "but I
think they'd get an A-plus, don't you think?"
I had a few options. I could go the route of the spastic pervert (or, as Cathy would say, the
"Urashima") and leap out of my seat wailing, which would no doubt give Ai reason to "trip" and
"fall" on top of me. I could go the option of the indignant scholar, and pretend to treat the entire
situation with some sort of Rex Harrison-esque righteous bombast, but my quickly reddening face
and constricting throat would soon paint me a fraud...plus, my English accent's terrible. Finally, I
could go the Ken Watanabe route. Not the other one, not the noble actor, but the excitable,
romantically retarded schoolteacher one.
And what is the other Ken Watanabe's strategy?
Forgetting to breathe and eventually knocking my forehead on the desk. Thankfully, the shock of
the blow kept me from completely blacking out, and startled Ai to the point where she
relinquished the, shall we say, submission hold. However, the ordeal was far from over. Not only
did I have to stand up quickly before Ai saw the need for resuscitation, but it had finally all sunk
in that I had, well, a date with the Scientific sex-kitten this very night. As I quickly shuffled out of
the teacher's room, my mind was racing so quickly that I actually began my first class twenty
years before yesterday's lesson left off. I wonder if any of them will notice when the test comes
around? I suppose time will tell...it always does.
Ever since I completed that ridiculous "get to know the other teachers" hogwash, my free periods
(which were now actually "free") suddenly felt longer and much more precious than I had every
thought. Unfortunately, I had to spend that precious time either on the move, or extensively in the
staff restroom, and sometimes even that didn't stop the Rogues from standing outside the door
and forcing a conversation out of me.
Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you're washing up, having a conversation with a lady in the
hallway, while one of your fellow male employees gives you a look that can only be described
as...peculiar.
"You ready for tonight?"
"A little busy right now, Ms. Hasegawa."
"I can hear water running, you're obviously finishing up. Oh, and make sure you don't waste too
much of it; we're running out, you know."
The fellow next to me, I believe one of the Literature staff, hastily shut off his faucet, apparently
either very concerned about the environment or very concerned of what Ms. Hasegawa thought of
him. I wanted to tell him how little of a chance he had, as he was middle-aged and sporting a
ridiculous beard, for the simple annoying fact that he wasn't me, and Ai had somehow confused
her programming to the point of a cinema cyborg-assassin's determination to, um, secure the
target.
Lunch was wonderful as always, being a simple udon soup Ms. Arakawa had cobbled together on
the pretense that it was "soup weather." The infamous cake was finally finished following the
meal, a meal that consisted of Ai Hasegawa trying, like clockwork, every five minutes, to push her
feet into mine and make me cough up my soup like a drunkard. I can't remember how many times
I must have said "goodness me, I must be catching a cold!" while glaring at the science teacher,
regarding me salaciously over her small, square glasses.
By the time school ended, Ai had decided that there was no point in waiting til evening to begin
our, um, festivities, so she latched onto my wrist like an iron manacle and pulled me out of the
teacher's room the moment it was safe and prudent...and by safe and prudent I mean as soon as
she found me pretending to be searching for a contact lens under my desk.
"I know for a fact you don't wear contacts," she said with a smirk.
"How do you know? You're not with me all the time!"
"As far as you know."
I could only manage an "eep," to that, but not like it mattered. Within a few minutes I was
dragged into the school parking lot and into a very curious looking silver sedan.
"Hey, wait," I said as she fairly threw me into the passenger seat, "isn't this one of those..."
"Hybrid, yep. It's a '97, first year they made them. I wanted on the clean-air bandwagon as soon as
I could afford it, got this baby on the cheap from my old college advisor."
It may have been a car bred for efficiency, but Ai drove like she was qualifying for Le Mans. In
record time, we were outside the city limits, high-rises becoming replaced with trees and
shrubberies at an alarming rate.
"Um, if you don't mind me asking...where are we going?"
"It's a secret," she replied, holding her index finger to her lips and giving me a wink. She looked
surprisingly cute just then, as opposed to her usual, um... more womanly affectations? This fact
was allowed to take precedent in my mind, deliberately pushing the idea of her murdering me in a
ditch into the farthest reaches of my imagination. After a few more minutes of breakneck racing
down what was becoming more and more rural roads, I reformulated my opinion to render Ai
more qualified for a rally racing series rather than Le Mans.
...
Come on, Ai, these roads aren't even paved any more! If you're taking me to some kind of
psychotic meat-locker (or, worse, some "love shack"), at least have the decency to inform me of
my fate!
*wait, how is a "love shack" worse?!*
Quiet, you.
Finally, after cresting a hill on a road that looked to be nothing but two dirt rivulets in the road,
we came to an expansive, but unobtrusive, greenhouse tucked neatly within the confines of the
countryside. Ai brought the car to a screeching halt, making my seatbelt lock up and leaving me
dangling like some poor space pirate at an antigravity gallows. Fairly leaping out of the drivers'
side door, Ai hurried around to the other side and, after forgetting I was still buckled in,
unclasped me and re-clasped me (with her hand this time), pulling me out of the now grass-
stained and mud-splattered hybrid.
Funny, I'd often wondered where all those bits of grass and flowers came from in her that car's
grille... now I know, and I have the whiplash to prove it.
"Come on, come on! Move those feet! You've lost those pounds, so let's see you prove your new
fitness, Mr. Watanabe!"
Throwing open the door to the greenhouse, Ai gleefully announced my presence to the others in
attendance, all similarly clad like her in austere white lab coats.
"Everyone, this is Mr. Ken Watanabe, my old teacher, my new co-worker, lover of history, of
plants..." she pulled me close, grinning, "and me!"
There was a general air of awe from the other botanists, all of whom had apparently heard of me
several times before from the unusually energetic Ai. She looked different, sounded different,
even moved differently than I had ever seen her before. I could tell that this was Ai's favorite place
in the world, judging from her uncharacteristically girlish glee, and I felt a slight sting of pride at
being invited...in a sort of way.
Thankfully, I am not an overly conceited man, or my head would not have fit out the door after all
the praise given to me from Ai's colleagues, mostly college students...or are they high school? I
can't even tell anymore, I'm getting so old!
"You're Mr. Watanabe! I've heard so much about you!"
"You're exactly as Dr. Hasegawa described you!"
"A little less roly-poly, but the face is dead on!"
"We heard you were the one who saved the special Lilium auratum?" One of the few male workers
butted in, "we really do appreciate that, you know. We'd been working on that cross-breeding
project for months."
"Er, it was nothing, really," I felt awash in a sea of complimentary babble, trying not to drown.
"Oh, look! He's blushing! Just like Dr. Hasegawa said!"
"Wait a minute," I waved a hand in front of the young (TOO young) girl who seemed ever so
interested in my, um, facial pyrotechnics, "Doctor?" I turned to Ai, who took this opportunity to
blush a bit and wave the title away as if it were an angry wasp.
"Bah, it's just an honorary title. I don't use it."
"But you should, Dr. Hasegawa, you should!" The male student spoke up, "Dr. Hasegawa has been
a pioneer in the field of botany, it was her underwriting that brought about much of the plant
science innovations we have today! Unfortunately, her advisor took most of the credit, as per the
stupid bureaucracy, but she got an honorary doctorate and a car out of the deal, so it's not too
bad, eh?"
I shot a sideways glance at Ai, who was still blushing, but trying to hide it behind a particularly
leafy (or would that be frond-y?) fern.
"Let us show you around, Mr. Watanabe!" Two of the female assistants took me by either wrists
and, with a consort of students I made my rounds of the spectacular greenhouse, which
apparently was also a donation from Ai's advisor. Just what did they discover, anyway? What
made plants green?
Sadly, the tour was given with such rushed admiration that it set my head spinning, and I'm
afraid I forgot a good eighty percent of what was told me. If you brought the entire greenhouse
staff in front of my right this instant, I would regrettably not be able to name a single one. Sorry,
kids. As it was, I was bullied out of the greenhouse as quickly as I had been bullied through,
mostly due to a great number of chuckles and winks from the students that they "knew I had a
busy evening ahead of me."
Even they know? What, exactly, has Ai been telling them, anyway?
"Thanks for everything, you guys. I'll be by this weekend, so make sure you keep an eye on that
new strain of ivy, I don't like the look of those stems!"
She closed the door gently, throwing a comradely arm around my shoulder and directing me back
down the earthen path to the car.
"I just had to bring you out here to meet them, especially after they learned about your heroics
with the Lilium auratum. I couldn't resist!"
She finished with a wolfish smile, shoving me back into the car like a policeman does to a "perp."
If I didn't know any better, and if not for the rampant, um, physical undertones of the evening, I'd
swear Mei Tanaka was somehow involved. However, her hand managed to "slip" off the shifting
knob just often enough (and onto my leg, naturally) for me to be thoroughly convinced that this
was not the work of the Amazon PE teacher. After another heart-stopping foray onto the road, we
were back in the general vicinity of the school (or I thought so, everything was still a bit of a blur)
and in front of a modesty appointed condominium.
"Where are we?" I made sure to release my seatbelt immediately after the car lurched to a halt.
"This is my place," Ai said, looking back over her shoulder, back to the Hasegawa I had
expected...wait, the Hasegawa I expected? And we're at her place? Oh no. Oh no no no oh no oh
no no no...
Why can't I stop my feet from moving? Why can't I cut and run? Why can't I avoid the elevator?
Why can't I break free of her grip? This isn't good. This won't end well. Wipe that smirk of your
face, Hasegawa!
"Oh, don't be such a baby," she said, tugging me over toward her door, "you're older than me
anyway, you should act like it."
I may be older, but I'm not...you know...experienced...and stuff!
It's...confused...never...can't....maybe...I can't think straight!
My head felt fit to bursting as Ai threw me down on her sofa, fixing me with a thoroughly
unnerving stare. She kept her eyes locked onto mine as she sauntered from the living room into
what I tried not to think was her bedroom. Her polished fingernails scratched ever so slightly on
the stucco wall as she trailed her hand behind her, muttering something about wanting to get
more comfortable, but to be honest I really couldn't have even told you how I was still breathing
at this point. The moment she disappeared from the room I attempted a leap from the couch to
the door, but clipped the coffee table with my right ankle and smashed my face into plush, but still
very floor-like, carpet. Scrambling on all fours to get to my feet, I tugged madly on the doorknob,
but found it wouldn't budge.
"The doors are locked from the outside, honey bear," I heard her call from the bedroom. Who
does that, really?
*oh well. If she's gonna murder you, you'll die happy.*
shut up, shut up!
"You'd better be back on that couch..." she called again, sounding like one of those self-
destructing robots that counts down to annihilation. My courage began to fail me as my only way
out seemed to be an eight story leap off the balcony, and by the time I was weighing the possibility
of me surviving the fall, I realized it was finally too late.
"I rented a special movie, just for tonight, darling," she said the word darling with such honeyed
ecstasy, I wasn't sure if I should pop a nosebleed or pop my cerebellum free from the brain stem,
"why don't you queue it up there for us?"
I was little more than an automaton now, obeying the orders of a master who had covered every
possible possibility. Robotically, I clicked play, but my eyes seemed dead, unfocused, and didn't
even bother looking at the previews. Besides, when you finally hear...
"Ready or not, here I come!"
You're really not thinking about anything but...well...you're not "thinking" at all.
Thankfully, I had one errant spark of brainpower left, which I used to slap both hands in front of
my eyes. Sadly, my other senses were still functioning, so I could easily smell Ai's perfume, feel
her sit down next to me on the sofa, and taste the bitter tang of abject fear in the back of my
mouth.
"Come on, now...it won't be that bad...don't be nervous..."
Her breath was warm on my left ear, her voice so calm and soothing that it almost won me over,
until...
I heard the Godzilla scream.
...
No, you didn't misread that. Go back and read it again, I'll wait.
...
...
The Godzilla scream.
Either Ai was more, um, adventurous than I had originally thought, or something funny was going
on here. Slowly peeling my palms off my eyelids I blinked in the fluorescent light that now seemed
awfully bright, finally focusing on the television screen.
Ah, well that makes sense.
You see, there was a Godzilla scream in my ears because Godzilla was prancing about on the
screen in all his rubber-suited glory. Next to me, Ai Hasegawa leaned her head onto my shoulder,
clad in an athletic gray sweatsuit emblazoned "JAIST," Enjoying a bowl of microwave popcorn,
her hair tied into a deliciously unkempt up-do, akin to a pineapple growing out of the back of her
head.
...
Sorry for the analogy there, but it looked an awful lot cuter than it sounded.
And so, I spent the night watching old Japanese monster movies with the transformed,
unassuming, wonderfully messy-headed Science teacher. Through three movies, two buckets of
popcorn, four boxes of candy, and seven sodas, she never made one inappropriate comment,
movement, or even sly, come-hither stare. She just sat, her head on my shoulder, watching
Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah, Rodan, and the rest of the gang tear apart the cardboard skyscrapers
of a tiny, tiny Tokyo.

Eventually, just like Ghidorah, Ai and I fell mercy to both Godzilla's mysterious dragon breath
and the promise of sleep. It must have been something around two or three in the morning when I
finally came to, and I can only guess because the sky seemed to be dark outside...but it's so hard to
tell with all the lights here in the city. Makes me a little nostalgic for the country, when I think
about it. There's a song, too, it's an American one, that talks about how the stars look the same in
Shanghai as they do in America, and it seems so romantic...but it ruins the romance when you
don't even get to see the stars out here, doesn't it?
Anyway, chalk it up to a tired mind, a relieved mind, or maybe just a mind that was spiked by
candy and soda, but I found myself starting at the sleeping form of a dressed down Ai
Hasegawa...and wanting to kiss her. No, nothing passionate or perverse, just a little peck on the
forehead. Maybe, seeing her in such different environments, I felt like something she could
confide in. I wonder if the rest of the Rogues even know about her fetish for sweats and monster
movies, and if they do I can't ever remember them even hinting at it. There was just something
about this evening that felt good, good that I was someone a pretty girl like Ai felt okay letting her
guard down to. She puts out such a sensual exterior, no doubt she's troubled by guys a lot, and for
her to allow this, I must have passed some kind of test, or something...I don't know.
So, by this point, a forehead kiss was out of the question, as her forehead was currently buried in
my left shoulder. Still, something compelled me on, just trying to show my gratitude for a lovely
evening, I guess. I mean, the way she acts, a little smooch on the top of the head shouldn't ruffle
her feathers, right?
...
right?
Her hair smelled of grapefruit, which I thought was a little strange. Perhaps I was expecting a
similar taste or something, but thankfully there really wasn't anything there, just that odd feeling
that your lips get when they kiss something that's usually not considered all that kissable, like
hair. Besides, I wasn't really allowed to postulate on taste all that much, because the minute I
pulled my lips away, I literally heard her eyes snap open. I will swear that to my dying day. In an
instant, Ai was on her feet, neatly clipping my jaw with her shoulder and sending me backwards
onto the couch, awkwardly trying to reconcile the situation.
"Ai, I'm sorry, I..."
"How dare you do that!"
This was something I wasn't expecting from her. Face flushed, hands trembling, pigeon-toed...she
almost looked...flustered? Ai Hasegawa doesn't get flustered: life's just one big experiment and
she's got all the components sorted out. For her to act like this, well...she was acting like, I
suppose... a girl. However, she quickly recovered and went back to her usual self, re-evaluating
her stance back to one with prominently displayed both bust and backside, nibbling on a strand of
hair and turning a coy shoulder in a desperate attempt to remedy the quickly mounting calamity.
"Er, I mean," she stammered, "what do you think you're doing while I'm ASLEEP, you stud?"
I blinked a few times in confusion, and Ai knew the jig was up. No longer attempting either
maiden indignity or sensual provocation, she slammed her eyes shut and began mumbling
incoherently, her arms stuck out in front of her like one of the living dead. Stumbling about and
making noises that I guess were supposed to sound sleepy, she shuffled her way back into the
bedroom where, after shutting the door, she declared loudly:
"Oh, my! I must have been sleepwalking...again! Silly me, silly me!"
Gaining a little bit of composure (and even, perhaps, a bit of the upper hand?) I strode over to the
door, knocking lightly.
"Ai? Everything okay?"
I was answered with the most raucous, hokey, overblown fake snores that have ever been
attempted, obviously signifying that Ai was "asleep," and would no longer be up for a chat. I felt a
little dejected as I shuffled back to get my shoes on, wishing I could help her, or at least apologize.
The living room's a mess, too, but she'll no doubt clean everything up the minute she hears that
door close. Speaking of the door, it was never locked from the outside, I just hadn't noticed a
couple of bolts on the top and bottom of the door, locking into the wall joist and the floor,
respectively. With a bit of a chuckle at my foolishness, I unlatched them, and stepped outside,
wondering just why, or perhaps how, Ai came into the need for such locks. Surely they weren't
simply for the sole purpose of bothering excitable former teachers, so why?
Oh, and speaking of excitable, I didn't get a chance to take little three-legged Baka out for a walk
this evening. Looks like he'll be using the paper, and I'll have a mess to look forward to once I got
to my own home. Oh well, it was a fun enough evening to excuse it...except for that bizarre
ending. I simply can't believe that Ai Hasegawa has some kind of super secret weak point on the
top of her head. I must have just startled her or something, is all. Now, where was that stupid
elevator?
I had been so worried about Ai's, um, plans for me that it took me a full half hour to comb both
sides of the hallway (I picked the wrong one first, naturally) and finally find the elevator tucked
into a nicely appointed, if out of the way alcove. The, um, high-energy evening, along with the
very little sleep, had finally hit me by the time I stepped into the elevator, and by the time I heard
that little bell go "ding," I was half-asleep and really not paying attention to the fact that it had
only stopped on the third floor. Half-conscious, I strolled out of the elevator door with reckless
abandon, expecting to enter into the same comfortable lobby I had been too frazzled to appreciate
the night before. However, as I said before, I wasn't walking out into the lobby, I was walking out
onto the third floor, and guess who lives on the third floor? Everyone's favorite silent Math
teacher, and former kendo virtuoso, Eri Ozawa.
Of course, I wouldn't be telling you any of this if she hadn't herself been waiting to get on that
same elevator, hoping to get to the lobby and instead getting a half-comatose Ken Watanabe
walking directly into her, knocking both of us to the floor in a ridiculous situation that seemed
unreal, almost in slow motion. I suppose, when one is as supremely tired as we no doubt both
were (no reasonable human is supposed to be up this early, anyway) things tend to move slower,
more sluggishly. However, that didn't stop the floor from being as hard as it always was, even with
the plush carpet, and it didn't stop my swan dive into Eri's midsection from being any less
ridiculous, or awkward.
Perhaps it was the silence of the early morning, or my silence of being nearly asleep, or maybe just
the sound nullifying powers of Eri herself, but the entire thing seemed to happen without a sound.
After that elevator "ding," there seemed to be absolutely no sound in the world. Our foreheads
met, she fell backwards, I fell forwards, and we landed in a heap, yet for the life of me, I can't
remember hearing anything.
Somehow, I suppose it just fits.

Ah. Nothing like a sharp blow to the forehead to wake you up in the morning. And nothing like
falling face first on top of a young lady first thing in the morning to really get the blood pumping,
don't you agree?
What, you've never had that happen to you?
Well, consider yourself lucky.
As was disturbingly expected, Eri made absolutely no noise throughout the entire ordeal. The
contact, the fall, the landing, all of them came with absolutely zero audio from the Math teacher.
That wasn't to say that there wasn't any kind of reaction from her as I wriggled about, attempting
to reach my feet in my clumsy, early morning stupor. It started slowly, almost imperceptibly, but
over time it became clear that Eri was beginning to shake all over like one of those novelty
desserts. I couldn't even pinpoint the cause of the, um, vibration, it just seemed to emanate out
from her center until she resembled some kind of disturbingly designed massaging mattresses.
Eventually, and with only a small amount of embarrassing hand placements, I made it back to my
feet, but found Eri was now between me and the sought after elevator door. I extended a hand
down to Eri to help her up, finding with some relief that Eri's quaking had subsided. Those two
saucer-sized pools of inescapable observation that were her eyes just stared at me, stared for what
seemed like an eternity as she sat on the floor. I could tell she was still shaking, but her eyes didn't
show anger or even embarrassment. Really, she just looked sort of...curious, as if I was a
particularly red and shiny apple or something. Of course, this is all just rampant speculation
because, when one is dealing with Eri Ozawa, one had to resort to speculation or risk losing one's
mind trying to answer questions that, frankly, will never be answered.
She clasped my forearm with a surprising grip, and hauled herself upright. Now in a standing
position, she was roughly three centimeters from what I like to call my "personal space," and
didn't particularly look like she was going to move. As I had not yet bathed in this hours-old day,
and still had candy/soda/popcorn breath, I found the proximity of this situation a little
unnerving.
"Um, hey, Eri," I rotated my neck around like a malfunctioning robot, trying not to speak directly
into her face which was still refusing to take even the slightest step back, "you're up early, aren't
you?"
Those piercing eyes just kept looking, slightly up, directly into my face, with that same intense
look. She shook her head slightly, which I took to mean a "no."
"This isn't early for you?"
Head shake.
"Are you up this early every morning?" I continued on this inane game, feeling like a prosecutor.
Nod.
Now, you may notice that I'm not a morning person, so for her to be up this early, voluntarily,
seemed absolutely and utterly confusing... and doesn't she ever blink?!
"So..." I moved on with my next line of questioning, "what makes you get up this early?'
It was about that time that my sublime powers of deduction picked up that she was clad in a full,
two piece track suit, complete with sneakers and one of her headbands.
"I run."
She finally spoke, lowering her eyelids slightly as if to say "just how much fun did you have last
night?"
"Er...yeah, I guess I can see that..." I attempted a chuckle that sounded hollow in the condo's
hallway.
The eyes were still narrowed, but something else was happening on that usually expressionless
face. Naturally, I was close enough to notice something happening, ever so slightly, yes...I believe
there was a little twitch at the corner of her mouth...was it just some sort of spasm? No, couldn't
be. Trained weather spotters are informing me that, yes, that was the tiniest glint of a smile on Eri
Ozawa's face! This is a breakthrough, folks; tell those Germans to put down their hammers for a
second, that wall isn't going anywhere, and pay attention to this: Eri Ozawa is almost smiling!
The only problem is, I can't seem to get her to break that expression, or her position. I can't seem
to get her to stop standing right in front of me, with that smile (?), and those deep, unsettling
eyes. I step to the right, I step to the left, I duck down, I go up on my toes...I even tried faking left
and going right, but she's just right there in front of me, blocking my access to the elevator,
freedom, a flustered puppy, and a shower.
"Eri, could you...I need to...if you please...I...what are you...why won't you..."
Eri's a smart girl. She knew I wouldn't physically force my way past, partly because I don't go
pushing around young women, and partly because she could probably crush me into next week. I
swear, she can make that shinai materialize out of thin air at a moment's notice, and woe betide
those who stand in the way.
"Eri, Eri please...I've got to get back to my apartment."
Staring.
"I...I didn't get in last night. No big deal, I was just...busy...and I've got to get back because my
dog--!" I clapped both hands over my mouth as my secret was suddenly released.
"Dog?"
Crap!
"It's nothing! It's nothing! I just...I need to check on him, all right, so can you please let me get to
my apartment? It's a pretty long walk and, well...my ride isn't going to work..."
Eri gave me a stare for just a little bit longer, straining my discomfort to the breaking point,
before finally nodding and stepping aside. I fairly sprinted the three feet into the elevator,
mashing the button for the lobby and waiting for that sweet swishing sound of doors closing.
Finally, I was able to relax, leaning back against the elevator wall with my eyes closed. I breathed
deeply, in and out, for what seemed like an eternity, until that last ding finally sounded and the
doors opened again. I hurried out of the elevator and got a good two steps into the lobby when I
felt something holding me back; a firm grip on my jacket sleeve. At first I thought it was part of
me caught in the elevator, but I suppose that was just wishful thinking.
Yep. It was Eri, that Math Ninja who had managed to sneak into the elevator without my
knowing. Thankfully, there only other person in the lobby to hear my girlish shriek was the
watchman, and he seemed like it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, which makes you wonder
just what happens when the sun goes down in this city. After I had calmed down enough from the
shock, I once again had to attempt a conversation in Ozawan:
"Okay, Eri," I said with a sigh, "why are you holding onto my sleeve?"
Eri blushed a little at this and fiddled with the zipper on her jacket.
"Want...to run?"
"Excuse me?"
"To your apartment."
I didn't have the time or the energy to rejoice over all of the words I was getting out of her.
"I'm not exactly dressed for it, but I'll surely be walking. And hey," I added with a smile, "maybe I
could some of that tea for us, what do you say?"
Eri stole a glance out the windows in the lobby, where the sun had just started to light up the
world, making it actually later than I had thought. Poor Baka.
"Let's go," Eri said with a nod, and began pulling me out the door eagerly.
I took the opportunity during the walk to brush up on my Ozawan language skills, using mostly
yes or no questions to wheedle and worry information out of her quick-walking self. Apparently,
the tea comes from her family, as they are big in tea or something like that. I surmised on my own
that the ritzy condo was probably an offshoot of that, as the Mathematical field doesn't usually
pay big dividends unless you have a bunch of crazy, white hair. Also, Eri has fond memories of the
dogs from her childhood, back on what was apparently a tea plantation, so she was seems to be
very interested in mine. She promised not to tell anyone about the dog, but that only came after I
promised not to tell anyone about her selective narcolepsy regarding my presence.
Additionally, Eri likes hibiscus flowers, koala bears, and mango flavored drinks, or at least she
said she did as we walked past a billboard. In fact, most of the things I asked that morning were
answered with a polite little nod (except when I asked if she liked green tea and apples, which was
answered with a vigorous shake of the head). By the time we turned the corner next to my
apartment building, it almost felt as if we were having a real conversation, even though it was
mostly me asking questions and Eri wiggling her head as a sort of reply. Believe it or not, both of
us actually had real, discernible smiles on our faces by the time we got to the building, although
Eri's came at a bit of coaxing and a reddened face.
"I'm getting a bit of a workout," I said, wiping off my brow as some of the sun's earliest rays hit me
in the face. I couldn't be sure, but I think I saw just a tiny bit of bemusement on the Math
teachers' face at my particular lack of physical fitness. It's true that I'm pretty out of shape, and
this was a pretty brisk walk, but in my defense Eri looks like she could have sprinted the entire
thing and not had a problem. In fact, now that I think about it, I suppose it took a lot of training
all those years ago to run around in that kendo gear, too, but you never would have known it
seeing her in class. However, Eri's sure not the same kind of girl I taught all those years ago, and
you can tell that just by looking at her. And yet, there are still times when I see flashes of the timid
little barefoot thing who confessed to me mere minutes before I left that school, for what I
thought was going to be forever.
Times like when we spotted, of all people, Cathy McIntyre in the small lawn of my building,
waving to us energetically.
"Heyyyyy! Eri! Whut brings yew here so err-lee? Were you 'n' Kenny out all night partyin?"
That small smile I had spent so long cultivating was immediately dashed to pieces as Eri ducked
her head back down to her usual posture. I was so busy trying to rekindle that tiny little spark of
merriment that I didn't notice Cathy walking up to us on the sidewalk, and I sure didn't notice
that she appeared to be inexplicably carrying MY DOG in her arms until it was far too late,
resulting in my second high-pitched squeak of the morning.
Disgraceful, really... but how do you expect someone to cope with everything this day has already
brought without even a decent cup of tea?

