“Hey, Someya,” Honda said, and Someya knew that tone of voice far too well. It heralded another utterly hair-brained idea that no sensible person would even consider, much less present as a brilliantly fool-proof plan. He shuddered to imagine what could possibly have excited Honda so much this time. And did he have to pick the shop to share it? His girls, incurable romantics that they were, were sure to seize on it and he couldn’t bear to disillusion them. Their belief in Someya’s invincibility was far too precious to her.
“The guys and I were thinking, since you’re coming to our race–” which he was, reluctantly and much against his own better judgement. He still didn’t even know if it was semi-legitimate or an illegal street race sure to end in a gleeful punch-up with the authorities, “–that it would look really cool if you’d come be our crew’s race queen!”
If what?! There were so many things wrong with this idea that it was difficult to even consider articulating them. An okama as a race queen? At the very best, Honda would make himself a circuit outcast. At the worst, they’d start a riot, even at a legitimate track, especially the kind of legitimate track that would accept that gang of yankees as competitors. On the very small bright side, this put paid to any concerns about street racing. Not even the Rare Beast would suggest anything as ludicrous as that… probably. Someya had a sudden lunatic image of herself in full night butterfly garb, standing on the sidelines of a brawl surrounded by screaming girl gangs cheering their men on.
And even ignoring public opinion and the way this would inevitably rebound on Honda, Someya found himself horrified at the idea. Race queens were beautiful women but their outfits were so tacky. She wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like that, and how dare Honda suggest being one would suit her! It would serve him right if he did take this idiotic idea seriously.
“Mama, a race queen? How wonderful!”
“Honda-chan really is wonderful isn’t he! Of course he recognizes how perfect Mama will be.”
There were his girls, right on cue, and giving Honda the scathing dressing-down he really deserved would disappoint them, which he couldn’t bear. He was cornered.
“You’ll make a wonderful race queen, Someya-san! They’re so glamorous!” And that was Ayase, of course, who despite every effort from Someya and Mizoguchi, along with the dubious aid of the girls, persisted in having a bafflingly poor sense of style.
That night, Someya woke in a cold sweat, unable to shake the image of his poor, beloved car wheeling slowly onto the track in all its dubious yankee glory, horrible air horns blaring the theme to “M. Butterfly” as he circled and waved out the window. He was well aware that the dream was more than a little absurd – if Honda had ever once heard of “M. Butterfly” he’d be astonished, and the theme didn’t actually translate well to air horns even in dreams – but the feeling that prompted it still lingered, an old ghost of his conviction that Honda was too foolish to recognize an okama when he saw one.
Fine. If Honda and his crew and the girls were all going to insist on this, Someya really would take it seriously and on their heads be it. Since he clearly was not going to be getting any more sleep that night, he sat down to plan.
On the bright side, his car did not, in fact, have air horns that played the theme from “M. Butterfly.” They played Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman.” Someya was going to murder Honda. Slowly. She couldn’t deny that her car fit in at this track, but that was no excuse since it only meant that the track was somewhere Someya would never have been caught dead without Honda to drag her there.
She leaned out the window and waved elegantly, like a true queen to her public, and listened to the silence that spread in her wake. She’d really outdone herself this time. She’d decided to wear the pleated navy skirt and cropped blouse of an old-fashioned school uniform. The skirt itself was looser and longer than she’d usually have chosen but such an iconic part of the sukeban look that sexing it up would have destroyed the entire impact of her costume. But the blouse was cropped just a bit shorter than normal, so that it revealed a strip of skin even with her arms at her sides, and when she raised them it flashed the bottom edge of the sarashi wound carefully around her chest. Her fingerless driving gloves were appropriate to the track as well as the costume, but had an elaborate rhinestone skull applique that flashed as she waved. And her permed wig, bleached to a calculatedly glaring shade of orange, was piled onto her head in a voluminous updo that, honestly, didn’t really suit the costume at all since she’d cribbed it from the styles modern girl gangs favored, just as she had her excessively elaborate, screamingly red nails. They had just been too magnificently awful to pass up for the sake of accuracy.
About halfway through her lap, there was a single loud cheer from the stands.
“Someya-san, you look beautiful!” Looking up, she could see Ayase, with Kanou sitting next to him glaring at their neighbors and otherwise projecting total disinterest, as though he had no idea how he’d ended up there or what was going on below him on the track. The younger Kuba twin was a few rows back from them, ignoring the track to focus on providing security. The elder one would be in the pit with the rest of Honda’s crew, waiting to help with tire changes and to see if he was needed as a replacement driver as the only team member who could come near Honda’s skill.
