For Downix. See end for details.
Emi was doggedly forcing herself to slog through an arid text about the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 when a gentle cough broke her concentration. Blinking, she looked up from the book to see Yuuko standing beside her, looking anxious. “Whuh?” Emi asked blearily, her brain still stuck in the Battle of Mukden.
“I’m sorry, Emi, but the library is closing,” said Yuuko apologetically.
Emi squeezed her eyes shut for a long moment, shook her head, then opened them to look around. She was the only student in the library, as far as she could see, and the clock on the wall indicated that it was in fact almost a half hour past normal closing time. “Ah. Right. Shit, Yuuko, you shoulda’ told me sooner.” She began packing up her notes and stacking up the numerous books she’d consulted while trying to write her paper.
Yuuko smiled timorously. “You seemed rather...involved in your studies. You didn’t respond to my earlier closing announcements.”
“I didn’t? Damn, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, it took me up until now to finish my closing routine.”
“Yeah, well, thanks.” Emi finished packing up her book bag and held out two books. “Can I still check these out?”
“Of course.” Yuuko took the proffered volumes and headed over to the check-out counter.
Emi rose to follow her, and groaned slightly. She’d been sitting far too long hunched over books. History was easily her least-favorite subject, and the subject of the paper was boring beyond belief, but she needed a decent grade on this paper to get at least a B in the class. So she’d forgone an after-dinner run and spent all evening poring over texts she had no interest in.
Yuuko checked out the books for her, the soft beeps of the scanner the only noise in the empty library. Emi went over to the checkout counter and smiled at Yuuko, then did a double-take, fully looking at Yuuko for the first time. She looked miserable, even more tense and on-edge than usual, her eyes haunted. Emi was startled enough by Yuuko’s appearance to blurt out, “What’s wrong?”
Yuuko flinched and offered up a trembling smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Nothing.”
Emi hesitated. It wasn’t as if she was all that close to Yuuko, but her guilt at having stayed past closing time prompted her to pursue the matter a bit more than she might have otherwise. “Are you sure? You look...” She trailed off, not wanting to say “terrible,” finishing instead with, “Unsettled.”
Yuuko blinked a few times, her eyes suddenly shining brightly. “It’s...nothing. I don’t want to bother you with my troubles.”
“I’d rather listen to your troubles than read about nineteenth-century politics,” Emi offered with a smile, hefting the two volumes Yuuko had just checked out for her.
Yuuko actually smiled at that for a moment, before her expression fell again. She sighed. “It’s just...my parents are coming to visit me this weekend.”
Emi frowned. “Ah...don’t you get along with them?”
Yuuko shook her head. “No, it’s not that, it’s just...they’re going to want to meet my boyfriend.”
Emi’s eyebrows shot up. “Huh. Didn’t know you had one.” The notion of the mousy and skittish librarian having a boyfriend seemed somewhat improbable.
“I don’t. Not anymore, anyway. We broke up a year or so ago.”
“Oh.” Puzzled, Emi suggested, “So, just tell them that?”
“No. I mean...When we broke up, I didn’t tell my parents. In fact...” She trailed off, sounding miserable.
“I, ah, continued to tell them about him in my letters home. Just so they wouldn’t worry. And, y’know, pester me to find a new boyfriend.”
“Ah.” Emi grinned. “You lied.”
“Nnnnnnot exactly,” Yuuko began, then groaned. “Well, okay, yes
exactly. I lied to them. Mom had been so happy
when I started dating. She’d been bugging me for years to ‘get a man,’ as if that would somehow be the solution to all my problems.” She snorted. “They cause more problems than they solve,” she muttered bitterly.
“Well, yeah, lying about a man might cause you problems,” Emi said drily.
“I just didn’t want her to start harping on me about dating again! Having her shut up about it has improved our relationship. I don’t want to go back to that.”
“Gotcha.” Not that Emi had ever gotten that kind of pressure from her own mother, but she’d certainly seen it in movies and on TV. “So, they’re going to want to meet your boyfriend?”
“Yes...” Yuuko looked on the verge of tears.
“Why don’t you just tell them he’s away? Visiting family for the holidays?”
“I’ve already told them that he’s local.”
“So...tell them you just recently broke up, and you hadn’t had the heart to tell them yet.”
“But that’ll just lead to them dissecting what I ‘did wrong,’ and strategizing about how to get him back. Or how to get the next
boyfriend. I really
want to avoid that, if I can.”
“I see.” Emi scratched the back of her head, contemplating Yuuko’s predicament. “Are you on friendly terms with your ex? Maybe he’d be willing to pretend to be your boyfriend for the duration of a meal with your parents?”
