Chapter 1: Intro/Tokyo ［はじめまして」
Nice to meet you.
It was dumb, wasn’t it?
Or at least a little cliché.
Sitting alone at the bar on his first drink, a cigarette resting lazily between his fingers. He looked around at the place, at all the couples and co-workers scattered around, murmuring to one another over drinks. This was The New York Bar; a jazzy cocktail restaurant at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Apparently, it was most famous for being in some movie he hadn’t bothered to see. But it was a nice spot—classy mood lighting, delicate jazz music, and one hell of a view of Tokyo from the top floor.
It was perfect for a first meeting.
He took a sip of his drink with one hand, and smoothed some hair behind his ear with the other. God, he felt so under-dressed. Matt told him to pack something other than old tees and gym shorts, so he threw in a black polo and cargo shorts and called it day. He’d have felt like a total golf dad if it weren’t for his hair, which he was finally able to pull back into a simple bun with enough left over to stick out.
God, he felt so out of place. The guy at the table next to him was sleek-looking; wearing a nice grey suit and his tie a little loose around his neck. He was chatting up the girl across from him, saying something he couldn’t understand in Japanese, but the girl giggled lightly and blushed.
He wished he could be like that; all laid back and suave as he kept his date hanging on his every word. Right now, he was just nervous. Nervous and terrified because he wasn’t suave or interesting or looked remotely together compared to the others around him. He all but screamed ‘fucking foreigner’ as he sat there alone at the bar with his eyes practically bulging out of his head.
He took a heavy drag from his cigarette and exhaled in a shaking sigh. Calm. This was no time to freak out. She would be here soon. He had to get it together now. Now. Now!
He took a small puff and nearly choked on the smoke as he heard a soft voice call his name from behind him.
He coughed harshly, and pulled the cigarette from his lips. “Sh-Shit.” He fumbled to snub it out on the ashtray before getting up to face her. “Sorry. Uh ... Hi. Zoie. Hi.”
He wiped his hands on his pants and reached out for a handshake. He saw her start to lean in for a hug before immediately stopping, looking down at his hand and chuckling.
“Hi,” She gave it a small shake and Ryan giggled. Awkwardly.
He started swearing at himself in his head.
“May I?” She gestured at the empty seat across from him with a smile.
“Oh! Y-yeah, of course. Here.” He hurried to pull up her chair. As she brushed past him, he took a second to admire the dress she wore and how it hugged the curves of her torso, and how pretty satin looked under the lighting in here. Red was a good choice.
“You look nice,” He chirped as he sat back down. “I like your dreads.” His eyes pointed at the dip-dyed tresses she wore in a high, messy bun. A few loose strands hung in front, framing the sides of her face.
“Thanks. I like your polo.” She chuckled and tilted her head at him as he let out a tiny scoff. “What? It’s true! You look very distinguished.”
“Oh yeah, I got a country club meet right after this, so ...” His lips stretched into a smile at her trying to keep in a laugh; her nose scrunching, and her lips pursing shut. “It’s okay to laugh. I look like a golf dad in this.”
“... Okay well yeah, a little,” She said with an airy laugh, “But it’s not bad. Really. You look nice.”
Silence. Hidden under the table, his hands were squeezing open and shut and his leg was rapidly bobbing up and down. He tried to keep calm. Not think about it. They said hi. They were talking, even joking a bit. The worst was over. Right?
“Are you nervous?” He heard her ask, ripping him from his thoughts.
“... The truth?” She gave him a nod. “Yeah.”
“Oh thank God, me too,” She admitted quickly, like it were a breath she’d been holding onto. “Which is wild because Tinder in Japan is so...” She gestured her hand wildly and he chuckled.
“I like this, though,” She added while pointing to the two of them. “Most guys on there are just looking for a quick hi and then right to a few rounds of fucking.”
He choked a little on the last sip of his drink. The liquid burned the back of his throat and caused him to cough. He put a fist up to his mouth and turned away as he coughed as quietly as he could.
“Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, really,” She chirped as she dug through her purse and pulled out a pack of Djarum Blacks. She pulled one out and carefully put it to her lips, which he now noticed were painted an equally pretty matte red, “But you know, I at least wanna know something about my date. Like favorite color at least.”
“Here.” He pulled out his lighter and reached forward, carefully flicking it on and watching how she cradled the flame and brushed her fingers against his knuckles at the same time. The touch was brief, but it somehow made his insides twist. She took a small drag and exhaled into the air. She was left handed. Interesting.
“Thanks,” She flashed him a small smile and looked around the bar. “Interesting choice for a date. You like the movie?”
“Nah I, uh, haven’t seen it actually,” He admitted as he took a small sip of his scotch, “My buddy Matt has, though. He’s the one who recommended it to me.”
“Aw, that’s sweet.”
“Yeah,” He chuckled softly and looked down, gently swirling the remnants of his drink over the melting ice chunk resting inside. “We’re supposed to go again later during our trip.”
“Ah,” She took another puff and sucked in a breath, exhaling slowly. “So you’re here for a short while, then.”
He gave a small nod. “You?”
“Live here, actually.”
“Word?” His brows lifted in pleasant surprise. “That’s awesome.”
“It is, it is ...” She trailed off a bit, falling into a brief silence as she puffed on her cigarette and he nursed his drink in his hands. He looked up and opened his mouth to ask her something, but immediately shut it as a waiter came up to the table. He flashed a small smile and looked over at Zoie.
“gochuumon wa okimari desu ka?”
“Ah, hai,” She sat up a little straighter in her seat and Ryan slid over the menu closest to him on the table. She leaned over to read it and he couldn’t help but watch, taking notice how her earrings dangled and how curly her lashes were. “ettoo ...” she sucked in a breath and gave the waiter an apologetic look, “sumimasen, mō sukoshi matte kudasaimasen ka?”
The waiter gave a polite bow followed by a simple “hai, kashikomarimashita” before walking away. Zoie gave a slight bow back and apologized, Ryan tilting his head at the very ‘Japanese’ display before him. The second she glanced over at him, he tensed and looked away. She flashed him a small smile and an apologetic look.
“Needed a little more time, sorry.” She pulled up the menu and tilted her head at his glass. “What are we drinking tonight?”
“Oh, uh ... whiskey blended.” He tipped back the remainder of his drink and set it down. “It’s pretty good, actually.”
“Sounds good to me – sumimasen!” She slightly raised her hand and the waiter came back over. “Aisuboru no uisukī onegashimasu.”
“Aisuboru no uisuki. Hai, kashikomarimashita,” the waiter looked over to Ryan and pointed at his empty glass, “kochira, osage shite mo yoroshii desu ka?”
Despite having no idea what he just said, Ryan smiled and nodded, and the waiter took his glass with an appreciative nod. The girl across from him smiled lightly and looked back at the waiter. “Kare ga uisuki o mōippai, onegaishimasu.”
The waiter gave another nod and left them for the second time. She sat back a little in her seat and took another puff of her cigarette.
“So, Ryan Magee,” She spoke, giving him an amused look as she exhaled. “Your profile said California. LA boy, huh?”
He gave a timid smile and nodded. “South Carolina originally.”
“Southern boy,” She said as her brows lifted in surprise. “Kinda sorta.”
“Kinda sorta, yeah,” he chuckled. “You?”
“Midwest,” She chirped as she reached forward, gently flicking her ash away in the tray between them. “Born and raised in Chicago, moved out east for school … After I graduated, I just kept in that direction until I hit Tokyo.”
“So, uh, how long you been here then?"
She thought about it for a second, her eyes pointing up at the ceiling as she counted in her head. "Um ... 3 years. More or less."
“’s cool...” Ryan mouthed. He could feel the conversation winding down. He looked down at his hands for a split second, suppressing the need to fidget with them as a prolonged silence swelled between them.
“Okay I just have to say, your profile picture is 100% the reason why I said yes.”
He lifted his head and gave her a confused look, his voice falling into a laugh. “What?”
“I mean it!” She laughed a little with him and flashed a crooked smile. “Like, the little meme in your bio was good and all, but I loved that you were looking all cheesy-sexy while your friend was doing some weird shit in the background. It made me laugh.”
He suddenly pictured himself in the bathroom, propping a leg up on the sink and flexing his non-existent muscles in the mirror with his friend Matt fake screaming at his cat in the background. He sputtered a laugh that he immediately covered with his hand. It was loud enough to make Zoie sit up straight with wide eyes, and the couple at the next table look over at them.
“Oh my god,” she mouthed at him with a smile.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Was that your laugh?”
“No!” He said quickly before chuckling. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“No oh my god, it’s fine,” She said with a quiet laugh. “I just wasn’t expecting that. Holy shit.”
Warmth spread across Ryan’s face and he knew he had to have been colored beet red. He secretly hoped the dimmed lighting would hide it. She briefly looked down at the table, her smile crooked but sweet as she chuckled quietly to herself. He smoothed back a few loose strands of hair behind his ear and smiled at her. The second their eyes met he looked away out the window.
The city looked awfully pretty tonight ...
“You know what I like to do at places like these?” Zoie said over their second cigarette. She had on a playful smirk and held up the menu. “I like to look at the most expensive items on the menu and try to picture the type of person to order it.”
Ryan frowned as he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and sucked in a sharp breath.
“Like this. Look.” She set down the menu between them and he leaned forward. She pointed down at the dinner selection: Hyogo Kobe Sirloin. 20,500 yen.
“Holy shit,” he breathed.
“Yeah,” she chirped with a rapid nod.
“What is that, like, 200 dollars?”
“Yeah. That’s little dick energy.”
Ryan looked at her and laughed. “What?!”
“Yeah!” She pointed back down at the item. “C’mon, you can’t tell me the person who orders that for someone is hung. If you know you’re hung, are you gonna order that?”
“No, but not because I’m hung, because it’s expensive!”
“Exactly, the price tag is a distraction,”
“’kay well what about this,” He grabbed the wine menu and pointed down to a cult classic. Screaming Eagle Napa Valley. 2015. They wanted 790,000 yen for it.
“That is for ...” She clicked her tongue a few times as she thought about it. “... The CEO dad who sees his grown kid once every two years. The kid, who’s making almost as much as the dad, uses that as a power move to get back at him.”
“Big dick energy,” he added.
Her lips stretched into a faint smile. “Big dick energy.”
“Huge,” he said as he picked up his glass.
“Exactly. Like it whip it out on the table and the table breaks.”
Nearly choking mid-sip he lurched forward and put a hand to his mouth, covering it as he tried to keep in a laugh. He failed horribly, but it didn’t seem to bother her. She just laughed with him, hiding her smile as she put a hand to her mouth.
A warm, tingling buzz was swimming in his veins as the whiskey finally started to take an effect. He leaned forward in his seat and listened to her as she spoke. She had a nice voice. It was comforting, slightly sultry, and with a little edge to it. It’d be good for radio, he thought.
“So, what do you do?” He found himself asking, gently fiddling with the cigarette between his fingers. He watched as Zoie smoked the last bit of hers before exhaling.
“I mean, it’s not that amazing,” She chatted as she reached over and snubbed it out in the ashtray. “I’m a translator – a glorified one at that – for the company I work at. You?”
He thought on whether saying he was a ‘YouTuber’ sounded a little pretentious or not. He could say ‘Let’s Player’, which was the truth, but was that really all that interesting? Let alone impressive?
“Entertainment,” He answered after a brief pause, “... Well, technically an Editor for my friend’s Let’s Plays ... on YouTube. My buddy and I run a channel together too, but I mostly edit for my friend’s channel.”
Zoie’s brows raised as she gave a full toothed smile.
“Ooh, a Youtuber, fancy!” She said in a rather flirtatious tone, “You got a big following? Should I ask for an autograph?”
Ryan chuckled, flashing a shy smile as he took a sip of his drink.
“Yeah my, uh, roomate does those, um ... Mukbang things on the side. She gets to hang out in the YouTube space here. Let’s me tag along sometimes...” She thought about it for a second before scoffing and shaking her head. “I say ‘roomate’. She’s a friend who lingers at my place a lot. We film together too, sometimes.”
“Ah,” Ryan gave an understanding nod. “So you make YouTube videos?”
“I dabble,” she answered simply with a shrug, “Mostly vlogs no one looks at. Except my family and friends back home, of course. They like to see where I am, what I’m up to...” Her lips turned up a cheeky smile. “Turns out a small handful of weeby strangers do as well.”
Ryan scoffed softly as he swallowed in response. She snickered a little and shook her head. “Bad joke. Sorry.”
“No no,” he insisted politely, “It was funny. Weebs are ... um ... funny.”
‘God dammit,’ he thought to himself. He had no idea what he was talking about. He wanted to put his face in his hands and sigh, but the feeling went away as soon as he saw her amused look. Regardless of his attempt at being nice being a bit of a flop, she still smiled and kept in a laugh that made her body shake. He giggled quietly to himself, and they sat in silence for a few more minutes. they shared a silent, comfortable conversation with one another, maintaining eye contact and sharing playful smiles. Occasionally Ryan had to look away out the window or down at his drink, for the color of her lipstick was distracting and the way she looked at him made his insides twist. He ran a nervous hand through the loose strands of his hair and smoothed it behind his ear. She watched him the whole time.
“You wanna get out of here?” She earned his attention again and smiled, “I mean the drinks here are great and all, but there’s this Izakaya — um ... bar thingy in Ni-chome that I think you’ll like. It’s my favorite.”
Ryan felt both his heart and his stomach sink with nerves, and a strange sense of excitement. Still he agreed, and despite her insisting they go half on the bill, he paid for their drinks and followed her out into the busy streets of Shinjuku.