A few meters further on, all the girls sat near the bottom of the stands in matching pink dresses, displaying a sign proclaiming them the team’s fan club. Todo and Buruko had them organized into a proper cheering section and there was a buffer of empty seats all around them. They and Ayase were the only noise in the stadium as she finished her lap and pulled into the team’s pit before exiting the car to pose next to it.
Any way Someya looked at it, this was just as much of a disaster as she had expected. At least no one was openly jeering or throwing anything yet.
It was only shortly before he had to take his starting position, but Honda still stopped next to her.
“Give me a kiss.”
She really could not believe this man. What on earth about the current mood of the stadium made that sound like a good idea?
She must have glared too long for his taste, because he got that intense look that meant he was trying to persuade her.
“It’d be for luck.”
If he wasn’t going to see reason, fine, she’d punish him by acting like a proper okama and making a real spectacle of it.
“Of course, darling,” she said in her best, most affectedly feminine tones, “wouldn’t want you to run out of gas before the finish line, after all.” And she planted a big, solid kiss on his cheek that left behind a perfect red lipstick imprint. The crowd gasped collectively and the girls screamed with pleasure, but Honda just got a fierce grin on his face as he turned back toward the car.
“That’s got me all fired up. Now I can’t lose!” he said, peeling out in a way that meant he’d gunned the motor just a little harder than he should have when all he needed to do was pull up to the starting line.
Someya had sworn that he’d be entirely detached and disinterested in the race; after all, what did he care if Honda won? But she found herself tensely watching the cars circle the track, leaning forward as they rounded the nearest curve on each lap and tapping her foot impatiently through tire changes in the pit as every fraction of a second that passed meant a greater loss of position.
When Honda’s car crossed the finish line in an easy first she tossed her head airily rather than screaming in victory the way Ayase, the girls, and the pit crew were all doing. After all, why should she have worried; Honda was a true idiot savant, a genius in exactly three fields: yankee car modification, wooing prickly okama, and above all racing. The results had never been in real doubt.
Honda’s team gathered around her and propelled her along toward where he stood at the victory podium. Deprived of the option of hanging back to watch the celebration, Someya sashayed up to stand next to Honda and beam at the crowd, who looked visibly torn between appropriate awe at Honda’s skill and disgust that the team with the okama had won.
Honda, either ignoring or oblivious to the crowd’s mood, wrapped a triumphant arm around her waist and brandished the race trophy with his other hand.
“I can’t believe you decided to make yourself even more gorgeous than usual for this,” he said.
Yes, Someya was definitely going to have to murder him, because she really couldn’t understand how it was possible for any human to have such terrible taste and she couldn’t allow it to be inflicted on the world any longer.
Then Honda raised his voice to address the spectators.
“Hey everyone, thanks for coming to watch the race. It was a good fight, and my juniors and I are so glad you came to watch our first win! This gorgeous person on my arm is my fiance, who came out specially to support us. I knew a bunch of car fans like you guys would be happy for us, and so I promised that if I won, we’d make it official here in front of everyone.”
Wait, promised? Promised who? Certainly not Someya, who was feeling increasingly blindsided. Probably, the Rare Beast had just promised himself and was just counting that. It would be like him; he never did consider the risk in these gestures.
To Someya’s horror, Honda produced a jewelry box and got down on one knee to the sound of… were those cheers? Of course they were; Honda’s special ability to sway people to his side had struck again. Well, that meant they were probably getting out of this alive, and wouldn’t even have to rescue Todo, Buruko, and the rest of the girls from an after-race scrap in the parking lot. Also, it was kind of… nice… to hear so many people cheering their engagement like they were any other couple and it was something they could celebrate unreservedly.
Someya felt herself starting to relax and enjoy the moment, which lasted exactly as long as it took for Honda to open the jewelry box and reveal the single ugliest engagement ring she had ever seen. The gaudily massive pink diamond was flanked by yankee cars made of tiny, glittering pavé-set gems. It was obviously a custom piece and she had an uneasy feeling that Honda had taken a loan from Kanou to pay for it. She would have to wear the hideous thing every day, or the girls would want to know why not, even if Honda would be put off with a claim that it didn’t match her outfit (which would have the virtue of truth. Nothing would match that.).
Never mind his victory or the way he’d won over the crowd or how secretly pleased Someya was that he wanted to display their relationship so publicly, despite the intense embarrassment of being on display outside her own domain. Honda Soichiro was a dead man… just as soon as she was done accepting his proposal.