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The Dolls: Smitten

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"Honestly, sometimes I think I spend more time with these dolls than I do with people..." Nino murmured to himself as he placed the finishing touches on the mannequin's outfit--tucking the button down shirt, zipping up its fly, and placing its hands in such a way that it looks as if it's thrown its jacket over its shoulder.

It's barely been 3 months since Nino started on his part time job as an assistant window dresser in one of Tokyo's newest boutiques. It paid quite well relative to the work it demanded, and for once, Nino was relieved to be free of the heavy manual labor that his previous jobs required. From a glance, one could tell that the boutique wasn't meant for those merely looking for a casual date outfit-- unless, said date included dining in a five star hotel located in some remote island, detectable only by nautical maps, and known only to a handpicked few. The boutique boasted of the latest European couture and carried big name designers whose merchandise went no lower than several hundred Euros. Its service, of course, spared no expense to please its patrons. Customers, often rich foreigners, or daughters of prominent and wealthy households, dined on choice pastries served with their choice of beverage, while they browsed, or sampled the merchandise. There have also been instances where the boutique booked some models to host an exclusive mini-fashion show for clients who wanted to know how the clothes would fit. Most of its staff were either foreign, or were able to speak at least three languages including English and French. They were all refined, genteel creatures familiar with the ways of the wealthy, able to make small talk with their clients and armed with an instinct to know what each one wanted.

Nino considered himself truly lucky to be hired by such a kind employer who did not lay him off because work was slow, or because he didn't have anything to do most of the time. A part of him also wondered why he had been hired when he clearly did not meet the requirements-- he wasn't wealthy, nor was he any good at mingling with high society, and he only spoke one language. While it was true that window dressers didn't need to interact with customers, Nino couldn't help but feel a bit insecure and out of place with his background... "Don't worry," his rather eccentric boss reassured him, "We're all here for a purpose. You'll find yours out, soon enough," and with that, she traipsed towards the mannequins and crooned sweet nothings at the one she called "Jun," twirling her fingers around the doll's perm. So, with a shrug, and several knowing smiles from his coworkers, Nino started work as an assistant window dresser at 'Smitten,' Tokyo's newest fashion hotspot.

The first few weeks of his job had been quite an adventure. He had seen and heard things that he thought were only possible in fairy tales, or the doramas he had watched on TV. He had never seen so many rich people in his life, and it was quite an event whenever a customer entered the shop (partly because the instances were so few and far between.) In contrast to his university life which was littered with deadlines and mountains of books to be read, life in the boutique was generally slow. Window displays could only be changed so often, and there was only so much that an assistant window dresser could do. During his free time, Nino would help other staff with their tasks, and at times, they would gladly help him with his papers and his assignments. It was true that several pieces bought by the occasional customer would keep business afloat for several months, but a bit of guilt lingered in Nino's mind for being paid the same wage, although he did so little.

Despite the seemingly great deal he struck, Nino felt a bit unsettled. Several things puzzled him. First was the boutique's location. For all its grandeur, the boutique was located in a remote, and rather unremarkable place; not in the glitzier areas of the city that the upper class frequented. Another was that, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't recall the exact date when the boutique had opened. He was pretty sure that there must have been some construction going on at some time, since the place was within walking distance from where he lived; yet, when he asked his neighbors about the shop's opening, they would merely scratch their heads, and tell him that they don't remember, but that, "it must've been some months ago." Another thing that niggled at his mind were the mannequins. It looked and felt too lifelike to be dolls. Although part of him insisted that it was the result of fine craftsmanship, there have been times when he was convinced that the dolls were living, breathing things that alternately giggled or whispered about him behind his back. There was also the tiny detail, that despite being a store that mostly sold women's clothing, all the mannequins used for the window display were male.

And so, after doing a final sweep of the dolls, and making sure that all the props were in place, Nino switched off the lights, bade "Jun," "Ohno," and "Aiba" goodnight, and headed home.

Little did he know that several sets of eyes followed him as he left the shop...

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