Yuuko laughed, a tight, nervous laugh that went on for much longer than seemed necessary. “No. Just...no. I have enough problems as it is with him stealing library books.”
Emi’s eyebrows shot up. “He’s at Yamaku? Is he a teacher here?”
Emi blinked, looking puzzled for a moment, then put two and two together and blurted, “He’s a student?”
Yuuko’s miserable silence was answer enough.
“Wuff.” Emi shook her head, amazed that the shy librarian could have ever actually been so bold as to date a student. Admittedly, Yuuko was barely out of high school herself, and sometimes acted even younger; sometimes it was hard to remember that she was ostensibly an adult. But still, dating a student?
“Hey, Yuuko, I think I’ve got an idea...”
“You want me to do what?”
Hisao pulled away from Emi in bed and regarded her as if she’d just grown a second head.
Although she knew that the idea was a little unusual, Emi didn’t think it merited quite that
much incredulity. “Pretend to be Yuuko’s boyfriend for an evening,” she repeated.
Hisao stared at her for a long silent moment, his mouth opening and closing as if he was having trouble deciding which objection to start with. He finally settled on, “I didn’t know you were such good friends with Yuuko.”
“Eh. I’m not, really, but she looked so upset that I felt sorry for her.”
“Sorry enough to pimp out your boyfriend?”
Emi gave him a gentle whack upside the head. “I’m not pimping you out. I’m not getting paid, and if you so much as kiss her, I will be very
upset.” Her glower was slightly more serious than her usual playful scolding.
Hisao snorted. “Then why put me in a position where I might get kissed?” He shook his head, and muttered, “And by Yuuko
, of all people...”
“Hey! Yuuko is pretty! Why wouldn’t you want to kiss her?”
Hisao gave Emi a quizzical look. “Uh, yeah, ‘pretty’ is not the issue. And why are you encouraging me to kiss her?”
Emi shook her head. “I’m not encouraging
you to kiss her, I just mean, why wouldn’t you want to?”
“Aside from my lovely and homicidally jealous girlfriend?”
Emi stuck out her tongue at him. “I’m not homicidal. At worst I’d withhold sexual favors for a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks?”
Hisao repeated, looking like he was barely repressing a laugh. “I’d like to see you just try
to last that long.”
Emi blushed, and buried her face in the crook of his neck so he couldn’t see her expression. She knew her libido was stronger than average, but she got embarrassed by reminders of that fact. “Yeah, well, just don’t kiss her, and we won’t have any issues,” she muttered.
“That’s all presupposing I go along with this crazy proposal. You still haven’t convinced me that it’s a good idea.”
“I already explained—”
“Yeah, I know, Yuuko wants to avoid conflict with her mother. But surely there’s an easier way?”
“Got any suggestions?”
Hisao hesitated, considering, then conceded, “Well, no. Not really.” He sighed. “And I do
like Yuuko, and I guess I wouldn’t mind helping her out...” he added reluctantly.
“Great! So you’ll do it?”
Hisao sighed and hugged Emi closer to him. The warmth of her body against his was making him sleepy, and against his better judgement, he said, “Okay. I’ll do it.”
Emi gave him a kiss and a smile. “I’ll tell Yuuko tomorrow.”
Hisao yawned. “Okay.” As his mind began to wander, a practicality occurred to him. “Say, what’s this ex’s name? Who am I going to have to pretend to be?”
All traces of sleepiness vanished. Hisao sat up in bed, dislodging Emi from where she’d been cuddled up under his arm. She yelped at the sudden movement, and he stared down at her with a expression of disbelief that made his earlier expression pale by comparison. “Kenji?”
“Uh, yeah.” Emi frowned up at him. “What, do you feel strange pretending to be someone you know?”
” He shook his head. “I’d rather pretend to be...be...Taro. Or Misha. Or anyone
else other than Kenji.”
“You’ve met him, right?”
“Well...yeah...so he’s a little eccentric—”
Hisao snorted. “A little?
“—but her parents have never met him, so you don’t have to act
like him. Just answer to his name.”
“Oh.” Hisao looked slightly mollified by that and lay back down in the bed next to Emi. He pulled the covers up over both of them and sighed. “Just as long as I don’t have to wear that ridiculous scarf.”
Emi laughed. “I think you can get by without it.” She returned to her position snuggled up under his arm, and rested her head on Hisao’s chest, listening to his heartbeat. “Think of it as doing a good deed for a friend.”
“Right.” He sighed and kissed the top of her head. The last thing Emi heard before drifting off to sleep was one last incredulous muttered, “Kenji...”