"Cathy!" I began, trying to play it cool from my previous surprised yelp, "Um, so what are you
doing with m--er, that dog? Where did you get it? Did you let the manager know, because we have
a pet policy."
Okay. She's not buying it. Well, it was worth a try.
"Nahs trah, Kenny," she gave me a wink and cuddled the little dog closer to a tanktop that was a
size too big, "Ah herd a straynge scrathin' noise comin' from yer room, so Ah went ta tayk a look,
an' Ah found this ador'ble li'l puppy!"
Baka was enjoying all of the attention, naturally. Lucky little thing, I thought. If anyone caught me
nuzzling Cathy like that...speaking of which...
"Where'a Ami?" I asked, throwing a cautious look back at the building.
"Still sleepin. Cain'cha hear her still?"
I cocked an ear and, just faintly, I could hear those massive, rattling snores, barely concealed by
the reinforced concrete wall. No wonder she didn't hear the dog scratching, I'm surprised she isn't
deaf. Confident that my biggest threat was disarmed in slumber, I moved onto the next most
important question.
"How did you get into the apartment, anyway?"
"Ah picked the lock."
Wow. Genghis Khan wasn't that blunt. Just what kind of life did she live back in America,
anyway? Is she hiding out in Japan? Is Cathy McIntyre just a cover name?
"Aw, doan't look so sur-prahsed. Lahf can git borin' when yer waitin' fer th' fansubs, Mr.
Watanabe," she gave me a sweet little smile and let Baka go, the little piece of fluff scampering
around the lawn, "A li'l girl lahk me could git in awl sortsa trouble, know what Ah mean?"
Yes, I know what you mean. Now please pull that sleeve up on your tanktop. I've heard that
foreigners lose weight when they come to Japan, but that's just gratuitous!
"So," I let out a heavy, morning-tea-deprived sigh, "Now both of you know about the dog."
"Both? Whaddya...oh, rahte! AH fergot yew were there, Eri, sorry!"
Eri was back to her old form, hands inextricably clasped in front, eyes downward, head bent. All
of that work, all of those insipid questions...even that ridiculous line about how talking burned
more calories than being quiet...all of it gone, and Eri's back to being, well, Eri. I guess you can tell
those Germans to go ahead and tear down the wall, but try to keep that American actor from
singing and dancing, it's just embarrassing.
"Hello," the reticent Math teacher said in a voice that was nearly inaudible. She bent forward with
a deep bow, something that seemed to instill in Cathy a great deal of glee.
"Awesome! Ah do believe that's mah very first oh-fish-ul formal Japanese greetin!" she returned
the bow with one of her own, and I suddenly became very interested in the clouds when it became
very clear that the shirt she was wearing was, um, not exactly a shirt for bowing in.
"So come on, wah are yew two owt so early an' walkin' around?"
"Well, you see, um...we-"
I felt the tiniest little bit of pressure at my left bicep, as if a particularly strong breeze had passed
through. Knowing it to be a fairly still morning, I glanced automatically down to see Eri gently
swaying in a way that would have been nonchalant...if she was a nonchalant sort of person.
However, one thing I've learned is that Eri Ozawa never does anything without a purpose...which
makes that whole shaking on the floor thing a little more interesting, come to think about it...
"Exercise," I heard her say, flicking her enormous eyes in my direction for just a split second.
"Yeah, that's it, we were out for a little exercise! Eri's in such good shape, I wanted to see if I could
pick up some pointers!" My reasoning was sound, even if my apparel wasn't, but at the sound of
even the smallest compliment turned Eri's head away from me in what I can only guess is
embarrassment or botheration. Still the ridiculous lie managed to be sufficient for the foreigner,
who looked herself to be a little low on sleep. No doubt Baka's tantrum in the morning ruined her
Saturday morning just like Ai's complicated mine.
"We were actually heading in for a little break and some tea," I continued, taking my turn to flick
my eyes quickly in Eri's direction, seeing her immediately tense up as she remembered, "then I
guess it's back out for some more exercise. Right, coach?"
I patted Eri lightly on the shoulder, but you might have thought I had just asked her for the old
"your money or your life" question for the way she shot bolt upright and began quavering once
again. Fearing a repeat of earlier this morning, I quickly removed my hand, and continued the lie.
"According to my coach here, once I complete the first leg of training, I'll be able to wear some
real exercising clothes as a true apprentice!"
Nice cover, Watanabe! Sometimes I impress myself.
Realization dawned on Cathy's face with that last falsehood, apparently allowing all of the pieces
to fall in together enough for her to put the matter away. She reached down to pick up Baka, who
had been butting his nose against her bare calves in a bid for attention. You know, for as loose as
that tanktop was, those shorts were, um, the exact opposite. Once again, the dog gets away Scot
free, even getting a hug out of it.
"Heyyy..." Cathy drew out her natural drawl, a cunning glint in her bright, blue eyes, "Ah doan't
suppose Ah could joina yew both fer a little tea 'n' breakfast? Heck, why not just come on daown t'
mah place instead! We got a whole li'l tea servin' set thang that Ah've just been dyin' ta use, an' Ah
promise Ah'll soundproof Awmi's room, even if Ah gotta shove a pillow up her nose!"
Seeing as how my apartment is usually a mess, and there's the possibility that Baka made the
mess, um, bigger, along with the fact that my teacups are a hodgepodge of ceramic chaos made
the decision easy. I waved a momentary goodbye to the two ladies on Cathy's floor, dashing
upstairs for a moment to put Baka away and grab the mammoth bag of tea Eri had given me over
Golden Week. To my surprise and joy, Baka had made no mess in the apartment. Cathy must have
gotten to him early, or maybe he's not such an idiot after all. I tossed him one of the treats my
mother had sent with him, scratching him behind the ears and listening to him munch away
happily.
"Good boy," I said with a an easy and kind smile, then left him to his usual morning routine as I
went back downstairs. Upon opening the door to Ami and Cathy's apartment, I was treated to a
view of Eri Ozawa sans her track jacket, clad instead in a rather form-fitting racerback tanktop.
Now, you'd see more of the typical woman at the beach, or even on a particularly hot day...but
Eri's not exactly your typical woman. She immediately snatched for her jacket, holding it in front
of her as if it was a towel and I had just walked into the wrong side of the bathhouse. Eri seemed
to bristle, her razor-chopped bob sticking out at odd angles in her discomfort. Her face was awash
with red, while her lantern-like eyes turned into limpid orbs, ready to explode into tears at any
given moment. As an added horror (or bonus, for you weirdos out there) her shock had lead her to
clamp down on her lower lip with her upper teeth, giving her a similar look to a frightened rabbit
as she scrambled back into her jacket.
With a strangled chirp, I immediately pulled the door shut, confining myself to the hallway,
repeating "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" out of sheer force of habit. Around the seventh chorus, however,
it hit me that I really had nothing to apologize for. Cautiously opening the door, I saw Eri back in
her jacket, kneeling politely and formally at the table, looking straight ahead. The tears seemed
gone from her eyes, but her face was still a fair amount of red, which was ridiculous considering
the situation, but oh well.
"Sorry about that, Eri," I said, pulling up a cushion opposite her in true Japanese tea serving
fashion. She responded by shaking her head violently, her lips clamped tightly together, the
bottom one still slightly white. Over in the kitchen, Cathy had tears rolling down her face from the
suppressed laughter. After about the third round of her pointing at me, quaking with silent mirth,
I tossed the bag of tea at her, connecting with her face with a satisfying "pluff."
"One day, Ah'd lahk ta do a full Tea Ceremony," Cathy said proudly, "Awl Ah'm missin is a few
kimonos an' stuff."
I thought about offering her one of mine, but it quickly came upon me that having women's
kimonos just sitting around, while handy for a History teacher, is a bit disturbing in a normal
context.
"So what kahnda tea is this, Eri?" Cathy attempted to draw the silent one into conversation, but
her Ozawan language skills were lacking. As an official interpreter, I took over.
"Is it green tea, Eri?"
Head shake.
"Is it black?"
Nod.
"Interesting. Is it a Japanese style?"
Head shake.
"Hmmm...then is it English, maybe?"
Nod.
"How appropriate," I leaned back a little, trying to forget about the pain that was quickly growing
in my ankles, "English breakfast tea!"
Eri gave a little nod and went back to playing with the zipper on her track jacket, which was now
yanked up to its full height, turning her jacket into some kind of confused turtleneck. However,
now that I think about it, the high neck looked good on her...
"English breykfast, huh? Well, Ah daon't got any beans 'r blood puddin, but we've got plenny of
jam an' toast!"
"Sounds great, Cathy, thanks" I gave a smile and a little thumbs up, "don't you think so, Eri?"
No response but the jangle of her jacket's zipper.
"Wait..." I narrowed my eyes, leaning forward slightly in a move that sent Eri's defense
mechanisms on red alert, "Do you even eat breakfast usually?"
A shake of the head confirmed my doubts. She doesn't even grab a piece of toast in the morning,
how does this lady function?
"Well, as my coach you're supposed to set a good example," I put up my index finger like some
kind of educational film, "and breakfast is a very important meal, so you should eat it with us.
Make sense?"
Eri looked a little distressed, screwing up her mouth in frustration, but she managed a nod and I
did the tiniest of victory dances there at the table. Cathy, as it turns out, knows a thing or two
about brewing tea, even the fancy stuff, although she admitted that back home they usually just
stick a jar on the back porch with a few bags in it and let the sun do the rest, then add an
exorbitant amount of sugar to it. This became evident as she loaded up her own tea with sugar,
but I was too busy enjoying my own cup to care. It was some of the best tea I'd ever had, and I've
had quite a bit in my day.
"Eri, I've got to say, this tea is terrific. I don't know if I've ever had better."
"Yeah," Cathy nodded, "Ah feel like Ah couldn't screw this stuff up if Ah trahd!"
"You must give my compliments to your family," I gave the quiet woman a smile as I reached for
the marmalade.
"Yeah, an' maybe he'll wanna marry ya so he can git at all yer tea!" Cathy said with a hoot, tucking
into a concoction that was more strawberry jam than anything else. As soon as the words left her
mouth, both Eri's and my eyes shot up involuntarily, worriedly, meeting each other's panicked
gazes over the small, square table. Cathy, realizing what she had just done, reached for a nearly
empty teacup and tried to milk the remains of it with tiny sips as all conversation died. Almost
immediately after the, um, lock, we banked our gazes hard to port and focused on individually
fascinating sections of the carpet. Finally, after five minutes of crushingly awkward silence, Cathy
couldn't take it anymore.
"So yew gahs wauked here from Eri's place, raht?"
"Right," I blurted, happy to have something to say. The lies poured out, well, like good, hot tea as I
continued, "it's part of my training, you see. When I become a better student, coach here will
come to my house instead."
"A-ha," Cathy muttered, as if grasping some deep secret of the universe. The whole thing was
beginning to smack of one of those ridiculous old kung-fu movies that Ai probably watches for
fun.
"Did you know that Ai lives in the same building, Cathy?" I took another sip of tea.
"Oh, really?" Cathy responded politely, the cloying pall of small talk leaving bitter tastes in our
mouths, "I did not know that."
"Yes," I lied some more, why not? "Eri told me about that."
"Interesting, very interesting," Cathy punched her card for the Liar's Bus and stepped on board.
She turned to Eri, being very polite still.
"Do any other of our friends live in that building?"
Eri nodded.
"Which ones?" I asked, shifting a little on my knees, actually quite curious.
Then...Eri did something very unexpected.

Eri Ozawa stood up from the table, her face set in a determined frown. She turned on her heel and
padded softly, barefoot, across the apartment from our little tea table to the living room. As Cathy
and I sat and watched, bewildered out of our skulls, as the usually reserved Math teacher began to
push the coffee table, a lamp, and even the couch out of the way until she had a roughly four foot
square section of carpet to herself. Standing in the middle of it all, she spread her hands in a slow
arc.
"Stage."
By this point, I don't think either Cathy or I could have even made any indication of what was
going on. Our minds were both maelstroms of confusion, failing to see why this quiet little thing
had suddenly turned into an interior decorator when we asked who else lived in her building.
However, it all became clear as Eri began doing something that made me start thinking that the
tea I had been served was actually a liquid hallucinogen:
She started...acting.
Not Shakespearean acting or anything, but a cute, mousy, uniquely Ozawan form of acting. It was
still very much Eri Ozawa, but there was a definite air of dramatic performance and parody with
the whole spectacle...and it was funny!"
"Hey, Kenny-boy," Eri huffed with a husky voice, arms akimbo, "I'm gonna kick your butt."
Cathy couldn't take it anymore. Thankfully, we were sitting on cushions on the floor, so there
wasn't much of a fall as she toppled over, cackling hysterically. Even I couldn't help laughing a
little too much at the situation, partly from the performance and partly from Eri's ridiculous take
on everyone's favorite Amazon PE teacher. The laughter seemed to erupt out from inside me, and
I couldn't even have stopped it if I tried. It was so remarkable to finally hear Eri talking at length,
even if it was with stolen words and actions.
"Oh dear, I burned lunch!" Eri was now pantomiming Ms. Arakawa, and I have to say she had the
mannerisms down pretty flawlessly. Could it be that she spends all that time watching, learning,
understanding all of us? Just how much information has she gathered around those apples and
tea mug rims? Just how much did she know about us? Sometimes I wonder if she knows more
about us than we do ourselves, and she keeps it all locked up in there. Those eyes of hers show too
much spark to just be gazing into space all the time.
Finally, with one last uproariously scathing parody of Akira (which was spot on, I'll have you
know) it was time for the performance to conclude. With the most applause two people can give,
the imaginary curtain effectively dropped, as did the emotional curtain around Ms. Ozawa who, at
the first hint of adulation suddenly shuddered back down into her meek, unassuming self,
shuffling back to the table, and her tea. It was no use trying to get her to talk after that, and she
spent the rest of breakfast in silence while Cathy and I tried to cheer her up over her amazing
performance. Apparently, Eri is a method actress, and what happens "onstage" is a completely
different person.
Still, Cathy and I couldn't stop jabbering back and forth about how impressed and shocked we
were about this turn of events. It made Eri blush and blush, but our combined confusion and
excitement simply could not be stopped.
"Did you know?"
"NAW! Did yew?"
"NO!"
"She's Uh-may-zin!"
"I don't even think it was her, to be honest. It was like an entire other person up there, you
know?"
"Yeah! She's got reel taylent!"
By this time, Eri resembled a tomato in a blue track suit, her kendo-trained hands gripping the
teacup in a stranglehold.
"Aw, tayke it eesy, Eri. It was reely good, awnest!" Cathy scooted over to Eri's side of the table,
attempting to console the reticent one, "At least, if yer gonna be awl red, why nawt wear somethin'
ta match?"
She reached for the zipper on Eri's jacket, no doubt hoping to expose Eri's red tanktop.
Unfortunately, she underestimated the former combat expert, and soon found her own weight
used against her. She flew through the air with a wail, landing flat on her back on the part of the
floor that used to be a stage. It was either the impact of the landing, my laughter at the comical
scene, or Cathy's laughter once she recovered that lead to Ami waking up, tearing her door out of
the wall, and shouting a streak of threats and obscenities that, well, I don't feel comfortable
repeating it. Knowing what would come next, I quickly finished my delicious cup of tea (although
I was loathe to do so so quickly) and gathered up the massive, nowhere near empty bag of tea and
headed for the door.
"And you! Watanabe! Get outta here! I don't even want to think of you being in the same room
while I take a shower, you--"
I didn't hear the rest as I had already shut the door. I suppose it was kind of like having a picnic
on the top of an active volcano, you knew something was going to blow eventually. Still, I wish I
knew exactly what I did to make Ami so angry sometimes. If anyone out there knows, feel free to
let me know, I'll be in my apartment catching up on some of the sleep I didn't get last night.
However, knowing now that my crazy downstairs neighbor can pick the lock to my apartment
made me pull a box of old newspapers in front of the door before finally collapsing onto the futon.
At this point, I was willing to take whatever risks the first floor had in store for me, just for a few
moments of post-tea-bliss and sleep.

Snooker Loopy

When one is sleepy, one will do things one normally doesn't do. Sometimes, sleep deprivation can
resemble drunkenness, and studies have even proven that to be so, which means that lack of sleep
can lead to things like:
1. picking fights with someone roughly four times your size
2. calling up your ex-girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband/hairdresser and confessing that you love
them/want them back/need a trim
3. believing you can do something that would be patently impossible in a more reasonable state of
mind and,
4. simply forgetting to do the most menial of tasks. For instance, locking your door. For instance's
instance, forgetting that you actually left your keys in the lock, outside, in the hallway, while you
stumbled, sleep-drunkenly, into your bed, almost field-goal-kicking your dog in the process like
an old-timey American football kicker. You know, the big, tough looking ones, not the skinny little
soccer players with circus freak hands and unpronounceable names. Where was I again? Right!
The door.
I was awakened, in what is starting to become a disturbing habit, by Miss Eri Ozawa, who had
once again managed to gravitate to my slumbering side, either thinking me some sort of oversized
stuffed doll or efficient and economical space heater. For my sanity, we'll go with the latter,
because I like to think that my years of farm work, along with marginal weight loss, have made me
look at least slightly threatening, and less like the mascot at some child's amusement park.
It wouldn't be so bad if the kids wouldn't ask for pictures on the street...
Still, I wasn't as afraid of the situation as I had been in the past. When the young lady who used to
make a name for herself by beating on men with sticks falls asleep next to you, you panic a bit for
fear of catching her in a half-conscious, fight-or-flight state which could end you up swearing off
solid foods for a month. By the second occurrence, you're still afraid of a thrashing, but it's
becoming a little more commonplace, and less of one freakish circumstance. Perhaps it's a once
bitten, twice shy, three times indifferent situation...although I wouldn't exactly say I'm indifferent,
as there is still a rather attractive, if slightly eccentric young lady next to me at present.
I could tell she was dozing a little, because it took just a few seconds for those great big eyes to
register that I had finally woke up. Then, with the speed and agility of a lifelong athlete, she
somehow managed to warp space and time to her will and snap upright to her feet in a matter of
seconds. She bowed her head so frequently and so low that I was afraid she would lose
consciousness, so I stepped in to prevent any injury for either of us.
"Eri! Eri, it's all right, don't worry, it's all right. Now...calm down...and tell me how exactly you got
in here."
Judging from the morning's previous, um, adventures, I figured Cathy had picked my lock again,
which was something I really wasn't all that OK with quite yet. Or, maybe Eri can pick a lock, too.
It really wouldn't surprise me to learn she's actually part of some super-secret ninja clan of silent
assassins...but maybe that's just too perfect of a situation.
Eri's face was still bright red, her eyes still wide open, but she had at least stopped trying to give
herself an aneurysm. Zipping up her jacket the rest of the way (heaven forbid I see a sinful
collarbone, after all) she poked a long and dexterous finger toward the entrance.
"Door's open."
I'm sure I sputtered something like "what" or "how" or "who," but really all I can remember is
myself leaping up from my futon and flinging myself over the flotsam and jetsam of my apartment
to reach the door, which was, oddly enough, very much open. Upon poking my head out of the
doorway and into the hallway, I quickly discovered the culprit. In my eagerness to lie down and
snooze, I had apparently jammed my key in the lock, opened the door, and stumbled inside
without removing my key from the door. Eri, thoughtful darling as she was, most likely used the
key to enter, and didn't bother removing it, should I suddenly remember what I'd done and start
looking for the key. Because, you know, I'd rather the key be where I left it than somewhere, I
don't know, secure?
I yanked the key out of the lock, fully intending to chastise Eri for possibly allowed my keys to be
stolen, but one look at her worried eyes and trembling bottom lip took every bit of vitriol out of
my system. It's like, the adorable little bunny ate your lettuce patch, but you just can't bring
yourself to make it into stew, you know?
"It's all right, Eri," I sighed, feeling cheated out of a good yell, "I was just worried, is all. Who
knows, I could have had my keys stolen and then I would have had to move in with you as a
punishment!"
Now, to me, that seemed like a true punishment. There's a reason why I live alone, folks: I've got a
lot of junk lying around, I don't always pick up my clothes like I should, and I'm not much of an
interior decorator. However, to Eri Ozawa, such a "threat" was like offering Napoleon the title of
emperor. She fairly floated over toward me, popping one of her bare feet up into the air as she
wrapped me in a tight, jubilant hug. Before I could even explain the treacheries of roommate life
with me, I felt Eri go into another one of her inexpressible fits of emotion, shaking and wriggling
in my arms due to the overflow of feelings that she couldn't put into words. I managed to catch my
breath and set the Math teacher back down on solid ground, her eyes shining with the possibility
of a future that I couldn't quite bring myself to tarnish.
There was something in those eyes, though, that just made me feel a little guilty for even
suggesting such a thing, even though I knew it was a joke. Even if that had been the case, there
was no way I would have been able to move in with her, or any of them...I just don't think my
conscience and my heart could take it. I can barely work in the same building with them, imagine
trying to live in the same apartment. I've been to Ami's apartment and Ai's condo, and both
experiences have been just this short of traumatic, effectively putting the kibosh on the whole
situation.
And speaking of Ai's condo.
"Hey, Eri?"
My voice managed to snap her out of her giddy state, and her eyes went from being sugary pools
of glee to the customary bottomless depths. Satisfied that she was in a position to listen, I began.
"Thanks a lot, Eri...for not telling anyone that I was, you know, upstairs. I'm sure that Ai's, um,
reputation might have made the situation a little difficult, and I appreciate you keeping quiet
about it. You...will keep quiet about it, won't you?"
Eri went to make a nod, but stopped halfway, her eyes suddenly turning up and to the left, letting
me know she was thinking, and probably about nothing good. Knowing what was probably going
to happen, I decided to save the reticent one any unnecessary words.
"All right," I sighed. I was so close to getting out of this unharmed! "What do I have to do to keep
you from telling the others, and effectively saving my soul?"
It was almost automatic, as if she had been planning for it. Eri reached into the pocket of her track
pants, fumbling around in first the right, then the left, and then finally in the rear pocket (she
stared at me until I looked away for that one) until she pulled out a worn, folded piece of
newspaper, handing it over to me.
"Classic Movie Showings, Downtown Theatre. Friday: 'Tom Jones,' Albert Finney, Suzannah York.
Best Picture Oscar, 1963. Saturday: 'My Fair Lady,' Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn. Best Picture
Oscar, 1964. Sunday--"
Eri stopped me reading the clipping before I could get to "The Sound of Music," pointing
markedly at tonight's movie.
"You want to see 'My Fair Lady?'"
"Yes."
"Let's see..." I glanced at the well-worn scrap, "All shows start at seven...what time is it now?" I
went for my watch, then realized it was back on Ai's coffee table, taken off about halfway through
the fight with Megalon. Drat.
"It's 10:30."
"Oh? Thanks. I suppose we have some time then..." I scratched my head embarrassedly, noticing
that it'd been some time since I'd washed my hair, "um...Eri? Would you mind if I met up with
you later and, um...cleaned myself up a bit?"
Eri looked me up and down, seemingly torn between decided that I needed a bath and wanting to
spend more time with me. Finally, she gave that tiniest wisp of a smile, nodded, and said.
"I'll pick you up."
"Ah! Um...okay," I was put a little off balance by that one, but sallied forth, "How does six sound?"
Eri shook her head, the razor-bob bouncing back and forth around her eyes.
"Five," she said with firm resolve, "Dinner, too."
Hm. I really didn't have much of a choice, did I?
"Dinner it is. See you at five."
Eri gave me a final bow, then fairly tip-toed out into the hallway and parts unknown. I suppose I
would have felt bad about making her walk back to her condo, but after seeing the toss she
performed on Cathy, I really wasn't all that worried. Plus, she hadn't had that ridiculous run this
morning, so no doubt she'd get it done now. I just know that morning run is part of her ridiculous
diet. I wish she'd learn that she looks fine without the apple and the tea and the running and the
suffering, but going from the skinny little girl I taught to the, um, well-rounded woman I know
now... I just don't know.
By the time five o'clock rolled around, I had showered, shaved, and changed, nixing both a tie and
slacks in favor of a loose collar and some comfortable trousers. I walked Baka, and fed him, with
the dog spending the entire afternoon regarding me with a curious look, something along the lines
of "who was that lady?"
Great, now even my dog is giving me the business. And, judging from the amount of attention he
got this morning from Cathy and Eri both, Baka was probably very upset to see both of them
leave. I said my goodbyes to the three-legged furball, who gave a little chirp in recognition, and
headed down to the front door to wait for my ride. Sheesh, I hope she doesn't pay our way in, too.
Call me old fashioned, but driving me there is enough to make me feel, well, a little inadequate. I
know it's stupid, and out-dated, but part of me still likes the way things used to work. Of course,
without the crippling sexism and duplicity, but the principles, the principles!
Of all the cars that passed by my apartment building, I sure wasn't expecting the fast-looking,
turbo-charged sport coupe to be carrying Eri Ozawa.
"Holy cow!" I whistled, running my hand reverently over the car's gleaming surface, "this thing is
a treasure! How many horsepower does it make?"
"One-hundred eighty."
"I bet this thing flies!" I said in awe.
"Sure."
With that ambiguous statement, we piled into the zippy little thing and headed off to whatever
destination Eri had picked...conservatively. At no point did Eri drive over the speed limit, forget
to signal, cut a corner, or even miss a shift into any of the car's six-speeds. For everything that was
under this car's hood, Eri was sure babying it, and it seemed like a bit of a waste. I couldn't help
but wonder what Ai might do if she got behind the pristine wheel of a car like this...but then that
started to scare me and I switched to a more cheerful topic of conversation.
"So, where are we going for dinner?" I asked, fully expecting something like an apple orchard that
bordered a tea garden.
"Barbecue."
Once again, I found myself shocked by this turn of events. Thankfully, I was buckled into my
chair, or I may have fallen out of the first surprise because of the second surprise. Are we really
doing to go eat barbecue? What kind of barbecue? Like, meat? Can you barbecue apples? This
might get ugly...
In fact, it turned out to be quite good. The place was a little place next to the movie theater that
specialized in Korean barbecue. For those of you that don't know, they give you a little grill on the
table and you cook it how you like it, with all sorts of neat side dishes and sauces for you to try.
The best part of the whole thing, though, is that you take the grilled meat, and wrap it in a lettuce
leaf to eat it all at once! Really, it's the best possible way I can think of to eat lettuce, and there's
nothing like a big bunch of spicy, delicious beef to make the kimchi go down a bit smoother, if you
know what I mean.
As for Eri? I don't know if it was because of her diet, or just a passionate love for barbecue, but I'd
never seen the girl eat so heartily. I suppose I could have said that this kind of binge eating
wouldn't help her diet, but frankly it made me relieved to see her eat at all, because sometimes I
worry that she'll come into school one day, only to find out that her stomach has eaten itself. I
wish there was a way to discuss this whole issue, but if there's one thing I've learned in all my
years, it's that you simply do not discuss weight with a lady.
It was getting towards the end of the meal when we both reached for the last piece of beef, our
chopsticks clacking together in some sort of bulgogi traffic accident. Immediately, Eri pulled her
chopsticks away and slammed them back down on the table, hanging her head dejectedly.
"I ate too much," she said softly, sadly. Experience be damned, Ken Watanabe, you're going to
broach that subject! I took my chopsticks and deftly flicked the last little piece of beef onto her
plate, which brought her eyes up to match mine, which probably had some kind of psychotic glint
in them brought on by too much kimchi.
"Eri, I don't ever, EVER want to hear you talk about yourself like that, OK? You're really too hard
on yourself, and you don't have any reason to be! You're not overweight, you're just...normal!
There's nothing wrong with you, Eri, really! I mean, sure, there are times I wish you'd talk a little
more...but that's just you, and you shouldn't feel ashamed about being who you are, understand?"
By this time, I was on my feet, towering over the little Math teacher. The other patrons in the
restaurant had stopped their eating to watch the ridiculous little scene, most of them probably
expecting me to drop to one knee with a ring at any second. Eri, in response to my outburst, fixed
me with those lantern eyes while her fingers were a flurry of activity. She grabbed a leaf of lettuce,
whisked the beef into it with a twist, and popped the whole thing in her mouth without uttering a
sound, chewing with a frightened look until the entire thing was gone. When it was finally
eradicated, I sat back down, exhaling with force and realizing just how ridiculous I had just acted.
Now, the moment of truth: do I stay silent, confident in my points, or do I keep talking and risk
weakening the entire argument?
"Eri," well, I'm just all for denying convention tonight, aren't I? "I just...I wish you wouldn't be so
hard on yourself. You look...good, Eri. You look good. You're just as special and as pretty as all the
other girls, and I wish you'd realize that. I'm saying this to impress you... I just don't like to see
nice people feel... bad, is all."
Well, that ending certainly fell flat. We paid and exited the restaurant in a horrible umbrella in
silence, the only positive reaction coming from the waiter who took my cash, who leaned in close
and whispered.
"You're right on the money, man. She's a real looker!"
His words were kind and bolstering, but nothing could really dispel the pall Eri was casting
throughout the entire movie. I couldn't get a single reaction out of her, not even in the secret
underground Ozawan language I had spent so much time trying to perfect. As for the movie, it's
wonderful, I've seen it before, and although it's great to brush up on my English (it had Japanese
subtitles) I still couldn't full get into it with Eri being, well...completely unresponsive. I exited the
movie in silence, feeling a bit Ozawan myself, and as I turned to head back to where Eri had
parked, she went the opposite direction.
Now what is she up to?
About two blocks down from the theater, and around four blocks total from the car, Eri took a
right hand turn and disappeared from my sight, heading into an ice cream parlor. By the time I
reached the counter Eri had already got us two massive cones of soft-serve. She handed one to
me, avoiding all eye contact, which was bizarre for the lady of the endless, piercing stare. We
made our way back to the car and, it being a warm enough night, the ice cream had to be
devoured quickly. By the time we had reached the car, both of our ice creams were gone, and I had
yet another bout with insanity and decided to talk again.
"You know, Eri, I've often wondered," he said, stepping into the lion's mouth, "what made you
want to become a teacher, anyway? I thought for sure you'd be a Kendo champ by now."
Eri walked over to her side of the car, staring at me over the hood. After what seemed like an
eternity of eye contact, she finally spoke.
"I wanted to be like you."
Wow, six words. I do believe that's a new record.
We piled into the car and were on our way, once again driving calmly in a car that could have
probably gone somewhere near Warp Speed. Round about halfway through the drive, I couldn't
stand the uneasy silence in the car, and I began to babble again.
"I'm sorry, Eri, if I upset you," I sputtered, trying to break the bizarre tension that seemed ready
to crack the windows in the car, "I was just trying to make you feel better, but I know I did it a
little too strongly, and I'm sorry, just don't be upset, I was only trying to help, and--"
We pulled into park back outside my building, and Eri turned her head to me, slowly, robotically.
Reaching out with one of those deadly hands she put a firm grip around the back of my neck,
causing me to break out in a cold sweat from top to toes. Did I go too far? Was she going to break
my neck? Slam my face into the dashboard? Put me in a sleeper hold and dump me in a ditch? My
mind raced through too many celluloid clichés to be healthy, so I barely even noticed, and put up
very little resistance, when Eri pulled my head down and rested it on her lap, right there in the
car. I wasn't really sure what to do, but I was pretty sure that if I did my usual "freak and flail"
defense, I would probably wind up with a mouthful of steering wheel, so I just breathed deeply,
looked straight ahead, and tried not to sweat too much.
When it finally seemed like everything had calmed down, I felt Eri's hands running through my
hair, slowly and, um, surprisingly comfortable. The streetlamps were burning bright over our
heads, feeling like a sort of spotlight, and I guess it was enough of an effect to make Eri feel like
she was on-stage again, because she started singing:

Someone's head restin' on my knee,
Warm and tender as he can be.
Who takes good care of me,
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Like her acting, it wasn't exactly musically bombastic, but it had a certain charm to it. Something
that was quaint, cute, and unabashed; certainly not operatic, but no less captivating. She hummed
the melody to the song for a little while longer, before finally taking her fingers out of my hair,
which I took to mean a signal that the evening's, um, festivities were over. I got up and left in
silence, standing outside the car in the warm night air, not quite sure what had happened, was
happening, or what would happen next.
"Erm, good night, Eri?" my voice cracked at the mention of her name, making me feel roughly
thirteen years old.
"Good night, Mr. Watanabe," Eri said with a smile, an honest-to-goodness smile, the first one of
hers I'd ever seen. She shifted into gear, stepped on the gas, and moderately pulled away, leaving
me alone on the sidewalk, my head so full of thoughts I knew I'd never get to sleep. So I stood out
there for who knows how long, in the streetlight, just staring at particularly nothing, saying
nothing, hardly blinking, and just...thinking.
Ha.
I must look like Eri Ozawa.