Chapter 2: Kings of Kabukicho「歌舞伎町の王たち」「黒穂」
Night is short. Walk on, girl. [Smut Warning]
Night time in Tokyo was a different breed of animal. It was alive with the thready pulse of night time traffic, of restaurants open late, barhoppers stumbling over themselves on the sidewalks, and solicitors hanging outside of their respective shops and restaurants handing out tissues with ads inside. The distinct stench of downtown — the hot, greasy cooking smells of cooking meat and boiling noodles wafted up along the narrow alleys, mingling with the tang of cigarette smoke coming from the bars that peppered the sides. In a mess of organized chaos, the buildings that surrounded him were decorated with large signs he couldn’t read and displayed large video ads he couldn’t understand. As much as it thrilled and overwhelmed him, he couldn’t help but feel a little ... lost.
“Fresh air,” he heard Zoie breathe next to him.
She straightened her arms out with a satisfying ‘Ahhhh’. “I love it here at night.”
“Me too,” Ryan admitted, stepping to the right as a man handing out advertising tissues to passersbys tried to get him to take one. “I don’t know what it is but Tokyo at night is just so relaxing. It’s relaxing and fast-paced at the same time. It’s nice.”
“Is this your first time here?” She watched him shake his head and hold up two fingers. “Second?!”
“Yep,” he remarked, smacking his lips a little on the ‘p’. “First time I was only here five days.”
“Ehhh, hayai ne,” she couldn’t help but gush. Five days was such a short time. “Did you even get to see anything?”
He waggled his hand with a small ‘Eh’ as they approached the crossing and waited. A long truck with a digital ad playing on its sides rolled past. A pretty girl with a wide grin was holding up a soft drink and calling it ‘The Flavor of Love.’ He bobbed his head to the brief yet catchy song playing when he felt her shift beside him.
She linked her arm with his and held him close. “Well you better stick close then, Ryan Magee. I’ll show you what Tokyo’s really like. It’s full of surprises.”
After sliding open the door and letting Zoie step in first, Ryan followed close behind into the smallish pub. It was dim and smokey, but it was nicely decorated and relatively packed. An old man, presumably the head owner, looked up from his work behind the counter and visibly perked up.
“Ah, Zo-chan, irasshai! Kochira dozo.”
Zoie bowed lightly before taking Ryan’s hand, guiding him over towards the bar. He watched as she was greeted warmly by the staff and waved down by a small handful of regulars hanging at the counter. The space was small, and a tad cramped, but it somehow made things that much more intimate as they sat at the counter and huddled up next to each other.
After serving a customer their appetizer, the owner looked over at Zoie and smiled. “Sutekina yoru ne?”
“Un, ii desu ne?” She chirped as she shed off her coat and sat down. Ryan took a seat next to her, visibly tensing as the owner looked at him and gave a polite greeting and a slight bow.
“U-Uh, um,” He rapidly searched his brain for the greeting Matt had taught him. “Y-yoroshiku ongaishi—shimasu.”
Zoie put a hand to her mouth and covered her smile. The old man let out an airy laugh and tilted his head forward. “Dozo yoroshiku.”
“Zo-chan!” A pretty girl seated two stools down leaned over and pointed her unlit cigarette directly at Ryan. “Ano otoko wa dare? Kareshi?”
“Kareshijanai yo!” Zoie hissed at her. She quickly looked back at Ryan and flashed a smile. “Sorry, Ryan, over there is Yuki.”
The pretty girl sporting a short haircut under her beret raised a hand and waved. She put her cigarette back in her mouth and the girl seated next to her handed over a lighter.
“Girl next to her is Su Bin, but we call her Bee.”
‘Bee’ looked up from her beer can and smiled. Compared to Yuki he was a lot fuller in the face, but she had the clearest skin he'd ever seen and ink-black hair that was chopped right below her chin.
“Next to her is Go.”
The guy next to her looked like he hopped off an old Japanese rock album; sporting oversized clothes and long, cobain-like waves of hair dyed a weird copper-orange at the ends. He smiled over at Ryan and held up the peace sign.
“And over there is his boyfriend Haruchika.” Zoie pointed back to Ryan and grinned. “Everyone, this is Ryan.”
He gave them a timid nod and immediately tensed as Haruchika leaned over towards him. He was a tad too close.
“Nice-to-meet-you,” He greeted in his best English. Ryan was both thrown off and touched by it. “You’re from American?”
The brunette blinked at him for a few seconds, trying to process what he had just said.
“... Oh! From America?” He watched as the Haruchika gave a rapid nod. “Oh, yeah, uh, California.”
He saw Haruchika’s brows raise and the others behind him perked up.
“Los Angeles?!” He couldn’t help but ask. Ryan nodded and the others let out a drawn out ‘ehh’, “Ikitai na!”
The others got into a rapid-fire conversation with each other in Japanese. While they were busy chatting, Ryan leaned over and muttered in Zoie’s ear.
“What does ikitai mean?”
“I want to go there,” she answered quietly. She looked back up at the bar and patted the counter, “Shachou, biiru to yakitori o futatsu onegaishimasu!”
“Haiyo!” The chef called from behind the counter. “Biiru to yakitori kashikomarimashiTA!”
While they waited for their food Ryan couldn’t help but watch how Zoie and the others interacted in Japanese. He was a little envious at how a casual conversation could flow smoothly between them. Meanwhile he was stuck on the outside, only able to speak very little and understand even less. The language barrier was very apparent every time they tried to include him in the conversation. And as much as it made him scream internally out of embarrassment, something about the way Zoie smiled at him made him want to keep trying.
“Haiii, oagariyo,” The chef set down two plates of meat skewers fresh off the grill. He hadn’t had Japanese beef before, but after taking a careful bite, Ryan had to keep from letting an ‘Oh my god’ slip out. Tender and juicy with the right amount of chew to it. He had no clue what sauce it was covered in, but it was tangy and savory and delicious.
Zoie picked up a chicken skewer and pulled off a piece, smiling as she chewed.
“Umai na?” Go asked. He reached over and grabbed the last one off her plate, laughing as she grabbed at his arm at an instant. She waggled it a few times and made him set it back down.
“It’s g—” She swatted Go’s hand as he tried again. “Ayano, fuck off!—” she looked back over at Ryan. “It’s good, right?”
“Oh my god, yeah,” he gushed. He peered over the bar at the chef. “Uh … k-kore wa, uh, o… Oishi?” He looked at Zoie for confirmation and she nodded. “Oishi desu.”
The old man’s eyes crinkled as he gave an airy laugh and thanked him. He served up raw oysters and cold sake on the house.
The barrier Ryan worried over seemed to lift little by little the more they all drank. The vibe had shifted. He had his arm around Zoie’s waist as she stood beside him, and she had her hand in his hair; playing with a few loose strands as they chatted. She taught him the proper way to hold the bottle of sake while Haru explained the importance of serving to one another rather than just pouring a glass for yourself. All four of them were eager to take shots with him, too. By the time it was his turn with Bee he could only do half before handing it to Zoie to finish the rest.
Drinking culture in Japan was no joke.
Night life in Japan was no joke either, and it showed as the night went on.
For a while, it happened in snapshots. Sharing drinks at the izakaya. Snap. Yelling and laughing in the street. Snap. Taking shots at a tiny bar covered in old movie posters. Snap.
Staggering out into the dark. Latching on to one another. The street signs above him swirled and glowed, and when he looked down, he had a can of beer and a cigarette in one hand, Zoie’s hand in the other.
Next thing he knew he was dancing in a club of some kind. It was hot and cramped with bodies, but the music was blasting and the energy was intoxicating. He held onto Zoie for dear life as she pressed her back up against him, his hands smoothing over the contours of her body as it curved and dipped in spots. She swayed with him to the music, his hands moving so they were wrapped around her waist. She didn’t seem to mind at all. Her hand had snaked its way to the back of his neck, gently pulling him in close as his head rested into the crook of her neck, soaking up the tropic scent coming from her hair. His face buried in her neck as she sunk into him, her hand lost somewhere in his hair, her fingers playing with the roots and sending that heavenly sensation down his spine. His breathing started to pick up as they moved together, heat forming between them. He closed his eyes and pressed a kiss on her bare shoulder.
And although he couldn’t see it, a beaming grin stretched across Zoie’s lips.
They shared their first kiss of the night in an alleyway outside the club, while Bee and Yuki were busy peeling Go off the pile of trash he’d fallen into.
A number of kisses were shared over at an apartment belonging to some friend of Zoie’s nearby. It was packed with a good handful of people. Murmuring amongst each other over drinks and hookah. Something about how warm the room felt, and how the smell of floral and fruit-flavored shisha added to the drunken buzz swimming through Ryan’s veins. As Zoie went off to greet friends and grab a drink, Ryan stayed behind on the couch. He took a small hit from the pipe as he chatted to Akoni, a Japanese native who worked as a surfing teacher in Hawaii. He told wild stories about swimming with whales and nearly getting his foot bitten off by a shark. His buddies seated next to him were a pair of office interns and small-time filmmakers on the side. They recently got fined for filming an explicit scene near Tokyo Station. Listening to their stories, seeing them drink and laugh, it made him realize that before coming here, everything he thought about Japan and its people was off by a mile. He had a set idea in his head about what it would be like, and like Zoie said, this city had surprised him.
He looked up to see Zoie seated next to him on the couch’s arm. She had a can of horoyoi—a fruity low-alcoholic drink—in her hand. She leaned down and gave him a small peck on the lips. She tasted like peaches.
He smiled a lazy smile as he gave her a kiss back, ignoring the flash and a buzzing snap going off next to him. He caught Go pulling out the polaroid and setting it on the table.
“Kawaii,” He gushed as he snapped another photo, “Mecha kawaiindayo!”
The two of them posed for the photo, only this time Ryan turned to face the camera and crossed his eyes. Zoie kissed him square on the cheek and laughed as her friend took the picture. As soon as the flash hit Ryan screwed his eyes shut.
When he opened them, he was being pulled back out into the city streets. Everything was still lit up around him as they stumbled around. He couldn’t read a single sign or understand a single word pouring out of Go or Haruchika’s mouth, but it didn’t bother him. He still laughed and hugged and posed for photos and told each of them he loved them.
He even sang (or rather slurred) a loving quartet with Haruchika, Go, and Su Bin. It wasn’t grammy-worthy in the slightest. Haru sang way out of tune, Go screamed a random song and Su Bin stumbled over onto the floor with a laugh. All the while Ryan was laughing way too much to sing a single word.
By this point it was clear that they were all very, very drunk.
The muffled sounds of Karaoke pulsed from the wall against her back. Zoie leaned back with a dreamy smile and sighed. She could hear Haru and the others still slurring and singing out of tune. It made her laugh, and smile even wider inside. She lived for nights like this. It’d been far too long since she had one that left her feeling so … alive.
She opened her eyes again as the door next to her opened up, and Ryan poked his head out. She giggled lightly and waved him over. He stumbled out and sat down, smiling a rather crooked smile. They looked at each other for some time, saying nothing. They just smiled, sharing a wordless conversation with one another before she leaned in for another kiss.
And as their lips touched, Ryan realized in that moment just how wonderful this night had been,
and how much he didn’t want it to end.
He didn’t remember getting on the train. He couldn’t recall much after leaving Go and his boyfriend to stumble back to their apartment nearby.
He couldn’t recall the ride packed with Salarymen both drunk and sleepy; everyone leaning onto windows and briefcases and the shoulders of strangers seated next to them. He couldn’t recall much, but he did remember hanging onto the handlebar for dear life. He remembered how he couldn’t stop looking at her, and how much he wanted to keep kissing her despite being in a public space.
He couldn’t tell you how long the train ride took, or where they went to get back to her apartment. He didn’t have time to admire the artwork that littered the walls or all the papers scattered on the floor, or the view of the city from her balcony door. All he could think about what the scent of her hair and how soft her skin felt under his touch. His kisses were heated and frantic and their movements were sloppy. It only made them laugh even more as they struggled to get her out of her dress, and as he almost tripped over his shoes as he kicked them off.
There was urgency in his kiss, Zoie slipping her arms around him and gripping his shirt. She let out a soft moan as he pulled back to take off his shirt, quickly tossing it aside and resuming showering her face with kisses. He pulled her back into him by the waist, gently holding her there as he ground himself into her. He groaned, feeling how warm her body was against his. She immediately felt his hardness pressed against her and she moaned, an electric jolt of pleasure shooting right down between her legs as she eagerly ground against him.
Zoie moaned in frustration as he nuzzled into her neck, feeling his lips planting butterfly kisses over her pulse, and tonguing gently on the skin of her neck. It was enough to make her jaw drop and a soft gasp escaped her lips.
“Fuck,” She whimpered, wincing as he gently nipped at the sweet spot just behind her jaw before kissing it.
She shifted to look at him and leaned in, her lips just barely brushing his, the two exchanging heated pants and sighs as her fingers slid down his front and landed on his belt buckle. She undid his belt and unzipped his pants, her eyes never leaving his as she let the fabric slide down and pool around his ankles. His eyes stayed locked on her the whole time as her fingers toyed with the band of his boxer briefs. Her touch was both heated and electrifying, causing his skin to prickle and burn as she pulled down his underwear.
She started pulling him along when he leaned in to peck her lips, sliding his hands down her sides and gently massaging her bare skin. He gripped her hips and stepped out of his shorts, following her over to the bed and kissing her with each step they took.
All he could think about was how good she felt, and how he didn’t want tonight to end.
“I like your laugh,” she murmured in the quiet of her apartment. The lights of the city gave her room a dim, blue-tinted glow; giving just enough lighting for Zoie to admire his body, and Ryan hers.
He looked up from the lacy underwear she still had on and flashed a confused smile. “Wha?”