Hisao was combing out his damp hair and preparing for the evening’s “date” when the door to the bathroom opened and Kenji walked in. Hisao felt his stomach clench, to be confronted by Kenji so close to the time when he was preparing to impersonate him. Just a coincidence
, he tried to reassure himself. “Hey,” he said, hoping his voice was sufficiently casual.
Kenji’s head snapped around toward Hisao, and he peered suspiciously through his thick glasses. “Hisao? Is that you, man?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
Kenji’s eyes narrowed. “Prove it.”
Hisao sighed. “We’re the only two people who use this bathroom. Who else would I be?”
Kenji relaxed slightly, but shook his head in disagreement. “I dunno, man, I think I’ve seen one of those feminist types sneaking in here. Tiny little thing, probably thought she could slip in under my radar or something. But nothing escapes me!”
Except your sanity
, Hisao thought. He didn’t feel like explaining that that had been his girlfriend; that would probably prompt a diatribe he had less than no interest in listening to. “Well, I’m neither a tiny thing nor a feminist spy, so you can relax.”
Kenji just grunted noncommittally in response and headed over to the urinal. Hisao tried to ignore him as he finished preparing for his “date.” Originally, he hadn’t planned to dress up, but Emi had pointed out that if he was actually Yuuko’s boyfriend, meeting her parents for the first time, he’d want to dress to impress. She’d rejected his favorite sweater vest, and insisted he wear a sports coat instead. Buttoning up the front button, he tugged the suit down and gave himself a once-over in the mirror. Not too bad
, he conceded. I should dress up like this for Emi sometime.
He really wished that it was Emi he was going out with this evening, not Yuuko.
Kenji finished and came over to the sinks. He peered at Hisao in the mirror as he washed his hands, frowning slightly. “You look dressed up. What’s the occasion?”
Hisao scrambled to find an answer that would satisfy the paranoiac Kenji, and fit in with his idiosyncratic world-view. “I’m...uh...I’m...going under cover,” he blurted.
Kenji looked impressed. “Really? What for?”
Yes, Hisao, what for?
Hisao wondered. “I’m...meeting a...potential informant. A woman who’s sympathetic to our cause.” He found himself recalling some of Kenji’s previous rants. “She’s seen the true evil of feminism and wants to do what she can to help us.”
Kenji glowered. “Are you sure you can trust her? What if it’s a trap?”
“I’m sure. She’s had...an unfortunate love life, which has turned her against...” No, wait, turning her against men is the wrong direction...
“Against other women.”
“What?” Kenji looked confused.
...a lesbian,” Hisao extemporized hastily. Sorry, Yuuko.
“She wants nothing to do with other women now.”
“Ohhh.” Kenji nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like a prime recruit for the cause. You need backup, man?”
“No, no, I should do this alone, we don’t want to spook her.”
“Hey, I’m subtle like the wind, she’ll never see me.”
You’re subtle like a water buffalo in a tea house.
“She’s really skittish. I can handle this alone.”
Kenji squinted dubiously at Hisao, and Hisao tried to sound a little hurt as he asked, “Don’t you trust me?”
Kenji gave a deep sigh. “Yeah, man, of course I do. You’re my number one operative.” He nodded sharply, then slapped Hisao on the shoulder with his still-wet hand. “You’ve got this, dude. Go and get her. Just don’t get burned, okay?”
“Right.” Hisao tried ineffectually to brush the water off his shoulder. “I’d, ah...better get going. Don’t want to be late.”
“Okay. Report back in when you’re finished! I look forward to hearing from you.”
“Yeah, right. Will do,” Hisao promised, as he beat a hasty retreat.
Hisao dropped his toiletries back in his room, then headed out to the Shanghai. Yuuko was apparently killing two birds with one stone, showing her parents where she worked while introducing her “boyfriend” to them.
The wind was brisk and wintery, and Hisao found himself wishing he’d worn something more than just his sports coat. He was thoroughly chilled by the time he got to the Shanghai, and was grateful for the warmth as he entered the restaurant.
He paused for a moment by the kitchen after entering in order to warm up a bit. A warm sweet scent caught his attention, and he glanced over to the servery to spot a half-dozen pies cooling. Smells like banana cream?
Hisao was distracted from the pies by a voice calling out across the restaurant, “Kenji!” He twitched and almost glanced behind himself for his annoying hall-mate. No, wait, that’s me.
He looked to see someone waving to him from a window booth.