With my Friday and Saturday both being extended periods of stay in Hectic Junction, I decided
that Sunday would be my day of rest. Hey, if He can do it, so can I. Sunday was spent sleeping, for
the most part, although I did wake up at one point to bathe, and at another to eat something.
Oddly enough, it went in that order, as I'm someone who just can't seem to go through a day
without covering myself in water. Food? Not necessary. Relaxing deluge? Essential.
Even though I spent over half of Sunday sleeping, I still didn't feel ready to face Monday when it
inevitably rolled around. There was just something about it, more than any other Monday, that
made me dread its coming. It really didn't make any sense, as I had just been through what could
have been described as a "Weekend from Hell," dealing with no less than three (four if you count
Ami's outburst) difficult, intense feminine encounters. Whether it was Ai's playful, um, affections,
Cathy's newly-discovered cat-burglar skills, or Eri's bizarre cycle of transformation and
regression...it was safe to say that I had had a difficult weekend, and this next week would be a
piece of cake by comparison.
,,,
Really, sometimes I should just keep my big, fat mouth shut.
Yes, just when it seemed like that ridiculous "get to know your fellow teachers" exercise was
finally winding down, and our glorious free periods had once again become free of snore-inducing
"observations" of other teacher's classes, that mysterious Vice Principal from Parts Unknown had
struck again. This time handing out a set of edicts that ran longer and longer as each day of the
week progressed. Now, mind you, getting ridiculous orders from a boss is frustrating, but
something you have to do as a cog in a mighty machine like the education system. However, it
becomes a nearly Herculean onus to obey all of these orders, wordlessly, and without
question...from someone who isn't even there.
Think about it: you can't walk into the person's office to chew him out, because he's still working
somewhere else, treating your school like some kind of Petri dish on the side. No doubt we're the
anthill that this new VP is enjoying taking the magnifying glass to, waiting to see if any of the ants
will bite, but is at such a comfortable distance that our weak mandibles will find no purchase.
There is no way to exact revenge, protest, or even pose a legitimate complaint to someone who
isn't there, and won't be there in the near future, because we haven't been given an arrival date for
the new guy. After this week's worth of proclamations, I'm thinking the school won't go
advertising the Vice Principal's ETA, choosing instead to smuggle him in during the dead of night
like he was the last member of the Romanov family and this was Stalingrad.
On Monday, the order came down from on high that the Vice Principal had some fresh, new ideas
for the school. Strike one: anything advertised as "fresh" or "new" in a school will ultimately spark
the ire of the faculty. Strike two: having to announce that there is going to be announcements only
means that the announcements are going to be particularly boffo, so it's about time to get out the
Air Warden helmets and get under the nearest sturdy structure, because things are about to go
boom.
Tuesday brought a new dress code: not for students, but for teachers. Tuesday's lunch was largely
forgotten as we all pored over the new document, voicing out disapproval.
"Only black and white?" Haru said with a pout.
"I don't think I own a button-down shirt," Ms. Arakawa nibbled on her bottom lip nervously.
"They expect me to wear a TIE while teaching GYM?" Mei's voice was like a bullhorn, and as the
week would go on...it would only get worse.
By Wednesday, morale was already becoming hostile, and the decision to standardize the
curriculum did little to improve it. Until now, there had been basic ideas for each course, but it
was largely up to the teacher about how they hit each and every one. Not anymore. According to
this new VP, everyone had to teach the same thing, on the same day, in the same subjects, in the
same way. Now, as I have mentioned before, the rest of the History department (excluding Akira)
are a fairly docile, unimaginative bunch, and I can only assume that the crushing majority might
spell doom for my love of teaching my own special way.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Thursday brought an entire new slough of tests that would be
administered, school-wide, along with everything else that had to be done in our classes
remaining unchanged.
"I have to give a TEST in PE?" Mei's fury was reaching critical mass, and by now it was taking the
entire group, myself included, to calm her down enough to the simmering point of murderous
rage. Out of all of us, Mei was definitely taking these things the worst, mainly because almost
every one of these new educational maxims threatened the very way she ran her job. Add to the
fact that she is a hot-tempered Amazon who smells of...Thursday... then it would be jasmine, and
you have the opportunity for sweet-smelling mayhem.
So, on Friday, when the command was laid down to do away with private lunches, we were all
livid. And, for Mei Tanaka, it was the last straw. I don't remember much of what happened until
we were both halfway down the hall to the main office, me holding on for dear life to her jacket as
she pulled me along, the stubborn plow to her Clydesdale horse. With each step of those long,
powerful legs, I skidded and squeaked along the floor, pleading with Mei to give it up, while all
around the two of us the rest of the Rouges tried in vain to calm down the incensed Phy Ed
instructor. It wouldn't even matter if the VP was still off on assignment, Mei would find a way to
fling her hatred like some kind of mystical discus directly onto its desk, where it would explode
into a thousand little incarnations of Mei that would systematically beat the tar out of this
presumptuous Vice Principal.
"I don't care!" Mei kept snarling, "this jerk has gone too far!"
"But..."
"No!"
"Mei..."
"NO!"
"You can't..."
"NO!!!"
And so on. It must have looked like some strange parade, with all the hubbub we were creating,
and thankfully my weight was still sufficient enough to slow Mei down slightly, allowing me to
think of a plan. If Mei did what she wanted to do, she'd be fired on the spot, and then there would
be nothing stopping her from releasing her fury upon all of mankind like some kind of vengeful
goddess. There must be a way to stop her, there must be a way to avoid all of this conflict...could
there be?
...
Of course!
But no, I couldn't do that! It's too dangerous!
But I must!
You won't make it out alive!
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!
...wait, where did you hear that from?
There's no time for that, we're almost at the office! It's time to act!
"Mei!" I shouted above the din, still being dragged along by the Jasmine typhoon, "If...if you don't
go in there, if you don't make a fuss...if you go back to the room and keep quiet...I'll go out with
you this weekend!"

"I'll kill him! I'll kill him! I'll rip off his stupid vice principal head, and then I'll rip off his stupid
vice principal arms, and then his stupid vice principal legs..."
"Mei-mei!" Haru cried, hanging off of Mei's neck like some kind of bizarre ornament, "Stop,
please! You'll get fired!"
"I don't care! No idiot, loser, hopeless, friendless jackass of a boss is going to tell me that I can't
eat a good lunch with my friends!"
"P-please...Miss Tanaka..." Ms. Arakawa was scuttling alongside the melee, trying her hand at
reasoning with the maddened Amazon.
"No way, Tomo! I can't go back to that cafeteria slop after your grub! You shouldn't have cooked
so good!"
Poor, poor Tomoko. She even manages a sniffle when someone compliments her. The sight of that
domestic goddess on the brink of tears would have stopped me in my tracks, but Mei was like a
woman possessed. Finally, I had no choice. From the hem of her jacket, I drew my trump card.
"I'll go out with you this weekend!"
I think that some of Japan's car manufacturers should get in contact with Mei Tanaka. If their
cars could stop like she just did, there would never be another accident. However, that jerk with
the apple made some discoveries a few years ago, so physics made us all go hurtling forward. Ai
and Ami went rocketing off of her arms, Haru spun around, changing from a backpack to a
necklace, even Eri, who always looked so balanced, stumbled forward after releasing the PE
teacher's waist.
And me? Well, I had been dragged about behind her, and when she stopped I found myself lucky
for two things: first, that the floor had been recently and well waxed; and second, that Mei had
long enough legs to send me skidding between them, my head popping out the other side like a
some kind of disturbing interpretive dance. All in all, it probably resembled some kind of bizarre
cheerleading maneuver, with each of us frozen in a ridiculous pose. We were afraid to move,
should our movement make Mei suddenly resume her tunnel-visioned crusade.
After what seemed like an eternity, she did move. Surprisingly, she didn't even seem to realize or
be embarrassed of the fact that I was currently perched between her legs, something that usually
would have warranted me a brain-shattering spinning heel kick out of the nearest window.
Instead, she craned her neck downward, all the way from her head's perch nearly six feet in the
air, looking directly at my, frankly, mortified face.
"Really?" she said, cocking a single eyebrow.
Gulp.
My voice came out like twenty-grit sandpaper being dragged over a coral reef.
"Really."
"Ten AM. My place?"
"S...sure?"
Why so early? I dare not ask.
"All right," she shouted, cracking her knuckles expertly, "it's a date! And for now..." a shadow
seemed to appear out of nowhere and cover her face, "that pinhead principal wannabe...is safe."
What had been abject chaos only moments before dissipated quickly back to our own devices.
"Wow," I heard Haru whisper to Ai, "that's what you call 'pulling out the big guns,' right?"
"For Watanabe, this is like taking a tank to a water flea."
As the day wore on to a close, the enormity of my situation, and my stupidity, began to dawn on
me.
"You asked out Tanaka, eh?" Akira said with a smirk, "I didn't know you were into the
punishment thing."
"Shut up," I said with a sour face, "I really didn't want to see her get fired. She's a good PE
teacher, and, well...I kind of feel responsible for these girls."
"Ladies," Akira corrected me with a reproving finger, "they're ladies now, remember."
"I guess so."
"Frankly, I don't see how you could forget," he said in his smarmiest voice, the voice he'd usually
only pull out after too many drinks at the college bars all those years ago.
"You do realize that you don't have that 'cute college boy' routine going on anymore," I flicked a
pen cap at him, "now you just sound like an old and creepy pervert."
"Au contraire, mon frer," Akira caught the pen cap and chewed on it thoughtfully, "I have it on
very good intelligence that I am supremely cute."
"It doesn't count if you say it," I lowered my eyes at him, which only made his grin broader.
"It's not just me, my--"
"Your mother doesn't count either."
"...You can be a real jerk sometimes, Watanabe," Akira pulled a face at me. I responded by
cracking him over the knees with my notebook. That's how we work, I guess.
"Ugh," I groaned, pulling myself up from my desk like I had 40 kilo weights strapped to my
thighs, "I should get going. Mei wants to meet up at ten, and I need some time to...prepare."
"I suggest wearing your entire replica samurai armor," Akira called after me as I left the teacher's
room, "at least then you have the option of seppuku!"
He can be such an ass sometimes...but then again, I think that's why he's my best friend...and
honestly, if I could have worn armor out on Saturday, I think I would have. Mei has this tendency
to be...tactile with her emotions, both good and bad, and both in a way that can be described as,
um, percussive. Sometimes, when a funny joke is heard, a person will give another person a
hearty thump on the back as an expression of mirth. In a similar situation, Mei Tanaka seems to
make it her duty to dislodge a person's lungs. You get the picture, right? Because it's making me
hurt just to think about it.
Baka seemed to notice something was wrong when I came home, and as I watered that fancy-
pants lily from Ai I couldn't help but agree with him...but why? It would have been a matter of
time before Mei blackmailed or clotheslined me into a date, especially if she heard about the last
few weekends...yet why does this have me so despondent? It wasn't until I was sitting down a
plate of curry rice and staring at the television that it hit me.
I asked. I had done it.
The rest of these misadventures had been instigated by the females in the equation, and this was
the first time I breached the subject. Sure, it was more out of defense and a last-ditch saving
throw, but that doesn't change the fact that I, Ken Watanabe (the other one), asked out one of my
former students. Something inside me just seemed to roil at that idea, and I spent most of the
evening on my back, staring at the ceiling, my curry rice forgotten as I pondered just why I was
feeling bad.
I was their teacher. As their teacher, I had certain things that were expected of me. In essence, I
was to be a caretaker, a steward for their young lives and the enrichment thereof. Asking them
out, even years later, just seems to be taking advantage of that situation, like part of me was
subconsciously planning this all along. Did my former students really like me, or did they just like
the feeling they got from their teacher? Could it be that these seven irrational crushes are just
manifestations of a protracted childhood, and my early exit only served to cement the immature
love, effectively freezing its potency forever in time? Have I really created a disturbing, um...farm
for my own disturbing latent desires?
Baka ended up eating my curry rice. Boy howdy, I am not looking forward to his reaction to that
tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning...when I have a date with Mei Tanaka...when I asked her
out...
It was around this time that I began thrashing around on the floor, hoping that by burning some
physical energy, perhaps I could quiet my brain as well. Thankfully, after a few minutes of
flopping about like a dying fish (something Baka took to be some kind of new game) I had made
myself as tired on the outside as I felt on the inside. With a brain that was too upset to worry
about the stomach's cries for food, I crawled into bed, letting sleep take me away. By the way, I
don't advise going to bed on a ravenously empty stomach. Strange things happen.
My first dream involved me toiling in a garden until a bunch of strange looking vegetables
sprouted, among which being a pink tomato with two ponytails, A squash with a long ponytail,
and a carrot wearing glasses. After that, I was in a grand ballroom, dressed in a tuxedo and
surrounded by others in similar finery. My dance card started in my hand, but unrolled down
onto the floor and out of the massive dance floor, through the door and into the street. I was
dragged this way and that onto the dance floor, and as the "night" wore on, it became apparent to
me that none of the ladies I was dancing with had full faces. Each and every time, half of the face
would seem familiar, but the other half would be completely dark, as if there was a malicious
cloud following them. Finally, the third dream involved me out on the date with Mei, but Mei was
the young Mei I had taught, but I was still me. Eventually, I was charged with gross indecency,
and rolled through a surprisingly European village on a cart, refuse being hurled at me by an
angry populous. By the time the guillotine fell onto my neck, I awoke with a strangled scream, my
heart pounding against my ribcage and my body covered in a cold sweat.
Time, space, all of it had no meaning to me as I tried to get my bearings, finally deciding that this
was reality just in time to be startled halfway up the nearest wall by the phone ringing. Crawling
over to the device like a commando, and half worried that I was still in a dream and the phone
would turn out to be an adder or something, I picked up the never-ending ringing with a
trembling hand.
"H...he...hello?" My throat was absolutely dry.
"Hey, Kenny-boy, you're late!"

Now, given the jittery nature of my existence following the three disturbing dreams I had just
endured, hearing that I had overslept for my, um, date with Mei Tanaka sent me corkscrewing
across my apartment like some kind of Olympic diving hopeful who wasn't quite aware that there
wasn't a great bunch of water underneath him. I grabbed onto my alarm clock, fully intending to
give the inanimate object a stern talking to, but my gusto resulted in pulling the clock out of the
wall socket entirely, robbing my of what should have been my window into exactly how late I was.
With an anguished wail, I pulled another triple-salchow over to the oven, which thankfully was
securely fastened to the wall. With bloodshot eyes and a mouth that felt like someone dumped a
kilo of the Gobi into it, I peered at the digital readout.
...
8:40?
No more flamboyant leaps this time, just my angry stomping back to the phone, snatching up the
receiver with enough force to snap it in two.
"...Mei?" my voice was quiet and quavering with inexpressible frustration.
"BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! I can't believe you fell for it!" I had to hold the phone away from my ear,
her laughter was so raucous, "I even heard you tumbling all over your apartment and moaning,
too, that was too much!"
I can't quite remember what happened then, but I think I ate my phone. I did miss dinner, after
all, and the next thing I knew my phone was in tiny little pieces. Crap, now I have to buy a new
one... or maybe I can make Mei buy a new one later today, and by later today I mean in the
roughly two hours until I'm supposed to meet her. Still, I've already been up and done my, um,
calisthenics, so there's no point in going back to bed. And besides, I'm ravenous after last night
with no dinner!
By 10:22, I was fed, washed, and had hoofed myself back over to the condominium building that
housed Eri, Mei, Ai, and Ms. Arakawa. I scanned the registry, finding a Tanaka on the same floor
as Eri, so I decided to take a gamble.
"Yeah?" came a familiar enough sounding voice over the intercom.
"Mei?" I hazarded a guess.
"...maybe."
"Mrrr," I grumbled as the door buzzed open. This is going to be a day full of pranks, I just know it.
I suppose I'd better watch my step at the door to her place, or I might wind up with a bucket of
glue on my head or something. Be strong, Watanabe, be strong! Be ready for any prank, plot, or
prestidigitation, you know she's bound to spring something!
...
She sure did.
"Mei? What are you wearing?"
I hadn't seen her in a skirt since she was in high school, and even then she made a point of letting
everyone know that she still had athletic shorts on. Yet here she was, in a flouncy ensemble that
was, of all colors, muted pink, which matched the (I kid you not) pink bow tied at the top of her
gargantuan ponytail. Almost immediately following my comment, her face crashed into a scowl.
"It was Ai's idea," Mei said sourly, "I'm gonna go change."
"No! No, it's all right, really," I waved my hands in placation, "You look good, kinda cute, even..."
"Bah!" Mei made a noise that was halfway between a shout and a snort. A snout?
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend..."
Mei gave me a look that was usually only reserved for scowling action movie heroes when they
place some heavy vow upon their breast.
"I don't do cute."
"Ehhh...?" I scratched the back of my head, really at a loss for where to go next. Then, like a
tatermasher grenade, Mei threw her voice into our trench of conversation and made a real mess
out of things.
"I have a confession to make!"
She said this while staring at the wall, and not at me. This made me a little more than nervous,
understandably, so I decided to busy myself with the decor as well. In essence, it was the same
sort of place as Ai's, but Ai's botanical theme had been replaced by no less than three posters of
Sadaharu Oh. Where Ai had filled her shelves with plants, Mei had filled them with various bits of
memorabilia from her own playing days, along with a few signed knickknacks from famous
athletes from all over the globe. Near the window, a solitary bookshelf looked meek and out of
place, but was crammed full of books that my eyes couldn't quite distinguish by the time Mei had
gotten up the courage to lob another incendiary batch of conversation my way.
"I feel bad admitting this, but there's nothing I can do about it. I wouldn't be able to live with
myself if I didn't say this right now!"
Are you sure, Mei? I'm willing to bet that you could keep on living even if you stayed silent. Really,
you don't have to say anything...please? I really...I really don't need to know, and after last night's
foray into Revolutionary France, it might be better just not to hear anything, okay?
...
You're not going to listen to me, are you?
"The truth is, Mr. Watanabe..."
Oh no. She never called me Mr. Watanabe, not even when I was her teacher.
"You see...the gifts Haru and I gave you were originally meant for each other, but we didn't really
like them so we gave them to you!"
"It's okay that you feel that way, Mei," I was speaking lines I had feverishly rehearsed," but...wait,
what?"
"I bought Haru one of those weird American footballs, and she got me the CD, but round about
the end of our trip we realized neither of us really had any use for them...so we gave them to you.
I'm sorry, we should have told you, it was rude of us."
"No, Mei, that's perfectly fine," I replied, elated that my imaginary head wasn't going to be cut off,
"I don't mind at all, in fact I had a bit of a feeling about that."
"You did?" Mei's eyes were wide with embarrassment.
"Just a little. But you know what? I like them. Who knows, we might have to teach them all how to
play that bizarre game, what do you say?"
"Of...of course," Mei's nod was robotic and uncomfortable.
"And maybe I could make you a copy of that CD, in case the music grows on you?"
"...I'd like that...Kenny-boy," she gave me a little smile, and with her worry completed, she was
Mei again, "so, where are we headed? Remember, you asked me out, so it's all up to you!"
While the little man inside my mind was cackling, her reminder of that sore subject felt like an
icicle through my heart. Still, I had done my homework, and had reached back through the mists
of time to pick out the destination.
"Well, I was figuring we could go see this," I said with a satisfied grin, pulling a pamphlet out of
my pocket and waggling it in front of her face. With a perturbed grunt, Mei grabbed a hold of my
wiggling wrist, nearly snapping it in half to stop the pamphlet long enough to read.
"Warfare exhibit at the Natural History Museum? Are you serious?"
She fixed me with a quizzical stare, one eye jacked nearly to her hairline.
"Take a look at the back," I said with a smile, trying to ignore the pain in my wrist as Mei
wrenched the pamphlet around to see the last page. Please, just take it out of my hand!
"Special, adults-only exhibit: The History of Torture."
Mei's eyes emerged over the edge of the pamphlet like a malevolent version of Kilroy, her face
affixed in a cat-like grin.
"Oh ho ho," she chuckled, "Now that's my kind of museum! Now, you'll be sure to give me all the
extra dirt the museum leaves out, right Kenny-boy? You know...all the juicy stuff?"
"Every eviscerating morsel," I said with a darkness that surprised me, "In the name of History and
the pursuit of knowledge, of course."
"Right, yeah...something like that," Mei said with a sniff, finally releasing my wrist from the clutch
of death itself. In a trice, she had grabbed her purse (which looked to be recently purchased, in
that same fluffy shade of pink) and was halfway out the door.
"C'mon, Kenny. Time's a wastin!"
The nice part about Japan, claustrophobic as is it, is that pretty much everything is within walking
distance. Now, I haven't been to America, but from what I've read, seen and puttered about on the
internet maps while I'm supposed to be working, it seems like everything is really far apart.
Concurrently, I don't see a lot of trains in America, so with the price of fuel going up...maybe
they'll end up hoofing it more often like Mei and I. Also, I find it slightly funny that it is the month
of May, and I'm here with Mei. It doesn't take much to amuse me.
The museum turned out to be an awful lot of fun for the both of us, which is odd, because usually
I'm the only one enjoying museums. Now granted, this was a museum that was specializing in
some of Miss Tanaka's disturbingly favorite things, but I have to say I was impressed at her
attention span and thirst for knowledge, even if it was a fairly bloodthirsty subject. Maybe I've
misjudged Mei: I always thought she was a poor student who lacked motivation, but maybe I, as a
teacher, wasn't giving her the right kind of motivation. If I could teach one class for one student I
could, but something must have gone right if Mei made it through college and became a teacher.
Although, now that I think about it, she probably enjoyed all her health classes for the grosses
maladies and the pictures of guts.
We stopped at a nearby joint to grab a quick meal, and as I never got to my curry rice the night
before, it suddenly looked more appealing than filet mignon. We both sat down to bowls of the
stuff, only medium hot.
"I've got to say," I mumbled around a mouthful, "this is nice. If I was with Ami she'd be forcing
the super spicy stuff in my face."
Mei reached out to smack me on the forehead with her spoon.
"Don't talk with your mouth full. And don't get me started on Ami. Haven't you ever wondered
why she doesn't live in the nice building with the rest of us?"
"Not really. I figured she was just a cheapskate, like me."
"She's like you, but she's not a cheapskate."
And with that cryptic little line, Mei dove into her dinner and remained mum on the subject for
the rest of the meal. However, that didn't keep us from getting into a vicious Fighters v. Giants
debate, eventually ending with Mei tossing her her spoon at my nose, giving her the victory but
me the moral highground. It was about that time I noticed a few other people in the parlor
looking at us, most of them men. Let me remind you what they were seeing: a portly, graying
gentleman having a spirited debate, about baseball, with a statuesque Japanese beauty in an airy
pink number that might as well have been a pair of seraphim wings. Needless to say, we left the
parlor with me getting a rather unpleasant shower of stares, Mei oblivious to it all. I guess when
you spend most of your life beating the tar out of men who might ask you out, you become a little
desensitized to their advances.
But still, that begs the question...why me?
I was pondering this question, my brow furrowed in thought, when Mei finally attracted just a bit
too much attention. In this case, it was a rather tough looking group of fellows, who I guess
decided that Mei wasn't exactly in my league.
"Hey, Tubby. Who's your friend?"
I tried to ignore them and walk by, but I found a strong arm in my shoulder blocking my way.
"I asked you a question, Pudge. Who's your lady friend?"
"Her name is Mei," I tried to be cordial, but the bile was no doubt dripping from the corners of my
mouth at this point.
"Mei, huh? She seems a little too good for your nerdy ass," the first one said, his stooges guffawing
behind him. He leaned his lanky frame down until his yellowed teeth and putrid breath hit me full
in the face, "Why don't you go on home to your textbooks and let us entertain your friend here,
eh?"
In a perfectly stupid move, I slapped the fellow's hand away from my shoulder, glaring at his
pockmarked countenance with all the toughness I could muster.
"I don't think I'd like that, and neither would she. Come on, Mei, let's go."
The clueless Amazon had been admiring a local sport shop window some distance away, and as I
tried to reach her, I felt something very heavy crash down on the back of my head. Thankfully, I
blacked out, because I hate that feeling you get when you konk your head and everything seems
sort of hyper-sensitive for a few minutes. In that respect, I suppose I would make a very bad
boxer, and an even worse street brawler, as I tend to pass out after one cowardly shot. By the time
I woke up, the sun had begun to make its way into late afternoon, meaning I had been out for at
least half an hour. I was no longer face down in the plaza (which was really the place I assumed I
had fallen, as I don't recall hitting the ground) but rather face up on a park bench. When I first
opened my eyes, all I could see was
"Pink."
"You're awake! Thank goodness."
When it finally clicked that I was resting in Mei's lap, I quickly sat up, albeit a bit too quickly,
making my head spin.
"I was about ready to call the ambulance back," I heard Mei say, but to be honest my vision was
still a little woozy.
"Wait...back?" I blinked hard to try to put everything back together, "why were they here in the
first place?"
"Well, I was worried about you," Mei's voice sounded soft, worried, "but the paramedics said that
you'd be okay, just a bump."
"So what happened to those jerks?" shapes were beginning to come back into focus.
"Ah," I heard Mei stop dead in her tracks, although she was still a mostly pink fuzz, "Well, you
see...they were the ones that needed the ambulance."
"Mei? You didn't!"
"I did..."
I was finally able to look at her, and her face was downcast, her hands folded neatly in her lap, a
slight bit of redness around her cheeks. Oh great, now she thinks she did something wrong by
wailing on a bunch of creeps. Sometimes I wonder if she's got a middle ground at all.
"I'm sorry, Ken," she muttered, "I just lost my temper when they hit you. It wasn't fair, and it
wasn't called for. They had to be taught a lesson, but I think I went overboard..."
"Damn straight they needed to be taught a lesson!" Shouting made my head ache, but I wanted to
make sure the point got across, "You did the right thing, Mei, and even though I feel kind of pitiful
for not being able to do anything, I'm still grateful that you let those guys know that they can't act
like that!"
Mei gave a little laugh, and turned to look at me.
"I guess you're right. But really, Kenny-boy, those guys were a bunch of weaklings. I can't believe
they got you so easy!"
"Hey!" I scoffed indignantly, "They attacked me from behind! It was dishonorable and cowardly!"
"You're not doing much for the cause of honor, you know," she rolled her eyes with a grin, "I
should get you into a gym or something...that was just pitiful."
"I'm injured, I'll have you know!" I sputtered, "All for defending you, just in case you forgot!"
Mei's face softened again, and the mischievous grin fell into a kindly smile.
"You know what? You're right. Thanks for defending me and my honor. You're a real modern-day
samurai."
I knew she was joking, but there was a duller edge to her sarcasm than usual. Was this really the
same Mei Tanaka who almost single-handedly ruined my morning?
"You were never afraid to stand up to people and speak your mind, Kenny, and I like that. Even
when I could have cleaned your clock way back when, or in front of those hooligans, you still
stood up even though you knew you were gonna get creamed. That takes guts."
"Or stupidity....!"
My self-deprecating humor was cut short as I saw Mei lean over, and suddenly everything went
into slow motion...except for my heart, which did a triple-jump inside my ribcage. In the fraction
of a second it took for Mei to lean over to me, I managed to break out into a sweat, find myself
short of breath, feel my brain go on the fritz, and experience the previously mentioned cardiac
acrobatics. Well, to be honest, my brain wasn't totally dead, but basically going
"ohgodohgodohgodohgod" doesn't really count as favorable activity.
In one swift motion, befitting of an athlete, Mei leaned over and gave a little peck to the rapidly
rising goose-egg on the back of my head.
"There," she said barely above a whisper, "that oughtta make it feel better."
She leaned back to her side of the bench, no longer red in the face, but seemingly satisfied and
proud. Smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress, she popped back upright, crushing my wrist with
her hand as she did so.
"Come on, wounded warrior. Let's get some sake in you. I know that'll make you feel better."
There was something in her snide comment that made me feel better, like the lump on my head
was already shrinking. Or maybe, it was something else she had done. Whatever it was, I didn't
have the heart to tell her that the sake wasn't really necessary. After all, she seemed so eager about
it.

