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Hook, Line, and Sinker

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Shōta glares down at his phone screen.

Hey, sexy. I don’t normally go for stubble, but you make it work.

The message is followed by a winking emoji, and Shōta doesn’t even hesitate before unliking the man’s profile. Not for the first time, he wonders if Nemuri had actually made him this profile to get him a date, or if she’d just done it to mess with him.

At the very least if she’s going to like someone’s profile for him, she should pick someone halfway decent.

“There’s nothing wrong with being single,” Shōta mutters to himself, but instead of closing out of the app, he continues to scroll through the profiles. Unfortunately, he knows that if he doesn’t make at least a superficial effort, Nemuri will start setting him up on actual blind dates, and he’d much rather spend five minutes avoiding conversation by rejecting profiles than waste precious hours of his free time on terrible dates.

Thankfully, it’s easy to speed through the profiles when half of them are just shirtless chests. It’s not as if he’s not interested in sex, and on a rare occasion he finds himself pausing an extra second to take in a particularly well-proportioned picture, but sex always seems to be more work than it’s worth.

Part of Shōta wants to ask Nemuri if she’s just trying to live vicariously through him, but unfortunately he is well aware of how often she gets laid, if her drunk, oversharing texts are any indication.

A minute and twenty profiles later, Shōta’s about to exit out of the app when a certain profile catches his eye.

There’s something familiar about the photo.

He frowns at it for a moment, taking in the man’s artfully disheveled blond hair and angular sunglasses, neatly groomed mustache hovering over his grin. He’s not shirtless, Shōta notes idly, although the white t-shirt clinging to his chest doesn’t differentiate him that much from the other profiles, and Shōta’s about the reject him when an ad banner pops up at the bottom of his phone screen.

Shōta stares. After all, he hadn’t thought someone would be enough of an idiot to try to use superstar singer Present Mic’s face to catfish people.

Slowly, a smirk spreads over his face, and he likes the profile.

And, a moment later, the app congratulates him on a match.

For a moment, he considers sending the first message, but in the end, he just inspects the man’s profile. The rest of the photos don’t differ much from his profile picture: him posing with a Starbucks Frappuccino, lounging on a couch with an acoustic guitar, shirtless at the beach.

Yamada Hizashi, 27. Likes music and caffeine. Looking for someone to have fun with!

Shōta snorts as he reads the profile. It could practically be a parody account.

Out of curiosity, Shōta finds himself closing the app and opening up Instagram instead. Like the dating app, Nemuri had made an account for him, and briefly, Shōta wonders if he should start worrying about whether or not Nemuri is the type of person to commit identity theft.

A bit of searching later, he finds himself on Present Mic’s profile, full of dimly lit photos that somehow manage to make harsh stage lighting look good, interspersed with the occasional soft, daily life photo probably intended to make him look like a normal person.

To be entirely honest, Shōta’s never really understood the hype. Present Mic’s stage getup makes him look like some sort of bizarre parrot, with what is probably a hazardous amount of gel holding his hair up in a massive spike. He looks better in his ‘off’ mode, blond hair turned into something soft and silky-looking as it frames his well-ordered face, but his eyebrows are still angled a little weirdly and his mustache is ridiculous at best.

It probably wouldn’t be hard to find photos of someone just as good looking and less well-known to use for a catfish, Shōta thinks idly.

A little bit of scrolling through Present Mic’s Instagram reveals the photos from the dating profile. They’re entirely unedited, and Shōta lets out a little snort as he wonders just how gullible the catfish thinks he is.

Then again, the person hasn’t actually messaged –

Shōta phone buzzes with a notification.

Hey.

Shōta lets out another snort.

His phone buzzes again and he taps over to open up the app, bringing up the new message which says, There’s not much on your profile.

There had been a lot, actually, but Shōta had deleted most of what Nemuri had written for him, starting with, I’m 27 and need to find someone to share my life with before I start referring to my cats as my children.