“Your laugh,” She shifted to her side and propped her head up on her hand. Even though it was slightly dark, he could see the dreamy look she had on her face. “The second I heard it in the bar I thought, ‘Yep. I’m gonna sleep with him.’”
“From my laugh?”
“Yep!” She beamed as he stifled a giggle that melded into a laugh. “See?! I love it! Ugh.”
She reached over and planted a firm kiss on his chin and cheeks, giggling at how his beard hair tickled her lips.
“You know … when I first saw you in person, I thought … ‘No fucking way’,” he said between kisses. He broke away to look up at her and giggled at her surprised face. “I did! I thought, ‘She’s gorgeous. There’s no way she’d be into me by the end of the night.”
Zoie let out a thoughtful hum and shrugged.
“Well, night’s not over,” She flashed him a cheeky smirk and squeaked as he pinched her ass. “I’m kidding! Kidding.”
He pulled her in and gave the side of her head a firm kiss, keeping his lips there for some time before letting go. She rolled back to her side and sighed contently. He turned his head to watch her for a moment. Her chest rose and fell at a steady pace, her breathing light and steady through her nose.
“… I don’t want it to be over,” He admitted quietly. He looked down and saw her looking up at him. “… I-I mean, I don't know, I just ... Don't want tonight to end? Is that weird?”
She shook her head no and scooted closer to him. He shifted so he could wrap an arm around her and pull her in close, her head resting on his chest. She drew lazy circles and patterns over the hair on his stomach, fingertips gliding ever so gently and causing him to shiver. Her hand slid down to his hip and grazed over the tiny, rigid lines on his skin. He immediately took her hand and pulled it up to his lips, giving her knuckles a kiss.
“What?” She chirped, instantly noticing his little shift in behavior.
“Nothing,” he insisted simply. “I just ... I’m a little ...”
He didn’t want to say ‘self-conscious'. It was the perfect word to describe it, but he didn’t want to. He hated his sides. He hated how he had a permanent reminder of his weight etched on his skin. Drunk or sober, he still noticed them, and they still made him feel bad.
“I like them,” She heard him scoff and she smiled. “I do! Ryan. I do.”
He smiled regardless, his expression saying he was anything but convinced. She let out a huff and rolled over to straddle his waist, his hands instinctively resting on her hips. She sat up straight and her eyes pointed down to the rest of her body.
“Look. See?” She took his hands and placed them on her sides. “C’mon, look… See? We’re twins.”
Ryan looked down to where his hands were. Sure enough, she was right.
Little bolts of lightning, some light and some dark, branching across the sides of her thighs and hips. His eyes roamed over her body as he smoothed his hands over her skin, gently pinching and kneading the bits of flesh that curved and rolled over another. His hands grazed up her sides, past her ribcage, resting on her breasts and squeezing gently. He felt her arch into him as he palmed them. Her body tensed, watching as he shifted down to kiss her exposed breasts and nipples until they were peaking against his lips and a low moan was building in her throat. Her hand instinctively reached up to his hair, itching to tug off the band and run her fingers through his dark brown waves. Licking and sucking gently, she looked down to find him watching her. Panting lightly, dark eyes lidded, her jaw slack with pleasure; her lipstick had slightly smudged off on the right side of her mouth.
“Fuck,” he couldn’t help but pant as he pulled back a bit.
He held her as he sat the two of them up and her hips instinctively brushed up against his as they shared a heated kiss.
He could feel her lightly grinding against him, the friction sending the most delicious jolt through his stomach. He broke away to pant, his mouth parting as he looked down at their hips grinding together.
“Shit,” he hissed, bringing his head up and kissing her again. Zoie cupped his face in her hands, sliding them down to his shoulders and gently pushing him back.
His eyes never left hers as her hand sunk between them and wrapped around his cock.
“Zoie,” Ryan moaned brokenly, writhing against her body. She nuzzled her face into his neck for a moment, mouthing at his jawline wetly before giving it a soft nip. Ryan groaned out; the stifling heat, the floating feeling in his brain from the alcohol …
“Zoie, please fucking touch me,” Ryan begged, so hazy with lust he didn’t care how desperate it came out. Zoie wrapped her thin fingers around his shaft, giving it a few experimental strokes before picking up the pace. Ryan’s hands flew from her hips to the blankets, gripping the fabric beneath them for dear life as he bucked his hips up into her hand. It felt so good, he couldn’t contain himself. He couldn’t stop groaning and writhing, so hot and hazy with lust he could barely think.
“Fuck, you sound amazing,” she breathed out into his sweaty skin. She loved the noises he made, the feel of him against her hand...
She continued her ministrations on his cock, pumping and teasing until his hands latched to her hips and he was panting out how close he was.
She grunted in surprise as she felt a hand stop her fist, the other gripping the back of her neck, lips softly dragging up her throat.
“Can I taste you?” Ryan asked nervously, still panting as he continued to lazily roll his hips against her. She gave a breathy laugh and yelped, holding onto him as he pulled her down to the bed and rolled them over. He gave her neck a bite before licking over the welt in her heated skin. His hand sliding over her crotch and gently rubbing over her covered pussy. She whimpered as her hips rolled against him a few times before he hooked a finger around her panties, giving them a tug upwards before pulling them down and dropping them around her ankles. He smiled at her eagerly kicking them off to the side before pulling him in for another kiss.
His lips moved from her chest to her stomach before kissing the patch of hair on her outer mound as he pushed her legs apart. His breathing came in rushed pants as he kissed her inner thighs, watching as she spread herself more for him. He groaned, running his tongue up the crease of her inner thigh, and seeing how wet she was for him. He slid his tongue inside her and licked his way upward, slowly, taking a second to savor her arousal before kissing his way to her clit and flicking his tongue this way and that against the swollen bud.
“Fuc—!” She clamped a hand over her mouth. The walls weren’t as thick as she would have liked, She lowered her hand and rested it on her chest, her breathing growing more and more frantic as she mouthed a quiet, “Oh, fuck…”
He listened as her breathing went from soft sighs to breathy moans and pants. His eyes flicked up to her, watching as her head turned away to the side of the pillow, eyes fluttering shut as her chest rose and fell. Her index finger curled between her teeth; the very sight made him moan against her.
His hands latched onto her hips, holding them down harder as she bucked a little against his mouth. He gave another series of soft licks and she whimpered, the air rushing in and out of her lungs. Pleasure seemed to build up within her, more and more until her free hand finally caught onto his shoulder and her body stiffened.
Her mouth dropped and her eyes screwed shut, a noiseless cry escaping her lips as she felt herself tumble over that blissful edge before going limp. Ryan gave her pussy one final lick, giggling at how she yelped and shivered before he sat up on his knees. She took a minute to catch her breath, drinking in the sight of Ryan jerking himself off. With his eyes trained on her she could tell he was completely in the zone; chest rising and falling, the explicit moans coming out of his mouth — his bun was loose and messy, strands of his dark hair matted to his forehead slick with sweat.
He looked good enough to eat like this.
“Wait.” She reached over to her nightstand and grabbed something from the drawer, quickly putting it in Ryan’s hands. He looked down at it a she hurried to get under the blankets and make herself comfortable.
Ryan looked down at the little gold packet and felt his stomach twist with butterflies. The two of them taking a second to grin at each other before he moved to put it on.
Somewhere off to the side on a pile of clothing, the screen on Ryan’s phone turned on. A notification had popped up; the same one he’d been getting for some time. Another missed call; the seventh one that night.
The frantic vibrations of his phone got lost in the sounds of drunken sex, and the muffled thrum of the city.
Chapter 3: The Morning After「あとの朝」
Go ahead and put yourself out there.
When he woke up the next morning, he was alone.
He was staring up at the white ceiling, saying nothing. He felt his insides knotting and his heart racing and it felt like his head was stuffed with cotton, a rail spike, and shitty thoughts.
The hangover was one thing, but this other emotion he felt in his gut was worse. Much worse.
He was alone. He was alone in an apartment that wasn’t his in a city he had no idea how to navigate through. She had left him there to get lost and do a walk of shame alone. Alone in Tokyo.
He put his hands to his face, rubbing at his skin and sighing a breathy, frustrated ‘Fuck’ into his palms. He was alone. Fuck. He was alone.
He jumped when he heard a light wrap at the door before the jingling of keys. He pulled the blankets up to his chest and watched with wide eyes as the lock snapped and the door opened, letting in the cool morning air and the scent of wet concrete.
He felt both a sense of relief and terror as Zoie walked back in. She was wearing an oversized shirt and slides far too big on her. His slides.
“Morning,” She kicked off his shoes and held up a plastic bag from 7Eleven. “Got breakfast.”
She hurried over and jumped back into bed, careful to avoid his legs as he shifted to sit up. She crawled up to him and planted a kiss on his lips before he had a chance to react.
“Oh,” She caught his surprised look and immediately shied away. “Shit. Sorry, was that --?”
He shook his head and leaned back in, giving her a firmer kiss in return. She broke away momentarily and held up a little brown bottle she pulled from the bag.
He took the bottle with a smile and she gave him a little kiss before getting up to go to the bathroom. When she got back she sat down next to him and pulled out the rest of the contents of her bag; A spare toothbrush, tuna-mayo onigiri, Pocari Sweat, and ready-made bentos of rice topped with chicken and sliced boiled eggs.
She tossed the toothbrush over and he caught it with a thankful smile. “Thanks…” he grabbed a bento box and started digging in, “I, uh ... got money in my wallet somewhere for all this.”
“Mm—mm,” She ripped open her onigiri and muttered a small ‘itadakimasu’ before taking a big bite. “Agh meanph …” she stopped to chew for a few seconds. “You got dinner last night, it’s the least I can do.”
Ryan flashed her a small smile as he pulled his chopsticks apart. They sat and ate in a comfortable silence, exchanging brief glances and timid smiles. The memory of last night was kind of hazy in some parts, but the feeling he felt was fresh on his mind.
“I had fun last night,” he admitted. “A lot of fun.”
Zoie shrugged with a small "meh" and took a gulp of her drink. "It was alright.”
She saw Ryan’s mouth drop and she sputtered a laugh. “I’m kidding! Kidding … I had fun too.”
“Oh yeah.” she gave him a firm nod. “I haven’t had fun like that with someone since ... God, I don’t even know.”
He took a sip of Pocari Sweat and let out a small scoff. He didn’t think he was the worst in bed, but she had to have been laying it on thick for him.
"I'm serious," she insisted, catching the look of disbelief on his face. He gave a smallish shrug in response.
“I am!” She whined with a smile. He still didn’t believe her. “Ryan, I mean it. You made me cum twice.”
Now she had to have been laying it on thick.
“Okay,” He scoffed out. He looked at her face and he felt his cheeks turn hot. “… wait, you’re serious?”
“Mhm,” She nodded and Ryan set his food to the side. Her bottom lip curled between her teeth, and she looked him over once before signaling towards her bed. “And I mean … if you wanna try for a third, I wouldn’t say no.”
Ryan looked at her, the disbelief still on his face, but with a smile slowly stretching across his lips. "She scooted closer to him and leaned over to give him a kiss, smiling as his beard hair tickled her nose and chin. She felt an arm slink around her waist and Ryan held her close. Zoie wrapped her arms around him with a laugh as he pulled her back into bed.
While Zoie was in her bathroom brushing her teeth, Ryan sat on the floor; fresh from the shower with a towel draped over his head, and his phone latched to her charger. It finally had enough power to turn back on. He was greeted with seven missed calls and six voicemails.
All six of which belonged to Matt.
“Hey Ryan it’s Matt, hope you’re having fun on your little Tinder date. It’s almost midnight. Text me updates, dude! Is she banging or not?”
He went on to the next message.
“Ryan, Matt here. Text me back so I know you’re not getting chopped up in an alley somewhere. Love you bye.”
“Dude! It’s almost 2 am! Where are you? Call me.”
“Ryan, I swear to god, if you’re fucking with me right now.”
“ANSWER YOUR PHONE, ASSHOLE!”
He winced and went on to the final message that night.
“Hey Ry, it’s Jackson. Matt’s freaking out right now. Just give us a call and let us know you’re safe.”
He could hear Matt yelling in the background. “RYAN FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE ANSWER YOUR FUCK—"
“Everything okay?” Zoie asked, shortly before gargling some mouthwash and spitting it out. She bared her teeth at herself in the mirror before leaning back to look out at Ryan. He was shaking his head no and frowning at his phone.
“I think my friends are planning to stab me when I get back.”
“You forget to tell them where you were?” She saw him nod and she sucked in a hiss. “Oof. RIP.”
“Yeah," he sighed as he got up off the floor, "I should get going." He pulled the towel off his head and disconnected his phone. “Thanks, uh, for breakfast and everything.”
He looked down at his battery percentage. 75. It'd be a close-call with Google Maps, but he should have enough to manage his way back to the air bnb. He looked back towards where she formerly stood and saw she had disappeared back into the bathroom. For some reason, he felt a little torn. Part of him wanted to keep talking to her, the other part wanted him to get going before it got awkward. He was just standing there, after all.
He cleared his throat a little and started making his way towards his shoes. He called after her as he hurried slip them on. "Alright, well, see ya! Thanks again!"
He almost missed her voice as it came out muffled from behind the door.
“I can walk you to the station.”
His hand stopped on the knob and he stared back at the bathroom. He heard the door open and she poked her head back out, flashing him a shy smile. “I-If you want, I mean … It’s no problem.”
A familiar ache twisted in the pit of his stomach as he nodded.
“Yeah … Yeah, I’d like that.”