He wondered for a moment if the pretty young woman was Yuuko’s mother or sister. It took him a moment to realize that it was Yuuko herself—she wasn’t wearing her glasses, and her hair was put up in an elaborate weave of braids, which made her look older and more fashionable. He smiled and waved back. Taking a deep breath for courage, he headed across the restaurant to join her. On his way there he noticed that one other booth was occupied—by Emi. Emi’s back was to the Shirakawas, and she gave him an encouraging smile and a covert thumbs-up as he passed. He gave her a shiver of a wink in response as he passed, and continued on to Yuuko. It’s showtime, “Kenji.”
Yuuko stood up as he approached the booth, and smiled nervously at him. “Kenji. I’d like you to meet my parents, Mari and Shoya Shirakawa.”
Hisao bowed. “Mr. and Mrs. Shirakawa. It is an honor to make your acquaintance.”
Both Shirakawas nodded back at him. “I’ve looked forward to meeting you for a long time,” said Mrs. Shirakawa. She smiled warmly at him. “Yuuko has told us so
much about you.”
Hisao smiled nervously at that. “Only good things, I trust,” he said, his mouth on autopilot. What if she’s told them something I don’t know about?
He sat down in the booth next to Yuuko. He smiled at her, while pretending to himself that he was smiling at Emi, to try and make the smile more warm and genuine. His effort apparently succeeded, because Yuuko blushed and her eyes went wide, her lips parting in a silent “Oh” in response. Hesitantly, she returned the smile, her face and posture relaxing slightly.
She actually is pretty, when she dresses up a bit
, Hisao realized. He was just turning his head back to face her parents when a flash of color behind Yuuko caught his attention. Looking out the window, he spied Kenji, not three meters away, “hiding” behind a skinny street post with his ridiculous scarf waving in the breeze. He was peering into the restaurant through a pair of binoculars. Hisao froze momentarily. Kenji! What the heck!
“Is something wrong?” asked Mr. Shirakawa.
Hisao whipped his head back around to face Yuuko’s parents, desperate to keep them from looking out the window. “No! No, nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine. Just fine. Say, ah, have you ordered yet?” He wished, not for the first time, that the Shanghai had menus, so he could have something to hide behind for a moment to collect himself. Lacking a menu, he smiled convulsively at the Shirakawas, hoping they’d stay focused on him, and not look outside.
The Shirakawas looked startled by his question. “No, not yet,” said Mr. Shirakawa.
Hisao frantically waved to Kaede, the waitress on duty. Then as she approached he had another moment of panic. What if she addresses me by name?
But apparently Yuuko had anticipated that and talked with Kaede first. “Hi, Kenji
,” said Kaede with a smirk. “What can I get for you all this evening?”
Hisao breathed a covert sigh of relief as everyone’s attention was turned toward the waitress, and away from the window. He resolutely refrained from peering out again himself. Maybe if I ignore him he’ll go away,
he forlornly hoped.
Kaede took everyone’s orders, and then Hisao was left facing the Shirakawa’s with nothing to say. The four of them smiled nervously at each other for a long awkward moment. Come on, Yuuko, say something!
“So, I understand you’re interested in cryptography?” Mrs. Shirakawa essayed tentatively.
“Uh, yeah. It’s... it’s very interesting,”
Another long awkward silence followed, and Hisao tried to rally. “It’s the mathematical side of it that’s the most interesting,” he offered, trying to link the conversation to something he was actually interested in.
“Ah, yes. Math,” said Mr. Shirakawa, nodding seriously.
“Right, math,” Yuuko agreed.
“That’s a complicated subject,” Mrs. Shirakawa said.
“Ah, no, it’s not so bad,” Hisao said. “I quite enjoy it.”
Hisao shot Yuuko a pleading glance, hoping she would rescue the lagging conversation, but she looked like a deer trapped in headlights.
He looked back at the elder Shirakawas, who both stared at him, apparently also at a loss for how to proceed. Well, at least I know Yuuko comes by her social awkwardness honestly,
Hisao thought wryly. I’m glad my first meeting with Emi’s mom went better than this.
He was relieved to hear the footsteps of their server approaching.
“Your drinks, Messieurs and Mesdames,” said an all too familiar voice in an awful pseudo-French accent. Hisao looked up to see not Kaede, but Kenji standing beside the table with a tray of drinks, dressed in the same kimono that Yuuko and Kaede wore. It was not
a flattering look on him. He spotted Kaede standing by the kitchen door, hand over her mouth and giggling. What did Yuuko ever do to you?
Beside him, Yuuko choked back a gasp, and turned to look out the window, avoiding Kenji’s fortunately myopic gaze. Hisao hoped that Kenji hadn’t recognized Yuuko. It had taken him
a moment to recognize her when he’d walked in, and his eyesight was 20/20.
