ICHIBAN NO HI

Our first kiss was out of spite. That's about all that I really remember about the day I came to Okama-Geisha. Don't get me wrong – I remember other stuff. It's just that everything else... I dunno... I guess it just doesn't really seem as important as all that one, big detail. Everything else, I just remember in a blur of facts, all of it just lingering in the back of my mind.


Oh, right. Guess I should point out a few things, just so you don't bug me about 'Oh, well, you didn't say that earlier' and 'We didn't know about that – durp de-durp'. For starters, I'm James Lock, nineteen years old, American mutt. I was born and raised in the suburbs outside Chicago, Illinois; five-foot-six and one-hundred eighteen pounds; brown-ish hair, blue eyes, and emo glasses; and now with dual citizenship in America and Japan.

I'm also the kind of guy that you would have beat up in high school. But, seriously, who gives a busted bucket about that – I might be a loser, but I'm a better loser than any of you jerks were ever non-losers. I'm, like, the High King, Dungeon Master of Loserdom, and you're just a measly peasant of Popularville. So, that being said, I couldn't care about that anymore than I care about rapper-sponsored cologne. Now, about the trip...


It was raining for my first day in Japan. Flight 776 from LA to Tokyo had been delayed for three hours, and THEN I missed train 688. By the time I'd reached Tokyo, I'd missed my interview and the entrance exam at T– University by several hours. So, what do I do? I sit at the station, curse my father for booking the last flight available, and ponder over what he was supposed to do.

For any curious degree-seekers, T– University is one of the best accounting colleges in the world – dunno about if it's in any top tens or whatever, but the point is, it's GOOD – AND they were the choice that got me furthest away from home. All the way over in Japan. That would make their administration guys more likely to be strict about punctuality than most other colleges – which is kinda like saying Mount Everest is taller than the other tallest mountains in the world. There was no way that the examiner or professor or whoever in charge was gonna cut me any slack for missing the exam or say I could make it up, later.

"Go into accounting, James. It's a degree you'll be able to use after you graduate, James. Even when there are only a thousand women left across the entire globe, businesses will still be running and people will still need other people to manage their money, James. Well, up yours, TOO, Dad. I hope you get stuck in Chinatown with no guide next time you go to New York for a meeting with your vendors." I was muttering to myself as I sat on the bench under the bus stop shelter. I do that – talking to yourself is kinda the only option when you've got the amazing repertoire of pals that I'VE got.

Seriously, though, I'd been sitting on that bench for a good twenty minutes, writing out my plans to keep them straight. So far, I'd only managed to come to the conclusion that I was likely to get lost, spend the night out in the rain, catch pneumonia, and starve all alone in this country where I understood nobody. After coming to that dreary conclusion, I spent an hour sitting at a bus stop and looking through a guidebook on hotels. And then, the bus whizzed past, spraying the sidewalk with a puddle of rainwater and not even noticing me.

Stupid public transit.

It also didn't help that I just barely understood the street signs and advertisements surrounding the place. Go ahead – you can call me stupid for coming all the way to a different country without even knowing the language, but cut me some slack, here; I had only really studied the katakana before moving, but no kanji. And even then, it was by reading manga that nobody had translated. It also didn't help that all my acquired vocabulary came from watching subtitled animes. Come on – just how many character catchphrases and dialogue about saving the world and crap do you think crop up in real life situations.

I also somehow doubt that the 'Tsukurimasho(1)' song will ever be used in daily conversation.

So, I found myself wandering around for HOURS, dragging my trunk because I didn't dare flag down a taxi when I had no clue where I was going or if the driver would even understand me. Again, you can call me stupid, but I was also kinda hoping that I'd at least bump into SOMEone who could speak English and direct me to a hotel of some sort. Better chance of that when I'm beating the pavement. Also, the fact that it was late in the day had something to do with it – the sky had been dark all day because of the rain, but it HAD to be night time by the time I maneuvered onto a side street, away from any traffic that might get me killed. I mean, not like there were any cars on the street I'd been walking up, anyway, but... you never KNOW!

God, you would not BELIEVE how bad it was raining. It was, like, if a monsoon and a hurricane ever got together and had a kid, this rainstorm would have been that kid. I could feel my sweat socks swelling with water and my sneakers starting to squish. Chunks of my hair were hanging in my face instead of sticking up as usual and my glasses were fogged and streaked with rain. My Offspring T-shirt was clinging to my back and to my chest and so wet I could totally see through it and the ink started running onto my skin. It was like I was turning into a walking, fleshy SWAMP, my jeans and shoes and everything were so soaked. The only reason the shit in my trunk survived to tell the tale is because it was one of those plastic trunks – not one of those pansy, backpack vinyl wimps. And SHIT, was it COLD! I'm seriously not kidding – I had goosebumps raised so far off my skin, I coulda cut GLASS with them.