When they stepped out of her apartment, he was met with a sunny sky and surrounded by the smell of fresh laundry and last night’s rain. A pounding headache still pulsed in his brain, but Ryan finally caught a glimpse of where he was as Zoie locked her door and led him down the open hallway. He looked over the railing to see a little park waiting at the bottom. Children were already running around on the playground while their mothers watched carefully from the sides. Old couples walked along the narrow gravel pathways to get their exercise while young athletes weaved around on their bikes. Despite the occasional discarded clump of plastic or cigarette butt on the ground, the area overall looked clean and well-cared for. The roads were smooth, trees and flowers lined the sidewalks, and an old shrine placed nearby had a beautiful torii gate. He had no idea where he was, but it was pretty.
As they left her apartment and took a turn down another busy street, Ryan looked every which way at his surroundings. Small offices and grocery marts, retro-looking apartment buildings and lavish parks. He saw a Police Station the size of his apartment back home—if not smaller. The buildings grew taller and the streets grew busier as they were nearing the station. By the time they were on the same block he felt like he was in a smaller, less chaotic version of Shinjuku. He saw street signs and billboards in a mix of English and Japanese, and when they approached their destination, he looked up to see ‘NAKANO STATION’ splayed in big white letters above him.
Nakano was nice.
He froze up as a smallish body knocked into him and he turned. A young girl bowed quickly and muttered a small ‘Sumimasen’ before brushing past him. Uniformed high-school students were pooling in by the handful, carrying books and duffel bags and having loud conversations with one another as they headed for the train. Zoie gently pulled him off to the side and waited for them to pass.
“They have school on Saturdays too,” She remarked, catching the surprised look on his face as he watched them walk by.
“Yep,” she said with a nod, “And that’s not including cram school, which is on Sundays for some kids.”
“Damn” he mumbled. He hated high school. He couldn’t imagine going for more than he did. Seven days a week would’ve been torture.
“C’mon,” she took his hand and gently pulled him along inside. They swiped their train cards and weaved around the slew of fast-moving bodies that surrounded them. While they waited at the platform, they spent some time looking at a multicolored map that, to Ryan, looked like a tangled ball of yarn. He couldn’t tell where they were by looking at it. How the hell did anyone know how to get anywhere?
“Here we go,” she pointed at the red line on the map and stopped on ‘Shinjuku’. “You can take this one back. You’re in Shinjuku, right?”
“Right,” he scanned the map and briefly looked at his phone before looking back at her. “Thanks again for, um … everything.”
“No problem,” She chirped as she gave him a half-smile. “I had fun.”
He smiled and let out a breathy chuckle. “Me too,” he admitted.
A familiar tune jingled above them, and a voice came over the speakers on the platform.
“Mamonaku, Nakano. Nakano. Odeguchi wa, hidari gawa desu. Abunai desu kara, kiiroi sen no uchigawa made o sagari kudasai…”
There was brief silence between them as they stared at one another. In that moment Ryan realized that she had no makeup on, and that she had thick brows, a nose piercing, and freckles peppering her nose and cheeks. This was his first time really seeing her (both sober and in broad daylight) and it made his heart race. Part of him wanted to lean down and kiss her, the other parted wanted him to reel it in and just ask for her number.
“Well, uh ....” His face flushed as he held his arms out, “Bye.”
“Bye,” she giggled softly. She gave him a slight hug and a kiss on the cheek, “Be safe.”
“Thanks. You too,” he said as he stepped back and made his way onto the train. As he stopped next to the door and faced back towards the platform, he found himself tensing and swearing at himself internally.
Part of him was yelling, screaming at himself for not asking for her number. He could have done it right then and there, but he chickened out last-second.
There was still a chance, though. The doors were open. She was looking at him, smiling and waving gently. He could do it. No one was coming. He could step out real quick and ask for her number. He had time. He could–
“Doa ga shimarimasu,” the speaker announced above him, “Gochuui kudasai.”
And like that, the doors slid shut.
He stepped forward and looked out the door window. She was still standing there, but her smile had dropped. She was looking down at her phone with a frown.
He waved rapidly, trying to get her attention. Panic set in as he felt the train move. Part of him wanted to pound on the window, but he just kept looking, staring, hoping she’d lift her head just a little more and look at him.
His stomach almost did a backflip when she did.
He pointed rapidly at his phone, and she immediately brightened and nodded as the train pulled further away. He waved her goodbye with a lopsided grin on his face before stepping away from the window, his heart thundering behind his chest.
She continued to wave at the train as it rolled down the track. Even though he couldn’t see it, her whole face had lit up at him pointing at his phone. She had been mentally fighting herself the whole time on whether to ask for his number. All the way up to where he was physically on the train, almost ready to leave … Zoie was beside herself with negative thoughts, fighting on whether this was worth it, if he even felt the same way.
She sent Ryan a message on Tinder with her phone number, and left the station feeling elated.
Chapter 4: Daily Life「日常生活」
Last night is still fresh in their memory,
causing knowing smiles and a longing itch to see one another again.
“I should drop-kick you. You know that?” Matt huffed as he snapped a photo of the SEGA building. The four of them weaved through the bustling crowds of Akihabara, hitting up the areas with the highest concentration of tourists. The Tucker brothers, Jackson and Harrison, were busy filming everything from the back; Ryan following close beside Matt and snapping a selfie for his Instagram story. Matt was in the background with a pissed off look on his face, and cradling an anime-girl body pillow in his arms.
Ryan couldn’t help but sputter a laugh. “Dude, your face—”
“I should punch you into paralysis,” his best friend bit, “I was worried sick, you fuckhead!”
“Matt, I’m sorry!” he let out despite the pitched laugh he gave. Matt kept his pissed off look. “I am! I’m not laughing because I’m not sorry, I’m laughing because—”
“You could’ve gotten kidnapped! This could’ve been Taken: Japan Edition!”
Ryan paused and blinked at him for a second. “… I don’t know if there’s a market for large white American men.”
“You don’t know Ryan! There probably is!” He stopped to snap a picture of a vending machine before going back to grilling him. “There’s probably some sick pervert out there with a fetish for attractive guys with luscious long hair, and you could’ve fallen right into their grubby, gaijin-sized hands.”
Ryan stifled a small laugh and the blonde glowered at him, cradling the body pillow in his arms as he walked ahead. The brunette picked up his pace and kept trying to regain eye contact with him along the way.
“I’m sorry I made you worry,” he admitted. Matt finally looked his way and he flashed him a sincere look. “If it makes you feel any better, I feel like shit right now … I mean partly from being hungover, but mostly for making my best friend worry.”
Matt stayed silent, his lips twisting to the side as he shook his head.
“… Shut up,” he replied, trying to hide his little smile and failing. As much as he hated worrying, he couldn’t stay mad at him. He let Ryan pull him in for a side hug as they continued walking down the street. “Did you have fun at least?”
The memory of last night made a tiny grin appear on Ryan’s face.
“I did,” he admitted happily. “It was a lot fun, actually.”
Matt stopped to take another picture. This time, of Jackson and Harrison looking around. “Yeah? You got any pics?”
He thought on it for a second before getting out his phone. “Yeah a couple … I think.” He didn’t recall taking it out that much. He surfed through his most recent photos and found most of them blurry, but there were a few from the beginning of the night that were still clear.
“That’s her,” he pointed down to Zoie, who was giving the camera a kiss from across the table at the hotel bar. Matt took his phone and zoomed in on her to get a better look.
Ryan nodded rapidly at his reaction. “Yeah.”
“Yeah!” said Ryan with a light laugh.
“Wow,” he couldn’t help but chime. He stopped on a photo of her at the Izakaya flashing the camera a cheesy grin. “She’s fuckin’ attractive, dude.”
Ryan wholeheartedly agreed. He told them all about her and the night they had as they continued to explore around Akiba. She’d been living here for three years now, working as a translator for a company he forgot to ask about. She liked drawing and mixed drinks and had befriended surfers and musicians and filmmakers. Last night they danced, partied, and drank their way around Shinjuku.
“It was the best time, man. The best time.”
“Happy for you, brother,” Matt continued to swipe through the photos from last night, a smile stretched across his face. “See what happens when you lose What Are the Odds against me? It’s not all bad!”
He handed back the phone and Ryan slipped it back in his pocket.
“You kept saying you were hoping I’d get catfished.”
Matt let out a laugh, classically sharp and hearty, and nodded.
“Oh I totally was, but this is much better!” He reached over and gave his best friend a pat on the shoulder. “My boy Ryan is smiling.”
Zoie looked down at her inner thighs for the umpteenth time, showing off a less than favorable-looking double chin to the rest of her girlfriends on group FaceTime.
“I’m serious! I think he gave me a bruise.” She pushed at part of her inner right thigh, and sure enough there was a discolored splotch.
“You got a bruise?!” Alannah all but screeched. Zoie nodded and her friend let out a frantic laugh from her phone. The others looked at her slack jawed and let out amused giggles.
Zoie gazed at their faces with a warm, longing smile. It was night time in Chicago, and they all looked fresh-faced and ready for bed. Jenna, the first friend Zoie ever had as a child, had a glass of wine in hand and a face mask on. Christine had just finished saying goodbye to her cousins visiting from Laos when she had run back up to her laptop with a bright grin, and a messy top-bun on. Róisín (aka ‘Ró’) was sleeping over at Alannah’s new place in the city, but she still FaceTimed from her own laptop while Alannah did from her phone in the bathroom.
“So, wait, you hooked up with a dude from here?” Jenna asked, trying to process what she just heard. “Like, America-here?”
She watched as her friend multitasked with talking and eating breakfast from the comfort of her room.
“Yeah, I met him on Tinder,” Zoie chirped through her chewing. “His name’s Ryan ... He lives in Cali … He’s tall, has a beard, longish hair, brown eyes … body’s on the thick side too, which I like.”
Her friends let out a collective and cheeky ‘oooh.’
“Must’ve been a nice change from all that Japanese dick you’ve got going on over there,” Róisín teased.
“Shut up,” Zoie chuckled lightly, shaking her head. “Yuta was nice! And that dude from China, too. He sent flowers to my work after that—”
“Okay okay okay, so how was it with American Dude?” Jenna asked over their playful bickering. The other four leaned into their screens, looking at her with intense interest.
“Ryan, first off, and it was…” She picked up a piece of chicken with her chopsticks. The thought of how he made her feel last night instantly came to mind, and it caused a warm smile to spread across her lips. “… lovely.”
“Lovely? Jesus fucking—did he turn it out or not!”
“Alannah!” Christine hissed.
“What?! We’re all thinking it.”
“Shush!” Jenna laughed, “… Okay, but did he though?”
Zoie smiled cheekily and nodded. “Twice.”
She nodded rapidly.
“You’re lying!” Róisín yelped.
“I’m not! Deadass, I came twice.”
Jenna let out a hearty laugh, one that showed all her teeth and her crooked smile.
Róisín snickered to herself as she put her hair up in a bun. “Well, I’m jealous.”
“Yeah, me-fuckin’-too,” Alannah whined as she left the bathroom. Zoie caught a glimpse of all the boxes scattered around in the background and suddenly felt a little homesick. Part of her wished she could hop over there to help her unpack, and then properly christen her new space with a housewarming party.
“Did you guys wear a condom?” She heard her friend ask, drawing her back to the conversation.
“Oh my god,” Zoie griped with a breathy laugh, “Alannah, the one time I didn’t wear a condom and you go—”
“Don’t you sass me! It’s a legit question,” She plopped backwards onto her bed and held her phone up above her, “No friend of mine is gonna rock a fetus fanny pack on my watch.”
Sitting on the floor beside her bed, Róisín burst out laughing. “Fetus fanny pack?”
“Lannah what the fuck?” Jenna giggled.
“Shut up! All of you. I care!”
“Yes, we wore a condom,” Zoie replied with a laugh.
“Good,” Alannah chirped simply. She ran a hand through her blonde waves and sighed, “I’m glad you had fun.”
“And I’m glad he turned out not to be a serial killer!” Christine chirped.
“Thanks babes,” Zoie giggled. She looked down at her phone as it trilled a familiar tune, and sighed as soon as she saw the time. “I’m gonna go get ready for work. Love you guys.”
Jenna blew a kiss to the camera and waved. “Love you bae!”
“Have fun at work!” Alannah chirped, “And tell that hot guy in your office I love him!”
“Bye!” Róisín and Christine gave their webcams a kiss, and all four girls waved her goodbye before logging off. Zoie closed her laptop with a sated smile, and swallowed down the sad feeling lingering in the pit of her gut. It still sucked that they were so far away, and that the time-zones were opposite of each other – but seeing their faces and hearing their laughs made that feeling of disconnect fade away each time. Seeing them again always left her feeling a sense of renewal inside; like a freshly charged battery. She felt like she could take on the world.
The commute to work was busy as usual, but something about it made it feel different. She wasn’t bothered by the long lines or having to stop to reload her smart card. She didn’t mind the crowd of Salary men and Office Ladies filling the train. The whole time, while the the organized chaos of Morning Rush went on around her, she just kept looking down at her phone with small grin on her face. Oftentimes she’d be aware of the feeling of being so small in a sea so full of people, and it would have had caused a familiar, anxious ache in her stomach.
But after Ryan sent the first message since they last saw each other, she felt a strange sense of ease. It didn’t matter how many bodies crammed up against her or how much she stood out among everyone else. She felt like the only one on the train right now, like it was just her and him and no one else.
So Matt helped me out and I finally got the LINE app. Add me.
As she got off the train and maneuvered her way around Shinjuku station, her fingers moved rapidly across the keyboard and hit send.
Depends. Are you gonna send nudes?
She was transferring onto her next train when her phone vibrated in her bag. She pulled it out and read Ryan’s reply as she took a seat.