For a moment, Shōta hesitates, but then he types out, I’m new to this.

He hits send and then wonders if it comes off as innocent and gullible or just awkward.

Me too! ‘Hizashi’ replies. Well, sort of. I’ve had the app for a while but I haven’t matched with anyone.

Briefly, Shōta considers replying with, Maybe you’d get better results if you found someone less famous to catfish with, but instead he says, My friend forcibly downloaded the app onto my phone and made me a profile.

You’re not much of a technology fan, are you? ‘Hizashi’ replies.

The corners of Shōta’s mouth twist up into a smirk.

I like it when it serves a purpose. I don’t have the time for Instagram and Twitter and dating apps.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to respond. In fact, Shōta almost thinks that he’s not going to respond, when another message pops up in the chat.

I feel that. The reason I decided to try a dating app was because my job keeps me too busy to meet people irl.

“I’m sure it does,” Shōta mutters to himself as he taps his fingers against his phone screen.

What sort of work do you do?  he asks.

This time, the answer comes quicker.

I dabble in a few different things, the new message reads. Another message pops up in the chat, which says, I’m mainly involved in music, though.

“Music,” Shōta repeats dryly. “You can’t even come up with your own backstory? I could report you for identity theft.”

Before he can reply, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

What about you?

Shōta hesitates for a moment, wondering how much he should say. It’s already abundantly clear that this is a catfish, but at this point it’s a little hard to tell if it’s just an attempt to get nudes from gullible idiots or if it’s a larger scam.

I’m a teacher, Shōta types out. Hopefully that’s vague enough to keep him out of trouble, but enough information that it’ll make him seem appropriately duped. I don’t really know anything about music.

It’s not really a lie. Although he’s aware of Present Mic, he can’t name any of Present Mic’s songs off the top of his head. The only reason he recognized the catfishing photos in the first place was because the train he takes to work has been plastered with Monster energy drink advertisements for the past month, Present Mic’s face displayed in all its photoshopped glory.

Shōta’s phone vibrates again.

And I don’t know anything about teaching! We’re a perfect match :)

At least it’s better than, Hey, sexy.

---

Bubble tea. Thoughts?

Shōta glances down at the new message that’s lit up his phone screen. Another text pops up a moment later, a photo this time, and Shōta looks at it until the screen goes dark again, before turning back to his computer.

“You’re not going to answer that?” Nemuri asks, leaning over the boundary of their desks.

“We’re at work,” Shōta answers, tapping at his computer keyboard.

“It’s summer break,” Nemuri huffs. She plants her elbow on the edge of Shōta’s desk, leaning further into his personal space as she tries to get a look at his phone screen, and Shōta’s glad he had the foresight to put his phone on the opposite side of the desk from her.

“And I’m trying to finish inputting absences into student records,” Shōta replies, reaching over to flip his phone over, so Nemuri can’t see the screen.

“You have more than a month to do that,” Nemuri complains, petulant. “You disappeared for an hour yesterday and I know you were taking a nap somewhere.”

Shōta doesn’t dignify her with a response.

“So, have you matched with anyone yet?” Nemuri asks, once it’s clear Shōta isn’t going to say anything more.

Briefly, Shōta considers telling her about ‘Hizashi,’ but she’d probably complain about him not taking things seriously and try to match him with someone else, so instead he says, “None of your business.”

“So you have,” Nemuri replies, a smirk spreading across her neatly pained lips. “Is that who was messaging you?”

Shōta shoots her a glare.

“Alright, alright,” Nemuri sighs, finally retreating back to her own desk. “You don’t have to tell me the details as long as you’re at least putting in an effort. You’re not going to find love by sitting at home and watching cat videos every weekend.”

“You sound like my mother,” Shōta snorts.

Actually, that’s an insult to his mother. She’s much less nosy.