"It's AUGUST. Why the HELL is it this cold?" There, again – talking to myself. I remember hissing that under my breath as a stream of rain snaked out of my hair and under my shirt collar to my spine. Ugh, talk about when it rains, it pours.

"Ano... nimotsu tetsudaimasho ka(2)?" I heard someone ask before I turned to look. I mean, I understood 'Can I help you with that?' pretty well, but just couldn't figure out if they were talking to me or not. Guess I shouldn't have been too concerned – wasn't like there was anyone else crazy enough or stupid enough to go out on a day like that, other than me. But, hey – you never know.

The old man who'd asked me was straightening from taking out the garbage from an old, samurai-style building. To be honest, I woulda passed it up in broad daylight, except in the darkness, it was the only building with any lights on. Probably the only place open at this ungodly hour. Every detail was just like a ryokan, from the lanterns to the cloth banner hanging from the eaves. The walls were made of wood, the door looked like it was made of paper, the roof was slanted and tiled, the lanterns had elegant kanji on them on either side of the door. It was just really, really cool to actually see one. I mean, DUDE! It was a real Japanese inn.

The only real thing that threw me was the banners – painted on the square banners were the katakana spelling 'Okama-Geisha'. I must have blinked for a few minutes, then pulled off my glasses to wipe them on my sopping T-shirt, thinking maybe I was just seeing it wrong. Course, not like wiping them on my shirt did any good: Even after cleaning them off, the banner still read the same thing.

"Oh... do you on-ly speak In-glish?" The man asked, wiping his hands on the apron he wore over his yukata. The first thing that occurred to me was how horrible this guy's accent was, but it passed. After all, I could still understand him – couldn't be that bad. I kept to blinking – it was about the only thing I could do, like my brain had, I dunno, short circuited.. I felt immeasurably stupid as did, but eventually nodded. Didn't feel too stupid, then.

"Sorry... I'm foreign." I said, slowly. Again, pretty stupid – I mean, this guy didn't speak English too well and what do I do? Talk slower. Like THAT'S gonna help. The man smiled. I counted three wrinkles in his forehead.

"Zat is okay- come inside. It is wa-lum and you could haff somezing to eat." He offered.

'Restaurant, then?' I wondered, but wasn't about to pass up a warm place to dry off. And, hey – if it was a restaurant, I could try Japanese food. Win-win. With the old guy's help, I got my stupid trunk through the door and found myself in the foyer of a warm, wooden bar. It was seriously like a Kurosawa samurai film – there was wood paneling for the walls with pale tan plaster between them, and the floor was covered in tatami mats and broken up into different levels between the foyer and the bar and everywhere else. Grateful for the straw mat, I pulled my sneakers off and then my socks, then left them draped on my shoes to dry as the bartender behind the counter started heating water.

"Um... You should know I'm not old enough to drink yet..." I muttered, hesitantly. Seriously, if this place willingly gave drinks without even asking for the customer's order, they must either be really hard up for cash, or the Japanese were a lot friendlier than I'd had previously thought. And, in all honesty, these guys were acting like they'd invited me into their home – not like bartenders at a working establishment. The only thing that was missing was the ryokan being made of gingerbread. Not. Comforting.

"...Tea?" Was all the bartender said. For the second time that day, I sat down and tried not to feel too stupid. This time, I also pulled out my cell to check the time – yes, I use my phone as a watch. Shut up.

It was two in the morning. I remember almost falling outta my chair when I saw that. I mean, time difference between Japan and the states was one thing, but TWO-FRIGGIN-A.M! God, I had to have been wandering around the city for five hours, at least. It also explained why I hadn't seen any other open businesses.

'Oh well, least I have enough cash.' And at least I'd been smart enough to get one-hundred American dollars in Japanese yen while I was at the change counter in LA. I also kinda figured that if these guys were the only business open at two in the friggin' morning, I could at least order a drink, and I was in no mood to order coffee or chocolate.

"Whe-lu aah you headed to?" The other old guy was taking his apron off and returning to behind the bar. I shrugged as I dug out my wallet and searched for the appropriate three bucks for my tea. The younger bartender had put a small, pure white china cup in front of me, couldn't have been any more than a shot glass worth of volume. What was really cool was that, as soon as the tea was finished brewing, he put the whole pot of tea next to the cup – I mean, the whole kettle. Complete with a matching coaster. It was pretty neat.