… What else do you use it for?
She snickered to herself and sent a trio of laughing emojis. Ryan messaged her back instantly.
I’m seriously asking.
She paused for a second.
… wait are you?
No! 😂 😂 😂
She stifled a small laugh, briefly covering her mouth before texting a reply.
Just go on and add me, fucker.
She sent her username and put her phone back in her bag. As she continued commute towards work, she couldn’t help but smile and giggle to herself all along the way.
Today really did feel different. Different in a good way.
Like it was going to be a good day.
“Otsukare sama desu,” She greeted as she hurried into the elevator after her co-worker. Kouichi tore his eyes from his phone and smiled. The kind that would’ve had a couple girls on their floor red-faced and swooning if they saw it. Such was the effect of Kouichi Saito from Programming. He was on the tall and scrawny side, but he had an air of “cool confidence” about him in the way dressed and spoke. He could’ve easily been mistaken for an actor or an idol of some kind, and he knew it.
“Ah, Zoie-san, ‘tsukare sama,” he greeted rather casually.
Zoe had to keep from letting out a sigh. Although he was considered a higher rank, he still spoke to her in a tone far too casual for work. She warned him all the time that HR would be on his ass if he wasn’t careful. His response every time, though, was that he liked to play on the edge.
He gave her an inquisitive look as the elevator closed behind her. “Kon'ya nomi-kai ikareda?”
“Wha?—aw, dammit!” Zoie let out a noise and smacked herself on the forehead. That’s right, tonight was yet another Nomikai.
Part of Japanese work culture was participating in company drinking parties. They happened almost every night … or at least when there was a batch of new hires, or some departing employees, or even an employee’s birthday. No matter what the occasion, something was always worth celebrating over, and apparently tonight was no exception.
“Do we have to go?” She asked as pressed the button to the 12th floor. She prayed no. It would be the third one this week. Her wallet was on the verge of having a breakdown.
Kouichi let out a thoughtful hum as he nodded, his eyes drawn back to his phone as he got a text. “It’s mandatory,” his thumbs moved rapidly across his screen, and Zoie couldn’t help but wonder who the hell was texting him so much. “Effects team finished the initial draft. Boss wants us all there.”
She let out a defeated sigh. That was a pretty big milestone worth celebrating over, but still…
She looked ahead as they approached their proper floor and perked up. The elevator doors slid open, and they were greeted with stark white walls and a single hallway reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. One wall held a simple a glass case full of awards that their company had earned over the years. The other, a sleek-looking door that lead to the entrance of the office.
Kouichi was quick to get out his keycard and slide it over the reader. With a quiet beep the door slid open to another stark white hallway with a small statue of their company mascot, an astronaut-looking figure in a mechanized skull mask, standing proudly in the center.
Both Zoie and Kouichi gave it’s large, knight-like shoulder pads a pat as they walked by. Everyone did for luck. And Zoie needed luck.
They walked in to see everyone huddled around in the lounge. Morning meeting was already underway. Zoie swore quietly to herself as she and Kouichi slunk over as stealthily as they could. A man, small-boned and thin, was busy talking to his assistant before giving his attention back to his Employees. He stood in the center wearing a casual black long-sleeve and jeans, and his usual thick framed glasses. It was expected of him as CEO to wear a suit and tie, but the loose dress code added to his quiet, artsy, and somewhat mysterious charm.
Zoie couldn’t help but notice he was in the same outfit from yesterday.
He bowed lightly and gazed at his team, his eyes crinkling as he smiled a tired smile.
“Minasan, ohayo gozaimasu,” he said in his calm, almost sleepy voice.
Everyone bowed back and greeted him in response. “Ohayo gozaimasu.”
He gave a small speech about today's agenda, and what they needed to focus on in the upcoming meeting. A lot needed to get done, but he had every confidence that with this team and the talent they brought, they could meet the deadline. This was to be the very first project to come out of the company since he went independent, and it needed to be the very best. Everyone, including the CEO himself, was committed to giving it their all.
He held up a fist and smiled. “Ganbarimashou!”
“Ganbaritashimasu!” The rest of the team said in unison.
With that, everyone scattered like marbles to their respective desks and started working on their assignments. When Zoie made it to her desk, she just barely got a chance to set her bag down when Okudera, from Administration, came up with a stack of paperwork. As pretty as she was, and outwardly genki she behaved with everyone, Zoie couldn’t help but sense an ulterior motive whenever they interacted. She knowingly played the office like it was a chess game, and openly sucked up to her superiors to get out of working. She took on tasks every know and then (particularly when it involved going over to the Sony Office where all the cute guys are), but overall, she was a master at dodging any real legwork. When she came up to the desk, she had on a smile that Zoie came to dread. That smile meant overtime. It meant piling her work onto her so she can leave on time, forcing Zoie to work late and risk missing the last train home.
And her night out with Ryan.
“Senpai,” Okudera said in her sweetest voice as she set down the thick stack. “Could you help me with these? I’m totally swamped at my desk.”
Zoie glanced at the pages before looking back up at her. She had on some cute lashes today. They made her eyes look all big and doll-like as she batted them. She'd have to ask her where she got them later.
“I would really appreciate it,” she chirped, emphasizing the ‘really’ part. “You’re just so thorough with everything, I know you’ll do a better job and get right through these.”
Zoie chewed on her the inside of her cheek, thinking on it for a second before giving a reluctant nod.
“…should be fine,” she muttered quietly. It must have been loud enough for Okudera to hear, because she flashed a bright grin and visibly perked up.
“You’re so kind!” The stack hit her desk with a loud thud. “If you could translate them over to English too, you’d be a live saver.”
Zoie watched the ends of her babydoll dress twirl as she whipped around and walked away. That smile stayed on her face the whole time, even as she called a hearty “Onegaitashimasu!”
As soon as she was out of sight, Zoie looked at the stack and sighed bitterly.
Maybe she spoke too soon about today.
“So one of the best things about Japan,” Matt chirped to the camera in Jackson’s hands, “Which I told Ryan and he didn’t believe me…Free hair everywhere!” He pointed down to the pile of trash next to his feet, and the random clump of discarded hair laying out in front. It looked as if someone had chopped off a whole ponytail and tossed it. Ryan stared at it with a mildly disgusted frown while Matt kneeled over to point at it.
“See? Look at this. All kinds of free hair.”
Ryan looked at the camera and smiled impishly. “Grab yourself a handful, Matt.”
Without protest Matt reached down to grab it, but stopped a few inches from touching it before shaking his head no.
“I’m not committing to that bit,” He laughed to the camera as they continued down the alley. “I can’t do that one.” Ryan let out a laugh from behind him and snapped a quick picture of the pile. He sent a copy to Dan and Arin in the groupchat, as well as one other in a separate message.
While Matt and the Tucker brothers shopped around in a hole-in-the-wall thrift store, Ryan hung around outside. The clothes inside were far too small for him, so he just stood at the exit and waited, occupying himself with Twitter and checking out the channel tag Instagram.
He had just liked a photo his cousin posted when his phone suddenly rang, and Zoie’s picture appeared onscreen.
His heart fell straight into his gut like a rock. Without missing a beat he hit answer, and put it up to his ear.
“Dude what the hell did you just send me?!”
He heard her laugh, a warm, no-holds-barred kind of laugh that made him smile and giggle in return. He could practically hear her smile over the phone. The thought of it made his insides twist.
“Is that your hair?”
He burst out a laugh that he quickly stifled as he covered his mouth. A couple stared at him as they walked past.
“… No?” he muttered lowly. “Why would it be mine?!”
“I don’t know! It looks long and brown, your hair’s long and brown…” She let out a soft chuckle. “I can’t stop looking at it. That’s so fucking weird.”
“I know, right?!”
“I kind of love it though, real talk,” she admitted with a giggle.
A brief silence swelled between them. Ryan smiled to himself the whole time.
“What are you doing right now?” he heard her ask.
“I’m out shopping with the guys,” he suddenly stepped to the side as a kid, busy chasing his friend, almost knocked into him as he ran past. “You?”
He heard her let out a faint sigh. “I’m on lunch break. Trying to decide if I should go out or not.”
He mouthed a small ‘ah’. “Where’s work?”
“Shinagawa … Why?”
Another pause. He felt torn on what the answer should be. Part of him wanted to say ‘no reason’ and chuckle it off like it was nothing. The other part wanted to blurt it out on the phone right then there. He wanted to see her again. He wanted to kiss her again.
“Do you want—”
“Do you like sushi?”
They both paused for a second before chuckling simultaneously.
“No, you first,” he insisted.
“I-I was just asking if you liked Sushi.”
A smile stretched across his lips as he nodded. “I do.”
“Okay cool,” she let out what sounded like a breath of relief. “If you’re not doing anything for the next … hour-ish, we should go get sushi.”
He spotted Matt and Jackson as they walked up the checkout. They each held armfuls of GUESS shirts and jean jackets and they chatted excitedly to one another about their finds.
“Oh! Shit,” He couldn’t see it, but she put a hand to her forehead. “That’s right. You’re with friends. I forgot.”
“No no no it’s fine, I just … I-I don’t wanna ditch them in the middle of hanging out,”
“No I get it! I totally get it,” she insisted, “Forget what I said. Blank it out.”
Ryan chewed on his lip a little. Part of him, for whatever reason, started feeling a tad guilty. He did want to see her again, but some tiny voice in the back of his head kept telling him no. This was a trip with his friends. He had to be with his friends.
He hated that tiny voice. A lot.
“Let’s hang tonight,” he remarked, ignoring the ache in his insides.
There was a brief pause over the phone, and for a moment Ryan thought the call had dropped before he heard a soft-sounding, “Really?”
“Yeah,” he replied honestly, “I-I mean, if you’re not too tired after work. If you are—”
“I won’t,” she said quickly, the excitement clear in her voice. “It’s a date then. Round two.”
“Round two,” he giggled. “Text me when you’re off.”
“Will do,” she replied, the smile clear in her voice. “Later, sucka.”
Chapter 5: Bittersweet「ほろ苦い」
Zoie invites the boys out to their first rock gig in Tokyo. The night is full of love and laughter, but there's a bitter-sweetness lying underneath that she can't seem to shake...
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The streets of Kabukicho were lined with a collection of mismatched, tumbledown bars in its narrow, winding alleys – all placed in a darkened, yet strangely inviting corner of Shinjuku. Zoie checked each sign while hurrying down the alley, listening to varied types of music and drunken chatter mixing as one. She ran past each hole-in-the-wall bar tightly packed next to one another. Each bar had its own charm with every entrance completely individual— covered in stickers, pristine and painted, or aged and battered. The one she was looking for was a known favorite of her Boss’s with a battered movie poster out in front.
She ran past it three times before one of her co-workers spotted her and waved her down.
When she stepped inside, she was greeted by a hearty ‘irrashaimase!’ from a single, middle-aged man sporting a Metallica shirt and working behind a wooden bar. The room was relatively quiet, save for the sounds of the radio, and the buzzing murmur from the small smattering of tourists sitting at the bar. A haze of cigarette smoke filled the small space, adding to its somewhat seedy-cozy charm.
She found her co-workers sitting in the smoking area passing around bottles of beer. She took a seat next to Kouichi and Ayako, their boss’s Personal Assistant and good friend. She smiled warmly at Zoie and greeted her as she sat down, blushing as the girl let out a noise at her new hairstyle. She had gone from long, pin-straight hair to a bob cut dyed pale pink. She looked pretty, and Zoie let her know as much.
Sake was ordered for the first round. As everyone poured each other’s cups and got lost in casual conversation, their boss held up a glass to toast, and Kouichi called for everyone to shut up and listen. Zoie had to cover her mouth to keep from sputtering a laugh. They all watched as he chuckled lightly before giving a very brief speech, thanking the Effects team for their hard work, and encouraging everyone else to keep up the momentum as the deadline was fast approaching.
The second he was done, he held up his sake and called for a kanpai on three.
“Kanpai!” Zoie cheered in unison with the others. She took a hearty sip and had to keep from letting out a satisfied sigh. A very dry, clean, and smooth brew that paired perfectly with the plates of karaage (Japanese fried chicken) on the table. She picked up a piece with her chopsticks and bit in, humming with a smile on her face. It was really delicious.
“Zo-chan, dozo,” Kouichi reached over and poured her another cup. “Oishidesu ne?”
She nodded rapidly and took another gulp of her drink. As was proper drinking party etiquette, she returned the favor and filled his cup before turning to face Ayako. She went on to fill her glass as well, careful to keep the bottle label-side-up, and her hands placed at the proper spots. Her boss, who had been watching the whole time, chuckled lightly as he puffed on a cigarette.
“Zoie-san, suge yo,” he said with an amused smile. Zoie instantly perked up and looked at him. He pointed down to her pouring. “You act very traditional.”
A few others around the table agreed with playful laughs. She felt her face turn hot and let out an awkward chuckle as she put the bottle back on the table. The man had said all of three words to her the entire time since she’s been with the company. She didn’t even know he knew her name.
For the rest of the party, she and her coworkers drank and socialized with one another. It was a nice time, for the most part. Everyone seemed to unwind a lot more after a few drinks. Even Okudera even seemed to be loosening up, and had Zoie laughing at her little quips and clapbacks when Kouichi made fun of her. While she sipped on her beer and half-listened to their Boss’s story of a luggage mishap at LAX airport, she sent texts to Ryan about where to meet for tonight.
In just a couple of hours, she’d get to see him again.
It took everything in her not to flash a goofy grin on her face. She was so excited, she felt she could burst.
“She said we could come with?” Matt took a quick glance at himself in a reflecting window as the four of them walked down the street. “Like did she say that-say that, or are you just taking us with ‘cause you feel bad?”