My weekend had been so busy that by Monday I had completely forgotten about the radical new
wave of changes that had been laid down by the still-mysterious Vice-Principal in absentia.
Thankfully, my attire is always a rather professional one, if a little rumpled, so my forgetfulness
didn't cost me too much. However, as I walked through the door, I was quickly flanked by a large
man who looked like he had strayed too far from protecting an important head of state.
"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to remove your jacket."
My first impulse was to hit the floor, thrashing about and wailing about how innocent I was. My
second impulse, and the one I ended up going with, was far less dramatic.
"Huh?"
That sounded intelligent.
"The dress code for teachers goes into effect as of today," the burly hulk said with a voice that
sounded like a bull fiddle, "You are asked to wear trousers, buttoned shirt, and tie. No jackets."
"...Are you serious?" My incredulity was probably showing through a bit too much in the face of
such a formidable opponent. Technically, I was still convalescing from my weekend escapades.
"I am serious."
In hindsight, he really didn't need to say it, with the look on his face. Not wanting my own face to
wind up looking like a cubist's drunken art-child, I quickly doffed my jacket and hurried to the
teacher's room. Now, let me tell you a little something about me and my jackets. I love my jackets,
and you may notice that I am currently wearing (or was until the golem accosted me) a jacket,
despite it being the beginning of June and turning very, very hot. Why, Ken, why? I hear you ask.
Well, there's a very simple reason. A very puerile, selfish reason, but a simple and good reason
nonetheless.
I look good in them.
As we know, I am not a paragon of the human form. As such, I have a few extra bits of, shall we
say, roundness in some undesirable places. By wearing a jacket, I can hide my shame effectively,
creating an amazing illusion of power and professionalism while still being the same podgy, dodgy
academic I always was. Clothes make the man, so to speak. So, now that I am walking down the
hall in nothing but a wrinkled shirt and tie covering my upper half, I feel almost naked,
unprotected, and very, very unpleasant. If I'm feeling uncomfortable about the new dress code, I
can only imagine what the others are feeling.
...
Well, looks like I won't have to wait long to ask them, the gang's all here.
...
Wait, why are they here?
"This is asinine!" Ai huffed, spinning a pen agitatedly between her long, dexterous fingers, "I hate
this room...there's no life in here!"
"I can't believe we have to stay here on our free time," Mei seethed, on the same wavelength with
Ai, "these other teachers are a bunch of boring imbeciles!"
Even though Mei was speaking loudly, as Mei is wont to do, not a single one of the docile masses
known as the other teachers made even a breath to contradict her statement. Maybe they have
accepted the bitter truth? I suppose there's some honor in that, perhaps...
"Muuu," Haru whined, tugging at her collar, "this new dress code is terrible!"
To be honest, it was...indescribable to see them all dressed, um, like me. Sometimes it was funny,
sometimes it was sad. Sometimes it was an improvement, sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes I found
myself awestruck, sometimes I found myself gobsmacked. Put that all together, and you get
something that just isn't expressible in human terms. From the left:
Ai looked good, if a little put out at her new and more modest wardrobe. To be frank, that woman
could look good in a burlap sack *or a sweatsuit, right?* so having her exchange miniskirts for
slacks and a plunging neckline to a buttoned collar was comforting for me, without damaging the,
erm, total picture. Knowing Ai, I'm sure she'll still find some way to show herself off, and with
more of her covered up, she'll probably feel like she has to try harder and...oh, dear. This won't
end well.
Mei, on the other hand, just didn't look right in a short-sleeved button-up and a sloppily arranged
tie that only made it halfway down her torso. I really felt bad for her, as a PE teacher, because I
know that her classes would probably ask for something a bit more mobile... but rules are rules,
and with most of these ladies being fresh new rookie teachers, it would be unwise for them to
rebel. Suddenly, I was reminded of the events over the weekend, and it appeared plainly to me
that I may not be able to avoid another eruption from Miss Tanaka in the future, and no doubt
dressing like this would only make the Amazon more of a powder keg than she was for sure. Warn
the Duke.
Haru...Haru, Haru, Haru. Her youthful appearance and heart-breaking pout made it look like she
didn't get invited to the school dance on Friday. The dress code looked horribly out of place on
her, even if having her hair down was an unexpected and interesting development. However, no
amount of unfettered hair would change the fact that Haru was very much a youthful, spirited
person, and confining her to this system was like trying to fit William Taft in the original White
House bathtub. Please, Haru, don't look so sad, it's simultaneously horrid and adorable. I can't
tell if I need to give her a lollipop or comfort her like a man should. And there she goes, looking all
embarrassed with herself, out of her element, poking her index fingers at one another until the
tips make a tiny steeple, looking for all the world that she might burst into tears at any moment.
Oddly enough, Eri was showing a fair amount of movement, as opposed to the rest of the group
who were either frozen in embarrassment, fidgeting slightly in discomfort, or silently simmering
into a full rage. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept seeing Eri make a quick movement where she
stood over by the window. Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I had to look. Quick as a flash,
Eri's hand would shoot out to fluff up her blouse, sending the tie out almost perpendicular to her
body. However, that darn Englishman decided that gravity was a good idea, and the tie kept
falling back onto her blouse, and in doing so, um... its extra weight stood to separate and call into
detail two of Eri's, um, assets. With a frustrated grunt, she would grab the placket of her blouse
and fluff again, her brow furrowed with the kind of determination that only a man fighting a
losing battle can exhibit. Thankfully, she was too busy completing that endless cycle that she
didn't notice me staring, or we would have been in real trouble.
Scanning back to the right of Haru, I saw Cathy and Ami exchanging a low-toned conversation.
Cathy looked similar to her usual teaching attire, dressed nicely and complimented by wire rim
glasses. Those unruly few buttons on the top of her blouse, much like Ai, had finally been
corralled and beaten into submission by a necktie, which hung much in the same was as Eri's, but
without the flustered fluffing. Ami, on the other hand, looked almost completely unaffected by the
dress code, appearing very much as she usually did, the consummate professional, spic and span.
Unfortunately, the dress code called for slacks as opposed to Ami's usual looser choice of trousers,
and between both her and Cathy, the tight, black pants brought quite a bit into review. Ami was
right when she complimented her legs before, I'll give her that, and has Cathy always had hips like
that? Perhaps it's just the predominant use of black, calling everything into sharp focus and
bringing more to the eye...but really, have those always been there?
And finally, on the other side of Ami stood, well...teetered, really, Tomoko Arakawa. Her
customary sweaters abandoned for the dress code, Ms. Arakawa's face was as red as a tomato in
her slacks and shirt. After the last two, the slacks weren't much to write home about, but the
blouse...the blouse. Looking back, I don't think that the sweaters were a choice for Ms. Arakawa
out of necessity, druthers, or a lack of warmth. Looking at the button-down top she was wearing,
it appeared to me that Ms. Arakawa probably wore the sweaters because they, um, hid things well.
Being a rather slight young woman, she no doubt had trouble finding a blouse that fit right in the
shoulders as well as, um, everything else. I'd like to take this moment to praise the middle four
buttons on Ms. Arakawa's dress for their distinguished service holding back the inexorable crush
that was being placed upon them. Nice job, fellows. I salute you. If one of you should pop off from
Ms. Arakawa's bosom, I wish you godspeed, as you will no doubt be ejected with enough force to
reach escape velocity around the Earth. Such brave buttons...
"Hmph," I heard Mei scoff, bringing me out of the special commendation I was giving inanimate
objects of clothing, "looks like Kenny-boy's built for this stupid dress code. He didn't even have to
buy a new shirt."
"Or iron one," Ami's eyes were half-circles of malevolence, glaring at me predatorily.
"Hey, now," I attempted a weak defense, "I don't like this any more than you all do. They won't let
me wear my jacket anymore."
"Ooooh, how dreadful," Haru rolled her eyes with surprising sarcasm.
"It is, Haru. I...I look stupid without the jacket..."
I hung my head slightly at such an embarrassing, unmanly confession. However, my head didn't
stay down for long, as I felt far too many hands that didn't belong to me start poking, pulling, and
squeezing around my, um, midsection.
"He does have a little extra," Mei chuckled, her fingers acting as depressing calipers.
"That's just more to love, Tanaka," Ai cooed at me over her glasses.
"I think it's cute!" Haru giggled, apparently cured of her melancholy by my mortification, "he's
like a big old teddy bear!"
At the sound of those words, I saw another quick movement on my periphery, and Eri was
suddenly brushing her invasive tie away at double speed, her face turning red. Wait, so was Mei
telling the truth about her sleeping habits?
"Mah Pop's got a li'l pudge, Kenny," Cathy decided to join in on the prodding, "yew shouldn' be so
bawthered."
Since when did "no jacket" become internationally accepted sign language to poke at someone's
excess body fat?
"If you could, please?"
"Awww, Kenny-ken's turning red!" Haru celebrated by poking at me even harder. I probably
would have wound up being some bastard child of Pillsbury and the Operation game had the bell
not rung, and we all had to report to our first hour classes. With a monstrous sigh, I found myself
abated for a few moments, trying to recollect myself before another bell rings and I'm really late.
As I headed out the door, I saw the closet door open just a fraction of an inch, and a familiar voice
called out from inside.
"Hey."
"Hello, Gollum," I teased my old friend with a smirk.
"I saw all of that," Akira's voice sounded hollow inside the closet, "and you're a real jerk, you know
that? Hogging all those lovely ladies, and not even mentioning how good I look without my jacket.
What kind of friend are you?"
"Believe me, you don't want anything to do with these ladies. They're pretty, but they're pretty
dangerous, too."
"I like 'em dangerous," came a voice that really should have been on an 80-year-old pervert and
not my old college roommate. I had half a mind to try to set him up with Mei or Ami, just for
giggles, but I let the psychopath rant on.
"I can't believe you just let that all go by you every day, bro. How do you deal with it? Are you sure
everything...you know...everything is working down there for you? And then you don't even
mention me, or try to get me in on any of this divine comedy...what gives?"
"Well shucks, Akira," I smiled, "Next time I'll be sure to tell them that there's a guy sleeping in the
closet who thinks that they're just keen, and we'll see how that goes."
I slid the closet door shut, and headed to my first class.
"Sheesh."
Morning classes went by fairly well, and it wasn't until the second half of my last one that the old
stomach began churning. Sadly, just as quickly as my mind soared to the idea of Ms. Arakawa's
heavenly dishes, the dreams were dashed by the new requirement that every teacher eat from the
school lunch program now. Oh well, maybe I can just starve a few more pinchable pounds off this
body of mine.
By the time I reached the cafeteria, it was packed with teachers, and only teachers, as the students
(who had free will in this situation) had learned long ago to stay away from mass produced school
food. However, being the worker bees for this new bloated royal insect, we had no choice but to
try to stomach down the government grade grub.
...
Or did we?
I didn't have much of a choice but to sit with the Gallery at the back of the room. I couldn't see
Akira anywhere, so either he had broken through the razor-wire and Rottweilers to the outside
and palatable food, or he was having a liquid lunch from the special locked drawer in his desk.
Either way, I was free to be a slave once again to those seven devious dames.
But wait...wait a minute...
This food looks...good!
Indeed, this chow had absolutely nothing similar to the slop I had seen on my walk over here.
Something was up.
Oops.
Make that up my leg.
Who is touching my leg?!
"Eep," I let out a small, strangled yelp that was drowned out in the din of the cafeteria. To my let, I
saw, of all people, Tomoko Arakawa jabbing me in the thigh with one of her chopsticks.
"Mr. Watanabe," I heard her delicate voice say in low tones, "there's a stash of fried rice under the
table. I'll pass it to you."
I gave a nod that I hope wasn't too obvious, and I felt her body move away from mine. Oh boy.
Fried rice, here I come!
...
...
Where is it?
I had kept my face straight ahead, as if trying to be as unsuspicious as possible, but really I
probably looked like a wax sculpture in the midst of all of this. Finally, I heard my neck creak as I
turned back to Ms. Arakawa. I gave another squeal, louder this time, but still mostly covert, when
I noticed that her calm, gentle eyes were suddenly very serious and defined, staring directly into
mine with a purpose that wilted my soul.
"Mr. Watanabe," she said strongly, like a military drill that had been practiced to perfection,
"before I pass you the rice, you have to answer a question."
What, and then I can cross the bridge to the magical fried rice fairy land? What kind of joke is
this?
"Go ahead, Ms. Arakawa," I said as I began to notice that her stony expression was not changing. I
saw her take a deep breath (those poor buttons!) and blurt the rest of it out like a double-time
military drill.
"Mr. Watanabe would you like to go out with me this weekend?"

You can't fault me for being shocked. After all, it was like I had discovered a mouse in my house,
and after years of peaceful coexistence he gets his mousy little hands on a rocket launcher and all
bets are off. Ms. Arakawa might as well have been General Patton in a sweater set for all of her
sincerity, looking ready to throw her tiny fists into me in a adorably futile effort until I would
agree to go out with her. To be truthful, I knew that a negative answer would only result in tears,
and making this particular teacher cry would only result in every male inside this school asking
for my head on a pike. Furthermore truthfully, I had, um, spent time with all of the ladies so far,
and it really wouldn't be fair to turn down Ms. Arakawa now. And no, it has absolutely nothing to
do with the fact that she is basically your quintessential Japanese housewife, none at all.
"Okay," I said with a winning smile, letting her know it was okay to shrug the boulder of
stringency that had sat bestride her narrow shoulders, "but only if I get some of that fried rice,
remember?"
She gave a petite little laugh at my admittedly awful joke, then shuffled a bit in her chair, nodding
to me once it was clear that the pot under the table was mine for the taking. Wait, Ms.
Arakawa...you weren't holding that thing between your legs, were you? Oh, my goodness.
Eventually, my hunger trumped my licentiousness, and I made for the secret lunch. As I came up
with a dastardly and cunning plan, I began to wonder exactly who put Ms. Arakawa up to doing
something as rash as breaking the rules like this. It didn't seem like her, or at least the Ms.
Arakawa I've seen up to present. Who knows, maybe she came up with this all by her lonesome
and she has a secret, mustachio-twirling alter ego who goes around causing mischief all over
town. I'll have to ask her the next time I hear about a young maiden being tied to railway tracks.
For now, my cunning plan was complete.
"Gee whiz!" the words erupted from my throat clumsily, too loud and incredibly unrealistic, but
for some idiotic reason I kept going, "I am so tired, it must be Monday, ha ha!" I went to make a
ridiculously overacted yawn, making sure to extend my arms out like I was some kind of mentally
disturbed Albatross. With a quick flick of my wrist, my chopsticks clattered to the floor of the
cafeteria.
"Oh, dear me," I continued in my massacre of performance art, "it appears as if I have dropped
my chopsticks on the floor, what a pity. I must retrieve them!"
Thankfully, the only people in the loud, crowded room who were paying attention were the rest of
the group, who were all in on the subterfuge anyway. Casting one last nervous look around, I
ducked under the table with the theme to "The Great Escape" running through my head. The
underside was dark, and rather warm, either from the confined space, or from the veritable
cauldron of fried rice that had been only recently hiding under Ms. Arakawa's chair. On my hands
and knees, I began to crawl for my food, thinking myself some kind of prisoner of war, or the
pawn in some fiendish game where the fried rice will no doubt turn out to be poisoned after all my
hard work. Upon reaching the pot, however, I was hit with the realization of something like the
Grand Armee's massed artillery.
I had forgotten a plate.
No matter. I was hungry enough to eat straight from the bowl. I don't care about the manners or
the ethics, and anyway, I'm under a table, who is going to see? I was just about to reach for a few
sticky grains when the face of Eri Ozawa seemed to materialize out of the shadows.
"Bwah!"
So much for my secret shame. Nothing is a secret around Eri, those twin lanterns see all.
"Did you hear that?" A muffled, high-pitched voice floated down from above, "isn't that Kenny's
voice?"
"Yes, Haru, he's getting his lunch. Now shut up about it before you get all our butts roasted."
For once, I was glad to hear Ami's chastising voice, and she had a point. If we were found out, no
doubt he'd all get our hides tanned and pinned to the wall as a warning to future bento bandits.
Plus, with me being discovered under a table, surrounded by a forest of, um, interesting legs, and
myself in the company of a young lady...it would be unfortunate.
"Eri?" I whispered across the mouth of the pot, watching her eyes flash in recognition, "I don't
suppose I could borrow your plate?"
At that point, it hit me that Eri was using a plate. Eri...was eating. Going back for seconds, even.
Suddenly, I felt like a real rat for asking for the plate.
"My...plate?"
Yes, Eri, that thing you're holding in your right hand. Why are you acting so weird about a plate?
Wait, now why are you blushing and doing that whole "be gentle with me" face from the movies
behind the counter at the rental store?
...not that I'd know anything about those movies, of course.
But still, Eri, what's the deal?
The Silent Lady remained silent, merely pushing the plate at me and making a quick exit back to
her seat. Speaking of seats, I mustn't look at hers as she crawls away...everything is about the rice,
yes...rice...or whatever the hell that is crawling up my back!
Like a cat who senses danger, my entire spine shot up in a tingle, and I suddenly found myself
almost completely on point at something skipped its way up my back. I hope it's not a spider, or
even worse...a cockroach. Finally, I girded my nervous loins and sneaked a peak at my own
backside. Let me just say that I wasn't happy with the, um, terrain, but the foreign object was
simultaneously more and less distressing. I reached back to slap at the offender, resulting in a
satisfactory squeak from above the table.
"Ooooh, Mr. Watanabe..." I heard Ai swoon, "I didn't know you liked the rough stuff!"
"Stop foot-fondling me!" I hissed in the direction of her legs.
"Only the feet?" Came a sultry whisper back. I decided not to dignify that with a response and,
after casting a look at my own figure, I dumped half my plate of rice back into the pot and popped
back up into my seat like some kind of genie. As I began happily tucking in, Haru, that spunky
little rabble-rouser, just had to crack open the proverbial can of worms.
"Hey Ri-ri!"
Always with the nicknames.
"Where's your plate?"
I was too busy eating, but I can only assume she pointed at me.
"Kenny's using it, huh?" Haru said that like she was putting together some kind of Agatha Christie
murder mystery, "does that mean...it's like an indirect kiss?"
If any of you are wondering, humans were not meant to breath grains of rice. I reached for a glass
of water, coughing and hacking spastically as the Gallery did what they do best, and blow things
out of proportion.
"Typically," Haru began, hand to her chin, "the term 'indirect kiss' is applied to shared food or
drinking containers, but is it possible to apply to dinnerware as well? Discuss."
"If it is, I think I'll go start licking all of Kenny-boy's teacups," Mei said with a snort, bent over her
own lunch. Hm. Remind me to wash those cups later tonight.
"I think it would have to depend," Ai began, an intellectual finger upright with questioning, "if it
were a bowl, there is the possibility of the lips touching the same surface. With a plate, there's less
of a chance, making the possibility of an indirect kiss less potent."
"Yeah, but," Cathy joined the debate, "y'all's chopsticks're mayda wood, an' wouldn't wood soak
up moah suhlayvuh 'n' stuff?"
"You have a point, Gaijin," Ai pushed her glasses further up on her nose, now taking the matter
very seriously. "Eri," she turned to the poor quiet woman, who was once again battling her
troublesome necktie, "I'd like to take your chopsticks back to my lab after this. Mr. Watanabe,
yours too.
"By the way, I'm not dead or anything," I groaned, my throat raw from hacking up pieces of rice.
"A pity," Ai fired back with quick wit, as if she was expecting it, "I could have done mouth-to-
mouth on you."
I was thinking of firing something back at her regarding my time spent at her apartment, but once
again, I was too slow.
"By the way, Mr. Watanabe... you left your watch at my apartment last weekend."
I won't bore you with the details. Basically, half of the table spent the rest of lunch grilling me on
the subject, convinced Ai and I had turned her condo into some kind of den of sin. Ai just laughed
and threw me winks that said "you're not allowed to tell them what happened." For all I know, she
could have that lily she gave me telepathically linked to poison me at any moment, should I let the
secret slip...so I decided to follow her instructions. When the bell finally rang for lunch to be over,
I had been poked by Haru, glared icily at by Ami, pouted at by Cathy, stared at by Eri, and given
several "love taps" from Mei which will no doubt result in lovely greenish-yellowish bruises come
this weekend.
Speaking of this weekend, Ms. Arakawa was surprisingly mum during the entire ordeal and,
before her and the rest of the Rouges made their way out in a clump to conceal the rice pot, she
gave me a sweet little smile and whispered in my ear, something that felt so good that it was
probably illegal.
"I'll come talk to you after school, okay?"
I nodded dumbly as the red-faced little domestic pitter-pattered away with the rest of the clutch,
leaving me without even a pair of used chopsticks to keep me company. They had been
confiscated.

Do you ever catch yourself looking at yourself in the mirror, and you're not quite sure you
recognize the person looking back at you? It's been happening more and more with me lately, and
no, it's not because we were so backwards on the farm that we couldn't afford mirrors. It's
just...strange. It seems like out of nowhere my skin got wrinkles, and my hair got gray, and
suddenly I don't look like a kid anymore. With my, um, corpulent features, I had the luxury of
looking like a fresh-faced, turn-of-the-last-century youth for well over two decades. But then,
something happened, and suddenly, a man is looking back at me. Albeit a podgy, twitchy, anxious
man who looks to be on the verge of seven separate ulcers...but a man nonetheless.
It's the eyes. I think it's the eyes. They used to be so bright on the surface, so gleaming and fresh
and new to the world that the finish almost seemed indelible. Now, they seem to sparkle from
within, but they also seem to have a cloud of mist over them. Perhaps it is the mist of time, or the
mist of experience or (if I can be incredibly conceited) the mist of wisdom. Those eyes that look
back at me seem to have seen so much, yet it feels like all these years are just flying by. Sometimes
I wish the days would slow down a little so I could enjoy them more. For instance, ever since
Monday, the days have rushed by in a boring, repetitive pattern:

Show up
Be forced to remove jacket
Ogle/giggle/sigh at the poor Rogues in their ill-fitting new costumes
Teach my morning classes
Eat a secret, special lunch in the cafeteria
Teach my afternoon classes
Hang around the teacher's room a bit after school, mostly to listen to Mei's constant stream of
complaints about the new administration, and
Go home.
All of which are accompanied by the usual flirting, poking, pinching, gazing, whispering, posing,
lip-moistening, wardrobe loosening...you get the idea.

Now, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all flew by like that, almost buzzing like angry wasps,
they passed by so fast. And then, sometimes, the days just drag on...and on...and on...
Days...like Friday.
I think that some deity up there is punishing me for not worshiping him, her, or it enough, or
even at all. They're up there, sitting on a cloud, and deciding that Ken Watanabe (the other one)
isn't satisfying them enough, so they send some kind of plague down upon my ever-living soul. It's
true, I swear. Don't believe me? Oh...watch, and learn.
"I'll come visit you at your apartment," Ms. Arakawa said with a cherubic smile as she followed Eri
out of the teacher's room. I myself had a little bit of work to get done, so we had set our meeting
for a little later in the evening. I hadn't graded three papers when it became painfully obvious that
I was the only one left, my pencil scratchings sounding like they were drops of water in an
impossibly deep cave.
"Hmph. Figures," I grumbled, simultaneously playing the paper-grading martyr and wishing I
had scampered out after the last bell like the rest of them. As much fun as your job is, you still
can't wait to go home at the end of the day. That's why a job is a job, and home is home. If you
have a job that's more fun than home...you might need to fix some things.
Thankfully, these assignments were pretty rudimentary, so I was able to let my thoughts wander
so as I graded them. I remembered back to my school days, so long ago, where I would often see
some of my teachers out of the building before me...and I was the loser who didn't do any after
school activities! And there was always that rumor about the science teacher who kept a bottle of
sake in his desk...if I hadn't known the life of a teacher, I would have sworn it was a lie. However,
with people like Akira teaching the youth of tomorrow...
As if on cue, I heard that telltale creak near the doorway. Two glittering, malevolent eyes peered
out from the coat closet, and the resident pervert-demon of Kotogakko High School emerged to
feast upon the embarrassment of the living.
"Heh heh heh..." I tried to concentrate on my work as he shuffled his way closer to me, snickering
the entire time. Finally, he was at my desk, appraising me as a vulture might appraise a freshly
dead camel.
"What do you want, Captain Lecher?"
"kee kee kee," He tried to conceal something that was obviously very funny... to him, "You headin'
out with that little Arakawa tonight?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but yes."
"I plan to make it my business," Akira proclaimed, taking his usual spot on top of my desk.
Unfortunately, he sat on my graded papers, so I just decided to pile the newly-graded ones into
his lap instead. He picked them up and began commenting on them as he spoke.
"Wow...this one's a dim bulb, huh? Anyway, the way I see it is this: I was nice to you..."
News to me.
"...and I excused you going out with six of the best looking ladies in this school... hell, in this
whole city... hmm, not bad, but the penmanship stinks. However, I cannot let this go for a seventh
time, and especially... whoa, this kid better think of switching schools... especially with that fine
little sweet thing, Tomoko Arakawa."
"What, are you going to fight me for her?" I scoffed, knowing full well I could just knock him
down and sit on him like when we were in college, "and what is it you can't excuse, anyway?"
"Dude," Akira's eyes had an odd twinkle to them, a twinkle not like those I described earlier...not
like them at all.
"I can't excuse you going through all these hotties and not...you know..."
"No, I don't know," I grunted sourly and slapped another paper into his lap. If only these were
senior theses instead, I could possibly rob him of the right to conceive children.
"You knooooow..." He drew the last word out childishly, "you haven't...made any moves..."
Au contraire, mon frer. I did kiss Ai Hasegawa on the top of her head...although I'm sure to you
that's about as common as saying hello or being chased away from the all-women's gym
downtown. Or maybe...rumor hadn't gotten out about that one. Ai was awful secretive about the
whole thing, wasn't she, and she'd reacted so strangely that night...
"So?" I was jolted out of my thoughts by Akira's persistent depravity.
"So what?" I was ready to snap the pencil in my hand...and it was a mechanical pencil.
"So, you're on your last one, is this the one you've been waiting for? I mean, that little lady's sure
got a few treasures waiting to be discovered, if you know what I mean...I have to say, you waiting
out this long just to get a crack at that honey is pretty shrewd stuff...but I understand the decision.
In fact, I--"
"I'm not going to make any 'moves,' Akira," I finished the last paper and flipped it over with a
scowl, "if anything, I'm going to try my best to dispel any and all rumors to that effect."
Besides, it's just Ms. Arakawa. Knowing her, it'll probably be a quiet night watching cooking
shows on satellite TV or...I don't know...comparing mops or something...right?
"See, that's why you're lucky to have me," Akira said with a chuckle and began rummaging
through his black sport coat. Hey, how come you get to wear a jacket!
"Consider these a little present from me to you. For a little bit of...luck."
He handed me a small box that was labeled simply "LOVE CHOCOLATES."
I'll give you three guesses as to what the secret ingredient is and, despite the label, it's not love.
"Akira..." I moaned, making the face I usually reserve for when something goes bad in my fridge,
"you can't honestly expect me to drug Ms. Arakawa or something!"
"No! No, no, man...it's just a little...ya know...boost. Just give her one and she'll...ya know...feel a
little frisky."
"That's asinine."
"Nah, I'd say it's more of a seven," Akira giggled, "she's kinda flat back there. Anyway, I'm trying
to help you, pal. You need to relax, you need to go out and get a little crazy, know what I mean?
Come on, what are you waiting for, that girl from college to just come waltzing back into your
life?"
"Do you do drugs?" I asked, genuinely expecting a positive answer.
"Aw, man..." Akira adopted a comradely tone, "you can't beat yourself up about these things. Just
because you, ya know, couldn't close the deal with--gyeh!"
With skill that surprised me, I managed to jam the eraser of my pencil directly into Akira's right
nostril, lifting his head up to an uncomfortable level.
"You go any further and I'll erase your sense of smell," I said in a voice that probably sounded
more embarrassed than furious. Akira squeaked out something in a nasal falsetto, and I released
him. However, even the threat of erasure did not slow his resolve, as he continued pushing the
chocolates on me until I finally angrily shoved them into my bag. If I didn't know any better, I'd
swear this was his odd way of showing he cares, or that he's my friend, but as it was I was late for
meeting Ms. Arakawa and I really didn't want to give that doe-eyed domestic any reason to turn
her brown eyes blue, so to speak. Satisfied with his quest, Akira bade me goodbye and headed
back to the nap closet.
"Don't you ever go home?" I asked on my way out the door.
"I am home," he replied with a grin before shutting the closet up tight.
...
The scary thing is, I can't tell if he's joking or not.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally managed to trudge back to my apartment. I changed
my clothes into something a little less professional, and clipped Baka to his leash before setting
out to give the little tripodded runt a run in the patchy little pitch they dare to call a backyard in
this place. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, because the rent in fair, and the front yard is rather
nice, but just give me a few yen on the weekends and I’ll seed some new grass, I promise! It’s
getting difficult to hide Baka’s little presents…I’m running out of grass!
On my way back in, I was feeling a little shameful for using the yard in such a way, but it wasn’t
like anyone else was using it for anything other than the ramshackle storage shed. My extreme
rumination of rationalization was cut short by a thunderous roar as I stepped back inside. A quick
glance out of the front door window confirmed my suspicions. A striking white motorcycle was
idling out in the street, its red accent stripes looking like artful blows from a katana. However, the
most striking sight of all was what was perched on top of the bike.
She was dressed in a full-body leather riding suit, along with a black-visored helmet and
dangerously high-drawn leather boots, all painted to match the bike flawlessly. For a moment, if
almost seemed as if bike and rider were one, and if it wasn’t for the occasional bend and ripple of
well-appointed flesh beneath the skin-tight leather, I would have forgotten that there was an
actual human being on top of the machine. The figure turned her head (and it was undoubtedly a
her…ahem…) and regarded me with the kind of cold, emotionless stare that you only can get from
someone behind a biker visor. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she was about to draw her own
katana and cut me to ribbons…but that joke’s so old by now…
“Darn biker punks,” I grumbled as the biker bowed her head to me, slowly. What’s this? Trying to
show me some respect or something? It’s got to be a joke. Here I am, podgy, agitated, and leashed
to an idiotic three-legged dog, and this no-nonsense ninja-biker lady is giving me a nod? It’s a
trick, I just know it. Any minute now, she’ll try to draw me in, curling a finger at me agonizingly
slowly, beckoning me forward. Me, being an absolute moron, will comply, because even if it is a
trick, you don’t get the opportunity to worship at the feet of a leather-bound goddess, now do
you? So I’ll totter over like a newborn foal, my eyes no doubt the size of dinner plates and wearing
an expression that can only be described as pathetic, and the minute I get close she’ll gun the
engine and speed off, possibly doing a wheelie and cackling all the way like she’s about ready to
curse a Scottish lord. I’ll scream, Baka will scream, and he’ll leap into my arms, most likely
relieving himself on my shirt despite just being let out. And I’ll stand there, embarrassed, wet,
warm and feeling that crushing emptiness inside that, well, I feel just a little too often at my age.
Yes…wait for it…any moment now she’ll lay into that engine…my ears are bracing for the impact,
and the anticipation is only going to make it worse…she knows that, doesn’t she? She’s waiting
until I go mad, shouting and raving like a buffoon, earning her double the amount of heady joy
from both angering me and embarrassing me…oh, you are too clever, biker-woman. So go ahead,
turn the motor off, start walking towards the building, undo the neck strap on your helmet…
Wait, what?
Before I could contemplate why my scenario had fallen a shambles, the biker put red-and-white
gloved hands to either side of her helmet and neatly nipped the thing off her head. Chestnut
brown hair came cascading out of the helmet, seemingly never-ending, tumbling in large,
voluminous waves, just slightly damp from the heat of the day. The odd strand was stuck to her
face in a lovely bit of exertion, which served to be a lovely frame for that round, cherubic face I
had known so well, a face that had changed very little in the time since I was her teacher. Her
bright eyes shined in the fading afternoon light, fixing me with a gaze that spoke of glee on the
surface, but also hinted at a bit of fear hiding just underneath. Truly, she had all the reason to feel
both, as this was very unexpected of her, and I could possibly find this turn of events exciting, or
alarming, either of which could send the meek little domestic into a flurry of ill-concealed
emotion that often bubbled over like the pots she so carelessly tended to whenever I was around.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this biker babe was no other than Tomoko Arakawa.
“H-hello, Mr. Watanabe.”
Her voice was as soft and gentle as ever, and even her words seemed to shake with trepidation as
she looked up at me. Oddly enough, she is one of the few that has to look up to me, and I have to
say it’s a little comforting. Those eyes of hers pleaded with me, begged me not to be put off by the
previous demonstration; not to be worried, but to accept this change of events. Even if I hadn’t
enjoyed the surprise, I would have attempted to assuage her doubts. As it was, this was almost too
easy.
“Um…good afternoon, Ms. Arakawa,” I said with a little bow, “that’s…quite an entrance.”
The Home Ec teacher turned as red as a tomato and threw her gaze onto the paving stones that
lead up to the genkan.
“No…that wasn’t it. I just wanted to ride my bike over here, is all…”
“It’s all right,” I said, attempting to give her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. She tensed up at the
contact, as if she didn’t know whether to, um, fight or flight, I suppose. I, myself, immediately
regretted the decision to pat. As comradely and comfortingly as I had intended it, the physical
contact between the two of us was apparently too much of a sensory experience for Ms. Arakawa,
who did an awkward sort of shuffle to the side in what I can only assume was an attempt at, um,
removing temptation. As a side note, remember that Ms. Arakawa was still in her biker suit, and
the quick, sudden movement sideways was, well, let’s just say inertia came into play.
*I’d like to be the outside force that stops those bodies in motion, heh heh*
Quiet, you.
“So,” I tried once again to ruin the situation further, “you’re a bike girl then?”
“Y-yeah…”
Don’t be embarrassed, Ms. Arakawa. It’s sort of cute, really.
“How come I haven’t seen the bike at school?”
“I usually carpool with Ms. Ozawa.”
I can’t believe it. Is she actually scuffing her motorcycle boot on the sidewalk in an adorably
nervous gesture? Incredible!
“You really seem to be into it,” I said, trying to sound off-handed and not like I was, um,
appreciating her choice of attire.
“My father had a bike, so I used to watch him fix it and stuff. It’s really a lot of fun, how everything
works together. It’s almost like a recipe, I guess…I like how everything has its little place…”
Well, that settles it. The next time my scooter goes kaput, I’m calling Ms. Arakawa.
“Plus,” I saw a bit of red start to bloom across her cheeks once again, “I really like the feeling of
riding.”
Chalk it up to the heat, or maybe to her outfit, or maybe to a little bit of everything, but my mind
took that last comment to a very, very bad place.
*You know, those motorbikes have a whole lot of vibration in ‘em, heh heh heh*
And, apparently, my wrong-thinking ways were displayed on my face, which launched Ms.
Arakawa into a veritable dervish of waving hands, teary eyes, and hair that whipped wildly back
and forth as she unloaded into an apology with all the cannon of God.
“Kyahh! I didn’t mean it that way, Mr. Watanabe, I’m so sorry! I like the feeling of the wind and
going really fast and the noise it makes! It reminds me of being back with my father is all; it’s
nothing dirty like that, I’m so sorry! This outfit probably doesn’t help either; I knew it was a dumb
idea but Ai told me to wear it because it matches the bike, and that made a lot of sense, but now
I’m probably just tormenting you and I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry!”
Thankfully, I was able to turn a fire hose on any impure thoughts fairly quickly (as I’ve had quite a
bit of practice) and move onto soothing the jangled nerves of Ms. Arakawa.
“No, no, it’s my fault…I shouldn’t have done that, I should know better,” And now, come to think
of it, I know why she doesn’t ride the bike to school. If the students saw her in a get-up like that,
there might be a riot.
“Don’t know why you would want to think that, anyway,” Ms. Arakawa muttered in despair, “I’m
all out of shape, anyway…”
It was at this time that four little cars, one carrying Mr. Incredulous, one carrying Miss Disbelief,
a third carrying Mister Frustration, and a fourth station wagon carrying the couple of Mr. Nobility
and Miss Friendliness, all careened into an intersection with the traffic light switched off,
colliding in a heap of flame and twisted metal, effectively slowing all traffic in my brain to a
laborious crawl.
“What?!” Was all I could manage to sputter. Now, to be crushingly realistic, Ms. Arakawa is a little
overweight. That bike suit betrays a few instances of added roundness, but I am hardly one to
talk, particularly when I try to keep myself in as baggy of clothes as possible to hide my own, um,
lack of definition. However, this is nothing for this little lady to be upset about! Sure, she’ll
probably never look like Mei or Haru, but the former spends more time exercising than Zeus, and
the latter will be eternally time-locked to look like a junior-high student. To be honest, I’d rather a
woman look more like Ms. Arakawa, if only slightly for the fact that it makes me feel a tiny bit
better about my own physical imperfection, and mostly for the fact that it makes her look, um,
cuddly…why am I thinking this?
“Mr. Watanabe, are you all right?”
I think she could hear my brain sizzling from where she stood. To be honest, I had no idea how
long I had zoned out, and if I had awoken to find myself with a long, gray beard I probably
wouldn’t have been surprised. Well, surprised I could grow a beard, at least…and maybe a little
bit proud…
Any further glorying over my nonexistent future-beard was cut short by the ever-curious Baka.
While Ms. Arakawa gathered her things off of the cycle and lead me inside to the genkan, my
mind was still a dark forest of obscurity. Baka, fully aware of his world and no one else’s, as usual,
decided that this new person was very interesting, and proceeded to hop about energetically,
gradually turning several circles around the two of us. Ms. Arakawa, fully in nursemaid mode, was
too busy trying to get my power of speech back to notice the leash tightening like a noose around
our feet.
‘Come on, Mr. Watanabe. I think you need to sit down for a moment.”
She went to step up into the lobby of my building, considering this a great enough emergency to
forego removing her shoes. Unfortunately, had she done so she would have noticed Baka’s
cunning little plan to bring us both down to his level for further study. Halfway onto the step, Ms.
Arakawa’s leg caught, and she fell, but was generous enough to drag me down with her. The two
of us landed in a heap, Ms. Arakawa flat on her back with one of her legs twisted awkwardly
underneath her, and I…well…I fell in-between. Given the constricting nature of the leather suit, I
was still rather surprised to feel plenty of cushion on my face before I hit the floor, not quite as
welcoming as the usual, fuzzy sweater environment…but it had its charms. The two of us lay there
motionless, Ms. Arakawa afraid to move her smarting leg, and me, well, I was still off in
CrazyTown. However, once the signal was finally relayed to my brain exactly where my face was
lying, let’s just say that I caught the first train out of CrazyTown into Discomfort Junction. And
you would think that’d be a fun way to snap out of it, wouldn’t you?
I made a noise that probably sounded like “Bwahwum-wah!” With the “bwahwum” signifying the
time my voice was, um, muffled and the “wah!” for the aerial cartwheel I performed to land myself
back in the genkan, though not completely out of the leash’s grip, tripping me again and knocking
my face into a shoe cubby. For once, I was glad to have my pudgy face, as I was almost afraid of
me getting stuck in that little box, and wouldn’t that be a story? As it was, I merely just had an odd
square line round my face which made it look like I had misunderstood the concept of “boxing.”
I finally extricated myself from the leash and, fixing Baka with a demon glare, I knelt down by Ms.
Arakawa, who was still flushed and breathing heavily, though I think more out of shock and
mortification than anything else.
“Are you all right?”
“I’ll” heave “be” heave “all right.”
And no, there’s no better word to use there than “heave.”
“I think I might have twisted my knee a little, I’m sorry,” she pulled herself into a seating position
and, with an agonized little squeak, she repositioned her left leg properly in front of her. Baka,
suddenly remorseful, scampered to her side and began nuzzling her side, something I was only
slightly jealous of him for…
“Aw,” she cooed, scratching the ears of the little runt, “it’s all right, I’ll be okay. You were just
curious, is all, I understand.”
She lifted the little pup onto her lap, and the animal immediately fell silent, transfixed by her
domestic beauty just as easily as every other male in the immediate vicinity.
“I’m Tomoko,” she said in a voice that would have sounded saccharine from anyone else, even
Haru, “but you can call me Tomo. What’s your name?”
Surprisingly, Baka gave two happy little barks, almost as if he was responding. Ms. Arakawa
looked up at me with stunning eyes and a childish little grin.
“Er, his name’s…” I fumbled for resolve, “Baka.”
“Oh!” her face was a little surprised at this, but she took it in stride and began rubbing noses with
the little dog, “Well, you are a little dummy, aren’t you? Now I probably won’t be able to walk
upstairs and play with you some more…dummy!”
Baka was in Puppy Heaven, and I knew absolutely why. Though it worried me deeply, I couldn’t
help but wish for a moment that it was me rubbing noses with her instead. To dispel the
discomfort, I coughed painfully.
“Well, I really feel bad about this whole thing, and you look like you could use a place to keep off
that knee…”
*Wow, Watanabe. That’s just about the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.*
Well good, because I’m not trying to pick her up.
…
Well, I actually did have to pick her up, but literally. She was just a little bit heavy, but I could use
the exercise. In fact, I think if more exercise programs involved carrying beautiful women up
stairs in skin-tight leather, there would be a lot less overweight men in the world. After shifting a
stack of laminated diary pages from a Meiji-era Okinawan, I was able to set Ms. Arakawa down on
one of my chairs. I couldn’t help but notice how she left her fingers on my back after I sat her
down, lingering just long enough to put me in an, um, unstable state of mind. With a bit of a gulp,
I headed over to the kitchen and tied a bunch of ice cubes in a washcloth, thinking all the time
about how I used to have to do this for steam burns back at the old friend noodle joint Akira and I
used to work at, and then thinking about making those fond noodles for all of my friends, in the
school kitchen, where Ms. Arakawa turns into such a klutz the moment I pick up a spatula.
I took in a great bunch of air and finally turned around, ready to administer to my patient, only to
find that she had fallen into an adorable little catnap in the chair, with a ray of sunlight shining in
through the window, no doubt the culprit. After all that happened, and with the weather getting
so blasted hot, it’s no surprise to me that she probably just couldn’t help but conk out for a
moment or two. With a little smile, I gently propped her leg up on a box of vintage place settings
and tied the cloth fast around her knee. She squeaked and moaned a little, but ultimately didn’t
wake up, something that I was very thankful for. She looked like she could use a rest.
As I stood up, I found that I myself could use a little administering too, as the exertions of the day
had left me with the feeling that I had just run a marathon in this sultry heat. I hung up my jacket
and headed into the bathroom to splash a bunch of cold water on myself. On the way, I noticed
Baka rooting around in my bag, and I suddenly remembered those asinine poor excuses for
chocolates Akira had foisted on me earlier. With a grumble, I snatched them out of my bag and
flung them anywhere but here, and in a move that surprised and satisfied me, they landed quite
perfectly on my desk next to my keyboard. With a chipper little chuckle, I pulled off my tie and
peeled off my sweat-through shirt, hopping into the shower with my trousers still on, just hoping
to give myself a little spray to cool everything down. Plus, these trousers could use a wash anyway,
ha ha. I let the water wash all over me, cooling both my fevered brow and brain, and within a few
minutes I was successfully free of all superfluous body heat and uncomfortable mental escapades.
The only problem is, however, that I had fallen into what is commonly known as a Shower Coma.
You see, for me it only felt like a few minutes, but later I was to learn that it was something like
thirty minutes later. This is a common occurrence with water lovers like me, where we will often
simply fall into a blissful cascade and forget that time or space even exists or carries on outside of
our showers, tubs, pools, waterfalls or what have you. The fortunate part was I was able to cool
myself down, and effectively remove heat-addled temptations from my body. The unfortunate
part, however…was that I had been out of it long enough for Ms. Arakawa to wake, and start
mucking about my apartment.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ken, you peerless human being, this is Ms. Arakawa we’re
talking about, she won’t do anything rash. It’s not like Ai’s alone in your place or anything, is it?”
You’re absolutely right, and thank you for the compliment. Ms. Arakawa wouldn’t do anything
rash…voluntarily. However, falling asleep in my apartment by herself, and waking to the sound of
a shower running probably sent her into panic mode, and if there’s one thing I know would calm
her down in a panic, it would be her first love of food. As a countermeasure to my expanding
waist, however, I keep very little easily prepared snacks around my place, which probably sent
Ms. Arakawa looking for the nearest, easiest to eat source of food that wasn’t Baka…Akira’s stupid
box of chocolates.
Now, keep in mind that that last paragraph was only speculation. I don’t know what happened in
that apartment whilst I was away with the deluge. I can only assume she somehow got into the
chocolates because, as I was about to turn off the water in my shower, the door to my bathroom
was fairly kicked in by a possessed Ms. Arakawa, who stormed into the room, grabbed me by the
waist of my trousers, and forcibly hauled me out into the living room, casting me to the floor like
so many potato sacks. Her eyes gleamed with a drugged, malicious light, and her biker suit had
somehow managed to come unzipped a good six inches from the neck. She began to stalk me like
some kind of predatory cat, almost growling in anticipation of something, um…of something. In
the midst of all of this chaos: Ms. Arakawa setting after me like a demon, me trying to keep my
distance in a soggy pair of trousers, and Baka hiding under the futon, I couldn’t help but let a
small, unwanted thought pop directly to the front of my brain, effectively distracting me long
enough for her to literally pounce on me, and that thought was:
“Well, it looks like her knee is feeling better.”