It was pretty good stuff, too – I poured one cup, but the smell that came blasting out of the cup was just this explosion of steam. I mean, if that smell had been a bomb, it would have been the atom bomb of all smells. It was like having gallons of the stuff being crammed into a single cup, and it was sweet and tangy and warm – I almost thought I didn't even need to drink it, I could almost taste it from the air.

"I was s'posed to be at the university for an interview... but my flight was delayed, and I ended up missing it... so..." I muttered to my tea, face red with shame. As my tea probably couldn't understand me, the man who'd asked took the responsibility and kept the conversation going. The tea, of course, was scalding, but I was still so numb from being outside that I didn't care. And, honestly, it wasn't too bad for being so hot – it was sweet, like a kind of fruit tea, but it also had this bite to it. Like, ginger and raw cinnamon, kind of bite. It made me jump.

"Oh. You aah student?" He asked, wiping down the counter. I saw him wipe the same spot three times – apparently the air in this place alone was toxic enough to warrant continual cleaning.

"I wish I were... but since I just missed the exams, it's starting to look like another semester before THAT ever happens." I mumbled. This time, I could just HEAR the two bartenders smiling. It made me want to squirm – you know, kind of like how cats always give you that look, then slink away when you watch them clean themselves or eat or do anything. I could tell they were watching me.

"Nev-ah been tsu country, beef-oh?" He kept pestering me. I made a big show of pouring myself more tea and let the smell relax me. It was kinda therapeutic, or maybe it was kinda like getting high, but either way, I was a little more at ease with the smell invading my nose.

"Never even left my home state. My mom did that, once, when I was a kid. She was in a crash and I never wanted to set foot outside the city limits, ever since." Eh, maybe that was exaggerating, just a little. I was kind of figuring on these two having some similar story about their mothers or sisters or some other girl in their lives. It was about the only thing I could talk about with the other guys at the end of graduation – out of a graduating class of three-hundred, there were only twenty girls at the end of the semester. None of us could figure out where they'd all gone, but everyone either knew one of the girls, or knew someone who HAD, and there were all sorts of stories about their untimely disappearances.

Over here, in a completely different country, I was willing to hedge my bets that these guys had some tales to tell about women they'd once known who had either died or vanished, completely.

"Zat sounds bad. How lu-ong ago?" The old guy asked. I kept downing my tea, like it was booze and I was a regular shot drinker.

"Um... I was about ten... so it's been nine years, already? It's still kinda sore..." Man, maybe there was something in this stuff, anyway – I was so mellowed out that the two of them could have taken me into the back rooms and removed my kidneys to sell on eBay or something.

"Oh. So wa-at aah you pu-lanning tsu du, zen?" Asked the old man, moving towards the end of the bar I was at. The younger bartender started wiping wine glasses with a second washcloth – several of the glasses had lipstick prints around the edges.

'These guys actually have women customers? Is Japan one of the few countries which actually has women now, or is it just a coincidence?' I wondered, but didn't say anything. Besides, the older bartender was waiting for me to answer.

"Well, I was thinking of working while I was attending college... but since I won't be in school, I should either find a job or at least a cardboard box to live in until the next semester comes." I traced the pattern of the woodgrain on the counter with my fingernail, not looking at either of the bartenders.

"You looking fo a job?" The old guy asked. I looked up and outright stared.

'Either this place is REALLY desperate or someone hid a horseshoe down my pants pocket while I was going through airport security...' Was all I thought.

"Yeah... why, this place hiring?" He asked. The old guy smiled. I saw eight wrinkles appear around his cheeks.

"I cood get Tensora-san. He does all za hi-lu-ling heah..." And the old guy did just that, leaving me with the other bartender, whose only apparent English vocabulary was 'tea'.

After a moment of staring, I pulled out the equivalent of ten dollars and slapped them onto the bar. When the bartender blinked at me, I just shrugged. Dad had always taught me about being frugal and stuff like that, but all my mom's family and my friends who worked in restaurants always taught me that good tips brought you better service. In a way, tipping really, really well was always my fashion of both cementing good favor with waiters and bartenders and simultaneously flipping my dad off.

"Tip." I explained, going over to my trunk and shoes, hoping that at least my socks were dry by now. Which, of course, meant that they weren't.

"Sanks." I looked over my shoulder to see the bartender taking the tip and nodding. All I could do was shrug.