Jackson snapped a quick picture of their outfits and posted it to his Instagram Story. Patterned button-down blouses, slim-cut jeans—He liked the soft 80’s California vibe him and Matt were giving off tonight. “We said it’s fine if you wanted to hang one-on-one, dude.”
“Yeah, you’re not ditching us,” Harrison assured. Ryan sighed as he smoothed his hair back and straightened out his t-shirt. Earlier in the day he had told Matt about the anxious thought he’d been having involving leaving to hang with Zoie. Since then, all three of them went out of their way to reassure him at every turn today. Their hearts were in a good place, but the nagging voice in the back of his head was still there. He couldn’t help it.
It’s another thing he needed to work on.
“She said you could come with. Look.” He took out his phone and pulled up the message. Matt leaned over to read it aloud.
“Akoni and the guys are having a show tonight in Daikanyama. 500 yen at the door. Bring your friends and pregame—Alright, alright." He looked back up and turned to scan his surroundings. "So where is this place?”
Deep beneath the fashion stores that lined the chic Daikanyama district, the boys found a club quite literally underground: Unit. A kaleidoscope of hip-looking crowds, a saloon bar with an extensive menu, and a venue space just small enough to make partying seem like a rave. Zoie assured him that this was where the insomniacs and rebels gathered—making it one of Tokyo’s ideal hubs for night owls; a winning cocktail of seedy and sleek.
Ryan snapped a picture of the building as they walked up. A small group of people dressed in grunge-looking outfits hung outside the entrance, all of them smoking and chatting casually to one another in Japanese. Looking at them made him glance down at his own outfit, and immediately second-guess wearing joggers and a hoodie…
Not that he had anything else to wear, anyway.
God, he was starting to feel out of place again. Why didn’t he try and find something earlier with Matt and Jackson? He could’ve at least looked for a new shirt, or a nicer jacket. He stuck out so much, it didn’t feel right. It felt—
Ryan jumped as Matt swatted him on the arm, finally grabbing his attention. He pointed over to a small group of people a little ways down the street. “Someone’s waving at you, dude.”
He glanced over to where Matt was pointing and his eyes went wide. He spotted Haru jumping up and down in place with Bee and Yuki at his side, both girls looking away and laughing in embarrassment. Seeing them made his heart jump and a smile stretch across his lips.
“Oh shit,” He waved back with just as much excitement and Haru waved him down to come over. “I know these guys. C’mon.”
“Ry-tchi!” Yuki all but cheered as she hurried up to Ryan and gave him a hug. The brunette was thrown off by it for a second, but welcomed it, nonetheless. He let go to give Bee a brief hug as well before taking a step back.
“Konsāto o miru koko ni iru?” Yuki asked. Ryan gave a brief confused look and she immediately perked up. “Ah! Eh … Are—you-here-to-see?” She pointed back to the building and Ryan let out an ‘Oh!’
“Yeah! Uh, Zoie invited me—Us!” He gave an awkward laugh and pointed back over to Matt. “This is my friend Matt.”
Matt gave a slight bow along with a somewhat formal, “hajimemashite.” Yuki giggled, giving a small bow back before waving.
“And uh, this is Jackson, and his brother Harry.”
Both brothers gave a slight bow along with a polite greeting. Both Haru and Bee looked excited and impressed.
“Matt-san,” Yuki chirped, earning Matt’s attention. “Nihongo dekiru?”
“Ah, uh, chotto,” He flashed a crooked smile as he held up an index finger and thumb, “Chotto hanase shimasu.”
She gave a brief nod before turning to look at the Tucker brothers. “Jackson-san to Harry-san wa?”
Both boys nodded lightly. “Dekiru desu,”
“Sou,” Jackson added, pointing both Harrison and himself, “Watashi-tachi wa … eh, Ni-nen kurai benkyō shite iru.”
All three of them let out an appreciative “ehhh!” and laughed.
“Jyozu!” Bee chirped out in approval, “Jyozu jyouzu.”
“What does ‘jyozu’ mean?” Ryan muttered over to Matt.
The lanky blonde leaned over and muttered back. “Means you’re good at something. They’re complimenting his speaking.”
“Ne, Ry-tchi,” Yuki chirped, grabbing Ryan’s attention once more. “What do—"
“Oi, nan to itte, ‘Ry-tchi,’” Haru spoke, mimicking Yuki’s voice. He pointed over to Ryan. “Kare ga Ry-san. Ry-san dayo.”
Yuki folded her arms and gave him a little pout. “Ry-tchi-te, ‘Lychee’ mitai ni kikoeruda ne?”
Both Bee and Haru let out a noise while Jackson and Harrison laughed. Ryan and Matt stood there with faint smiles on their faces. It was the least they could do. They had no idea what anyone was saying.
Haru must have sensed his confusion. He leaned onto Ryan’s shoulder and pointed over at Yuki with an unlit cigarette between his fingers.
“She call you, uh, Ry-tchi, because it sound like a, uh, ‘Lychee’,” Ryan suddenly got it and let out an ‘ohhh!’ as Haru nodded and chuckled. “Yeah. It’s supposed to be cute.”
All four boys let out a small chuckle. Secretly, Ryan hoped no one could see him blushing. Was he blushing? He felt like he was blushing. His face felt hot. She was so friendly, and sweet too.
He felt a bony elbow gently poke into his side, and Matt waggled his brows at him.
“Look at you, little mister popular over here,” he teased quietly.
Ryan tried to brush it off with an airy laugh before turning his attention back to Haru and the others. “Hey, um, Zoie-san wa, uh … doko desu ka?”
“Zo-chan?” Yuki asked. Ryan nodded, and she let out a thoughtful hum before shrugging. “Wakaranai.”
“She doesn’t know,” Jackson translated. Ryan mouthed a small ‘ah,’ and looked down at his phone, debating on whether to call or text her. She was running pretty late.
Suddenly, a sharp whistle went off from across the street. As they all whipped around to stare at the culprit, Haru and Yuki instantly brightened and let out a brief cheer. Bee flashed a beaming grin and waved her arms in excitement.
“Zo-chan!!” she called, waving for her friend to come over. “Kochi!”
Ryan felt both his heart race and his insides twist as he spotted Zoie standing there at the crosswalk. She had her dreads down this time, showing off just how long her hair really was as it cascaded down past her hips. It went well with her baggy blazer jacket and wide-legged pants – an oversized outfit that all but screamed ‘80’s Julia Roberts’.
She ran up with a beaming smile that Ryan couldn’t help but match.
“Hi, sorry! The work party ran late. I had to make sure Kouichi got home.” Bee was the first to hold out her arms and Zoie immediately pulled her in for a tight hug. “Beebee! Yaho!”
She gave Yuki and Haru a quick hug as well before going over to Ryan. Despite wearing ankle boots, she had to get up on her toes just to wrap her arms around him.
“Hey you,” she chirped as she gave him a squeeze.
“Hey.” He held her close, catching the tropic scent of her hair mixed with smoke and alcohol. “You smell like a bar. You been drinking?”
She let out an airy giggle, one that made Ryan’s already jittery insides do a backflip.
“Yeah,” she laughed as she let go, “We had a Nomikai, uh,” she took a second to think of the English equivalent. “Company—drinking party—thing. I’m pretty buzzed, so yall need to catch up quick.”
“Let’s get drinks!” Haru raved, “There’s Famima down this way. Ikouze!”
As they walked together in a group, Ryan began introducing her to his friends. She gave Jackson a polite wave and couldn’t help but compliment him on his outfit. It was a mish-mash of thrifted clothing that gave off a late 1980’s California vibe. His thick mustache and aviator eyeglasses only added to the charm.
Ryan pointed over to Harrison as he snapped a picture of the skyscraper down the street.
“And this is his brother Harrison, or Harry. Whichever.”
“Hi,” She chirped, giving him a little wave. “I like your jacket.”
Harrison tugged on the ends of his leather jacket and smiled. “Much obliged.”
Finally, after a light cough and a nudge, Ryan pointed to the guy next to him. “And this here is my buddy Matt.”
Zoie flashed him a knowing look and nodded. “Ah, so this is Matt.” She looked him up and down once, secretly admiring his patterned button up before holding out a hand. “Nice to meet you. Ryan told me you helped him score.”
“Yup! That’s me,” He gave a lopsided grin and laughed, giving her hand a friendly shake. "Nice to meet you."
The second her back was turned, Matt stared over at Ryan and mouthed to him a small, ‘What the fuck?.'
In return, Ryan gave him a confused frown.
“She’s fuckin’ pretty dude!” he mouthed.
Ryan nodded and flashed him a look that said, ‘Right?!’
The second Zoie turned back to look at him Ryan flashed her a grin. She frowned at him for a split second before her mouth curved into a smile, and the two of them sputtered a laugh.
As soon as they reached the Family Mart, Bee, Yuki, and Haru hurried in with Jackson, Harrison, and Matt in tow. They were so eager to spark up conversations in English, while the boys were equally excited to reply in Japanese. The conversations seemed to flow naturally between them, and the sight couldn’t help but put a smile on Ryan’s face as he stood back and listened. It was nice seeing how well his friends seemed to mesh into the culture. Part of him couldn’t help but feel a little envious about it.
Who was he kidding, he thought as he wandered aimlessly down the snack aisle. He felt really envious. He wished he could just fall into a casual conversation like that with someone. He had enough trouble communicating in English, and that was his first language. Thinking about his struggle with Japanese only frustrated him more.
“Your hair’s down.”
"Shit!" The man jumped with a breathy swear and whipped his head around. Zoie had been standing next to him the whole time, looking up at his hair curiously.
“... Oh! Uh. Yeah.” Feeling a little exposed, his hand immediately went for the tie on his wrist. The second she saw him move to tie it up, she reached over and stopped him.
“No no no, wait, it’s not bad!” She insisted with a soft giggle, “It’s not! I swear, it’s not. I just never noticed how … luxurious it looks.”
He let go of his hair and chuckled. “Luxurious?”
“Yeah,” Her eyes wandered over the long, brown tresses that curled and waved past his shoulders. She snickered. “You’re like a millennial Jesus.”
He sputtered a laugh, loud enough for Zoie to reach over with wide eyes and playfully smack him on the arm, telling him to shush. Ryan covered his mouth for a split=second before muttering a small ‘sorry’, glancing at the other shoppers around him. The two of them snickered like a pair of schoolgirls as they walked along the aisles, grabbing snacks and alcohol before leaving.
There was something about standing huddled outside the venue. From the muffled sounds of rock music vibrating off the walls; the simultaneous snapping hiss from popping cans open, to the hearty ‘kanpai’ everyone let out as they touched cans and drank. It all felt kind of … badass, in a way. Especially being able to drink out in public. He loved that.
Ryan took a hefty gulp of his Strong Zero and let out a sharp sigh. For having a 9% alcohol volume, it tasted pretty good. Less like rubbing alcohol, unlike the Bitter Lemon flavor that Matt loved and raved about. This one wasn’t bad. It was smooth, slightly sweet, and had a nice peach-flavored tang to it.
He gazed over at Harry, Matt, and Jackson. The corners of his mouth turned up. All three of them were drinking cans of Yebisu (per Haru’s recommendation) as they smoked and chatted with Zoie’s friend group. He had little time to admire how in their element they were before a piece of half-eaten chicken popped up in his line of vision. He jerked back a little in surprise before looking at Zoie, her mouth already half full and chewing.
“Famichiki,” she chirped. She held it up for him to take a bite. It smelled good from where he was standing; deep-fried, oily, savory…
He leaned over to take a bite, his brows raising at the feel of how tender and crispy it was. A burst of flavor hit his tastebuds and he let out a noise of approval. It was delicious. Perfectly seasoned, juicy, fried chicken—the perfect drunk snack.
She let him have the rest as she dug out an onigiri for herself to feast on. While the others were busy standing and chatting, the two of them sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps, drinking and eating quietly.
They sat in silence for some time, watching as their friends laughed and drank and bonded. He watched with a sated smile and hooded eyes. He was only a third in on his second can, and it was finally starting to hit him.
“Are you having a good time in Japan so far?” Zoie chirped after a minute or two.
“I am,” he admitted with a slow nod, chuckling as he watched Matt lean over to photobomb a selfie between Yuki and Harrison.
“Good, I’m glad,” She kept her eyes on her friends as she ate, chewing slowly. Ryan couldn’t help but notice how long her lashes were, and how her nose had a little stud piercing in it. Looking at her in a more relaxed setting was like looking at her in a new light; embarking on a scavenger hunt of tiny details, and discovering something new with each glance. She had a scar on her eyebrow, blemishes on the skin of her cheek …
The second she turned to look at him he immediately looked away, hiding the tiny smile on his lips behind his curtain of hair.
Whether it was from the alcohol, or the fact that he was caught staring, Ryan felt his whole face warm up. He tried to chuckle it off, smiling a lopsided smile before taking another gulp of his drink. He let out a sharp sigh and rattled his can. A little bit left. Knowing that kind of bummed him out. Soon these wouldn’t be a thing anymore. As soon as he got back, Strong Zeroes and quality convenience store food and drinking in public would be a thing of the past.
“I’m starting to think two weeks here might not be enough,” he admitted suddenly.
Zoie turned to look at him, her cheeks still puffy with food and her eyes slightly wide. “Really? Two weeks?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, smoothing some of his hair behind his ear. Zoie watched him the whole time. “There’s still so much I wanna see … A lot I wanna see. And do.”