Thankfully, Nemuri gets absorbed back into her own work fairly quickly. As annoying as her meddling can be sometimes, the only reason Shōta became a teacher was because of her incessant prodding, and he doesn’t regret it in the slightest.

Not that he’d ever actually admit that to Nemuri. She’d just become more insufferable.

About an hour later, Shōta closes out of the spreadsheet and stretches, office chair squeaking as he shifts his position. His coffee mug has long since gone empty, and he snags it as he gets up from his desk, and after a second of hesitation, he grabs his phone too.

There’s no one else in the staff kitchen, everyone either working or on break. There’s no lukewarm coffee remaining in the pot, so Shōta busies himself with making more, before plopping himself down at the table to wait.

Then, he turns to his phone.

Other than the, Bubble tea. Thoughts? and the photo, ‘Hizashi’ hasn’t sent him any new messages. The photo is one of Present Mic, grinning around a straw as he shows off his drink to the camera, dark tapioca pearls visible through the murky brown liquid.

Shōta exits out of the conversation and switches over to Instagram instead, tapping around until he gets to Present Mic’s profile. Sure enough, the first image that pops up is the one ‘Hizashi’ had sent him, posted only about fifteen minutes before Shōta had received the message.

The caption reads: Nothing better than brown sugar milk tea after a long recording session! 100% sugar to satisfy my sweet tooth, of course.

An idea pops into Shōta’s head, and he switches back to the dating app.

It’s fine as long as it’s not too sweet.

He sends the message and then locks his phone again, looking back over at the coffee maker. However, his attention is drawn back only a few seconds later, when his phone buzzes with a new message.

What?! What’s the point of bubble tea if it’s not sweet? It’s 100% sweetness brown sugar milk tea or bust for me.

Shōta can feel his eyebrows raise as he reads the text. The way ‘Hizashi’ had talked about working in the music industry had seemed to suggest that his plan was closer to full identity fraud instead of simple catfishing, and ‘Hizashi’ reciting Present Mic’s full drink order only confirms it.

Tea shouldn’t be sweet, Shōta types out. If it’s sweet then it’s just juice.

It takes a little longer for ‘Hizashi’ to reply this time.

Tea is made from leaves. Juice is made from fruit. Sweetened tea is just tea with sugar in it, therefore it is still tea and not juice.

The corners of Shōta’s lips quirk up into the barest hint of a smile as he reads the text, the indignant tone coming through clearly. Either ‘Hizashi’ is a method actor or he really does prefer sickeningly sugary tea.

It’s a good thing this isn’t a date.

Barely a second after sending the text, ‘Hizashi’ replies with a, ?

I wouldn’t be able to go on a date with you at a bubble tea shop, Shōta clarifies.

So you’re fine with arguing about tea sweetness over text but not in person?

Shōta’s smile turns into something more akin to a smirk as he types out his reply and hits send.

I wouldn’t be able to kiss you afterwards.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to respond. Briefly, he wonders if he should have left out the flirting, but this is a dating app after all, and he’s trying to appear appropriately catfished.

Eventually, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

I’m offended that you think I’m the type of guy who puts out on the first date.

Shōta lets out a soft, amused snort as he reads it, a teasing tone lacing the words despite any concrete evidence to suggest that ‘Hizashi’ is just messing around, and not actually offended.

You’re not?

‘Hizashi’ replies with a sad face emoji.

I’m a pure man, just looking for love, he adds in another text.

Your profile says “looking for someone to have fun with,” Shōta replies. It also has a picture of you shirtless.

So you’re just trying to get into my pants, ‘Hizashi’ says, following it up with another sad emoji for comedic effect.

I only like the profiles of men with shirtless photos. Yours was borderline.

“Ooh, are you texting the person who was blowing up your phone earlier?”

Shōta locks his phone before the message has even finished sending and looks up to glare at Nemuri, who’s sauntered into the kitchen and is grinning at him wide enough to rival the Cheshire Cat.

“It was one text,” Shōta snorts, slipping his phone into the dark depths of one of his tracksuit pockets.