"Sure."


Tensora-san, I learned, was way taller and leaner than me. I never really did like tall guys – I'm not all that tall myself, but tall enough that it was pretty rare to see a guy who just TOWERED over me. Tensora-san did just that – had to be at least six feet tall. His limbs were long and slender, almost bony, and his face was thin and pointed, framed by long, black hair held back in a ponytail and round glasses that only made his narrow black eyes seem narrower. Even the way he dressed, in a simple black turtleneck and slim dress pants, seemed to exude elegance and cool grace as he moved.

He was also really, really good-looking. Like, the Elves of Lothlorien kind of good-looking – tall, pale, and fair in a way that could have easily been menacing if I got on his bad side, but eerily good-looking if he smiled.

"Um... Hi..." I managed as soon as my jaw started to work again. Tensora-san merely smiled – I was right about the damn good-looking part – gesturing to a chair next to the table inside the interviewing room. I cautiously made my way over to the chair, keeping my eye on Tensora-san as I did – something about the man just made my Uncle Charlie Radar go off.

...Anyone who's never seen Hitchock's A Shadow of a Doubt, I call you 'Philistines.'

"Hello. Our bartender said you were looking for a job, is that not so?" Tensora-san asked. His English was not only perfect, but spoken almost like he was reciting lines from a play that had made it to the Globe Theater. I swallowed and nodded.

"Y-yeah... um... don't I need to fill out an application or..." I asked, looking around as though expecting a form of some sort. Tensora-san smiled that thin-lipped smile that both poured out charm and eeriness at the same time.

"We do not select by application here. Anyone can fill out a piece of paper – we want only the BEST." Tensora-san replied, as he poured a pale green tea into two small cups that looked more like bowls, "Here. Dozo."

'Didn't I just HAVE something to drink at the bar?' I wondered, but had the feeling that saying so would be a fatal mistake.

"So... what is the selection process, exactly? I mean, if someone like me could be picked..." The humble route seemed the best way to go – wasn't that always what they said during the interview or something?

But still, all I did was walk through the door. And even then, I didn't even say anything and the old guy just asked 'Are you looking for a job?' Nothing about what my skills are, no witty conversation to make me seem like an appealing candidate, I didn't even say anything about what I'm trying to study at the university. Bullshit that there's some special qualifications. I just hoped to God that my expression wasn't matching the face I'd like to make, given my inner monologue.

"Well, for one thing, if you can make a good first impression on our bartenders, it means you have the skills needed for the position. Given the typhoon outside, the fact that you were dragging a trunkful of luggage behind you, AND you had just missed your exam to enter into a university – the T- University Accounting School, too – remaining friendly and polite even with complete strangers... well, it's hard NOT to make a good impression." Tensora-san pushed his glasses up his nose. They gleamed in the light, almost blinding me in one eye like the brights of an oncoming car.

'So, common courtesy is a qualification for this job? Are the Japanese really that hard to get along with? I thought it was just common sense.' Went through my head, 'Hey, wait – how did he know what college I'm trying to get into? I didn't say anything about that to anyone. And furthermore, why does he CARE that I'm trying to get into T- University? Does he have a hobby of spying on people? Would that mean he KNEW I was coming here? Does that make him a stalker or something? For how long? How?'

What I actually said was,

"Oh... you've heard of T- University, then?" And the REASON I said that, as opposed to all the other panicky dialogue that went through my head is because you NEVER – never, never, never, never – mouth off to a stalker. Especially not when you're alone, in a dark room, in the middle of the night when nobody knows where you are, them sitting right across from you, with a pot of steaming hot tea on the table that they could use as a weapon. Tensora-san smiled, just a little wider.

"Aah. I graduated from there with my degree in accounting. It seems so long ago, but I still check up when new semesters begin. All those little freshmen just beginning their journey stirs the student in me."

"...Oh, I see." I muttered, feeling dumber than I'd felt all day. I also felt incredibly baby-ish compared to this guy – GRADUATED? He didn't look any older than if he was in his mid-twenties. Seriously, it was like he had plastic instead of skin.

"Setting that aside, if you could impress our two, notoriously hard to please bartenders, or at least fake politeness enough to fool them, you would be excellent in the position we have open. And of course- it's obvious that you have all the other qualifications we're looking for. Anyone can see that from a glance." Tensora-san continued, as though the interruption in the discussion had never happened.

This guy was smooth. Very smooth. I kept my mouth shut.