A sudden laugh erupted from their circle of friends. Yuki kept trying to grab the phone from Haru’s hands while Matt and Bee filmed on their phones with smiles on their faces. For a moment her eyes stayed fixed on Ryan and the far-off look he had on his face. Looking at it made a sickly ache rise in the pit of her stomach, and a strange urge itch at her insides.
She turned her gaze back to her friends as she took one final bite of her food, crumpling the wrapper in her hands. They all looked so excited at prospect of making new friends and new memories together. She was, too.
Still, sitting in the back of head was this tiny voice uttering over and over, “Two Weeks.”
2 Weeks. 14 days. 14 days. God, that made it sound like there was even less time. She gulped down the last of her drink and set the can down at her feet. She tried to ignore how it made her feel, knowing they had 14 days. Barely that. This could have been their last night. He could be gone tomorrow to another part of the country, and she would have no way of seeing him…
She sucked in a small breath. And before she knew it, seven little words came tumbling out of her mouth. She had no idea why, and if she were sober, she would’ve tried harder to keep it in – but the urgent feeling picking and pulling at her insides… the fact that he was here for just 14 days ...
“I could show you, if you want.”
Ryan stopped mid-drink and she turned to look at him, panic clear on her face.
“If you’d be down! I mean,” she said quickly, “I-I know you’re out here with friends, and you probably have stuff set up—”
“I’d be … down,” he said over her, Zoie just barely catching it and blinking at him.
She stared at him for some time, and for a moment Ryan was worried he had something dangling off his face. He frowned at first before breaking into a grin and a small laugh, the corners of her lips slowly turning up.
Before she could proper reply, Bee ran right up to her and started tugging her up off the steps.
“C’mon! The show’s starting. Ikou!”
Zoie held out her free hand and Ryan took it without hesitation, lifting himself off the steps and following her into the venue.
Concrete stairs two floors down lead to the main dance floor – a dark, concrete bunker of a space with relatively high ceilings and a mess off colorful lights swirling among the walls. The place was already starting to fill up as they walked in, the band on stage starting to tune their instruments as the sound cut in and out.
Ryan held onto Zoie’s hand, and Matt’s as well as they were pulled along in a chain towards the front. There wasn’t any form of barrier to get crushed up against, or any type of bouncer or bodyguard to keep you from getting too close to the stage. Everything felt open and free. That only excited him more.
A spindly man wearing baggy clothes and a bucket hat came up to the front and spoke a mile a minute to the crowd. Ryan and Matt were completely lost. Every now and then there’d be an English word slipped in, but for the most part it was exclusively in Japanese. He spoke with insane vigor though, enough to get the crowd cheering and clapping as he pointed to the punk-rock looking band behind him.
“First up! Oral Cigarettes!!”
Without missing a beat, the band dove right in to their first song. Both Matt and Ryan glanced at each other before gazing back at the stage with stars in their eyes. They couldn’t understand a word that was spoken, but it didn’t matter. Their music was raw, catchy, and surprisingly danceable; enough to headbang and sway and cheer at the top of your lungs. Out of all of them, Bee seemed to be the biggest fan. She cheered the loudest and danced the hardest, her short hair flipping and flying as she swished about.
“Doudai? Achira kochira ni umareta tansaibou ningen to okoshita
soudai na jinrui hametsu e no ippo imada ni kizuketenai ga
Doudai? Mazu wa erasouni
kyuushutsu sengen shitemiyou kashira
Doudai? Doudai? Doudai? Doudai? Doudai?
Zoie bobbed up and down in place, gently twisting and swaying as a sleek guitar solo pulsed through the speakers. Ryan watched her the whole time, giggling as she took his hand in hers and gently pulled him close. He let go to slink his arm around her waist and looked down at her for approval. She reached up with her free hand to give his cheek a gentle pat, matching his tiny smile to a tee before going back to watching the show.
After their set had ended, there was a small break in between to get next band set up. Matt, Jackson and Zoie hurried to the 2nd floor bar to get everyone drinks. A crooked grin a mile wide stayed plastered on Matt’s face the whole time as Zoie ordered a round of gin and tonics. She looked over and caught Jackson mouthing something that she couldn’t quite hear.
“Wha?” She leaned in and Jackson met her halfway.
“I said this is really cool!” He yelled, his voice barely audible over the crowd, “Thanks for inviting us along!”
“Yeah! This is awesome!” Matt added. He gave the bartender an appreciative nod and grabbed his drink as it was served.
“I’m glad you could come!” Zoie replied as she carefully juggled holding three cups. The boys offered to help take the rest. “Ryan raved about you guys. You seem really cool!”
The smile never left Matt's face as he followed her through the crowd, his eyes trained on the back of her head. "You should hear what he says about you!"
"Wha?!" Zoie called back, turning her head to get a better listen. She could barely hear her own voice over the music, let alone anyone else's.
Matt waved it off and shook his head, saying he'd tell her later.
After a few careful steps and a lot of yelling ‘Suimasen!’, the three of them made it back to their spot and started dispersing drinks.
The next band had a group of all guys dressed like they belonged on a 90’s Thrasher mag. A stark contrast to the gritty, loud, thrashing vocals of punk music that blasted through the speakers. If Blink, Sublime, and the Sex Pistols all rolled into a rigid, fast-paced sound, this band would’ve been the result. Ryan couldn’t help but look around as people jumped and thrashed and got completely lost in the sound. He had to keep himself planted to the floor as best as he could as bodies knocked into him over and over. Zoie stood next to him pumping the rock sign in the air as she headbanged alongside Bee and Harry. Matt kept holding his phone up and turned on the spot, trying to film the insanity that transpired around him. Japan’s gig scene was a complete 180 to what he thought it would be. This wasn’t organized chaos with a few respectful claps and synchronized cheers. This was an underground show at the Wiltern in LA, or a pop-up gig at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. It was full of high energy, rebellious spirit, and good vibes.
As soon as they finished their set, the host came back out to announce the final act of the night. Yuki put her fingers to her mouth and whistled sharply as he called ‘Wanima’ to the stage.
The second Zoie's friend Akoni stepped out with their guitarist, Zoie cheered at the top of her lungs. Bee and Haru followed suit as they yelled something in Japanese. The man peered out at the crowd and smiled, pointing a drumstick their way before taking a seat at his set. Ryan couldn’t help but notice his outfit and smile; the guy proudly sporting an open hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and socks with sandals. They all watched as the band’s frontman came up to the mic rocking an LA Lakers jersey, patterned weed leaf shorts, and Vans low-tops that had been through hell and back. All three of them looked like they either owned a surf shack by the beach, or were living homeless under the Santa Monica Pier.
And the boys loved every bit of it.
The band worked the crowd up with humorous little musical ditties and rapid-fire conversations between one another before any proper song had started. Even though Ryan and Matt couldn’t understand much of what was being said, they still couldn’t help but laugh when everyone laughed, and cheer as everyone else cheered. The energy of it all was infectious. As Akoni smacked his sticks together and started their first song "Japanese Pride”, Ryan got out his phone to film the crowd around him. Everyone held their hands up and pumped in unison. It was a concoction of pop-punk that took a casual turn towards ska and surf, something along the lines of Sublime but with the familiar brand of Punk that Japanese bands were well-known for.
Akoni’s band seemed different, though. Perhaps for the infectiously care-free mood they seemed to permanently exist in. With all three members of the band grinning like Cheshire cats as they played, it was easy to see why they attracted such a loyal crowd. The songs were catchy and had great sing-a-long moments, with enough breakdowns to give everyone on the floor a chance to mosh about and crowd surf.
“Shake! Shake! Shake! Japanese!” The crowd cheered.
The vocalist pressed his lips up to the mic and started skipping along each end of the stage. “Kono mamaja owarenai nihon no samurai!”
“Shake! Shake! Shake! Japanese!”
“Kono mama kakure teru ninja ja waraenai!”
“Shake! Shake! Shake! Japanese!”
“Sushi, geisha, tenpura, Fuji-yama, hara-kiri!”
“Shake! Shake! Shake! Japanese!”
“SHAKE! SHAKE! SHAKE! JAPANESE!”
Ryan let out a laugh as some shirtless man, clearly drunk, hopped up on stage and jumped up and down with the lead singer. The man didn’t seem to mind one bit. He just slung his arm over their shoulder and pulled them in, the pair staggering about as they belted the lyrics with an amazing amount of passion. As soon as the song finished, the guy held out the sign of the horns before diving headfirst into the crowd, somehow flipping over onto his back as everyone came together to lift him and coast him along to the back. Ryan gave the guy a short burst of sharp whistles and cheered him on.
During their third song Nagisa no Utakata, the gin was finally starting to hit. Ryan latched onto Matt with one arm and held Zoie close with the other. The three of them swayed and bobbed to steady sounds pulsing through the speaker. The energy was as high as it was infectious. Akoni tossed and twirled his sticks around his fingers as Kenta jumped and kicked and spun around on stage, his scraggly long hair whipping around. Both Harrison and Matt looked at them with stars in their eyes, clearly having found their new favorite band. Zoie let out a loud cheer as two girls suddenly climbed up on stage and started headbanging with the two guitarists. That seemed to only fuel the crowd as they got even louder.
She turned her head back to face Ryan, watching him as he snapped a picture of the stage. He looked down at her with awe and joy in his eyes and wore a grin from ear to ear.
She shut her eyes and smiled as he gave the side of her head a brief kiss. He broke away slightly, studying her face as the colorful lights danced across her skin. Hues of rose and violet shifted over them, casting a trippy glow over the venue. Her eyeshadow shimmered like little galaxies under the light, tiny stars shifting and fluttering with each blink.
She could feel her heart thundering behind her chest as her eyes flitted over his face. His gaze was intense. Really intense. Were it anyone else it would’ve made her felt small, embarrassed even … but something about it ensnared her, pulling her in and keeping her right where she was.
Her eyes flitted down to his lips, and she felt her stomach ache with a sickly-sweet feeling. Something in her made her want to swipe her thumb over and admire them, even as some invisible force pulled them closer and closer to one another. She couldn’t help but smile as she leaned in and pressed her lips up against his.
“Dude I need a shirt!” Harrison slurred loudly as the show ended and things began winding down. “Do they have merch here? I want a shirt!”
The spindly brunette turned around every which way, practically twirling on the spot as he tried to find the merch booth. Zoie couldn’t help but giggle at him.
“It’s in the back,” She directed. Harrison started moving like a bat out of hell towards the back. “Wait wait wait, I’ll take you! It’s in a weird spot! Harrison!”
She gave Ryan an apologetic look before peeling herself away from his gentle hold on her waist. He still stayed latched to Matt, who remained a steady anchor as his head fell onto the blonde’s bony shoulder. He watched her the whole time as she walked away into the crowd, his eyes soaking up her frame. She didn’t have a bad angle, he realized.
“C’mon, bud.” Matt’s hand slipped into his and he felt himself get pulled towards the exit. A lazy grin stretched across his face as he followed his best friend out of the venue and into the cool Tokyo night air.
It was right then he realized that this was one of the best nights he’d had in a long, long time.
By the time they reached the Golden Gai, and Ryan had finally gotten a bottle of water in him, he was starting to sober up. Granted he still had on a goofy smile and the euphoric feeling still buzzed in his veins, but he was nowhere near the level of trashed that Harrison was fast approaching. He was clinging onto Haru and Jackson for support as they staggered from one bar to the next.
The last bar Yuki led them into was a hole in the wall space called Albatross. A small, sexy and rather intimate bar with a Gothic vibe. Dramatic chandeliers, mellow music, and eclectic artifacts; the space was dark and cozy, enough for them to sit shoulder to shoulder with lively patrons from all over the world. Matt stayed busy raving about the show with the others while Zoie and Ryan sat at the very end, keeping a quiet conversation going with one another.
“I like it,” She chirped simply. Her fingers toyed with a piece of his hair and he smiled.
“Yeah," she mused, "You should wear it down more often.”
He let out an airy chuckle through his nose, his eyes briefly flitting down to her lips and back up again. He watched as she casually placed an unlit cigarette between her lips. Without skipping a beat, he reached over for the bar matches sitting on the counter and carefully lit one, holding out the flame for her. She flashed him an appreciative smile as she leaned in. He felt his insides starting to twist as her hand came up to gently steady his. He looked down at her fingers as they briefly smoothed over his knuckles before letting go.
“So, you do anything else fun today?” She smiled softly and chuckled, “Besides ogle random piles of hair on the street?”
Ryan stifled a soft snicker as he took a sip of his drink. “Yeah. We, uh, went shopping around the backstreets of Harajuku. Did a little souvenir shopping for people back hom—”
“Y'know, Ryan’s got a cute little honey waiting for him at home,” Jackson rolled his head over in Ryan’s direction, suddenly pulling the guy into a separate conversation about girlfriends with the others. “She’s a real hottie too. Don’t you Ryan?”
Zoie took a tiny hit from her cigarette. For a split-second her smile slipped before returning. "Ooh, do tell.”
Matt leaned over and gave his best friend an intent stare. “Yeah, do tell, Ryan. Tell us about your honey.”
The brunette took a small sip of his drink before letting out a thoughtful sigh.
“… Well, she’s tall … Blonde … Got an ass for days,” An impish grin stretched across his face as he started to giggle. “And her name is Ann Watson—”
Matt set down his drink with a clang. “RYAN! I swear to christ—”
All three boys let broke down into a fit of laughter, and Zoie gave them all a confused face.
“Wait, who’s that?” Ryan shook his head, wanting to say ‘no one,’ but too broken with laughter to say so. The look on his face made her smile and she whipped around to face Matt. “Who is that?”
“My mom,” he mumbled as he brought his beer glass to his lips.
“Your mom?!” she quoted, her brows braising.