If my apartment was already considered “messy” before Ms. Arakawa went bananas, it would
surely be considered some kind of war zone afterwards. After tossing me to the floor with a
strength that surprised me, the formerly meek domestic pounced on top of me, straddling my
waist and threatening to, um, smother me, if you know what I mean…
“M-miss Arakawa,” I tried desperately to catch my breath, surrounded by dangerous leather
confines.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Watanabe,” I heard a purr from somewhere above my head, which only served
to send a slight vibration through, um, everything else, “I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.
Well…nothing bad, anyway…”
“Didn’t you read the box on those chocolates?”
“Oh, Kenny…you knew I was never good in English class. Although, we could have a private
lesson here, if you really want. What’s the name of the thing I’m touching right now…?”
It was about this time that I emitted a high pitched yelp and began to sweat anew, despite my
recently showered state. Don’t get me wrong, part of me is very, very pleased to be in this, um,
position, but most of me is just a little too put off by the larger situation. Number one, she’s my
former student, which covers this entire scene in a sickly green perverted color. Number two, if
anything were to happen here, no doubt I would have six other angry young women clamoring for
my head. Number three, something must be absolutely, terribly wrong, because Ms. Arakawa
never acts like this…ever. I’ve known her for almost half of a decade now, and I’ve never seen her
this, um, emotional. What on earth could…
Oh no.
Don’t do it.
Just…don’t. You won’t like what you see…
Too late. I had already flashed my eyes momentarily to my left, glancing around the right, um,
form of Ms. Arakawa, over to my computer desk. There used to be a box of chocolates there. There
still was a box, I suppose, but it looked like someone had eviscerated it. The only other person
who could have done that was Baka and, seeing as how he was still cowering under my futon, I
went ahead and assumed that a dainty pair of nervous fingers had gotten into them, which
suddenly put this entire ridiculous situation into a firm perspective.
*And speaking of firm perspectives…*
By this point, I could feel Ms. Arakawa’s button nose gently probing my cheek, along my jawline,
and down my neck, emitting short, intermittent bursts of intoxicating hot air as she went. Before
my entire body could go into nervous and enthralling convulsions, I decided it was time to act.
Now, I usually don’t make it a habit to touch people, specifically women, and specifically any of
the Rogues. However, in this situation the times call for the measure. Summoning all my courage,
I grasped my hands around each of Ms. Arakawa’s upper arms, causing her head to whip upwards
until she was locked in a glare, hungry eyes to nervous ones.
“Taking control are we?” She cooed with a half smile that I can only safely describe as ‘beckoning.’
With a grunt, I managed to push myself upwards and her over to the side, giving me an avenue for
escape. I went to let go of her arms and scamper for the safety of the front door (or at least the
closet and a dry change of clothes!) but I had no more than sprung to one knee than I felt two
arms wrap around my left one like a soft, tiny vise. I had enough time to throw a panicked glance
back at my attacker before she threw all of her weight onto my shoulder, driving me face first into
the floorboards and locking me in a vicious Fujiwara-style armbar.
….wait a minute, how does this little thing know how to perfectly execute a Fujiwara armbar?
More importantly, how do I get out of it before my shoulder separates?
Mercifully, she released the hold after a few seconds, rolling over on top of my back and
whispering into my ear.
“Now now, don’t you go thinking you can run away, Mr. Watanabe.”
Her husky voice, combined with that strange sensation of weight on my back, sent me into an
even graver state of panic. Now, not only was there the threat of indecency, but add to it the threat
that there may be absolutely nothing I can do about it! I sprang forward, bulling with my
shoulders forward like an American Football player. Ms. Arakawa, seeing another kind of game in
all of this, wrapped her hands around my neck and went along for the ride. I couldn’t help but
think as I scrambled to my feet how this must seem like a strange sort of motorcycle to her, or
something equally as distressing. I didn’t have long to ponder, however, as the domestic warrior
clamped her arms across my windpipe in a devastating Cobra Clutch. Where did she learn these
moves from? Mei? And why?
I knew better than to let myself pass out with Ms. Arakawa in this, um, state of mind, so I feigned
fatigue enough to let myself out of the hold and collapse onto the futon. Baka, with a yelp, shot
like a streak into one of the lower kitchen cabinets as Ms. Arakawa prepared for the finishing
blow. Grabbing me once again by the belt (note to self: buy more belts and trousers where I got
these. They’ve put up with a real beating.), Ms. Arakawa hefted me over her own petite shoulders
in a fireman’s carry, an amazing feat for someone of her size in relation to someone of my size.
Just what the hell was in those chocolates, Akira? Drugs? Steroids? Maybe I don’t want to know.
“You’re in for it now, Kenny!” I heard Ms. Arakawa roar, sounding more like a vengeful Mei with a
bit of lusty Ai thrown in for good measure.
“Screaming River Bomb!” She called out her finisher, bending her knees and bracing to launch me
off her shoulders in an earthshaking body drop maneuver. Unfortunately for her, those chocolates
were finally starting to wear off, and we suddenly found ourselves lurching violently to the left as
her knee gave out under the strain. Ms. Arakawa gave a wail and fell backwards, dumping me
rather unceremoniously, but also rather painlessly, onto my back. I only had a moment to
contemplate my salvation, as Ms. Arakwa’s head was almost immediately driven into my solar
plexus with enough force to have my lungs swap places. With a great cry of “Phoo!” I felt all the
air leave my body, leaving me gasping for breath as I set about trying to remedy the fallen Home
Ec teacher.
“Ms. Arakawa, are you all right?”
“Uuu~, my knee!”
“Let me take a look.”
The thing was swollen something awful, with Ms. Arakawa probably dulled to the pain thanks to
Akira’s psychotic confectionaries. Luckily, the tightness of the biker suit had served to compress
the knee enough so as not to do some serious damage, but it would need more ice and less
shenanigans. The pain of the injury appeared to be dispelling the power of the chocolate, as Ms.
Arakawa was starting to resemble the same Ms. Arakawa who had drunk just a little too much
that night so long ago.
“Wah… my head is killing me,” I heard her moan as I went to replenish the washcloth, “what
happened?”
“You ate some…bad food,” I called from the kitchen, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Everything’s such a blur…”
“Well, what do you expect?” I huffed, carrying over the fresh ice pack, “You’re a Home Ec teacher,
aren’t you? You should know better than to just eat something you’re not sure of.”
“I know, I know. I was just nervous, and when I get nervous—“
“You eat. I know, I’m the same way,” I patted my belly with a soft thud, and that seemed to get her
to brighten up a bit.
“How did I wind up all the way over here? My head’s all foggy, I don’t remember anything after
eating those things.”
“It’s best not to think about it,” I responded quickly, too quickly, “for now, just lay down and we’ll
get that knee elevated, okay?”
“But I want to know,” Ms. Arakawa’s face fell into an adorable little pout, but it didn’t stay there
long. I guess as the chocolate voodoo wore off, the memories came flooding back, as I slowly saw
Ms. Arakawa’s face look like Tunguska, before and after. First, there was a baffled fear at the
approaching entity, followed by the cold, terrifying realization, then the devastating impact, and
finally the bombed out ruins. It was at that point, when Ms. Arakawa’s round little face seemed to
implode into a red crater of embarrassment, that I knew she had finally remembered and tried to
remedy the situation.
“Don’t worry, Ms. Arakawa. It wasn’t your fault, I never should have left those things out to begin
with.”
“Why did you even have them?” her eyes were wide and afraid, “what were you planning on doing
with them? You weren’t going to do anything…unspeakable, were you?”
“No! No! No-no-no-no-no!”
“I like Mr. Watanabe,” her voice was very quiet now, and she seemed to be looking inside herself,
“but…but…but…”
I couldn’t stand to see her so distraught so, much like with any other stressful situation, I did
something genuinely stupid. I grabbed her by the shoulders and drew her face round to face me
which, given the mood of our current discussion, was probably not the best idea. Ms. Arakawa
turned even more red that before, and I was beginning to think that she could only go a few more
clicks before maxing out at double-F. Tears began to sprout from the corners of her endless eyes,
and I could virtually see her spine collapsing as I stared her down.
*Oh, man. This is almost too easy*
“It’s not what you think, okay?” I said to contradict both of them, “Akira gave them to me, he
wanted me to, um, you know…I got so mad that I threw them across the room, but I should have
thrown them away. You’ve got to believe me, Ms. Arakawa, I didn’t mean for any of this to
happen!”
I let her go and she sort of flopped backward, resting against the wall in a slumped seating
position. The red began to drain from her face back to porcelain white as she gave a little nod.
“It makes sense, now that I think about it. Mr. Watanabe didn’t seem all that excited after I…after
I ate the chocolate…so he wasn’t just trying to…”
“Exactly,” I sighed heavily, thankful to find a little relief, “so you’re going to be okay?”
“Yes, I think so. But I won’t be able to cook for you tonight, that’s what I was planning…”
What a true domestic she is, the stuff dream wives are made of. She was coming over to cook for
me, how wonderful…unfortunately, I had very little to cook in this place, and it didn’t look like she
had room for a whole supermarket on that bike of hers.
“Actually,” she began as I propped up her leg and placed a cold towel on her brow, “I was planning
on going to the store and everything, making a whole da—evening out of it…”
“That’s fine, don’t worry. I’ll order in. Do you feel like pizza?”
“Yeah!”
Her response was so energetic that I was a little taken aback.
“I know it sounds weird, but there are times I just really want to eat some really low-tier food, you
know?”
You’re talking to the King of Instant Noodles…so yes, I do know.
“Can I get the sausage roll one? I’m really craving something bad for me.”
The irony of that statement was lost on her, but it allowed me a little laugh on the inside. By the
time I had finished ordering the delivery, Ms. Arakawa had cheered up significantly, even enough
to coax Baka out from his hiding place. Once the little dog was convinced that Ms. Arakawa’s
mania had passed, he was back in her lap, snuffling and barking happily, and once again giving
me just the slightest pang of jealousy. By the time the pizza arrived (and I paid, naturally. I’m no
cad.), I had set up and entire little picnic spread next to the futon, with a tablecloth, two sodas,
and I even moved the television to the other side of the apartment so Ms. Arakawa wouldn’t have
to strain. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I changed as soon as she was comfortable and resting, but
not before. Believe me, I wanted to, but I couldn’t be so selfish as to let her possibly wallow in
anguish while I tended to something as silly as putting on a shirt. Plus, she wasn’t complaining, so
I was kind of enjoying being half-naked with a cute girl in my apartment…oh, there is something
wrong with me!
“Pizza’s here!” I proclaimed, setting down the enormous disc between the two of us. I ripped off
part of the crust and let Baka chew away at it.
“So, whenever I get pizza, I like to watch a movie. How does that sound, Ms. Arakawa?”
“That sounds like fun!” She smiled, placing a slice on my paper plate like some kind of pizza-
geisha.
“Even if it’s one of my boring old History movies?”
“Mm-hmm,” she doled herself a slice, “I don’t care as long as it’s with you, Mr. Wata—eep!”
The realization of what she had just said to me hit her, and she was back to being as red as the
tomato sauce on her slice of pizza. I rolled my eyes, used to the little game by now, and patted her
lightly on the head as I stood up. She made a little “uun!” noise when I patted her, as if
apologizing for her particular brand of forwardness which was, of course, absolutely nothing to
apologize for. I shuffled over to one of the many boxes in my apartment and popped it open,
noting with satisfaction that this was indeed my video box, and my memory hasn’t gotten so bad
that I need a filing system…yet. Wordlessly, I pulled out a video with a homemade label on it and
popped it into an archaic VCR. Now that I think about it, I find it odd that I refer to my VCR as
“archaic” when I have three-hundred-year-old artifacts sitting right next to it. Anyway, I sat back
down next to Ms. Arakawa as the “movie” began, enjoying our strange little pizza picnic. About
four minutes into the video, Ms. Arakawa knew the jig was up.
“Ah!” the realization hit her strongly, “This is the Tokyo Dome, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” I said with a smile.
“Is this the Japan All-Stars of Pro Wrestling tour?”
“The very same,” my smile grew bigger, “and I bet you’ll never guess who this year’s Rookie of the
Year was.”
I heard an audible gasp come from Ms. Arakawa at this point: partially because I had managed to
solve the riddle; and partly because, upon gasping, she had realized that her suit was still fairly
unzipped and hurriedly attempted to fix it. Sure enough, the first match of the evening was one of
the rising stars, a crazy looking masked wrestler clad all in light blue and white, entering the ring
with a sparkling blue robe that looked like a tidal wave was entering the arena. Once the match
began, the wrestler was all over: flipping, jumping, locking in holds and throwing his opponent
(one of the older wrestlers) around the ring like a rag doll. Finally, after his opponent mounted a
small defense, the masked wrestler fought back to the roar of the crowd, eventually hefting the
opponent up onto his shoulders and bringing the poor soul down in a way that looked like his
head was about to be driven straight down to the earth’s mantle.
“Screaming River Bomb!” I heard the announcer scream into the microphone and, three slaps of
the mat later, it was all over, the announcer proclaiming the winner: the masked wrestler known
as The Mighty Arakawa.
“Oh, my!” Ms. Arakawa sat up as far as she could, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes
shining, “that was absolutely wonderful, Mr. Watanabe! How did you know that he was my
father?”
“You tried to give me a River Bomb,” I said with a wink, “I knew that only one person ever had the
guts to use such a dangerous move, and it would only make sense that he would teach it to his
daughter.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Watanabe! I could have really hurt you, it’s a very difficult move!”
“That’s ok,” I was grinning by now, “I took it as an honor, really. Your Dad was one of my favorite
wrestlers when I was a kid, I was so sad when he retired young.”
“Yeah…” she blushed a little, “He quit when I was born…said he couldn’t take the schedule and
the beatings anymore. Mother was strange, though, she liked to pretend it never happened. Both
of my parents were very anti-violence as I was growing up, I didn’t even know about my Dad’s old
job until I went to college. There weren’t any videos, or posters, or anything about it in my house,
but I got bored one day and typed my family into a search engine on by one… and I’ve been
amazed ever since! My Father is such a gentle man, too, he works in a bank! You’d never think he
used to pretend to bash people’s heads in for a living.”
She gave me this adorable, sweet smile, which I tried my best to return, though it was probably a
very poor imitation.
“I came home from college and asked him about it…and he laughed and laughed…said it took me
that long, so he must have been doing something right. Apparently my brother already knew years
ago, so it was like some big joke on me…but after I asked him my Father told me all sorts of
wonderful stories and taught me how to fake it like he used to…it’s really very complex.”
“I know,” I laughed, “it used to blow my mind how easy your Dad made it look. Maybe I’ll have to
come over and ask him a few questions sometime.”
“I’d like that…” she said so quietly that I could barely hear it over the TV. Then, like lightning, Ms.
Arakawa attacked me. It was different than before, just a surprisingly strong hug from the side,
with such a force that it seemed like she had hydraulics in her arms.
“Wh-what’s all this for?”
“Thank you, Mr. Watanabe. Just…thank you so much, for everything. You’re so wonderful.”
I gave her an awkward little squeeze back, and she relented enough to watch through some more
clips of her Dad in action, a few of which she had apparently been searching for for years, glorying
now in my old TV dubs with washed out color and crummy sound. She didn’t touch me for the
rest of the night, instead choosing to focus entirely on the television until unexpectedly falling
asleep, her knee beginning to look a little better. With a sigh, I covered her with a blanket and set
to my own sleeping arrangements on the complete opposite side of the room. Like I said, I’m no
cad. Baka, however, is a very saucy little thing, ignoring me completely and settling down into Ms.
Arakawa’s bed with absolutely no trepidation whatsoever. Figures, my dog’s got more guts than
me, I couldn’t even take advantage of a lovely hug. What was the deal with that thing, anyway?
Ah, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just chalk it up to residual chocolate voodoo and get some sleep.

I was awakened by the sound of a vacuum cleaner.
...
Do I even OWN a vacuum cleaner?
"Myerrgh," I moaned, rolling over on my, well, nothing, just plain old floor and trying to shove my
face into the wall to block out the incessant droning. I could only assume that Ms. Arakawa was
feeling better, if she had taken to cleaning up my apartment at this early hour. However, it
suddenly became clear to me that the large amount of light lancing in through my eyelids was a
telltale sign that it wasn't exactly "this early hour" and was probably closer to noon than I would
have cared to believe. Still, be that as it may, I spent a rather uncomfortable night with a
recovering patient of a love chocolate overdose and slept on a rather hard floor, so I think I
deserve a few more well-deserved hours of sleep, thank you.
Ah, but the cruel goddess of fate was not feeling particularly charitable to me that morning...or
ever. As I tried very hard to fuse myself with the wallboards, I felt an alien force as it began
buffeting itself against my back over and over, first slowly and monotonously, but eventually with
such vitriol and purpose that I finally had no choice but to roll over and confront my tormentor. I
could tell by the intermittent vrooming that it was probably the vacuum being repeatedly drilled
into me in some sort of charmingly annoying wakey-wakey call, but I really didn't think Ms.
Arakawa would be one to do things like that. I mean, aside from last night she usually can't even
hold a pair of chopsticks if I come anywhere near her. Maybe after everything that happened last
night, she's finally warming up to me...
Or not.
"...Ami?!"
Yes, I wasn't hallucinating. If it wasn't for being still barraged by the vacuum cleaner (even though
I had turned over and woken up, making the vacuum smash into my abdomen as opposed to the
small of my back), I'd be convinced I was dreaming, but it was just plain real. Ami Ishii was
standing over me at the helm of the vacuum cleaner, looking to be roughly fifty feet tall from my
perspective, which reminds me of a movie, but nevermind.
"What the heck are you doing here?"
"A lot of things," she said with a sour look, "but mostly tidying up this pigpen. You're lucky I was
drinking the last time I was here, I thought the booze was making the place look so warped."
Ah, that signature Ishii charm. Even when dressed for cleaning, she had a fantastic posture and
air of importance around her. It was just some beat-up looking trousers and a plain fronted t
shirt, but she looked as if she was ready to lead Operation Torch.
"I'm going to go ahead and ignore a lot of questions right away," I said, grunting as I got to my
feet. Cripes, I'm getting old, sleeping on floors isn't quite as easy as it was when we would camp as
kids. Glancing across the room, I noticed that my futon was vacant, the blankets and pillow all
neatly folded and organized for the first time since they left the factory. However, the former
occupant of that futon was nowhere to be seen.
"Where's Ms. Arakawa?"
"Downstairs at my place," note that she said "my" not "our" signifying that she probably regards
Cathy as some sort of troublesome species of barnacle, "She showed up earlier this morning
around breakfast, looking a little dismayed. However, it looked more like a 'I just stepped on a
poor, innocent beetle' dismay than a 'I was just accosted by my pudgy former teacher' dismay."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I said with a grimace. Ami responded by driving the vacuum
cleaner into my bare toes, eliciting a lovely yowl from the pain center of my brain.
"Don't mention it," she said with just a hint of humor to her usually cold-as-steel repartee. I must
have been sleeping for a while, because she had almost managed to organize and clean nearly
everything in my apartment. Even those old stacks of newspapers were straightened and re-
stacked, looking almost ready for a military dress referral. My television was back in its regular
spot, and any trace of last night's pizza was as far gone as George III. Ami was a dervish of broom,
feather-duster, and vacuum, which struck me as odd as I don't actually own any of those things.
"I had to bring my stuff up here," Ami grunted as she finished rubbing a coating of dust off an
end-table, "I can't believe you don't even have a vacuum...but, knowing you, a vacuum cleaner
isn't an old enough artifact for your collection."
I wanted to fire back with something, until I realized that she was right. If I didn't enjoy watching
my cable television in color, it would be older. If I didn't mind a modem that was slow as the
prehistoric glaciers, my computer would be older as well. Although, to be honest, I think the
youngest thing in my apartment was...
"Where's my dog?"
"Oh, that runt?"
Thank you, Ami, for always being so kind.
"Tomo took him downstairs. The vacuum scared him. That and I think Tomo wanted a reason to
leave. I think this place scares her."
Great, make me sound like some kind of pervert.
"So, I take this to mean that Cathy and Ms. Arakawa are downstairs with my dog, a dog you
probably just learned existed?"
"Don't worry, I'll make you pay for it."
Please don't say such things with such a straight face!
"Cathy and Tomo are making lunch downstairs, but I don't think I'll let you eat until you clean
some of this place up. No work, no chow. Make sense?"
At first, I thought she was kidding. I mean, this was my apartment, how dare she order me around
like that? Let's not even mention that she's in here without permission, going through all of my
stuff...I could probably have her arrested! And what's the big deal about my apartment being
messy? If I want to live like a pig, then oink oink, what does it matter to her? Surely this is a joke.
"Ha ha! Good one, Ami!"
I took one look at that face and realized it wasn't a joke. Her steely gaze might as well have been
daggers that sliced my forced laughter into sashimi right there in mid-air, and that ponytail she
always wore might as well have wrapped itself around my throat for the shortness of breath I was
experiencing.
"Ha...h...ahhh..."
Glare.
"Um...?"
This wasn't an Ozawan glare. This wasn't even a voodoo-chocolate-Arakawa glare. This was the
glare that was your first and only warning before you felt the Ishii Wrath. I swallowed hard and
tried my best to scamper away.
"I'll go clean the bathroom then?"
"Good boy."
She chuckled hardly to herself as she tossed a spray bottle of disinfectant at me, which I managed
to catch on the first bounce off of my forehead. Without another word, she turned back to re-
organizing a stack of magazines. I trudged into the bathroom, still tired, unshowered, and now
both grossly confused and melancholic.
Just what was going on, here, anyway?