And how were those bartenders 'Hard to please'? I wasn't even really being friendly or all that polite. Hell, I'd griped about my personal life, and that was over a cup of tea. That's almost like... a guaranteed way to NOT get a job.

"Um... what other qualifications? And, speaking of which... what IS this job, anyway?" I asked. Tensora-san picked up his tea and sipped it, prompting me to do the same. It was stone cold. I had to stop myself from puckering before I swallowed it.

"Well... the best way to put it... is a job as a host." Tensora-san said, almost evasively. Almost immediately, the image of a faceless human body laying on the morgue examiners table popped into my head. I mean, think of it – somebody says 'Host' to you, what do you think of? It's a tapeworm, right?

...Well, that's what I think of. So, shut up!

"...Host?" I asked, meekly.

"Well, perhaps you should first meet your coworkers."

"Coworkers?" I perked up. I couldn't help it – anything to get out of this room, where other people could see me. And, honestly, if I could see what other kind of people worked here, it would give me a better idea of what the job was. Tensora-san smiled, his glasses gleaming again. I felt a shiver go down his neck again, the perky feeling dissipating almost immediately.

I also couldn't help but feel like this guy just DID that to people.


Tensora-san stopped outside a room with the katakana spelling 'Jani-kei' over the door. I had to stare for a moment, torn between the irony that even the room's name was a pun on my name – I could just hear my old homeboys jeering 'Hey, Jamie Lock, where's your buddy Johnny Key?' – and wondering what it meant: I'd never heard the Japanese words 'Jani-kei' before.

Maybe it was named after some guy – kind of like some guy gave a big donation to the builders, so they dedicated the room to him, or something.

"...This room is..."

"The break room – also called the 'Jani-kei' room, given the people who use it. Our club just closed for the night, so everyone should be in here. It'll be a good way to get introductions over and done with." Tensora-san explained, knocking on the door.

I blinked at him for a minute. What did he mean by 'Given the people who use it'? What was THAT supposed to mean?

"Ha-ai." Called a voice from inside the room. The door swung open, almost hitting me in the face, before I found myself staring at a young woman with hair down to her shoulders. Her eyes were as narrow as Tensora-san's and her face square-shaped, but still attractive. In fact, as far as I could tell, she was gorgeous. I mean, I'm no judge of Asian beauty queens, but I could tell an attractive girl when I saw one. There was just so much about her that was pretty – from the shape of her lips, to the smoothness of her skin, to the roundness of her ears, to the curve of the tip of her nose.

Damn, of all things, I had to be an ear man. I mean, really – they were cute, all smooth and finely shaped and I could see just enough hair gleaming on them that obviously meant they'd be really, really soft if I touched them. Even the little hole in her left ear from piercing was delicately made – not like she'd gone to a punk parlor which doesn't sterilize the needles or has some smoker do the job with shaky hands.

"...W-whoa..." I muttered, but Tensora-san was talking over me in Japanese to the woman. The only word that I caught was 'kouhai', but other than that, they were talking too quickly. She responded just as quickly with a thick, deep voice and not so much as a glance at me.

Far as I cared, that was totally cool – I was staring at her enough as it was, and if she'd noticed I was staring, that would have made it worse, but I would have felt like a total ass, too.

'Man, is she CUTE.' I thought, looking her over for a moment.

It wasn't just cute: She seemed like the kind of girl who didn't take crap from anyone. The way she stood was so confident, like she didn't care what anyone thought, and she spoke like it too, keeping perfectly in time with Tensora-san. Tensora-san called this woman 'Aki-chan' as I examined from the sidelines. I watched with the eye of a scientist through a microscope as Aki-chan folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the door frame, tossing her head a little as she bantered with Tensora-san. Well, okay, her boobs might've been small, but that was because kimonos hid the curves. I was willing to bet they were probably a lot bigger without the bow and stuff and hey! It's not like boobs are the be all, end all of womanhood, right?

Her voice was pretty, too – a little deep, but not down in the double bass, bassoon kind of deep and low. Besides, lots of women have big, throaty voices and they're all great singers. I was digging it, so far. And besides, those hands of hers were really nice – kinda big, long fingers, nice control... I kinda got the impression she was into music. Like, maybe playing the piano and singing, or maybe she sculpted or something like that.

What wasn't there to LOVE?

"Omae..." I snapped to attention as Aki-chan turned to address me.

"Ha-Hai, ojosama?" I replied, alert and attentive as Aki-chan eyed me with something that could have been disgust or just curiosity.

