"Your hair is so nice."
Nezumi looked up from switching to coffee pots over, even though the words weren't directed at him. The girl spoke in a blatantly flirtatious tone and simple words. Nezumi imagined she would get boring very quickly. She was cute, but seemed a little unexciting. Nezumi liked to think that he was good at reading people, and she just seemed a little dull around the edges. She twirled a piece of her own hair around her finger. The poor victim of her bland compliment was a boy who looked quite a bit more interesting than the girl. While she was blonde, with eyes that were very wide and very blue, the back of the boy's head was the brightest white. Whoever she was talking to, Nezumi would agree with her when she said that his hair was nice. But he would say it differently, better. The girl lowered her gaze shyly as the boy looked at her, but her eyes still sparked. Overall, Nezumi concluded, it was a very poor and very obvious act.
"Thank you," was the response. As they boy turned to move forward in line, he gave her a quick smile, an honest smile.
The girl's face fell. Nezumi recalled that she'd ordered a complicated vanilla something with lots of foam, so she had no reason to follow the boy further. The sleazy coffee shop was like a cheap theatre. Would the girl stalk to object of her affection some more, or would she give up the fruitless chase?
She chose the latter.
Inukashi trampled passed Nezumi to get a "hot chocolate, half milk with whipped cream". Nezumi didn't have to strain to hear what Inukashi was mumbling under their breath. "'Your hair is so nice!' I wonder what he dyes it with?"
Nezumi looked over with a smirk. "I'm sure you would have heard of albinism by now if you ever read," he pointed out.
"Your voice is grating," Inukashi snapped.
"I'm disappointed that you couldn't come up with a more eloquent comeback."
"Shut up," Inukashi hissed. They kicked his ankle as they walked back to the register. It probably would have hurt more if they had been wear shoes that weren't worn loafers. Inukashi handed the hot chocolate to the customer, who smiled nervously at Inukashi's bitter expression.
"Thank you," Nezumi chirped as he walked passed. He made a point to shoot a winning smile to the customer.
The customer left in a hurry, wearing a blush and a very flustered expression.
"All you have to do is open your mouth, and everyone's already jizzing themselves," Inukashi snorted.
The albino boy stepped up to the counter, looking up at the flickering menu board. Nezumi was surprised that those stupid lights haven't burned out yet. They'd been flashing annoyingly for the past month.
Inukashi turned their back to Albino. Inukashi slapped Nezumi heavily on the shoulder and sighed, "I've got to pee."
Nezumi looked over at Albino, who was watching them with a smile. Maybe he hadn't heard Inukashi's crude comment, or maybe he was stupid. Inukashi slid their feet on the tiles as they walked away, untying their green apron from their back. Nezumi grabbed their hair roughly. "Where are you going?"
"I need to piss," Inukashi half yelled as they tried to pull their ponytail out of Nezumi's hand. "Half these people are here for you anyway. I'm giving you the opportunity to greet your fans."
Nezumi let Inukashi's hair slide out of his fingers as they pulled on their ponytail once more. They stumbled forward slightly before giving Nezumi an ugly look. Nezumi ignored them, instead turning to Albino, who was still smiling stupidly at the other side of the counter.
"What can I get you?"
"Just a small coffee."
"Not a mocha frappe latte with extra foam?" Nezumi asked. He had said it to be mocking, because no one came to the sleazy coffee shop for "just a small coffee". The coffee sucked.
"Is that even a drink?" Albino asked, smiling. Only an idiot would smile.
"I don't think so." Nezumi could memorize the entire collection of Shakespeare, but he couldn't remember the names of any of the drinks in the menu. He was fairly sure that he could handle a coffee though.
And Albino laughed.
Nezumi shot him a glare as he filled the order.
"Please tell me you wanted nothing in this," Nezumi said as he handed over the cup.
"No, it's fine."
Nezumi took the scant coins and counted them into the register. "You gave me too much," Nezumi said, trying to hand back some of the change.
"No, I didn't."
"I may be pretty, but I also know math, and this is more than a dollar twenty."
"This is a medium cup," said Albino, "so I'm paying you for a medium."
"Are you a saint? Just pay for the small and leave like a normal person," Nezumi said.
Albino smiled again. Maybe this guy was stupider than Nezumi had first thought, and he had first assumed that he was pretty damn stupid.
"I feel like paying for a small would be stealing," said Albino.