To be truthful, my bathroom had never looked cleaner.
To be even more truthful, it was my third time through cleaning it.
"I guess it's all right," Ami scoffed, still utterly unimpressed with the result. Let me just say that I
took an entire hour cleaning a bathroom that wasn't big enough to swing Baka around by his tail
in. I've never washed a ceiling before, but I did today. In fact, the entire ordeal would have
probably gone on longer if Ami wasn’t unsettled to her core by the thought of leaving Cathy, Baka,
and Ms. Arakawa alone in her apartment.
“I pay almost all of the rent, you know,” she huffed as she snatched the vacuum cleaner away from
me. Fine, I guess you don’t need my help. Chivalry is truly dead.
“When I visited her family, she nearly killed herself at least three times,” she went on as we
descended the stairs, arms laden with borrowed cleaning supplies. Somehow, it struck me that
Ami’s definition of nearly being killed was probably Cathy’s definition of a typical Tuesday
afternoon. Still, I’m no masochist, so I wasn’t going to probe into any of that relationship any
more than I had to.
By the time we had reached the door to her apartment, Ami’s stress level was so high that I was
starting to worry about the safety of a place I didn’t even rent. Setting down the vacuum cleaner
and the broom, she snatched away the cleaning supplies from me with a scowl.
“Don’t think I’m inviting you in,” she grumbled, “I’ve got enough to worry about without you
smashing your head open again.”
“Oh, okay,” I could almost feel the wave of unhappiness pushing me away from her door. What
was the deal here, anyway? She makes it seem like my purpose in life is to aggravate her or
something. Believe me, if there was a way to keep said aggravation to a minimum, I would lie,
cheat, steal or kill to make it so. It just seems like everything I do bothers her, and everything I
don’t do bothers her even more. I don’t know whether to move or not, to speak or not, even to
breathe or not for fear of offending her somehow.
Take this, for example: she tells me I’m not invited in, yet she isn’t pushing my away. Am I
supposed to assert myself and say something manly like “I’m not leaving without my dog?” Am I
supposed to respect her wishes and leave? Am I supposed to wait for her to bring Baka to me, or
wait upstairs for a similar situation? Is she just going to keep my dog forever, now? Just tell me
what you want me to do, Ami! Tell me what will yield the smallest amount of the Wrath!
I don’t know how long I stood there, Ami regarding me with cold eyes, but I do know that
eventually, one of us moved, and it wasn’t because of anything either of us did. Rather, it was
something that was done from the other side of the door. Now, I’m only a student of History, and
I can only imagine and postulate about what the great and terrible wars of History were like, but I
swear to everything good and decent that it sounded like a grenade had gone off inside Ami’s
apartment.
“Yahooo!”
“Kyaaaah!”
“Thayut was a good wun!”
“Bark! Bark!”
Now, for those of you new to the show, let me break down what exactly those four noises were.
Number one was an exclamation of joy from our resident foreign psychopath, Cathy McIntyre of
Georgia, USA. Number two was the timid squeal of Ms. Tomoko Arakawa, gentle domestic and
Home Economics teacher, who is usually frightened by a particularly nasty looking shadow. Third
was Cathy again, no doubt satisfied in the mysterious, explosive terror she had just unleashed on
poor Ms. Arakawa. Fourth was my dog, Baka, and knowing the little idiot, he was probably having
a great time in there, unaware that today could very well be his last day on earth with explosions
like that ripping around. Although, now that I think about it. I could go for some of that blissful
ignorance myself sometimes...
After both taking a prolonged look at the door, imaging all sorts of devilry being enacted behind
it, both of our heads snapped back to their original places, our eyes locking for a split second with
matching expressions of worry and fear. With a casual flick of the wrist, the entire mass of
cleaning supplies suddenly jumped from Ami’s arms to mine, burying me in a strong-smelling
barrage of abrasives, degreasers, cleansers, scrubbers, and others. In retrospect, it was the
vacuum being kicked into my knee that brought me to the floor, and up to that point I had
managed to hold everything rather well. I almost didn’t feel the impact as my back hit the floor, or
as the still-wet mop enveloped my head in what I can only say was a less-than-pleasant
experience: I was more worried about what was going on inside that apartment, and so was Ami.
She banged on the door with her fists, cursing a blue streak and finding the door be locked, or
possibly barricaded. With a snarl, she took a few steps backward and charged, slamming a foot
into the door with enough force to blow it open and to blow the obstruction halfway across the
room. I guess she wasn’t kidding about those legs, all those years of football must have really done
the job...as if I wasn’t terrified of her already. By the time I scrambled out of my predicament on
the floor, I noticed a humble wooden chair lying in splinters on the far side of the living room, no
match for Ami’s kick. However, fresh kindling was not the biggest concern as another explosion
popped into the air, echoing from the general direction of the kitchen.
Cathy McIntyre resembled some kind of confused ninja, bedecked head to toe in whatever long-
sleeved and long-legged clothing she could find. Her hands were covered with thick, winter
gloves, and her head was swathed in what I think used to be a scarf, wrapped tightly around her
face, except for where a pair of sunglasses protected her eyes. With another howl of delight, I saw
Cathy reach into the small freezer unit attached to their modest refrigerator, gleefully pulling out
something I couldn’t recognize around the thick gloves. With a cackle, she stretched out her hand
over a pot on the stove, and dropped a shining little cube into the pot.
An ice cube.
Once again, there was another colossal bang, followed by a spattering and sizzling of greasy
shrapnel all around. Cathy, well protected, bellowed with laughter at the spectacle, as if she had
just tossed a brick of cesium into a swimming pool. Hm, perhaps the ninja metaphor was a little
off, as she seemed sort of like a mad scientist at this point. Could ninjas be mad scientists? Surely,
it would be mankind’s darkest hour.
Ami, who had been barreling down the distance to Cathy, had to take cover behind one of the
floor-mounted cupboard units, ducking and covering as the grease rained down on the counter
above her. I, being late to the madness, was far enough away to escape direct damage, but the
psychological scarring of the situation will probably haunt me to my deathbed. As expected, Ms.
Arakawa put up another wail and, like a bat, I was able to determine her location with my ears,
finding her huddling under the modest dining room table, shielding herself with a dinner plate.
Completing the cycle, I found Baka leaping about gleefully, enjoying the game of “dodge the
flying, flaming grease,” immensely, making me believe my father had named him perfectly.
Finally, the sizzling had died down enough and, as Cathy went to reach for another ice cube, Ami
leaped out from cover and fairly tackled the mad foreigner, bringing her to the linoleum floor with
a crash. Seizing the opportunity, I rushed forward and turned off the stove, using the hem of my
own shirt to whisk the pot of boiling oil as far away from Cathy as possible...but where? I had to
cool this thing down somehow, and it’d burn or melt almost anything I’d put it down on top of.
The kitchen sink was absolutely off limits, because Ami was still busy wrestling Cathy into
submission (maybe Ms. Arakawa could lend a submission hold or two?) So it looks like I’ll have to
settle for the bathroom. Unfortunately, these weren’t the most luxurious of apartments, so a
porcelain bathtub is laughable. No boiling oil there, unless I want to melt a hole in the tub, which
might perturb the landlord, just a bit. In the end, I ended up running a glut of cold water in the
tub and, while waiting for that, running a smaller glut of cold water in the sink, trying desperately
to get the oil to cool down to something that wouldn’t destroy anything it came in contact with.
The real irony of this situation, of course, is that you can’t pour hot oil down a sink with cold
water, or it will coagulate and gum up your pipes. You have to use hot water, but I didn’t want to
risk a hot oil/hot water combination on these, shall we say, modest bathroom fittings.
So, I’m trying to cool down the oil to get it cold enough to be hot enough to dispose of, and I
noticed something...it got quiet. Eerily quiet. Frighteningly quiet. The hubbub and chaos of a few
minutes ago had died down completely, leaving the entire situation feeling
particularly...unsettling. However, I couldn’t really leave my post for two reasons. One being that
the oil, if let set in the sink, could possibly leave great, nasty scorch marks almost everywhere and,
if jostled, melt Ami and Cathy’s toothbrushes into one gelatinous mass. Secondly, I was finding
that the impossibly hot pot was getting too difficult to hold with just the hem of my shirt and, in a
fit of noble stupidity, I had yanked the entire thing off to serve as hot pads. Yes, dear readers, I
was standing in Ami Ishii’s bathroom with my shirt off, holding a boiling pot of oil in a sink of
water that was supposed to be cold, but the mere contact with this scalding pan served nearly to
boil it, too. The situation was so ludicrous that it almost didn’t bother me when Ami burst in,
carrying a squirming mad ninja scientist bound, gagged, and wrapped in a massive bear hug.
Oddly enough, she didn’t seem to mind that I was shirtless. She was probably too busy anyway, all
the exertion from trying to contain the crazy gaijin had her face tomato-red and her eyes looking
fierce and wild. She fixed them on me with near murderous intent, as if daring me to even blink
funny. Is this what her life is like every day with Cathy?
Those dangerous eyes flicked away from me, and over through the door to the tub, noticing that it
was currently one-quarter full. With an exhausted, yet manic sigh, she hefted the wriggling Cathy
onto her shoulder.
“Hah! Great idea!”
She took two steps into the bath area and, with a grunt, heaved the entire screaming, muffled
form of Cathy McIntyre bodily into the tub, before beginning to madly, um, remove her of
her...um...costume?

Out of the Frying Pan…

Let's sum up, shall we?
After an exhausting evening with Ms. Tomoko Arakawa involving professional wrestling, voodoo
chocolate, and a wrenched knee...
fine, go ahead and run with it, you perverts...
done?
okay then.
I found myself sleeping not-so-soundly on my own, hard floor until woken up by a vacuum-
cleaner-wielding Ami Ishii, who impressed me into servitude cleaning my own apartment top to
tails. Just when it seemed that I would have to scrub the very ceramic off the tiles of the
bathroom, explosions began to erupt from Ami's downstairs apartment and, upon investigation,
we found a deranged foreigner amusing herself by tossing ice cubes into a veritable cauldron of
boiling oil, and reveling in the chaos. Then, in a move that seemed similar to dodging shells at
Normandy, Ami managed to dodge the spattering hot grease and tackle Cathy to the floor, leaving
me open to whisk away the hot oil to a more secure place where cold water could be found in great
supply: the bathroom. After bathing the screamingly hot tureen in some cold water, I was
interrupted by a perturbed Ami dragging a bound and gagged Cathy, tossing her into a cold bath
in an attempt to cool her no doubt fevered mind. Apparently as upset with Cathy's insulated,
grease-proof garb as she was with her actions, Ami began viciously tearing away at the layers of
clothing the gaijin had donned despite the mounting heat of June.
So, we've got a girl in the bath, a girl stripping the girl in the bath, and me watching the girl strip
the girl in the bath who ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built. Oh, and did I mention
that I had removed my shirt as an emergency hand protection against the sizzling oil? All of this is
making quite an interesting picture, especially with the fact that the cauldron, both heavy and hot,
needed both of my hands to maintain it, which left my nose completely open to a licentious
nosebleed at the sight of a half-clothed, yet fully, um, equipped Cathy McIntyre. Of course, Ami
was too busy enacting her rage on the mischievous, blonde-haired imp to remember or even
realize that a man was within range of seeing, well, a lot, and any man, of a certain persuasion I
suppose, will find himself looking at such a scene with no attention paid to the circumstances.
Why? Well, frankly, these kinds of situations just don't happen very often, and you certainly don't
turn down top-shelf sake if it just happens to be serendipitously poured into your cup now, do
you?
"Hubu, hubu, hubu," I heard Cathy giggle from the bathtub, sinking up to her chin in the water
and creating an odd distortion to her laughter. Ami, of course, saw the entire situation as no
laughing matter.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she shouted, pulling a sweater off the rambunctious girl, "what
could have possibly possessed you to...hey...this is MY sweater!"
With a shriek, she very nearly dove into the water herself, intent on tearing nearly every item of
clothing off Cathy, for fear of other cases of theft. Um, Ami? I don't think you need to go that deep
in layers...um...I don't think your, erm, garments at that level would even fit Cathy...
"Hubu Huu Huu!"
Cathy just kept giggling as Ami tore away at the layers, which only had me wondering just how
much clothing she was able to wear in this heat. I've heard the American South gets sultry in
summer, but still! Finally, Cathy was very nearly nude, her laughter coming so hard and
vigorously that the water in front of her mouth was churning into a froth.
"This isn't funny! You could have been killed or something! What the hell are you laughing for?"
"Kebb."
"What?"
"Kebbly."
With a groan, Ami yanked Cathy up into a standing position by the shoulders. If you're
wondering, Ami was just tall enough to block me from seeing, erm, all of Cathy, but it was rather
clear that, past Ami's ponytailed noggin, Cathy was, as the French say, au naturale.
"Hee hee," Cathy giggled, her face turning red (along with some other parts I'd rather not
mention, "Kenny!"
She extended a dripping wet arm in my direction, flicking her finger forward with such force that
a few droplets launched across the bathroom and into the pot I was still holding. If you can
believe it, the grease was still hot enough to sizzle a bit at that. I'll need to ask Cathy how she got
that oil so hot, I've often thought a Viking funeral would be lovely.
In a trice, Ami's head whirled around, with the rest of her miraculously staying rooted in place.
Either she's very flexible, or she was involved in a science experiment gone wrong involving the
DNA from a Barn Owl. Maybe she has extra vertebrae? Not that it matters, because right now
she's exhibiting another one of her superhuman abilities: that voice of indignation that can
shatter glass, and make the glass feel incredible embarrassed for having done so.
"Watanabe! What the hell are you doing? You've just been sitting here watching this? You sick
bastard!"
This would be true, but I found my alibi to be sound.
"I'm holding a damn drum of boiling oil, here, Ami! What do you think I should do with it?"
"Take it somewhere else!"
"It'll burn through anything else!"
"Oh, don't be so dramatic!"
"Yeah, sure, third degree burns on my hands are dramatic!"
"Is that why your shirt's off? Pah, like I believe that, Pervo!"
"You can't be serious!"
"Get out!"
Luckily, the pot itself was cool enough to hold the heat of the oil. Four years at a fried noodle joint
will teach you a thing or two. I dropped the pot into another bucket of cold water with an annoyed
grunt and set off to get out of the bathroom, but no! Ami wasn't just satisfied with me leaving, she
had to walk me out!
"I want to make sure you're not going to try to peek back in here again, slimeball."
"For crying out loud!"
I was at the exit of the bathroom, staring straight at the door of Ami's bedroom, which was right
across the hall.
"What, are you going to lock me up in your room?" I sneered.
"Yeah, right! You'd like that too much, sicko!"
By this time she had a hand on each of my shoulders and was applying a crushing grip on both.
We kept at it back and forth in a similar fashion for a few moments at the bathroom's exit, and
had gotten so into the tête-à-tête that no one heard the rush of water, or the pitter-patter of wet
feet, or even the malicious giggles until it was too late.
"Yahoo!"
With that exclamation, a wet, half-naked Cathy McIntyre bulled into Ami's back, driving her into
me *and apart from that glorious first contact* and sending us both cannoning forward, through
the half open door and into Ami's bedroom. Ami gave a very un-Ami-like squeal as the two of us
landed in a heap and, by the time we had managed to extricate ourselves from...ourselves, we
found the door to be shut tight and impossible to open, which was odd considering that we were
on the side with the lock.
"Welcum to Uhmerica, folks!" Cathy cackled from the other side of the door, "those are gen-u-
wine Uhmerican pennies in th' door, an' it won' open til Ah tayke 'em owt!"
I'd often heard of this phenomenon, but I'd never actually seen it done or, worse, been victim to it.
I thought about comparing the American penny to the Japanese yen, but my rumination was
crushed by the fact that I was locked in with Ami Ishii on a hot summer's day...in her very
bedroom.
...
And what a room it was.

If I wasn't too busy feeling terrified for my very life, I would have felt at home. Ami's room
resembled a smaller, more organized, but equally as cluttered version of my own apartment.
Perhaps it was the material that made things less...hectic than my place. You see, I'm a student of
History, so I have piles upon piles of, well, anything. I've got everything from full dress military
uniforms to advertisements for hair tonic, and everything in-between. Ami, on the other hand, is a
student of English, so she's really only got one sort of item to collect: literature.
...
And boy, does she know how to collect!
If I didn't know any better, I'd say the books were some kind of structural improvement plan,
because they basically look like extra columns used to hold up the ceiling. There's hardly a space
on the room's floor for anything other than books, magazines, pamphlets, and anything else that
can be written or read in the English language. I even noticed as, I tried to pull my shirtless self
off a less-than-ecstatic Ami, that my back had been bombarded by books that had stood behind
the door, and no doubt became jostled loose in the madness that led to my current situation.
Speaking of my current situation...
"Get off me, or I will destroy you."
Ami's voice was very dark and serious, but it's not like I was trying anything, or I was the one who
threw us both in here. If anything, I'm in just as worse a place as she in...no...possibly even worse,
at least she's in her own room and she's got all of her clothes on and isn't nursing five different
budding grease burns. You should be downright giddy compared to me, Ami, so what gives?
"Am I really that repulsive?"
"Yes."
No hesitation. Just for that, I'm tempted to keep my shirt off and prolong the punishment.
Within instants of me brushing books off my back and leaning back onto my knees, Ami had
sprung to her feet, dusting herself off huffily and setting about reorganizing the fallen books. As I
glanced around at all of the reading material, some familiar, some not, I suddenly realized why
Ami chose to live at these cut-rate apartments rather than at the condo building with Ai, Eri, and
Mei: she didn't have the money. She spent most of her money in furthering her mastery of the
English language which, upon further thought, is a very Ami-like thing to do. However, there is a
slightly disturbing undercurrent to how closely this room, and this situation, run parallel to mine.
Add to it our long-standing rivalry in academic prowess and we become a lot closer to the same
person than...well...than I would like to think about.
"So how do we get out?" I asked, finally bothering myself enough to put my shirt back on.
"We don't," Ami said cryptically, straightening a precarious pile of encyclopedias, "We've been
pennied in, I saw Cathy do it to her Dad once when I visited America."
She kept moving around the room all the time, as if afraid to stop. However, I could tell from her
voice that she was particularly enjoying playing the teacher to my ignorant self, a fact that made
me only slightly angry...honest!
"Basically, she's got American pennies shoved in the hinges. It makes it impossible to open the
door from the inside and effectively locks someone in a room, because the pennies keep the
hinges from swinging properly."
"So we're just stuck in here?" I asked, already seeing grisly images of two skeletons laying amid
the dusty books hundreds of years from now.
"Until Cathy gets bored? Pretty much."
Ami flopped down on her bed as I took a space on the floor, sitting cross-legged. Let it be known
that, even as an obsessive collector, Ami wasn't completely impractical. There was room to open
the door, at least enough, without running into a barrage of books.
"How long will that take?" I asked, exasperated. It was already summer in a room with a closed
door, tiny windows and no air conditioning. Add to that my, um, personal mass, and you get a
very warm situation. I took a tiny bit of comfort in seeing beads of sweat begin to form on Ami's
face as well, but it was really just a drop in the ocean at this point.
"Why don't you quit whining about it and figure out a way to get us out?" Ami groaned, her hands
over her face as she lay on the bed.
"Me? This is your room, where you live, and you expect me to figure out some form of escape?"
"Be a man! Take charge!"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Let it be known that Ken Watanabe (the other one) is not exactly what you would call "macho."
Heck, if my hair were a little longer, I'd probably make a very ugly, but uncomfortably convincing,
woman. I don't have a chisled jaw or a tough frame, although in a nice cosmic trade-off I could
look like the Buddha with only a slight modification. I can't even grow a half decent beard or
moustache, and that's including Akira's wispy joke in what I would consider "half decent." I
just...I don't get all gruff and angry and, I guess, what you would call "manly," which can be a bit
of a problem with a lot of the older people, particularly my father and a lot of the older men in my
family. Let's just say that the chubby academic doesn't always go over well in a family reunion full
of grumbling farmers whose skin resembles tanned leather. But still, I am who I am, and it's
usually only the older folk that give me trouble for not being some kind of neo-samurai. However,
every once in a while...
"Honestly, you really expect other people to do everything for you, it's pathetic!"
Ami was still raging from the bed, as it was not exactly advisable to even try pacing up and down
in the heat of this room, as we didn't know when our next crack at water was going to be. Still,
though...it felt awfully hot in here, ridiculously hot, even.
"Is it really hot in here, or..."
"Don't even finish that thought," I heard Ami growl from behind a stack of novels, "because it sure
as hell isn't 'just you.'"
"But that's weird," my mind wouldn't let it drop. As a bigger guy, I find I'm often tuned into
changes in temperature more than the thinner folk, much like a walrus knows just when he's been
swimming in the Arctic too long and needs to sun himself on a rock. It was starting to feel
oppressive in here, even with the tiny windows cranked open as far as they could muster. I felt
like I was in a real jungle, not the concrete one known as urban Japan. I leaned back, trying to
support my fevered body on two arms, but found the space next to the door to be even hotter than
where I had previously been sitting...and that's not right...
With an ungainly roll, I put myself on my hands and knees and began examining the floor next to
the door. Upon hearing the noise, Ami must have taken her hands off her face and sat up to
investigate, and would have seen, well, my less-than-svelte airborne backside as I snuffled like a
bloodhound at the floor.
"Aagh!"
"What?" I turned my head as far back as it could go in that position.
"Warn me when you're going to start pointing that thing around!"
"Pointing wha...hey! Shut up!"
"It's as wide as the door!" I heard her say with a horrific kind of awe.
"It is not!"
"It's like a train accident, I just can't look away, it's so hideous!"
"Hey now! You wanted me to do something, and I'm doing something, so knock it off!"
"I didn't think your 'doing something' would involve that...thing!"
"Would you please stop calling it a thing?"
"It's the nicest thing I can think of!"
I didn't have a barb to fire back at that point because I had just recently hit upon a big discovery.
It wasn't because Ami had beaten me, honest, it was because there was something very peculiar
going on where the door met the floor.
"Hot air!"
"Shut up!"
"No!" I groaned with exasperation, "I meant there's hot air blowing from under the door!"
"Maybe the apartment's on fire," Ami threw back with the flattest sarcasm I'd heard all day. I, on
the other hand, am often a complete moron, so I took her seriously in my heat-addled state.
"Really?"
"No, you moron," She flopped back down onto her back, "Cathy probably dragged the space
heater over in front of the door."
Sure enough, my nose could just pick up that tiny scent of burning fuel in the heater positioned
right outside the door. My ears could also pick up a tiny bit of laughter that seemed to come from
just above said heater.
"...Cathy?"
"Nnnnoooo..."
"Cathy," I reiterated, now fully convinced and a little peeved, "why is the heater on under our
door?"
"Ah figure if yew two git awl hot 'n' bothered, things'll start gettin' interestin!"
"Is Ms. Arakawa okay?" I asked, fearing for the fate of the gentle Home Ec teacher.
"Well, once Ah tawld her what you 'n' Ami were doin' in her room, she got awl sad 'n' jest sat
daown on th' sofa. She looked kahnda sheyll-shawcked."
"Well, what did you say we were doing?"
"Hoo-hoo, Ah think you awlreddy know that one, Kenny!"
I heard a low, rumbling growl from the bed behind me. Ishiii Wrath, stage one. I tried to contact
Cathy again, but only heard the sound of footfalls retreating down the hallway, almost inaudible
over the roar of the heater, which was probably at full blast.
"This is not good," I moaned, trying to get as far away from the door as possible, while still
maintaining a safe distance from Ami. It was your ideal catch-22, either to be roasted at one end,
or flash-fried at the other, leaving me huddling somewhere in the middle, very uncontented.
"So I suppose you're just going to sit there and whine," Ami grunted. Out of the corner of my eye I
could just see her feet kicking agitatedly out from where they hung over the edge of the bed.
"I suppose I could try battering the door down," I said sarcastically.
"And you'll pay for the door if you do," came an instant reply.
Again, there was silence except for the roar of that heater and the unbearable stillness that echoed
from both inside the apartment and outside of the tiny window. That's what I hate the most about
summer days: the stillness. It's hot, it's muggy, and whoever is pulling the switches up there can't
even be bothered to throw a few puffs of wind into your face to ease the pain. Of course, in the
winter, when you don't want wind, it blows so hard that you think your eyeballs will freeze and
shatter, but in the summer? No!
"...I've been really tryin, baby..."
...
and now I'm hearing music?
Great, the heat must be so intense I've gone bonkers and now I'm hearing things!
"Do you hear that?" I heard Ami say, her voice finally more quizzical than cutting.
"You hear it too?"
Good. The chances of both of us going simultaneously loopy isn't all that good, so the music must
be coming from...
"Cathy!"
The recording sounded like an American soul recording from years back and, from the sound of it,
didn't exactly sound like Ami's cup of tea. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask...
"You idiot! Why would I listen to this ridiculous old stuff?" She bellowed, tossing a pillow at my
head. OK, so it didn't hurt, necessarily...
"It's got to be Cathy's," Ami continued to huff, "She no doubt hopes it'll put us 'in the mood,' or
something stupid like that."
"Why would she do something like that?" My face must have been a mask of confusion, because
my voice was sure perplexed.
"Because she's an evil little imp that thrives on chaos!" Ami was back to sitting up on the bed, her
face bright red from the heat and the frustration. Like a sniper, she turned her sights on me, her
hazel eyes burning.
"Don't even think it's because I want something like...this to happen, you hear me? I can't think of
a more repulsive man to be locked in here with! Hell, you're not even much of a man, are you?"
Again back to the man-bashing. Give it up already, will you? I've gone almost thirty years being
picked on for it, and I'm not about to snap now.
"Sheesh, your Mom and Dad must have been total screw-ups as parents for you to turn out like
this!"
...
It was about then that I finally snapped. I say "about" because I really don't remember much after
that. What can I say, I really have a lot of honor and respect for my family, especially more than I
have for myself. I just don't like it when people talk down to my family because, if you really knew
them, you'd know just how much they have accomplished and how much they mean to me. I have
a few stories from my childhood my mother used to tell me about how I used to go nuts when
someone insulted Mom and Dad From what I gathered from Ami, however, this situation went a
little bit like this:
I jumped up from my position on the floor and stomped over to Ami, looking her dead in the eye
like "I was going to kill her" apparently. Then I went on some kind of diatribe on how much I
loved my Mother and Father, and that they have done nothing wrong, and I am who I am because
I chose to be, and nothing else. I guess I kept shouting about similar things for a while, making
sure to tell Ami on several occasions "never to talk about my parents like that." By this time,
according to Ami, I looked like some kind of a demon. I didn't hit her or anything, but I guess I
must have felt like I finally made my point, because I stomped back over to where the door was
and started yelling again. Ami told me I said something like "I'll show you how much of a wimp I
am!" or something like that, and I ended up pulling on the door so hard that I smashed the
pennies to pieces, slicing them on the door hinges with some kind of crazy, demon strength. It
was about that time that I started remembering what happened again, so I guess I'll start a new
paragraph for that.
I remembered suddenly coming to, and being really, really tired. I had the doorknob in my hand,
and the door was open, even though I had no idea why. I was even warmer than I was before,
almost impossibly warm, and I could feel it radiating off of my forehead in great, big waves. I
remember looking down at my aching arm and noticing the door was open, and also noticing a
bunch of US pennies on the floor, somehow cut almost perfectly in half. I remember blinking a
few times, slowly, because I really hadn't had an, um, episode like that since I was really little, and
the feeling was an old one and a weird one. I remembered hearing Cathy come pattering down the
hall, thankfully clothed, her mouth gaping open at the scene she saw before her, Ms. Arakawa hot
on her heels like a worried little puppy. The entire scene had a strange, woozy feel to it, which may
have been the heat and the exertion...but maybe not. Something was absolutely crystal clear
through the whole thing:
Ami's face.
It wasn't necessarily scared. Yes, there was fear there, because I had just screamed at her and
nearly torn her bedroom door off its hinges, and that would scare almost anyone. There was
something else in there, too, something I couldn't quite tell, but it was definitely softer than her
customary anger and stronger than the fear. I suppose, if I had to say something, I'd say that there
was a little bit of pride, or maybe satisfaction in there, shining beneath the scared veneer.
Knowing Ami, she was probably happy I finally did something manly and, even though it scared
her, she probably had some more respect, maybe even admiration, for me. I guess a big, strong,
angry man was something she could understand, and being afraid of him was okay, but having to
deal with a wimpy academic was something she couldn't quite get her head around.
I hated it, though; hated that I had to do something so stupid and irresponsible to impress her. I
always hated getting into fights, and getting so mad, it always seemed to wasteful when I was a
kid, like I'd much rather be having fun and being happy instead. I always hated being angry or
strong or "macho," mainly because it just felt dangerous and wrong. Maybe, because I was always
a bigger kid, I didn't want to hurt the other kids, or something. I was always pretty strong... I
mean, you can't grow up on the farm and not do some work, you know? But Mom and Dad always
used to tell me that fighting wasn't the answer, and that if I had enough energy to fight, they could
put me to work when I got home. I don't know, it was just all so confusing, and it was even worse
because I don't remember it. All I know for certain is that part of me hated seeing that look on
Ami's face...but part of me really liked it, too.