“Yeah.” He watched as Zoie put a hand over her mouth to hide her laugh. “Ryan’s just full of goofs and hahas, ain’t he? Ryan Magee, everybody!”
“I’m sorry, Matt!” He laughed, “I’m sorry. I’m just goofing ya.” He gave his friend a solid pat on the back, and Matt flashed him a cheesy grin before turning back to Yuki as she held up her phone.
“Jidori desu!” She called, getting everyone behind her to look at her phone. She held up the peace sign while Matt and Ryan smiled and did the same. “Hai, cheezu!”
As soon as she snapped the photo, she looked down at it and cackled.
“Zo-chan! Majikayo!” She leaned over to show both boys the picture. Sitting at the far end, Zoie had leaned over and flashed an ugly face as she gave them both the finger. “Busu.”
Zoie nearly choked on her cigarette as she sputtered and let out an odd noise. Bee reached over and swatted her friend on the arm, Yuki chuckling and turning in her seat.
“Ne, Raitchi,” She called, earning Ryan’s attention. She pinched the screen and zoomed in on Zoie’s face. “Mecha busu dayo ne?”
The bartender covered his mouth and turned away, attempting to hide his laughter and failing. Horribly.
Having no idea what Yuki had just said, Ryan turned to face Zoie. “What?”
Zoie’s lips pinched shut as she struggled to regain her composure, visibly shaking as a laugh continued to rack through her. She took a series of small breaths, still cackling as she said, “Ugly.”
He didn’t quite catch that. The state of her as she tried to keep it together had distracted him, making him chuckle. “Wait, wha?”
“She’s calling me ugly!” Zoie repeated.
“Un,” Yuki said with a nod. “Busu. Ugly.”
“Busu,” he repeated intently, earning another series of laughs (and a few head turns) from every Japanese speaker around the bar. Zoie lost it all over again, and she put her hands to her face as she all but shrieked into her palms.
“Stop it!” She whined through her laugh. She reached out and tugged on his arm. “It’s really rude! Don’t say it.”
“Yeah, don’t say. Don’t say,” Yuki chirped in her best english, “Tomodachi to dake – Only with friends. Ne?”
He nodded with a small “Ah,” and giggled into his drink as the friendly banter went on around him at the bar. Deep down, his heart did a series of backflips. She said they were friends.
Matt and the others laid sprawled out across the couches as Harrison and Haru shared a heartfelt (and mildly ear-splitting) duet in the Karaoke room. Leaning onto each other for dear life, the pair swayed from side to side as the lyrics scrolled across the tv screen, their voices bouncing off the walls in the small space. Jackson and Matt whooped and whistled their support as they all but screeched a high note, falling apart with laughter soonafter. Zoie got out her phone and took a snapchat selfie, holding down on the record button as she filmed her and Ryan. As soon as he saw her filming, he leaned over and gave the camera a cross-eyed stare. She sputtered a laugh and cut the video short.
The night seemed wind down and blur as the Tucker brothers sang anime intros with squeaking voices, as Matt squawked an old 90’s rock song all while flashing an ugly face where he sucked in his cheeks and puckered his lips. The very look of it made Zoie cover her eyes, and Yuki whine and laugh as he got up in her phone as she filmed.
“Oh man, I need fuckin’ water, dude,” Matt slurred. He put a hand to his head and laughed. “I’m trashed.”
“Here.” Jackson handed over his glass and smiled. “It’s just water.”
Ryan and the others watched as Matt took a hearty gulp before putting the mic back up to his lips.
“Fuck you. That’s not water, you asshole! It’s fucking sake!”
A mess of laughs erupted throughout the tiny room. Bee and Yuki threw their heads back laughing while Haru rolled over and fell off the couch.
“It’s not sake, it’s Soju!” Jackson yelled over everyone’s hysterics.
“Well what the fuck! You said it was water!” Matt’s voice echoed through the speakers. “I’m so drunk, and I—!”
As the boys continued to argue with each other, Zoie tossed an onigiri wrapper his way and laughed as she got up. Careful to avoid the mess of limbs sprawled out on the floor, she made her way out of the room and slid the door shut behind her. A cool breeze hit her warm skin and she sighed. Thank god. It was getting stuffy in there.
Using the wall for support, she staggered down the hall a few steps before stopping. She leaned back against it and sighed. She felt heavy and light at the same time, a lazy smile etched on her face. Tonight had been wonderful. She hadn’t had this much fun in forever. Part of her wished that it didn’t have to end.
A huge part of her.
And just like that, the tiny voice came back taunting “Two weeks” in the back of her head.
Two weeks. 14 days.
She put her hands to her face and rubbed. Two weeks. Why only two weeks? She wished they could stay longer. God, why did they live so far away?...
The door next to her suddenly opened with a loud squeak and she jumped.
“Oh! shit—” She watched Ryan lean out and stare down the opposite end of the hall before looking at her.
“Sorry,” he chuckled as he stepped out.
She shook her head. “No, it’s okay I—” She stopped as he walked up and suddenly leaned down, pressing his lips against hers. She let out a muffled noise in surprise, pulling back for a split second to look at him, before smiling and leaning in again. His facial hair tickled her nose and chin, eliciting a breathy giggle from her as she took him by the hem of his shirt and gently pulled him close.
He’d disregarded the fact that she was wearing lipstick over how plush her lips felt against his. How the scent of her perfume lingered lightly. He relished in the feel of her fingers smoothing their way past his cheeks and up to his scalp. He let out a groan of approval as her fingertips toyed with the roots, sending a delicious tingle down his spine. His kisses moved from her lips and cheeks down to her neck, the scent of orange blossom and musk tingling his senses.
Just then, the door next to them swung open and Matt popped his head out.
The sudden noise made them both jump and pull apart. The second Matt realized what was happening, he let out a swear and popped his head back in, apologizing profusely.
As soon as the door shut, they looked at each other with wide eyes before sputtering a laugh. Zoie tilted her head up as Ryan leaned down and gave her a kiss, the two of them giggling and smiling into each other’s lips.
“It’s 23:40, come on! Hayaku!”" Haru yelled, pulling Bee and Yuki along as they ran head-first into the chaos of the Last Train crowd. Scores of Salary Men and Office Ladies filled the station. All Ryan could do was hold on to Zoie and Matt’s hands as they were pulled through the crowd towards the proper platform. The second they reached Platform 14 for Shibuya he felt Zoie let go. There was only little time to wave goodbye to the Tucker brothers and give Matt a hug. The platform was starting to fill up. She apologized lightly as she occasionally knocked shoulders and accidentally bumped into strangers. Carefully sliding past a small handful of office workers, she reached out and took Ryan’s hand, giving it a squeeze before letting go. The train doors slid open, and like a sudden wave the crowd pushed them apart. Zoie retreated towards the stairs with Haru, Bee, and Yuki in tow. Ryan watched and waved to them from afar, trying not to trip over as he felt himself getting pushed into the train by the crowd.
“Mata aeru yo ne!” Yuki called from the steps. “See you!”
Matt raised hand above his head and waved before hopping inside, Jackson and Harrison doing the same. Ryan kept his eyes on Zoie the whole time, wishing that they didn’t have to travel in the opposite direction of each other. He watched as she flashed him a sweet smile and waved before turning around to run up the stairs towards the Red Line.
“Tadaimaaa,” Harrison cooed to no one in particular. As soon as they stepped into their small Harajuku Airbnb, Harrison kicked off his shoes and staggered over to the pullout couch, plopping face down into the plush cushions. Matt plopped down next to him cradling a bottle of water and a bag full of impulse buys from 7eleven. He wore a lazy grin on his face as he shut his eyes and sighed.
“Holy fuck was that fun.”
“So much fun,” Jackson mumbled as he pulled off his shoes. He padded over to the only bed and crawled in, letting out a sigh of relief as he sank into the mattress. As everyone passed out around him, Ryan quietly slipped off his shoes and walked over to the balcony.
Zoie sat outside on her balcony in her old Looney Tunes shirt and underwear, a burning cigarette nestled between her fingers. She brought her knees up to her chest as she sighed, watching the city lights as they flickered and danced across the sea of various buildings. The city buzzed with a kind of sleepy energy, with the quiet thrum of cars in the streets and the scattered voices of young partiers who stayed out late drinking.
She took a tiny hit from her cigarette and sucked in a sharp breath, letting it out in a quiet sigh...
Ryan watched from above as a group of people in business attire staggered down the alleyway, their laughs bouncing off the concrete walls in the narrow space. They all worked together to hold up one man, who had clearly drunk the most, and help peel him up out of the trash he stumbled into.
He flicked the filter of his cigarette with his thumb, watching the ash as it fell into the dark. He looked back out at Harajuku. It was practically a ghost town, but it had an eery calmness to it. People still walked the streets, wandering aimlessly and quietly as they admired closed shops and undoubtedly waited for the 5am train. He took a small drag and sucked in a breath as he got out his phone, exhaling slowly as he pulled up the texting app. He kept his cigarette pinched between his lips as he a snapped a selfie and hit ‘send.’
She perked up as her phone jingled a delicate tune next to her. Fully expecting it to be her mom wanting to FaceTime, she set her cigarette down and picked up her phone. A smile stretched across her lips when she saw the text notification. She opened it up to see a rather dark picture of Ryan outside his apartment, a cigarette dangling lazily over his lips. A line of text had been typed across.
Can’t sleep. You up?
She pulled up the camera and looked at herself, smoothing some of her dreads behind her shoulder before she grinned and snapped a reply photo.
Ryan looked down at his phone with a smile. She gave the camera a toothy grin, splashes of color from the city lights decorating her features. She looked tired but alert at the same time, much like him.
Before he got a chance to reply, his phone suddenly buzzed and Zoie’s profile pic spread across the screen.
“You really up, huh?”
“Yeah, I’m still wide awake,” He took a small puff and sucked in a breath, exhaling into the night air. “What are you doing up?”
“Thinking,” she replied honestly. Her eyes fell to her cigarette as ash slowly began building up. “I had so much fun tonight.”
“Me too,” he admitted. He immediately thought back to the concert and smiled. “I never thought concerts here would be like that. It was nuts.”
“I told you this place would surprise you.”
She giggled softly into the phone, and suddenly Ryan wished he was next to her again.
There was a moment’s pause between them. A comfortable silence as they sat and smoked and looked out of their respective balconies at different views. After a few minutes, Zoie finally snubbed her cigarette out on the concrete and stepped back inside.
She stretched her arm above her head with a grunt and plopped down on her bed. “Tell me something about yourself.”
“What?” he asked as he inhaled, his voice briefly hallowed out with smoke.
“Tell me something about yourself.”
He let out a sharp exhale and snubbed out his smoke.
“…Something about myself,” He quoted, humming a little in thought, “Well, I … have a dog.”
He heard her gasp and she instantly perked up.
“You have a dog?!” She heard him laugh lightly on the phone and she giggled. “And you haven’t sent me pics?! What the hell.”
“I’m sorry,” He yelped quietly, lowering his voice for the sake of his friends sleeping inside. “I’ll be sure to send you some.”
“You better,” she warned, the smile clear in her voice. “What’s his name?”
“Lego,” He replied as he got up off the floor. “I adopted him a while ago. He’s a good boy.”
“Um, all dogs are good boys,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah okay, but Lego is …” He paused for a second. God, just the thought of him brought a smile to his face. “Lego is the goodest of the good boys.”
“I bet,” she said with a sigh. She rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “I have a cat.”
“Really,” he remarked in surprise. Last time he was there, he didn’t recall seeing a cat.
“Yup, his name's Jiji, She let out a brief yawn as she spoke, “I let him stay over at my neighbor’s … for a couple days while the room was being sprayed. He’s a fuckin’ goob and licks everything. I couldn’t risk it.”
He gave a soft chuckle as he re-entered the apartment and carefully made his way over to the bed. Matt and the Tucker brothers were passed out cold on the pull-out, but he kept his voice low anyway.
“How many family members do you have?”
“Oh, god. Too many,” She sighed, “You?”
“Aw … What’s your worst fear?”
“Being stuck out in open water,” he admitted. “I’m terrified of it.” He turned away to yawn before putting the phone back to his ear. “What’s yours?”
“Tornadoes,” she said right away. She heard Ryan snicker lightly. “What?! It’s true! I don’t fuck with tornadoes. At all.”
“Are tornadoes even a thing in Japan?”
“No, thank god,” she said with a faint laugh. “They are in Illinois though. I hated summer weather there. Growing up, I’d lose it whenever there was a storm. Didn’t matter if it was just a severe weather warning, I’d just haul ass straight to the basement.”
“Aww,” he muttered, a sleepy grin on his face.
Time seemed to blur with every passing minute, and the conversation fell into a comfortable, quiet exchange; full of light sleepy laughs and lazy smiles. They talked about whatever crossed their minds only minutes away from the witching hour; favorite movies, least favorite foods, what made them happy, what drove them crazy, and everything in between. They sat in silence for a while at some point, listening to the quiet sounds of one another’s breathing, along with the city thrumming behind their windows. For a while everything was calm, like there’s a lull in the universe, and they couldn’t help but go with it.
1. “Konsāto o miru koko ni iru?”
Are you here to see the show? (casual/informal)
2. “Nihongo dekiru?”
Do you speak Japanese? (casual/informal)
3. “Chotto. Chotto hanase shimasu.”
A little. I can speak a little.
4. "Dekiru desu,”
5. "Oi, nan to itte, ‘Ry-tchi'. Kare ga Ry-san."
ay, what are you saying? "Ry-tchi." He's Ryan.
Hey! or Hi! (super casual, usually used by girls)
7. "Jidori desu!"
8. “Mata aeru yo ne!”
"Till next time!" or "See you!" (casual/informal)