"Taking your money for this appalling coffee is stealing."
Before Albino could respond (Nezumi already knew it would be a weak response, because Albino was already smiling) a clear voice said, "Shion?"
It was a girl, a pretty one with brown hair and intelligent eyes. Those eyes flashed to Nezumi and sparked, not in a way that showed attraction but in a way that showed disdain.
Nezumi dubbed her Princess. She was already looking down at him like road kill at the side of the road (like she didn't know if she should pity him or not), she just needed a title to actually be superior to him.
Nezumi bet he was better read than her. He might even be prettier than her, he decided.
"What's taking so long?" asked Princess, staring down Nezumi like it was his fault.
It was, but he wouldn't admit it.
Shion said, "I'm just paying now." And he waited for Nezumi to put the coins in the register, eyes watching as Nezumi pointedly dropped them into the right section.
Nezumi grit his teeth so hard they felt like they would turn to powder.
"Safu," Shion said as the girl started to walk away.
(Nezumi wished he hadn't said that, because he would never be able to forget a name. He thought Princess suited her much better.)
Safu spun around and put her hands on her hips. "What? I thought we were done here."
"Thank you," Nezumi chirped. "Have a nice day."
It was as much a dismissal as anything.
Nezumi would more than happily burn No. 6 down if it wasn't horribly illegal. He would be happy enough to burn it down if was just a little illegal. Maybe he could lie his way out of that.
The way things were, burning down the club was very illegal and Nezumi wouldn't do well in prison. He paused walking and readjusted his backpack straps on his shoulders, tilting his head. He could probably kick ass in prison, he decided, but he whole idea of it was not ideal.
He started walking again.
No. 6 was the sixth building down the street. It was kind of a dank street, littered with trash. It just made everything look a bit more disgusting when it was bathed in the bright, flashing light leaking out of the club.
Nezumi bet that he could come up with many creative names for No. 6. Naming it Dystopia came to mind. Who wasn't fond of a good dystopian novel? Translate that into a night club with lots of leather, and it was bound to be a best seller.
A little sidewalk cut beside No. 6, and that's the path Nezumi took. He kicked a beer bottle away from his foot as he walked, nose crinkling in distaste. This place reminded him of home, just a little bit.
He stopped in front of a heavy looking door and pulled it open easily. It was made to look intimidating, but it weighed next to nothing.
The inside of the building was surprisingly dark. Nezumi knew the layout of the room off by heart. He slipped through the clutter soundlessly. When he reached the door, he flipped on the light and slid his backpack off his shoulders.
There was a faint gasp. Nezumi's eyes shot in the direction of the noise. A woman was hurrying to cover her bra, slipping her dress back over her shoulders. A bearded man made an ugly face at Nezumi. "Eve," greeted the man.
"Rikiga," Nezumi said, letting careful amusement slip into his voice. "Aren't you supposed to be working?"
"Get out of here, you wannabe actor," snapped Rikiga.
Nezumi grabbed his backpack by the straps and put on his best offended expression. "I was going to change here. Are you sure you don't want to see that? I thought you liked me, Rikiga."
"Eve," Rikiga gritted out.
Rikiga's companion was already glaring daggers at him. Nezumi concluded that his work here was done. He stepped out of the room quickly, before the woman could throw something. Or maybe before Rikiga could throw something. Nezumi could never tell who would snap first.
The next door over was the men's bathroom. Nezumi wondered why Rikiga couldn't take the whole making out business there rather than the storage room. Beside the men's bathroom was the woman's bathroom. Nezumi leaned against a wall and considered his options.
To any other nineteen year old boy, the decision would be automatic. Nezumi was dressed in jeans and a v-neck shirt and a beanie over his loose hair. He didn't quite look like a woman going to the club.
Not yet, at least.
Nezumi shrugged his shoulders and pushed open the door to the woman's washroom. He wouldn't admit to himself that he was thankful that it was empty. The whole transformation business was awkward in the company of others.
Men who wanted him and woman who wanted to be him; he didn't know which was worse.
Nezumi was a staple at No. 6. He guessed that any woman who caught him walking into the female washroom would know why he was there.
He slipped into a stall and quickly stripped. He unzipped his backpack and pulled out a white dress. It was summer, and the temperature in the club reflected that. The dress Nezumi had in his bag was simple and flowy. Loose, while still managing to show off his body. It was a fine line he was walking.