Needless to say, I beat a hasty retreat from the apartment of one Ami Ishii and one Cathy
McIntyre. I was mortified, ashamed, frustrated...and a little bit happy. I was mortified because I
had let myself lose control, and such an incident could have gotten a lot worse. Ashamed because
it was a bout of weakness that led me to disgrace myself by losing it, making me feel pathetic and
a little bit useless as a human being. I was frustrated because I used to be so good at controlling
myself, but Ami had really gotten to me, along with the heat and all of the other stress, and I
wasn’t able to stop my own emotions from getting the better of me, which I really should be able
to do by the time I’m this age.
...
Oh, and as for the happy? Well...
*Did you see the look on everyone’s face? They know not to mess with you anymore, ha ha! Felt
good to let loose, didn’t it? Felt good to be an animal, be strong, be a man! It’s such a rush! It’s
like a drug! Woo!*
Needless to say, he is one of the main reasons why I speedily removed myself from that apartment
and even speedier...ly...made my way to mine. It wasn’t until I had doused myself in a large
amount of cold water and set some tea on to steep that I realized I had left my dog downstairs, but
I’d be damned if I’m going to go back down into that madhouse, especially after the mad display I
myself had put on. Besides, Baka loves being around the ladies more than myself, and who can
really blame him, so he’s probably having a ball. Sheesh, even my runt of a puppy is better at
dealing with people than I am, and man I am really in some kind of scary, blue funk, aren’t I?
I suppose I can’t help it. He has a tendency to do it to me.
*Just because you won’t do it to anyone else*
See what I mean? He’s like the concentrated essence of everything that is evil and wrong in my
very soul. The good side to all of this is that I remain a fairly decent, moral human being, but the
bad side is that, under certain circumstances, the bad stuff builds up to critical mass and comes
spilling out, leaving as soon as the pressure is equalized and leaving me with a horrible feeling of
guilt about the whole thing. Well, I guess when all’s said and done, I’ve still got my tea. You’d be
surprised how, after a hectic weekend like this, a nice cup of tea can help bring things together
and calm things down.
“Wow, this weekend had felt more like two weeks than two days,” I said, bringing the cup to my
lips and almost spilling the scalding liquid down my front when it occurred to me that I still had a
day left in this infernal weekend, hopefully a day I would spend as restful as the Christian god.
After all, I think we’ve both endured enough and could use a day of rest, eh?
Unfortunately, my blasphemy must have gotten the better of me, for that was not to be the case. I
was just settling into a chair with my tea and a old copy of Newsweek from the 1940s when I
heard the knock on my door.
...
I don’t think Guy Fawkes feared the fateful knock on his door as much as I feared the one on
mine. Who would it be then? Ms. Arakawa with a peace offering of pork buns, her great, dewy
eyes suckering me into yet another cycle of guilt? Cathy with a smile and a laugh, gloating over the
days insanity and wishing it could go on forever? Or, horror of horrors, Ami Ishii, probably come
to toss my dog back at me, mock me for leaving the apartment in such an unmanly manner, and
maybe, if there’s time, say something cruel about my fingernails, or something. Who could it be?
Who would it be? It’s like some kind of maniacal game show where each of the three doors
contains man-eating scorpions, but one of them just might win you a vial of anti-venom. Screwing
up all my courage, and shouting down the ranting voice in the back of my head, I pulled open the
door.
...
Ow, my arm still hurts. But, more importantly, there’s someone at the door.
Three someones.
I suppose I should have added an “all of the above” category to my previous yammering. Ms.
Arakawa was there, hiding in the back. She was back to her usual floppy sweater/ankle-length
skirt combination, hiding in the back of the little trio, her round, little face telling me she hadn’t
quite forgiven herself for the antics of last night. She was hiding behind the tall (well, tall by
Japanese standards, something I have become increasingly aware of) form of Cathy McIntyre,
who no longer resembled the swaddled anarchist of earlier this afternoon, sticking instead to a
more conservative ensemble and looking rather cowed for her tomfoolery. Rounding out the three
was Ami, once again looking like the young urban professional she was, holding in her arms none-
too-gently my little dog, who was struggling to escape and cause as much trouble as possible, as
per usual. The three of them standing together made quite a sight: the scared Ms. Arakawa, the
grudgingly respectful Cathy, and the surprisingly cordial looking Ami Ishii.
...
Wait, did I just write that?
I think I did! Ami Ishii, of the Ishii Wrath, looked downright cordial! In my presence!
“Hey, Watanabe,” she began, squeezing Baka a little bit harder to get him to stop fidgeting, “You
ran out so fast we didn’t have any time to say anything.”
“I...wasn’t in the right frame of mind,” I scratched my head nervously, hoping to never be
reminded of that, um, incident ever again.
“That’s all right, neither was this one,” Ami gave Cathy a sharp elbow to the ribs and, after
blowing a quick raspberry at the English teacher, the foreigner gave me a short bow and a clipped
apology.
“Sawry Ah cawsed ya so much trubble with th’ ohl,” she grumbled, her face still pointed at the
floor. Under her breath, she added in a very, well, Cathy-like way:
“But Ah ain’t sawry ya gowt ta see me nekki, Kenny.”
Ami gave her a quick bonk to the back of the head, which shot the gaijin back to a standing
position, blowing another raspberry.
“Phwaw! What’re ya complainin’ abowt, Awmi? Ya said yerself, ya lahked thayut Kenny assert’d
himseylf, so y’all should be thankin meh–“
“What she means is,” Ami stepped in front of Cathy before she could go any further, “Is that she’s
taking us out for dinner, her treat, for bothering us so much.
Cathy just grinned, which I guess meant yes. I put Baka inside and, after the days shenanigans,
the little furball fairly passed out on his bed, no doubt as tired as I felt. Still, I’m not one to turn
down a free dinner, and all the hijinks did rob me of a real lunch. Unfortunately, most of the meal
was taken up by Cathy making obscene comments about Ami and I locked in her room, Ami
swearing and cuffing Cathy around the ears, Cathy laughing like some kind of mad emperor, and
the process repeating again. Ms. Arakawa didn’t say a word through the entire evening, and every
time I tried to catch her eye to tell her that everything was fine, she immediately became very
interested in the restaurant’s carpet. As frustrating as this evening was (particularly when Cathy
would start asking my, um, opinions on the bawdy stories she was concocting involving myself
and Ami) there was a certain enjoyable quality to it. I barely said a word all night, but I just sort of
sat there and drank it all in. Like it or lump it, I guess you could consider all these people my
friends and, even if they don’t admit it, I think she same goes for them with me. I wonder how
many teachers would kill for this sort of rapport with former students, and which would be willing
to undergo the trials I have, and will continue to have, for the similar privilege. I guess I should be
happy to have such an interesting life, particularly after the bucolic boredom of five years on the
farm...but I swear, if I don’t get one normal, peaceful weekend soon, my skull is going to break.
“Stop sighing and looking at us like that, you idiot,” Ami said, jabbing her chopsticks onto my
nose, “people will get the wrong idea about us.”
“Oh, Ah dunno...it could be th’ right ahdeeya, if Kenny plays his cawrds raht!”
“You are disgusting!”
“Ah bet Kenny don’t think so, do ya, Kenny?”
“Stop leaning forward like that, he can almost see your...”
“Awwww, ownly awlmost?”
*sigh*
“Stop sighing, dumbass!”
...
Yep.
These are my friends.

It’s a Step

Saturday evening ended quietly, at least quietly compared to Saturday...day. Cathy only got a little
drunk on low-level spirits (Ami forbade her squandering too much money just to get tipsy) And
Ms. Arakawa wound up herself drinking a bit too much of her coffee, which Cathy had gleefully
spiked whilst backs were turned. On a related note, Cathy’s an awful chatty inebriate.
“Ya gawt such a cute li’l round fayce, Kenny,” she would slur, “An’ that adorable li’l nose...”
She’d then attempt to tweak said olfactory button, but miss horrifically and end up plunging her
fingers into my Yebisu with a highly-accented “oops!”
Ms. Arakawa, on the other hand, either was still too distraught from the weekends, er, festivities
to notice the copious amounts of booze in her coffee...or either she secretly wanted a reason to
pass out. However, I don’t think it was in her plan to be carried home by me so, if you’re reading
this, Tomoko...don’t freak out, it wasn’t any hindrance. Well, at least you weren’t.
“Hey, buddy, that’s quite a doll you got on your back!”
“An’ hey! He’s got two more little cuties walkin’ with him! What a greedy bastard!”
Halfway home, a couple of particularly crass drunks came stumbling (or, rather, were hurled out
of) a nearby establishment, and immediately began to haze our little procession of two sober and
two soused.
“How ‘bout you share some of that, Chubby?”
“Yeah, gimme the gaijin, an’ you can have the one that’s passed out!”
“I like the sound of that. Oi, Chubby, you can have the surly lookin’ one on yer right!”
Ami, as expected, was not particularly pleased with the situation. However, she was heavily
involved in the process of keeping a wobbling Cathy upright, and could not fully vent her fabled
Wrath upon the two reprobates.
“We’re fine, thanks,” I said, clearly and coldly, hoping that would keep the idiots at bay. Of course,
it wouldn’t, and as we continued down the street, they continued to follow.
“Come on, Chunky...just a few minutes with one of ‘em, whaddya say?”
To do this in the middle of a street, in such a high traffic area, they were either roaring drunk,
perverts, or both.
“What are you waiting for?” Ami hissed at me from my right hand side, “If you can rip my door off
its lock, you could waste these chumps!”
“Beating down a couple of drunkards is not my idea of an enjoyable evening.”
“They’re insulting you! They’re insulting us!”
I was reminded of a particular song lyric I’d purchased during my wild-ish college days.
“It’s all just Drunk Sincerity.”
Somehow, it didn’t quite translate well to Japanese. Oh well.
“Who cares if they’re drunk or not?! People like that should be punished!”
“And they will be, but I’m not the one to do it.”
The conversation was cut short by another round of catcalls from the two boozers.
“Maybe he needs all three of ‘em, bein’ such a big guy and all!”
“Yeah, it probably takes all three of ‘em to find it in there!”
“Come on!” Ami fairly screamed her whisper at me, “How can you stand that?”
“I’ve had worse,” I replied, but even as I tried to brush it off I felt my jaw tighten, and I felt that
familiar, white-hot cauldron start to bubble up in my core. No...no, Watanabe, keep it
level...wailing on two drunks will only leave you with that horrible guilt inside. For all you know,
they just had a bad day...maybe they got fired from the office or something...you’re not the one to
dole out punishment, you’re not some vigilante...
“We’ve all had worse, dumbass,” Ami sneered, “but if you teach some of these pigs a lesson,
maybe we won’t have to have it at all!”
“It’s not my job!” I said back in a normal speaking voice, stopping the two of us face to face in the
quickly darkening night sky. I probably said it a little too loudly, because Dumb and Dumber
heard it and ran with it.
“O-ho...” one slurred, “sounds like trouble in paradise, eh?”
I heard him shuffle forward and saw him clap a clumsy hand on Ami’s shoulder, the one that
wasn’t supporting Cathy.
“C’mon, sweet pea...if he ain’t man enough for ya, you c’n always come home with me...”
Ami visibly bristled at the man’s touch, but was still powerless due to Cathy quickly losing
consciousness and nearly being on top of her. She glared at me, but it wasn’t the usual kind of
glare I got from her. It wasn’t the “you are an idiot” glare, it was almost like a “why won’t you do
anything?” glare. It still looked angry, it still looked sharp enough to pierce Kevlar, but there was
just a tiny bit of panic and fear and softness underneath...or maybe it was just one too many
Yebisus.
“Sir, please...” I gently took my hand off one of Ms. Arakawa’s legs (I had her carried on my back,
is all), and firmly removed the drunkard’s hand. He let it flop awkwardly to his side, looking up at
me with bleary eyes. I found it odd that he looked up at me, as I’m not very tall, but the drink had
given him quite an eccentric hunch to his shoulders.
“So thass how’s gonna be, eh?” He began to roar, his words barely intelligible, “Thass how ya
wannit? Ah warn’d ya, ah warn’d ya!”
He reached back to deliver an exaggerated punch to what I could only assume was my face, but I
wasn’t particularly worried. This guy was so far gone I could have dodged him with a locomotive
strapped to my back, much less the petite (and don’t let her tell you any different) Ms. Arakawa.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do any such dodging, as when the drunk reared back, his elbow
caught the nose of his compatriot with a thud. Yowling with pain, the second idiot’s head reared
back from the impact and, in drunken overcompensation, he brought his head rocketing back
forward with screaming speed, his forehead colliding directly with the back of the other’s noggin,
knocking them both unconscious and in a heap in the middle of the sidewalk.
I sighed with relief as I turned to leave. Ami, frustrated with her lack of prey for the evening,
aimed a short kick at one of the unconscious figures.
“Serves you right, scumbag!”
“Ami, please,” I said, pulling my mobile phone out of my pocket and dialing emergency, “Yes,
Hello? There are two drunks here, unconscious–“
”You’re calling them in?!” Ami’s voice was strained and squeaky with her indignation.
“They might have concussions, Ami. I’m not going to let them die,” I said and turned back to my
phone, relaying the necessary information.
“The authorities say we don’t have to stick around, they get calls like this more and more these
days,” As I said that, I thought about how easy I got a job, being the former “Golden Boy” and all,
and I wondered if others didn’t have it nearly as lucky...
“I can’t believe you,” Ami huffed, “some kind of crusader or something...”
She continued to grumble as we made our way down the street, mostly sticking to how
disappointed she was that I apparently hadn’t ripped both of them open and pulled a switcheroo
with their internal organs to teach them a lesson. Thinking back, I suppose some of her liquor
may have exacerbated her...combative personality, and this hot, almost stifling June night sure
wasn’t helping things. I was sweating pretty profusely by the time we got out of the hot, muggy
train, which was only slightly better than the bright lights and even more stifling crowds of the
shopping and restaurant districts. As an, um, large fellow, I’m used to sweating, so it didn’t bother
me all that much, but being back in the residential part of town felt as sweet as Angel’s kisses for,
again as a large fellow, crowds aren’t exactly comfortable.
“And now I’ve got to babysit these lightweights...again...two nights in a row...argh, this has been
so frustrating!”
“You wanted me to just demolish those guys?” I asked, blinking so hard in my incredulity that I
saw spots.
“That’s what a man would do!” She shouted back, shoving open the door to her apartment. I was
amazed to find that almost no trace remained from the Great Grease Blowout, with barely even a
scent of hot oil to be had where once it flew like Greek Fire. With another snarl, she tossed Cathy
onto the sofa as I gently laid the slumbering Ms. Arakawa into a chair.
She was snoring slightly. At the risk of causing trouble, I must say it was adorable.
“Humph!” Ami growled, bustling about like some mad mother hen, angrily making sure that
everything was comfortable for the both of them in some kind of paradoxical show of
simultaneous protectiveness and consternation. I made my way to the front door, trying not to
make any quick movements of obtrusive sound, should I suffer the Wrath. I had made it to the
genkan, the entryway, and was sliding on my shoes when my hand, which had been bracing me
against the wall, must have finally gotten wind of all that Yebisu and slipped slightly, knocking
into one of the door hinges and causing an instinctive yelp of surprised pain. Much like a fearful
bunny rabbit hitting the wrong dry twig, I had brought down the predatory fury of a mountain
lion in a ponytail.
With a snarl, Ami looked up from the sofa, dropping the blanket she had unfurled over Cathy’s
motionless, sleeping body. Her eyes were wide at first, like an animal’s when it has suddenly
sensed the presence of fresh meat. Upon seeing that it was just this boring old walrus, however,
her eyelids lowered like they were weighted with a ton each to half-mast, looking very bored and
disappointed with what yelped before her.
“Oh yeah, fine, whatever,” she waved a hand as if I was an errant speck of dust that was floating
out of her apartment. She turned back to Cathy, fluffing a pillow industriously “see you on
Monday, take it easy.”
Perhaps those Yebisus had gotten to my brain as well, or maybe I had succumbed to a particularly
vicious fever, because my brain had decided that it was okay to actually fire back at Ami Ishii.
“Sheesh, I can’t believe you’re acting like this. Just because I wouldn’t wallop a couple of losers
downtown like some barbarian...”
I could see that Ami was a bit shocked by me actually fighting back, but her, um, special brand of,
er, spunk meant that she had plenty of barbs loaded ready to hurl at anyone who dared talk back
to her. However, before she could get any words out of her open mouth, there came a dreamy
little singsong drawl from the couch where, up until now, we thought Cathy McIntyre was fast
asleep.
“Thayut’s cuz she lahkes it when ya act all machooo~ Gets ‘er all hawt ‘n’ bawtherrrrd~”
Ami’s neck nearly snapped off its pivot as she rounded on Cathy, wielding the pillow that had
formerly been a nursemaid’s offering as an assassin’s weapon. If I hadn’t stood there gawping at
what had just been said, Ami may have very well smothered the crazy foreigner. As it was, about
ten seconds into Smothering Time, Ami became aware that I was still in the genkan, with my jaw
hanging slack, absolutely blown away at the thought of such an idea being true, my slightly
liquored-up brain seeking to form connections to make the impossible possible, and threatening
to undo all of existence in the process
...
or at least that’s what it felt like.
I was finally able to snap back to reality when the pillow, which was at about Mach Three,
cannoned into my face with an earth-shattering, fluffy “flump.” I shook myself back to
consciousness as the pillow fell to the floor, and finally saw what was easily, EASILY, the strangest
thing I’d seen today.
Ami Ishii was blushing.
A teenaged-schoolgirl-at-a-popstar-concert-who-had-just-caught-the-lead-singer’s-handsome-
eye-and-gotten-a-wink blushing. Not angry blushing, not furious blushing, not even Wrathful
blushing...
GIRL...
blushing.
I was so confused, I stumbled backwards out of the door and did a backwards roll out into the
hallway, and very nearly all the way down the stairs and into the building’s basement. Somehow,
some way, the door slammed shut behind me, my brain still dwelling in a land where giant
takoyaki ate people who lived in large cardboard boxes the size of Mt. Fuji, or something...nothing
seemed to make sense anymore! Black was white, up was down, those darn Chicago Cubs were
going to the World Series...
I don’t know how long I laid on the floor, but eventually I was catapulted back into consciousness
and crawled my agonizing way back up to my room, even though I was afraid the stairs
themselves might turn into pudding or something, for all the sense a blushing, adult, Ami Ishii
world made. This wasn’t like when I paid her a compliment all those years ago, or when I would
fall or trip or cartwheel and accidentally see or touch some part of her I shouldn’t have. I...I can't
explain it. There was something there that wasn't before. Usually, when she would blush, it would
be in some kind of righteous fury, or even, all those years ago, it was because I had called
attention to her. This was the first time it appeared that Ami Ishii actually, I don’t know...liked
me? It was the first time I had ever seen her look vulnerable. Maybe it was just the Yebisu again,
but she it was like that undercurrent from earlier in the evening, that little bit under her glare had
come bursting to the forefront. She didn't look angry, she didn't look embarrassed...she looked
scared.
...
Ugh. Summer vacation cannot come fast enough. I need a break.

I needed to clear my head.
It's true that the "Sunday Drive" phenomenon has dwindled over the past, oh, seven decades,
because once every other person in the world has an automobile, going out for a drive is no longer
novel, unique, or a way to show how on the cusp of new bits of technology you are. Add to the
unbearable normality of the situation the current price of gasoline, and the idea of going out for a
drive on Sunday seems easily avoidable.
But it's fun.
Also, when your "drive" consists of a modest scooter that gets roughly one hundred miles per
gallon, it eases the pain of looking like a complete idiot astride your midget motorcycle, wearing a
moronic helmet and looking ready to destroy anyone and everyone with your laughably bad
driving.
...
But it's fun.
So, with a motor that sounds like a particularly angry bumblebee, I headed off through town. I
don't care how stupid I look, the wind feels good in my face, it helps me think. It's like I'm sitting
dead in the water, and a strong wind picks up and fills out the sails, helping me move and get to
where I need to go... wherever that is.
By this time I was in the neighborhood of the condos where Ai, Mei, Eri, and Ms. Arakawa live.
Five of my former students, all becoming students themselves, and all of them coming back to this
very school to teach. By hook or by crook, they are here, even Ami...but why?
It can't really be me. That's ridiculous.
Any one of them could be netting themselves lawyers, or doctors, or someone who actually has
some money or, barring that, a square, handsome jaw and winning smile. This whole situation
just seems...ridiculous, like some kind of ridiculous fantasy, and the giant robots are on
backorder, along with the heavy-handed mysticism or the wacky, outer space plot twist.
Something just doesn't add up here.
*Maybe it's you?*
That little voice in the back of my head, the one that's usually full of nothing but dangerous
suggestions or perverted observations, seemed to speaking in a downright, well, normal manner.
This was so shocking, of course, that I almost careened into a poor lady in the crosswalk, who
responded in kind by screaming bloody murder and tossing every last item in her grocery bag into
the street as my scooter screeched to a halt in front of her. As I helped her pick everything up, I
just kept hearing it over and over again...maybe it's you. After I apologized roughly fifty times, I
was finally allowed to go on my way with my honor intact. Honestly, do I look like some kind of
bike hooligan? This thing couldn't run over a cockroach with enough force to kill it, despite the,
um, added inertia my weight places on it.
Maybe it's me?
*Yeah, maybe it's you.*
I was stopped at a red light, and took a second to look at myself in a store window. But...look at
me, I'm the absolute antithesis of what those women should want.
*I don't suppose you possibly think that those girls might care about more than a guy having a
paunch? It's almost insulting for you to think they're that shallow, you know...*
That's not what I meant!
*Then what did you mean, idiot? Are you really just that scared of taking a step into the unknown,
or are you just too lazy to work for something like that?*
Huh?
*By continually calling yourself ugly and lame and no good, you're basically giving yourself a
handy out for any social situation. "It's because I'm fat." "It's because I'm a spaz." Don't you
realize that you're just hiding?*
But...I really do think those things about myself.
*But I'm here too, aren't I?*
Unfortunately.
*So what do you think I am?*
A pain in my ass?
*I'm all those thoughts you don't allow yourself to think, because it would mean you might take a
chance or screw up or maybe get hurt.*
But I've done that, and I have gotten hurt.
*Which is why I'm here. You don't hate yourself, you just want to.*
So you're saying, somewhere in the back of my mind...this whole ridiculous situation makes
sense?
*Of course! You're the greatest student to come out of Tokyo U this century! You're a gentle and
caring soul and, as for the looks, at least you're not the Elephant Man!*
Am I mistaken, or are you trying to give me a pep talk?
*I'm just sick of this "why me" garbage. You know damn well why.*
Yeah, but that doesn't make it any less creepy. These were high school girls when I first met them,
I was their teacher. There's something inherently...weird about that.
*Well, here's where you and I differ. But, well, that's about all I got for today. If I'm nicer to you
any longer, I might be sick. Just try to keep the toaster out of the bathtub for a while, and if
something happens...go with it for once, won't you?*
"Hey, Scooter-retard! Are you planning on waiting for the next green light? Move your ass!"
I was jolted back into reality to find out I had been holding up traffic for a rather long time. In an
act of nervous overcompensation, I slammed on the gas so much that the front wheel came off the
ground, dropping my fuel efficiency down to at least ninety-eight. At the next possible exit, I got
off of the busy thoroughfares and onto quieter, more modest roads through sleepy residential
neighborhoods and modest, green parks. There's some American song that talks about a Pleasant
Valley Sunday and, even though I think they were making a joke, it really did feel pleasant to
putter around on my scooter and just...think for a while. Of course, I think that other part of me is
either a boldfaced liar or planning some fiendish plot...but it still didn't keep me from turning
some of his words over in my head, until...
"Hey, Mr. Watanabe!"
I brought my scooter to a rolling halt as my name shot through the foggy cloud of self-centered
contemplation like a crossbow bolt. I shook the cobwebs out of my head in time to see a young
man running toward me, dressed casually and sporting a baseball mitt on his left hand.
"I thought it was you, Mr. Watanabe! Good afternoon!"
I recognized him immediately as one of the students from my earliest morning class. He had this
annoying habit of smiling even at the very beginning of the school day, but the secret of such
pleasantry he kept hidden deep within himself and selfishly refused to share.
"Er, ah...good afternoon. Having fun on your day off?"
"Just playing a little baseball with the guys. Wanna join in?"
This absolutely floored me. Through all my time in high school, I was never asked once to "join
in" for anything, and now that I'm a soggy, graying buffoon, these young men want me to play
baseball with them? They probably just want to see me do something stupid...
"We heard about how you took out Ms. Tanaka in gym class. That took some real balls, if you
don't mind me saying, Mr. Watanabe."
"It was an accident," I put my palms in front of me in a placating manner, but the young man was
no assuaged.
"Still, it was pretty cool, if you don't mind me saying. You sure you wouldn't wanna just play with
us for a little while? I promise I won't ask any questions about school or anything."
"Actually, I'd feel more comfortable if you did," I began, thinking through all I had planned for the
rest of the day. Baka needed a walk, and no doubt if I was out too long, Ami and Cathy would start
to wonder, and then there's the issue of getting my classes ready for tomorrow...
*if something happens...go with it for once!*
The words of my alter-ego slapped back into my consciousness like a whole tuna across the face.
Somehow, it just made sense.
"You know what?" I said, pulling off my helmet, "It sounds like fun. Do you have a spare glove?"
"You can use mine for now!" the student handed me his glove, and together we walked over to a
fairly open area of the park, where the student picked up a bat and stood over a makeshift home
plate. So I took a chance. I did something out of the ordinary, and I played a little baseball with a
couple of students. And it was fun. Apparently, those years on the farm have made me a little
more coordinated than I was at fifteen...which seems to explain why no one invited me to play
with them back then, now that I think about it...but more importantly, I started to think, just a
little, just an iota, just an inkling...that maybe I was fun to be with, maybe I wasn't as repellent as
I like to tell myself I am, and maybe there's some explanation to be had, and maybe there's some
truth to the words of my darker half.
Hey, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, after all.

The next week at school was immediately punctuated like a sloppily constructed sentence with the
announcement that the new vice principal would finally be joining our school, in the flesh, after
summer break, the beginning of the second term. Now, for those of you who don't know, and
because I am a teacher at heart, Japan's schools operate mostly on a trimester system, that goes a
little like this:
Term One: Second week of April to the end of July.
Summer Break: end of July to end of August.
Term Two: September to Christmas
Winter Break: Christmas to beginning of January
Term Three: January to end of March.
...can you believe we're not even to summer yet? I swear, this is going to be the longest year of my
life. Anyway, back to the "proclamation." Monday, after school, they asked all the teachers to
report to the teacher's room, but were disturbingly cryptic as to why we had been called there.
Rumors and fears flew fast, what could it be? Layoffs? Firings? Scandal? Accusation? Better
cafeteria food? In the end, each of those was systematically denied as an impossibility and, when
the current principal unveiling that his lauded deputy would finally make their physical presence
known within the walls of Kotogakko High, he was met with fanfare and adulation far below his
own expectation.
"Humph," the stuffy old man said as he straightened his tie, "Figures. I lure away one of the best
school administrative minds in all of Japan to bring our school to the very top, and none of you
paper pushers even care!"
And with another "Humph!" he exited along with a few toadies. The teachers, more than a little
perturbed that they were kept after and away from important things (like drinking and television)
for something so trivial, began to grumble and file out of the teacher's room. For me, I couldn't
help but think the entire time how it was rather unfair that the principal be allowed a sport coat
when I have to check mine at the door every day.
That, of course, being one of the strange new rules put in place for the teachers at this school in an
effort to, and I quote, "create a unified environment of motivated and powerful educators that
believe in teamwork." I'm not kidding, that was actually in a memo we all got. Yeah, you can go
ahead and laugh. Sometimes I can't tell if they're trying to teach kids or raise some kind of
army...although I suppose in Japan that's still a bit in bad taste...ah, whatever. I'm a History
teacher, right? I can make all sorts of terrible jokes and blame the subject matter!
This whole development has me believing this mysterious vice principal to be some kind of
demented overlord, trying to bend and shape the world to his will in some kind of misguided
quest for, I don't know, three magical talismans or something. I picture some kind of cackling
tyrant upon a throne of skulls, with long, clawlike fingernails digging into a roasted haunch of
caribou or something, slopping wine from a massive chalice and making sure that none of the
leftovers go to the starving families of his kingdom. Yes, all shall wear ties, all shall eat in the
cafeteria, all shall meet in one room only, for the vice principal demands it, mwa ha ha ha ha!
...
Okay, I'll lay off the Famicom for a few days. Those old games are starting to affect my brain.
"Frickin' vice-principal," Mei growled as she began ripping her athletic clothes out of a gym bag,
"more like vice...ass!"
As I had expected, Mei was late for her club activities as baseball coach, which meant that she was
going to change into her gym outfit right here...and right now. Unfortunately, the message
couldn't be relayed to my feet from my brain quick enough.
"Oi! Kenny-boy! Either turn around and look out the window or give me 3000 yen!"
I decided to take in the scenery. After all, I didn't exactly have 3000 yen on me...and how did she
come up with a, um, going rate so fast? Has it happened before?
"If you ask me," I heard Mei's voice behind me, muffled through cloth, "this new vice principal's
just stretchin' his wings. Ya know, seeing what he can get away with, and the principal's so damn
in love with the guy that he's letting him do all sorts of things, like...like...like this damn shirt, I
can get it off! Yeeargh!"
I didn't need to see to know what was going on. Knowing Mei, she probably still wasn't used to a
real collar or a necktie, and was still trying to just yank the shirt over her head.
"Ohh...Mei, you shouldn't be so forceful with everything," I heard Ms. Arakawa's soothing voice
come close to where I assumed Mei was ensnared, "you'll rip this shirt all up."
"It's just stupid, is what it is, Tomo!" Mei continued to bark, "What kind of PE teacher needs to
wear a frickin' tie? For crying out loud, this thing could strangle me in fifteen different situations
out there during class!"
The scenery had gotten boring, I suppose, so I was running through all of the possible ways Mei
might find herself the victim of a sudden cravat-related asphyxiation: caught on a fence, grabbed
during a rugby game, snagged in a volleyball net going up for a spike...within second I was
shaking with silent laughter at the comical pictures I was painting with my imagination, Mei's
eyes bugging out like some ridiculous cartoon, skipping frames of animation to speed her
humorous fall to the ground. Apparently, Mei was finished changing, because I suddenly felt a hot
and angry voice on the nape of my neck.
"You laughin' at something, Kenny-boy?"
"Eep!"
Honestly, that up there even looks manly compared to the noise I really made.
"Maybe I'll just beat those giggles right outta ya!" she continued to growl, her voice just low and
dangerous enough to strike fear into the most neglected corners of my soul, but her hot breath
and pitch of voice in such a manner that, regrettably, I found myself getting goose-bumps against
my will. Haru, apparently sensing my dichotomous situation, provided a quip as per usual.
"Mei-mei, you shouldn't get so close to Kenny-kenny's neck, you might get him all fired up!"
My neck grew suddenly cold as I heard Mei take a sharp intake of breath and stand back up to her
full height, which I embarrassedly admit is actually a good deal above mine.
"That's not what I meant," she snapped, her voice tight and stringent, "Shut up."
"If you say so," Haru replied in a sing-song voice, as if daring Mei to take a swing at the playful
kitten of a music teacher. However, we knew that no one in the room would, as doing such a thing
would be akin to maliciously cutting the ears off of an adorable lop-eared rabbit.
"Well then, Mei," I heard a familiar, husky drawl from Ai Hasegawa, "If you're not going to light
the fire...leave him to me."
My, my, how did this lump get in my throat? Oh, and hello, Mr. Cold-Sweat, can I offer you some
tea? You're such a regular guest these days, have a seat right next to Ms. Dry-Mouth.
"Knock it off, Hasegawa."
Ami seemed back to her old self, though it did seem strange that she was almost, ALMOST trying
to help me.
"Oh, fuu. Let me have a little fun with the guy, Ami...unless you want him all to yourself..."
"I will end you."
I wasn't looking, of course, but I knew the look Ami must have been giving Ai at that point. After a
self-satisfied "fufufu," Ai fell silent, and for the tiniest of instances I swore I could hear a light
rustling behind me before...
"Ahem."
It wasn't really the word "Ahem," but more like just a tiny little throat-clearing noise. Seeing as
how no words followed it, I could only assume it was some kind of cue from the resident teacher
of Mute Math, Eri Ozawa.
"Oh, that's right!" I heard Ms. Arakawa say breathlessly in her breathless voice, "I'd almost
forgotten!"
I heard a light little pitter patter as Ms. Arakawa's little feet came across the room to address my
back. Hey, I hadn't been told to turn around, and when you're told to do something by these
Rogues...you do it and don't stop til you're told, get my drift?
"Erm, Mr. Watanabe, sir..." she began tentatively. I decided to help her along by breaking the ice a
little.
"Yes, Ms. Arakawa. How's the knee?"
I said it loud enough that only she could hear, but still I could tell she was a little embarrassed.
"Oh! It's fine, er...it's all right...thanks, Mr. Watanabe...but..."
She seemed to strengthen her resolve and sally forth.
"Well, Ms. Ozawa's family owns, well...they had a little place down by Ryukyu, and Ms. Ozawa
wants all of us to visit for, erm, summer vacation...and you're invited, but we don't want you to
feel weird being the only man, so Mr. Sato can come too, if he wants...so...please come!"
I heard a little "flump" that I could only assume was all of Ms. Arakawa's thick hair galloping
forward as she made a deep bow of thanks. The invitation, and the invitation's presentation, made
my heart swell with gratitude. In all honesty, I hadn't planned on doing anything over vacation,
except maybe bother Mom and Dad, and to be invited to something that sounded so
very...summer...I don't think it had ever happened to me before, and I used to know some pretty
rich people in college. The only problem with all of this, of course, was that the swelling of the
heart meant my brain had to shrink in proportion, and I did something very, very stupid.
I spun around to properly thank both Eri and Ms. Arakawa, completely forgetting about what had
been going on whilst my back was turned. Apparently, everyone was as sick of the dress code as
Mei was, and had all taken to, after the room had speedily vacated, disrobing themselves and
slipping into more comfortable, post-work clothes. As you can probably imagine, I spun around
while most of them were only halfway through the process and, although the view was
rather...shall we say...arresting...I'm surprised I myself didn't get arrested. However, in my
defense, they were changing in practically plain sight, and I am often very, very idiotic and
clumsy. A few of them screamed, I turned the color of a lovely, ripe tomato, and before I could
apologize for what I'd done *or even throw out a few compliments on the rooms new construction,
heh heh heh* I was fairly tossed out of the room by a, thankfully, fully dressed Mei Tanaka, who
had been the first one out. Honestly, I don't know how I, or my brain would have dealt with being
expelled from the room by an underwear-clad Amazon.
An interesting side note: on my way to being hurled into the hallway, I noticed that the closet door
to the teacher's room was closed, most likely indicated Akira was taking one of his many, many
naps during the course of the day. I say this is interesting not because Akira is a borderline
narcoleptic, but rather interesting in that, had he woken up, he no doubt would have made Czar
Nicholas' kid look like an amateur with the amount of nosebleeding his perverted mind would
have unleashed. Honestly, ladies, with guys like Akira around, you really shouldn't just go
changing in the teacher's room like that. Here be dragons, lanky, lecherous dragons with bad
attempts at facial hair and dubious fashion sense. Ah, but they'll all learn that soon enough, when
the mental case tags along for the ride down to some summer fun in the Southwest Islands.
...
Yep. Definitely the longest year of my life.