“Thank you, young...man?” said Mr. Shirakawa hesitantly. The Shanghai’s uniform kimono was definitely a female style, colorful and patterned, and it looked more than a little incongruous on Kenji. The sartorial look wasn’t aided any by the fact that Kenji was still wearing his red and yellow scarf wrapped around his neck.
Kenji gave a grimace that Hisao assumed was his attempt at a server’s cheery smile, and he set the drinks down on the table at random. “Er...” began Mrs. Shirakawa, but trailed off as Hisao shuffled the drinks around to their correct positions.
Kenji gave Hisao a very intent look that he probably intended to be deeply meaningful, and his fingers twitched in what Hisao assumed were supposed to be some sort of secret agent signals. Signals which were made even more
secret by the fact that Kenji had never taught them to him.
Message apparently delivered (at least in Kenji’s mind), Kenji whirled and scuttled away.
“Uh, excuse me, I’m going to go, uh, check on our order,” said Hisao as he rose from the table. He stalked over to Kenji, who was lurking by the servery.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Hisao muttered through clenched teeth.
“Providing backup, my man,” said Kenji, sounding smugly pleased with himself.
“I told you I didn’t need
backup. You can’t—I don’t want to spook her. My informant.”
“Don’t worry, she won’t even know I’m here.”
Hisao squeezed his eyes shut tight for a moment, trying to ignore the headache that was beginning to form.
“Do you like my disguise?”
Hisao opened his eyes and rolled them. Which didn’t help his nascent headache any. “What, as a cross-dressing waitress?” he asked sarcastically.
Kenji looked hurt by that, and Hisao couldn’t believe that he actually felt a moment of guilt. It passed quickly, however, when Kenji said, condescendingly, “I wouldn’t expect a rookie like you to appreciate the finer points of disguise and infiltration.”
“The only fine point here is your pointy head.”
“Gah!” Kenji exclaimed, making Hisao jump. “Behind you! It’s that tiny feminist terrorist I was warning you about!”
Hisao looked back to see Emi approaching them, a concerned look on her face. “No, don’t worry, that’s...” he froze a moment, not sure how he could explain Emi as a innocuous bystander to the paranoiac Kenji.
“Hisao!” Kenji shouted. “Duck!”
Hisao looked back to Kenji just in time to see a pie flying toward his face. SPLAT!
Hisao stood frozen, incredulous, for one long silent moment, blinded by the custard, until he heard Kenji mutter, “Oops.”
Hisao reached up and wiped the still-warm custard from his eyes, and licked his lips clean. I was right, it’s banana cream,
noted some distant part in the back of his brain, even as he growled, “‘Oops?’
I’ll oops you
, you bastard!”
He grabbed a pie of his own from the servery, ignoring the cook’s squawk of, “Hey, those are my pies!” and he flung a return missile at Kenji.
“Nooo! You’ve gone over to their
side!” wailed Kenji in despair, as the pastry projectile rendered him even more blind than usual. “You’re one of them!”
” exclaimed Emi. “There is no them
, you blithering idiot!” She punctuated this with a flying pie of her own, which missed Kenji’s face but glued a large part of his scarf to his kimono.
“My pies...” moaned the cook.
Kenji picked up two pies, one in each hand, and flung them both blindly. One hit Emi, mostly by dumb luck, and the other landed on the table in front of the Shirakawas, splattering all three of them. Emi tried to advance on Kenji, but she planted one prosthetic foot square in a puddle of goo and slid onto her ass with a yelp.
“You’ll never take me alive!” Kenji hissed as he slipped out the front door. His “dramatic” exit was ruined by his scarf getting caught in the door, almost strangling him. Luckily for him, the banana custard lubricated the scarf enough that he could yank it through, leaving behind a squeegeed blob on the doorframe which slowly slid to the floor.
Hisao looked at Emi, sitting on the floor in a puddle of custard, with more custard dripping down her face. He looked at Yuuko and her parents, who were still sitting frozen at the table, splattered and stunned. Lastly, reluctantly, he looked at his own reflection in the window, and winced.
Emi sighed as a chunk of pie crust slid off the top of her head and plopped into her lap. “Y’know...maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all...”
So, my prompt, received from Downix, was:
Yuuko's parents have announced that they will be visiting her for the holidays, and are excited to finally meet her boyfriend of four years.
Problem: She never told them that they broke up last year.
Enter Hisao, who must pretend to be the cryptography genius madlad who she had dated since they started college, all while avoiding having the whole scam exposed by the ever intrusive (and annoying) Kenji.