It took him short time to get the dress on. Boys like him, he suspected, were experts at taking off dresses, not putting them on.
Nezumi shoved his street clothes into his backpack and pulled the beanie off of his head to follow. He quickly brushed through his hair with his fingers. It wasn't like a beanie could exactly hide his face, but they were still good to hide in. They were, at least, a better alternative to wearing ski masks.
He unlocked the bathroom stall and stepped out, shouldering his backpack once more. His destination was the storage room again, but this time he made sure to knock. How polite of him.
The storage room was empty and his politeness fell flat. He shoved his knapsack into a corner between two boxes, hidden from anyone who wasn't looking for it.
And then he went to work.
He caught the eye of the owner of No. 6 and signalled that he was there with a little wave. The owner nodded back. For some reason, he requested to be called 'Mayor'. Nezumi had no idea as to why. It wasn't even a good title. If he could be called anything, why not be a president or a king. Or maybe a duke or a thane.
The Mayor could even ask to be "God", if he felt like it.
Nezumi walked through the crowd to the Mayor, avoiding swaying hips and moving bodies. The music was almost deafening. The lights were almost blinding. Nezumi was used to it.
The Mayor greeted Nezumi near the bar with a curt nod. "Ready, Eve?" he asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be," Nezumi said with a shrug.
He had stopped getting stage fright years ago. He remembered that he had played Macbeth in his Grade Five play. He hadn't been scared then. It was a thrill. The crowd. The atmosphere. The potential for greatness. The applause. He was good at this.
The Mayor looked over at him with a smile tugging at his lips. "Don't tell me you're afraid."
"Then break a leg."
The Mayor walked over to a group of people, plucking and beating at instruments under the cover of the heavy music pouring out of the speakers. Nezumi trailed after him, two steps behind because he might be trained like a dog but he wasn't so obedient.
"Ready?" said the Mayor.
A gruff looking woman nodded and readjusted herself behind the drums. An oily man plucked at his guitar strings and didn't even acknowledge them.
"Okay Eve," the Mayor said. "Your audience awaits."
"I much prefer acting."
"There's no money in theatre," the Mayor said. "Now get up there."
Nezumi climbed up onto the stage. The music stopped pouring from the speakers, and there was a loud and genuine cry of anger that resonated through the whole club.
Into the mic, Nezumi said, "I hate live music too."
Then, just like that, the whole place erupted into cheers and cries of, "It's Eve!"
Nezumi felt himself grinning. He turned and nodded to the band behind him. They started playing instantaneously, but it worked. The jumble of sound reached every corner of the club. People howled like animals.
Just then, Nezumi thought that the world was his. He growled lyrics into the microphone.
The cheers built him up taller.
He didn't need to put the beanie back on. He didn't need to hide. He wasn't stupid enough to get drunk off the cheers, but he could still feel a buzz as he grabbed his backpack off the floor.
Nezumi didn't lie to the Mayor when he said he preferred acting. But Nezumi would welcome any performance. It felt right. Even if it was singing shitty songs to drunken people.
Maybe one day he would make it to the theatre.
He hated No. 6. He hated the people and what No. 6 stood for. But he liked the opportunity it gave him to perform. He wouldn't of ever gotten any recognition without the shitty night club.
No. 6 was his necessary evil.
Nezumi hung his backpack from his shoulders and stepped out of the building. He closed the door behind him. The speakers were playing again, but the music cut in volume as the door shut. Nezumi turned and started walking down the road, hands in his pockets.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket. If anything, it was safest to check the time around No. 6. He and Inukashi had tried to give nicknames to all the places around city. There was the West Block, where they lived, because there was no road going any further west. There was Lost Town, a small collection of buildings that looked like the city had given up on them. Inukashi had suggested calling it "The Graveyard" but Nezumi was a little more fond of calling it Lost Town. The people there weren't dead, just forgotten.
They called the university Chronos. It was a fancy word that Nezumi had pulled out of a book. It was pompous and fake, just like the students.
Looking down at his phone, Nezumi read the time as 1:38am. He groaned quietly to himself. He had a morning shift at the coffee shop. Which usually meant getting up at a godforsaken hour and listening to Inukashi bitch about how tired they were.
The coffee shop had no name, just a lame chalkboard outside the door. Nezumi and Inukashi couldn't figure out a name for it, because "I Don't Know Why We Haven't Been Fired Yet" didn't have the right ring to it.