"Omae wa... kouhai desu ka?" Aki-chan asked. That much, I understood. 'Are you the new guy?' I got that, and like HELL if I was gonna let all those hours I spent, hiding up in my room and watching my fansubs go to waste THIS time. Not after I'd been an insult to otaku everywhere with the bartenders.

"Aah. Yoroshiku. Ore..." I started, but no, wait – 'Ore' was the arrogant, informal, rude way of saying 'I' wasn't it? – "...Watashi wa..."

Aki-chan continued to stare at me, as though she were watching some kind of lifeless animal at the zoo through a window, or a movie or play that had reached a slow exposition scene. Really, I didn't care – I was too busy beaming – before more voices called from inside the room and I leaned over a little to look around Aki-chan.

"HOLY COW!" I blurted out as he saw all the other people in the room: All the six other people in the room were women, too, all in similar, elegant kimonos and equally gorgeous features. There was a tall, thin woman in the corner with a little girl with pigtails on her lap, a woman with a tomboyish face talking to another tomboyish woman with short hair and a disagreeable expression, and a short, skinny girl was loudly laughing at a woman with a square jaw.

'Wait... all these cuties... they're ALL my coworkers? Even during a time when the female half of the human race is practically extinct off the face of the planet, there are all these awesome girls HERE?' I thought, the very idea feeling like a giant helium balloon. Maybe I actually lifted off the ground – I couldn'tve told you.

Seriously, it was almost like one of those harem animes or mangas, with one guy and all these hot babes around him. The only thing that could POSSIBLY ensue was love triangles and sexy adventure for ALL!

'Oh, God Almighty in Heaven, is this your way of telling me – pathetic, old me, who couldn't even get a date in middle school when the other guys were all too busy being jerks to get girlfriends and who had to wear a dress to prom because he lost the bet that he'd get a date – is this your way of telling me that you really do LOVE me?' My mind was just reeling with all the excitement that I didn't notice Aki-chan's expression until she snorted.

"You really are an idiot." She muttered, sneering. The smile faded from my face as I blinked for a few moments. After a minute, Aki-chan looked over her shoulder and called something back into the room.

"Minna, uiggu o nugase kudasai."

That one, I only caught 'Everyone' and the 'please' at the end of the sentence. Beyond that, I sort of ended up just staring at them all, blinking and completely baffled.

My blinking and bafflement turned into an astonished, shell-shocked jaw drop as they all reached up, put their hands on their hair...

And lifted off wigs. The little girl's pigtails, the tomboy's bob, the laughing woman's curls, each and every one lifted off to reveal short hair that did not look very girly. I mean, I know that geisha usually wear wigs – it would take hours to do their hair, otherwise, and for a club like this, I kind of guessed they didn't have that time. But this... this wasn't just women with Peter Pan pixie-dos wearing their costume wigs. This was... well... let's just say the woman with the really square jaw had to be pretty butch to have a crew cut under that wig.

"...Wh..." My eyes grew rounder and wider with every lock of hair I saw leave those heads. Then, the woman who had been scowling over at one of the break tables got up and stormed out, impatiently undoing her obi and totally not caring that there was myself and Tensora-san standing right there.

Her kimono slipped open. Underneath, I saw an undershirt, a sweaty chest, and NO boobs. Pecs, but not boobs. My jaw was hanging open.

"...Wha..."

Every eye in the room turned to blink at me – or maybe the not-really girl stamping out – as I stood in the doorway, pointing at all of them, and my face about as red as the paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

"WHAT THE...?"

"Most people would have noticed by now, you know." As though mocking me, Aki-chan spoke in perfect English, without even the slightest bit of an accent. My head turned to see the part in Aki-chan's kimono as she undid the strings around her obi. The garment hung over the shoulders like a bathrobe and open enough that I saw exactly why Aki-chan's breasts had been so small.

"YOU'RE ALL GUYS?" I finally blurted out.

"Um... yeah?" Aki-chan's voice sounded a lot more masculine as he said the words. I swayed on the spot a little, like someone had dropped a bowling ball onto my head. For the first time, I was really, completely at a loss for words. Absolutely all of my vocabulary was gone, except one thought:

'There IS no God.'

1This is a reference to the anime 'Azumanga Daioh': in a very short sequence, the main character, Chiyo-chan, sings a little song as she cooks and various results occur. Translated, it sings 'Let's make something, let's make something, I wonder what will be made.' Needless to say, not many grown Japanese men would say this while at the bar with their friends.

2Lit. "[Concerning that] luggage, shall I help you [with it]?"