So it was set: For summer break, I would be traveling to an exotic, picturesque tropical locale and
basking in the sun along with my best friend and seven young women who are maniacally vying
for my affections. The scene is set for fun, sun, and possibly a romantic encounter or two, in a
cinematic-styled wonderland where songs are sung, joys are shared, and memories are created.
...
Ha.
You didn't think it'd be that easy, did you?
You're learning. Good.
In all honesty, I didn't even make it to summer break before the problems started rearing their,
well, not-exactly ugly heads...
"Hey, Kenny, which one of these swimsuits do you like best?"
I didn't even take the time to give more than a lightning-fast, reactionary glance at the two
supremely stringy examples Ai held up before turning an abrupt about-face and exiting the
teacher's room the way I'd come without breaking stride. As the two weeks before summer break
wore on, I found myself (along with the aforementioned conscripted bikini judge) spending time
at a gym with Mei, watching American television with Cathy, helping Ms. Arakawa cook the
mutinous secret lunches, giving Haru lessons on the spoons, and planning team-taught lessons
with Ami. During the last of these, Ami took a break from transcribing one of General Sherman's
speeches to, um...be Ami.
"I suppose you're happy."
The comment was sudden, leaving me utterly flabbergasted. Happy with what? I hadn't said
anything in fifteen minutes, and that last spoken word had been "here" when I handed her the
speech, full of the kind of dynamic English the school has been pushing lately. But what on earth
would possess her to think that my silent, studious self was either happy or sad?
"Whah?"
Sadly, my brain was running far too fast, so everything just sort of came out of my mouth like,
well, a pudding gone horribly wrong.
"All this attention," she continued, never once glancing up from her paper, "All of these girls just
love you, and now you're going to be spending summer break with them. You should be over the
moon because, let's face it, you're not exactly some teen idol."
Ah, I thought I'd never again feel the sting of an Ishii sarcasm-dart, burrowing itself deep into my
stomach. Nice to see that she's back to normal, I guess?
"All of uh...all of THEM are so crazy about you, your calendar's hardly got a day open, am I right?"
Well actually, since these after-school bits started, my weekends have been blissfully free, but I
doubt saying anything would stop you know--
"Of course it is. You barely have time to eat, you're so beloved," she put the paper aside, finished,
and glared at me like I was Poland and it was Blitzkrieg Day, "But I know what this is all about."
"Murhn?"
She rolled her eyes as I made the curious noise, as if to say "I knew you'd make that stupid noise."
She tapped her pencil agitatedly on the library table as she spoke again.
"You pretend like you're being all noble by not, shall we say, pursuing any of us...but I know that
it's all just a lie."
Really? You know what I'm thinking? Because if you do, let me know, because right now even I'm
not quite sure.
"Why pursue one when you could say no to all and have them all desperate to prove themselves to
you?"
"Excuse me?" I was finally able to put words together, though it was probably due to my mounting
frustration, "You think I'm doing something like THAT?"
"What other explanation could there be?" Ami held her hands aloft, as if posturing to God,
"Unless, of course...you don't like girls?"
I wasn't sure whether I should throw my book at her or bash it into my forehead.
"You can't honestly believe..."
"I believe what I want," Ami snapped, "And you won't change my mind in a million years!"
"Why? Just because I can make you blush?"
Thankfully, we were in the school library after hours, because we were getting pretty loud. A pall
seemed to hang over the entire room for a few moments, heavy and thick as we both locked angry
eyes. Less than thankfully, we were in the school library after hours, which allowed Ami to wallop
me on the side of the head with her notebook without anyone noticing.
"Idiot."
"Ow!"
"Oh, you're such a big baby."
"You didn't have to hit me with the spine!"
"I'll rip out your spine if you ever say something stupid like that again!"
"And beat me with it, I suppose?"
"Damn straight, and--!" Ami hadn't expected me to go along with her, which only served to
frustrate her more. With a snarl, she slammed the notebook back down on the table and stuck an
arm out stiffly in my direction.
"Next speech."
"What--"
"Next speech, dumbass!"
There was an agonizing, stony silence as Ami copied the last speech voraciously and with blazing
speed. Finally, she slammed her notebook shut and stood up.
"I'll have the lesson plan ready for you tomorrow," she said curtly and headed for the door. I knew
that following her would have just lead to a soccer-kick to my, um, unmentionable areas, but I
couldn't stop myself from staying in my chair and glaring at that high ponytail of hers as it bobbed
away in the distance. As if she knew. As if she knew what it was like for me! I'll throw her in a pit
with seven tigers, and poke 'em all with sticks, then she if she can decide which tiger to soothe and
cuddle...
I'm sorry, that was a bad metaphor. In reality, it would probably be a tiger, a wolf, a bear, an
ostrich, a hyena, a songbird, and a baby seal, then deciding which one to pay attention to, making
sure the rest don't eat each other...or you...wah, this metaphor is out of control!
Thankfully, I was saved any more ridiculous ponderance by Ami herself who, now at the threshold
of the library, spun on her heel and stuck her tongue out at me, simultaneously using her free
hand to yank down one corner of her lower eyelid, effectively sealing our argument with the skill
and tact of a five-year-old. Still, it didn't stop me from responding in kind and leaping up from my
chair and rushing to the swiftly closing door, yanking it open in time to bellow various bellicose
oaths and vows into the face of our poor school janitor, Mr. Yamaguchi.
"Wah! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
He was a surprisingly young man for a janitor, probably not much older than me. He always had a
sad and sallow look on his face, so my angry hooting didn't do much to change his countenance.
"It's okay, you don't have to apologize," he said in his sad, usual voice, "I'm just the janitor, after
all..."
"Hey, if you weren't here, things would be a lot more difficult," I tried to cheer the sad sack up,
because I remembered how bad it was having to clean up the noodle shop, and just how messy
people can be.
"And believe me, I know something about difficult."
Ami's heels were still clicking down the hall like angry Morse code and, although I hate to say it,
she looked awful good walking away...
"I would say so," Mr. Yamaguchi said, although not exactly commiserating with my situation as he
was, um, appraising it, "You're too kind, Mr. Watanabe. You're too kind..."
"No," I waved my hand dismissively, "I'm just being a good person, is all. Why should I not try to
help you just because you clean toilets?"
The melancholy man looked up then, his watery eyes big with hope and friendliness.
"You mean...you'd help me?"
"Sure," I answered, figuring he'd ask me to sweep a few rooms or something, and honestly, going
home to Ami and Cathy one floor below...I think I could use some time to stall.
...
However, his request had nothing to do with mops, brooms, featherdusters, or that slick wheelie
garbage can station he pushed all round the school when I was busy grading papers and being an
antisocial grump.
His request, of all things, was about love.

Now, my mind went several places after Mr. Yamaguchi's, erm, confession. Let's take a look at
them one by one, although keep in mind that in real-time, all of this was basically hammered into
the space of three seconds.
With the janitor's customary sullen demeanor and surprisingly large, watery eyes, it is hard to tell
when exactly he's, um, happy...if he ever really has been. Rather, he carries with him an
expression that makes him look like he's constantly looking for something, and that something
might be the magician to remove the bitter stone he apparently swallowed at birth. Given all of
these factors, and the fact that I had been somewhat cornered, alone, in the library well after
hours...you can't blame me for thinking that maybe Mr. Yamaguchi's proclamation of love
was...for me.
Hey, after the last couple of months, I've learned to stop ruling out the ridiculous.
This original reaction of, well, absolute abject terror (I mean, he's not even my type, really) I
managed to force myself into a different frame of mind. Who else could Mr. Yamaguchi think I
would be the best person to talk to about, of all things, love? I began to cycle through all of the
people I knew within the walls of this school, and as I did so I could feel my face leaping up and
down as I reacted to each possible choice.
Could it be Akira? That'd be funny.
Could it be Ami? That'd be hilarious.
Could it be Cathy? That'd be strange.
Could it be Haru? That'd be weird.
Could it be Ai? That'd be dangerous.
Could it be Mei? That'd be a bloodbath!
Could it be Eri? They'd never speak a word to each other...
Could it be Ms. Arakawa? Well, I suppose so, she certainly is what you'd call "easy to love," I
suppose... hm, I hope all this rapid mental cataloguing isn't showing up on my face too easily...
"Are you all right, Mr. Watanabe?"
Crap. Well, now Mr. Yamaguchi thinks I'm some kind of mental patient, but at least now he won't
be asking me for ridiculous advice on love!
"Mr. Watanabe, I'd like your advice...your advice on love."
This guy needs to get out more.
"...Why?" Was all I managed to get out, even though a veritable paragraph wanted to come
spiraling out through my jaws.
"Well, I've noticed that, um...you see..."
I take it back. He'd never make it with Ms. Arakawa either, unless they could live eternally in a
stream of hems and haws.
"You're getting well known, Mr. Watanabe...around this school...for, um, your...the way you deal
with women..."
"A-wha?"
"All of the men here...we look up to you...you, um, really seem to know what women like, you
see..."
I couldn't help it. I laughed. I laughed right in his scared little face. I laughed at him, at the
broom, at the mop, at the wheeled garbage can. I laughed at the walls, I laughed at the ceiling, I
laughed at the floor.
Me. Ken Watanabe (the other one). "Guru of Women."
Go ahead. Say that out loud to yourself and see if you don't have a chuckle. However, Mr.
Yamaguchi apparently considered the matter at hand to not be a laughing one and, as I finished
my revelry, I came full circle back to find him in roughly the same expression as he had before.
My hoots died away into weak chuckles, which eventually passed into mirthful sighs, and then
finally apologetic bursts of merriment. After a few minutes, I had almost forgotten I'd laughed at
all.
"You're serious?" I asked, in voice that was serious itself.
Mr. Yamaguchi watery eyes disappeared for a split second as he gave a tiny, stiff nod.
"You heard me laughing, right?"
Nod.
"You know why I was laughing?"
Nod.
"All right..." I sighed, so flabbergasted it felt like my brain was drunk, "I'll see what I can do, I
guess...but I warn you, I really don't know what I'm doing."
"Oh, but Mr. Watanabe!" the young janitor began, "to have all of these other women adore you so
quickly, you must have some hidden skill!"
Thank goodness. Apparently, no one else in the building knows I was their former teacher. The
entire situation now seems less clothed in the sickly green "I have candy, little girl" frame of mind
and, I suppose, reflects rather favorably on me as some kind of romantic ronin, wandering in and
capturing hearts. I'll let him dream, why not?
"So, who's the lucky lady?" I said with a shrug, stuffing my hands in my pockets and feeling very,
very...not me.
"You call her lucky, you must be joking," Yamaguchi replied sullenly, now apparently very
interested in the floor. Sheesh, no wonder this guy's a janitor, he probably talked himself out of a
top salary job.
"Well, there's your first problem," I said, straightening up to my full height and glad to finally be
taller than someone other than Haru, "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. Of course no one's
going to be impressed by you if you're not impressed by yourself."
...
Wait, am I actually saying this? Oh well, there's no stopping the Hypocrite Train now!
"There's got to be something you're good at that can impress this woman, isn't there?"
It was about this time that I clocked once again that I still didn't know who the person was that
Mr. Yamaguchi was smitten with. Luckily, I had been able to narrow it down to someone who is
female, and when you're talking to Mr. Yamaguchi, that's considered a major breakthrough in
information mining. Still, I had been fairly well versed in Ozawan to attempt a similar tack with
its fumbling, less stare-heavy cousin, Yamiguchinese.
"For example," I leaned against the wall, allowing Mr. Yamaguchi to trundle his fabulous cleaning
wagon into the library, "do you know what she likes?"
Other than cleaning supplies, I suppose?
"She likes a lot of, um...manly stuff..." he began, dusting the tops of some bookshelves. I decided
to help out by putting the odd book back on its shelf.
"Hm... what do you mean by 'manly stuff,' Mr. Yamaguchi?"
"Oh, you know..." he slid in a few errant chairs, one of which (regrettably) was mine...sorry!
"Sports..."
Is it Mei? My mind started to swim, trying to find the best possible way to tell him to run away as
fast as possible, lest he be devoured.
"And engines...you know, like cars and motorcycles..."
Motorcycles? Did he mean Ms. Arakawa? I can see why he'd be attracted to her, but the combined
vacillation of such a relationship could tear a hole in the fabric of reality.
"Oh, and she really likes tools!" Mr. Yamaguchi said with a surprising amount of fervor, dumping
one of the smaller rubbish bin's contents into his large one, "you know, like hammers and drills
and saws!"
...
Well now, that one's got me buffaloed. I can't think of a single person I know who is particularly
apt with those kinds of tools. I think I've seen Ai use a few things here and there in the lab, and
Ms. Arakawa had to use a screwdriver once in a loose panhandle, but...
"Mr. Yamaguchi, did you say this lady works here?"
"Yes," he replaced the small bin, wiping a thin wrist across a perspiring brow. Wow, even I wasn't
sweating, but this guy was acting like that wastebasket weighed as much as a walrus, "Although
she's not a teacher."
In my disbelief, I managed to drill my toe into a table leg and, with a strangled scream, I
continued my line of questioning with the lovestruck, listless fellow as best I could.
"If she's not a teacher, why did you ask for my help?"
"Well, she is a teacher, I suppose, of sorts..."
Could you be any more ambiguous? If I hadn't crushed my toe, I'd be fixing to give you a boot, you
cold fish!
"Mr. Yamaguchi," I gritted my teeth as I took a step forward and clapped him on his slender
shoulder, which felt like it would crumble and give way, "if you don't just... tell me what's going
on, I'm going to smack you with that broom until you do!"
I'm not this bad, am I? Either way, a little intimidation seemed to be just what the little beetle of a
man needed, and with a terrified expression, he let it all out in a tumble:
"It's Ms. Abe. You know Ms. Abe? Megumi Abe? She's like...the handyman, er, handywoman
around here, for the school...she fixes the place when things go wrong, you know? She's always
got hammers and wrenches and stuff, always working hard...she's just so tough! I saw her a
month ago, she was fixing a window, and the principal came by and complained that it wasn't
getting done fast enough...and she talked down the principal! She said all of this about how
there's only one of her and she can only work so fast and maybe he should hire some more help
but good luck finding one as good as her and all...all this other stuff...it was just so wonderful! She
was so powerful, so forceful...I fell in love right then and there!"
I was so surprised by this outburst that I took a step back, forgetting my injured toe and letting
gravity remind me with a painful little jolt and, um, squawk.
"I know it's surprising," Mr. Yamaguchi continued, now jabbering incessantly as he tottered
around the library, completely blind to my pain, "And you're right to make such a surprised
noise...but I can't help it. There's something about Ms. Abe, something that just makes me want to
jump out of my skin! I just want to be close to her, even if it's cleaning windows or fixing the
toilets! It's just like...I want to be near her, I want to know everything about her...she's so
powerful, I find myself attracted to her with a power that surprises even me! Even now, I
feel...strong! I feel strong just talking about it! I feel like I could just go right up to her right now
and tell her how I feel...now that I've talked about it, it feels so right!"
"Owwww..." I wailed, rubbing my toe gingerly.
"Oh, it warms my heart that you sing for our love, Mr. Watanabe!" the strange little janitor
continued, his back now completely to me as he proclaimed his intents to what was now an empty
hallway, "I'm going to go see Ms. Abe, yes I am! I've talked about this, I've made my love
known...and I feel strong! I feel powerful! I'm going to do it...thank you, Mr. Watanabe! You truly
have an amazing skill when it comes to women!"
And with that, the library door was flung open, and the janitor was gone. My toe, however,
remained in a tremendous amount of pain, apparently unsympathetic to the beautiful scene that
had just happened before us...if you could call it beautiful. Who knows, maybe that was my toe's
way of crying with joy for the love of Mr. Yamaguchi for Ms. Abe, the mousey janitor for the
strong-willed maintenance woman. I'd seen her a few times in the hallway, and she'd always given
me a very strong nod, like we were both military officers of equal rank. However, after all of these
ridiculous new programs, someone who would stand up to the principal is a hero in my book.
As I limped home from the library and the school, I thought about the strange little Mr.
Yamaguchi. Mostly, I thought about how strong he did seem to become when he proclaimed his
love, how he almost became more of a person. I'm sure if I could have seen his eyes they would
have been shining and bright, instead of watery and timid. I do wish them the best, the custodian
and the handywoman. It seemed like Mr. Yamaguchi had really found something special,
something that was bigger than him, something that made him more than he had been before. It
was amazing, but a little saddening for me who, mobbed as I am with, um, admirers, has yet to
feel something so, as Mr. Yamaguchi would put it, "strong." Perhaps one day, I will feel that way
about one of the Rogues...and then by systematically tortured and killed by the rest of them, with
my grave constantly desecrated by the National Anti-Pervert Teacher League, ha ha...
...
I'm joking, of course, but mostly because I'm...well... a little jealous. I hope that someday I can feel
that kind of ethereal, out-of-body love that Mr. Yamaguchi felt, where it really feels like your soul
is calling out to someone, that one someone who makes everything seem better. Someone you
want, and at the same time someone you need, everything you can ever ask for and also someone
you just can't see yourself living without...it sure sounds nice!

"You're limping a little, there," Akira mentioned as I shuffled into the staff room on Tuesday. He
looked like an even bigger idiot than I did in just a shirt and tie, as that all-black ensemble was
giving him the only coolness and mystery he had ever had.
"Don't remind me," I grumbled, wincing as I settled into my chair with a sigh.
"What happened?" He leaned back, resting his legs on the windowsill while sitting, customarily,
on my desk, "One of your lady-friends get a little too rough with you?"
"Shut up," I groaned. However, the pain in my foot was quickly assuaged when it occurred to me
that I technically held the upper hand today, something I don't have often when it comes to our
verbal sparring.
"All I'm saying," Akira said with a shrug, "Is that if I had someone like Tomoko Arakawa:
Domestic Goddess clamoring to make me dessert, I wouldn't exactly mind a little limp now and
again..."
He finished his ridiculous sentiment with a wink that he no doubt found roguish, but in reality
made him look more like someone you would find clad only in a trenchcoat in some dark
alleyway. But no matter, for today, I held the upper hand.
"Oh really?" I said with an admittedly arrogant little chuckle. I set about making my first kettle of
tea for the day, looking for all the world as if I might bust out into a superior sounding chorus of
"hoh hoh hoh's" at any minute.
"Akira, my good friend," I set the kettle to heat and regarded him with a venomous smile, "What
would you say...no...what would you give me if I said I had the means for you to spend Summer
Break with Ms. Arakawa?"
"Muh?" Akira's head snapped around from the window so fast I worried he'd lose feeling in the
right side of his body.
"How about six other young ladies as well?"
"Buh?"
"On a...private island getaway?"
"Wah?"
"And, of course...in swimsuits?"
Akira had leaned over a little too far at that last suggestion, losing his balance and ending up
right-side-wrong on the floor.
"Well," I ran a hand through my messy hair like some kind of calculating villain, "what's it worth
to you?"
Akira's feet, which were at the conversational level, seemed to reply eagerly.
"What do you want?"
"I'll start the bidding at 1100 yen..."
"SOLD!"
Akira was on his feet in a shocking amount of moves, which told me he had either spent a lot of
time leveling up his agility stats, or his "Old Pervert" skill set. Before I knew it, my right arm was
rocketing up and down in a violent handshake as I gazed into Akira's face, which was awash with
tears of what I could only imagine was joy.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are a true friend, to share such a bounty at such a bargain
price! I feel as if the gates of Heaven have opened to me, inviting me to Nirvana where seventy-
two virgins await me! Oh, praise be to Baal, now and forever!"
If you understood all of what Akira just babbled about, and just how wrong it was,
congratulations: you're as hopeless as the two of us. The sad part is, this passes for humor with us.
After pledging to go immediately to the nearest ATM and withdraw the agreed upon amount,
Akira fairly skipped to the exit, casting a heady aura around himself and humming snatches of
that disturbing "Little Girls" song to himself. No doubt he would have continued to float down the
hallway, out the door, and all the way to Ryukyu by himself had he not run into one Mei Tanaka in
the doorway. Now, most sensible, sane men would have probably taken one look at the tall,
muscular, striking Amazon of a PE teacher and done three things, in no specific order.
1) Apologized for being in her way
2) Bowed respectfully, and/or
3) Gotten their fool selves out of the way.
...
However, I think it can go without saying that Akira is not exactly sensible, or sane, most
particularly not in his current, um, mood.
"Good morning, you big, beautiful woman!" Akira squealed, throwing both of his hands into the
air, "And good morning to all of your sexy friends! Only a few more days 'til fun, fun, fun in the
sun! Oh, and I hope you wear a bikini on the island, even if your boobs are kind of small. Hooray!"
And with "Hooray!" he neatly slipped past a bewildered Mei and tiptoed off down the hall with
wings on his feet. I've got to admit, seeing this kind of reaction, although I saw it with frightening
regularity during college, still stirs a sense of deep unrest in the bowels of my spirit. However,
part of me admires his, um, unabashedness?
Oh, and speaking of bashing...
"Hey, Wimpy. What did you do to Pervo over there?"
"Told him he was invited for Summer Break," I said, eagerly glaring at my kettle and waiting for
the tea to finish. Something told me the tea would ease my aching toe, although I had absolutely
no medical merit to back that up.
"Yeah...still can't believe Tomo did that," Mei kicked back in the place previous occupied by Akira,
frighteningly adopting almost the same posture. However, she stopped momentarily to angrily
pluck at the now-requisite tie under vice-principal Robespierre's Reign of Terror.
"She's terrified of the guy. But, then again, she's terrified of most guys, 'cept you...but then
again..."
"I'm not much of a guy, right?" I finished her thought for her, causing her to be taken aback for a
split-second. Almost immediately, she rebounded in the best way she knew how, giving me a "love
tap" to the bicep that most likely would leave a deep tissue bruise.
"Ow."
"Oh, you big fruitcake," Mei pulled a face in my direction, "I barely touched you."
"Is that tea done yet?"
"No," I grimaced, throwing an angry glare at the kettle, which bubbled on oblivious to my
frustration. With her own growl of frustration, Mei kicked away from the windowsill with her legs,
rolling onto her back until she was lying half on my desk, and half on the desk across from mine in
the foursquare setup. Displaying an expert sense of balance, she stuck her long legs into the air,
perfectly vertical, and held the pose, rolling back onto her shoulderblades and balancing almost
motionlessly.
Need I remind you, it was almost summer break, so Mei's uniform included a pair of criminally
short shorts.
"Um...Mei?"
"What?" I heard a slightly perturbed grunt emanate somewhere from where most of Mei's torso
was compacted down on her ribcage.
"What...um...what are you doing?"
"Just a little workout, 'cuz I'm bored," she muttered, trying her hardest to keep herself absolutely
still, which resulting in a lot of muscles in her legs standing out remarkably...but not that I was
looking.
"That's the best thing you can think of doing until the tea's ready?" I stammered, my mouth
becoming suddenly dry and my hankering for weak, lightly flavored tea-water rising significantly.
"Well, I dunno...I could throw you down 'n wrestle ya, but that might seem a little strange,
wouldn't it?"
And sticking your legs high into the air isn't strange? And wait...wrestling? What did you say
about wrestling? Good grief...
"Ha! I can't even see your face, but I know you're blushing, Kenny-boy!"
"No, I'm not!"
"It's all right, ya know," Mei cackled softly as she began to spin her legs in a bicycle pattern, "go
ahead and look, Kenny...I don't keep myself in shape just because I like it..."
At this point, I could feel my face burning. Gathering my courage, I grasped out to corral Mei's
piston-like legs, but found her pattern to be constantly changing, probably to further my
frustration. After about seven or eighteen attempts, I finally managed to grab her right leg during
the full extension phase of the revolution. Apparently, Mei had no idea I had been trying to
subdue her calisthenics, as my grabbing of her calf muscle elicited a startled, un-Mei-like squeak
to issue from somewhere near her head, lowering her guard for a moment and allowing me to
clamp onto the other leg as well. Leaning my full weight on both, I was able to bring Mei rocketing
back upward to a sitting position, clamping one hand on each of her legs in the hopes of stopping
her from doing any more bizarre stretches or poses. For crying out loud, the first class hadn't even
started, it's too early for this kind of thing!
"There!" I gasped, proud of my accomplishment, "Don't go doing things like that, Mei! That kind
of stuff is okay in PE class, but outside of it...it's just a little indecent, you know?!"
"Pah. Indecent? As opposed to spending your mornings with your hands clamped on her thighs?"
...
Ami Ishii had appeared in the doorway like a demon, still holding the speeches I had copied for
her last night. Her face was predatory, cannibalistic, yet still taking some sick pleasure in catching
me plump for the slaughter. She was right, too: in my hurry to keep Mei in a seating position, I
had forgotten just how short her shorts were, and was presently getting two handfuls of each of
her respective thighs, which probably looked, um, a little bad. I turned my face from the doorway
to Mei herself, and found a worried, reddened face and a pair of trembling shoulders. With a yelp,
I removed both of my hands as if Mei's skin was made of acid (in fact, it was actually quite soft
and not uncomfortable at all...but that's neither here nor there) and held my palms outward in a
placating gesture. Still, old habits die hard, and Mei's fight or flight response became a one sided
argument somewhere around the time she was five years old. I don't know how that lady makes a
simple spiral-bound notebook feel like a gunshot to the side of the head, but at the moment I had
more important things to worry about...like making sure all of my teeth were still in my mouth.
The incredible irony, however, came in the very instant in which I was struck for my accidental
offenses. The very second, the very instant Mei had reached out and smacked me with her
improvised weapon from my couch, the tea kettle had reached its proper point and, as is
customary, had let out a happy little chime. I suppose to sum it all up would have sounded
something like this:

1)Grab of the leg
2)Squeak of the PE teacher
3)Whoosh as she is brought back upright
4)Ami being Ami
5)My frightened yelp of realization
6)Crack of the notebook against the flesh of my cheek, and
7)Ding! Tea's done!

"Hoh, hoh, hoh," I heard Ami chuckle as she walked over, using those same arrogant chuckles I
had been planning on using not five minutes ago,
"Ding ding, round one to Tanaka!"

				
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