Nezumi shoved his phone into his pocket again as he neared Lost Town. He wouldn't say that the people there were criminals. The West Block was worse in that respect. But there was something about Lost Town, maybe it was the whole defeated atmosphere, that made him want to get through it as quickly as possible.
There was no point in those people living if they won't fight for it.
He read a tacky wood sign as he passed it. "Karan's Bakery" was a simple name, but a warm name. A name that would make people feel welcome. It was a little uncreative, Nezumi would admit that. It was not the grand kind of name you'd read in a book trying too hard, but the name you'd read in a book that was real.
The name was real, Nezumi decided, walking on.
Lost Town ended as suddenly as it began. There was time spent walking through a street with no real purpose, then he was in the West Block.
Nezumi would be lying if he said the West Block was a nice place.
The buildings were old and worn, all chipped off-white paint and ugly bricks. The sidewalk was even a little worse for wear. The city had once tried to repair the walkways, but many inappropriate things were drawn into cement that day.
The West Block was a part of the city that people wished didn't exist.
Nezumi was fairly certain that even most of the people living in the West Block wanted it gone. Nezumi wasn't positive about his feelings about the whole thing. Maybe if it was just reinvented, given the attention it needed, then it would become a better place. At the same time, there were many unsavoury types of people living in the place. Nezumi shrugged his shoulders at the thought. It wasn't his job to make these decisions anyway.
He opened the door to the apartment lobby. It was painted a blinding yellow, and fluorescent lights lit the whole damn thing even brighter. Nezumi blinked at the assault on his eyes.
His apartment was on the second floor. He trudged up the stairs, scuffed boots looking as dirty as the beige carpet. Nezumi decided offhandedly that he needed a shower. His hair was still sticking to his face, even though the sweat had long since dried. Nights were cool, but No. 6 was still warm.
Maybe warm was the wrong word. Warm gave the impression of comfort. No. 6 was hot as hell, and filled with devils.
Nezumi grinned faintly to himself. He unlocked the door to his apartment quietly, but then the world got loud.
He didn't know what Inukashi had done to keep all these dogs around, but they must have had to bribe someone important. There were three of them. And two of them were barking their heads off at the awful intruder that was Nezumi.
"Shush," Nezumi sighed. "I live here."
One dog, an old lab named Daddy, wandered over and wagged his tail. Nezumi couldn't fathom why Inukashi had named their first dog Daddy. But Nezumi thought that Daddy was decent, as far as dogs go.
Nezumi patted Daddy's head, and the dog panted contently. And, just like that, the other two mutts shut up. They both hurried over, eagerly trying to get attention from Nezumi. They were his biggest fans.
"Oi, oi," Inukashi yawned, walking out of their room. "Why're you talking so late?"
Daddy loyally walked over to Inukashi and stared up at them with the biggest, brownest damn puppy dog eyes. Inukashi crouched down and hugged him around the neck, "Hey."
Then the other two sprinted to Inukashi, tails wagging up a storm. Nezumi's fans were so fickle. But they were smart. They knew who loved them the most.
"I still have the superior pets," Nezumi pointed out.
It was a constant argument between them. Which animals made better pets: dogs or rats. Nezumi found the need to point out his animals' superiority, simply because it was 1:50am and he was a little sleep deprived.
"Really?" Inukashi snapped. They got oddly defensive about their dogs. "Then why aren't they here greeting you?"
"Because they are in their cage, politely waiting for me instead of raising hell."
Inukashi buried their face in Daddy's fur. "You're a good boy, no matter what bad things he says about you."
Nezumi decided to give them a moment alone, walking passed them into his room. Before he even turned on the light, he heard a little squeak. Once he light was on, he could see the two little faces staring up at him. They were curled together in their hammock, but their eyes watched him with interest.
If Inukashi had a bad habit of talking to dogs like they were people, then Nezumi had the same problem with his rats.
"I've got to shower still. A long day awaits me, and I should be a little prepared with at least an hour or two of sleep."
Hamlet slipped off the hammock and put his tiny hands on the bars.
"No," said Nezumi.
The rats had pleading eyes.
"No," said Nezumi.
Before their beady eyes could stare into his soul, he turned his back to them and walked to the bathroom. He peered into the living room. Inukashi was curled up on the sofa with Daddy.
Dog people were strange.