Well. Technically it was one text and one photo.

“Uh huh,” Nemuri replies, sounding very unconvinced. “And you’ve been sitting here replying to that one text for how long?”

Shōta resists the urge to check the clock.

“I was waiting for the coffee maker,” Shōta finally says, grabbing his coffee mug and standing up from the kitchen table. He pauses, and adds, “And it’s summer break so I can take my time.”

“Take all the time you need,” Nemuri laughs, plopping herself down at the kitchen table. Shōta doesn’t dignify her with a reply, instead picking up the coffee pot and pouring himself a fresh cup.

It’s gone a little lukewarm.

---

He and ‘Hizashi’ have been talking – a lot, actually.

It’s nothing serious, just little snippets of conversation about whatever ‘Hizashi’ decides to pester him about. He’s gotten into the habit of sending Shōta a photo whenever he gets bubble tea, in a vain attempt to convince Shōta that sugary tea is not an abomination, and although Shōta suspects he knows that it’s never going to work, he seems to like the argument too much.

Not that he’d ever admit it aloud, but Shōta kind of likes the argument too.

Their messages never go deeper than that, though. It’s a bit of a relief, because at least it means that ‘Hizashi’ isn’t fishing for information, and despite how many stolen photos ‘Hizashi’ sends, he never demands any in return.

Shōta’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he reaches for it on instinct.

Think I’d make a good model?

A photo follows it a moment later, and Shōta has to bite the inside of his cheek to suppress a grin. It’s of Present Mic, of course, sitting in what looks like a dressing room, yellowish lighting illuminating the glitter painted across his cheeks. Shōta may not know a lot about makeup, but he’s fairly sure that’s eyeliner caked around Present Mic’s eyes too, making his bright green color-contact eyes pop.

Is that what you’re dabbling in nowadays? Shōta replies.

A moment later, his phone buzzes with a reply.

I haven’t quite broken through yet. The stylist keeps trying to shave my mustache.

The message makes Shōta actually grin this time, and part of him wonders if this whole thing is supposed to be an attempt at a Present Mic parody account.

Good riddance.

As he sends the message, he can almost imagine the offended look on Hizashi’s face.

Well, Present Mic’s.

Blocked, is all ‘Hizashi’ replies with.

Before Shōta can think of a proper retort, though, he’s broken out of his thoughts by the feeling of something bumping up against his calf.

“Sorry,” he says, glancing down to find that the scrawny black alley cat he was feeding has finished her food and is now demanding proper attention.

She continues to rub against his leg, so he sits down on the stairs leading up to his apartment building, before reaching down and hefting her up into his lap. She doesn’t seem to mind the manhandling, a little unusual for a stray cat, but Shōta supposes that maybe the past few months of feeding have softened her up to him.

“At least you’re slightly bigger than before,” Shōta snorts as he pets her, feeling the slightly less bony contour of her back underneath his fingers.

In reply, the cat bumps her head against his stomach and starts to purr.

Shōta’s just started stroking under her chin when he feels his phone buzz with another text.

What are you up to on this fine Friday night?

The text makes Shōta pause for a moment, and he starts to type out a reply, before changing his mind and deleting it. Instead, he switches to the camera app and snaps a photo of the cat curled contentedly in his lap.

The cat presses her head up against his hand, and Shōta dutifully resumes petting her, although he keeps his other hand free to hold his phone.

You know, your profile pic makes you look a little bit like a serial killer but now you’ve lost all your street cred.

“Serial killer?” Shōta snorts as he reads the message. Then again, his profile picture is a slightly blurry image Nemuri had stealthily taken of him at graduation, one of the few days of the year he actually bothers to shave, and had managed to catch him at the precise moment he’d started wishing that the ceremony would just be over already.

Another message pops up in the chat.

Part of me wants to ask how many cats you have and part of me really doesn’t want to know.

Briefly, Shōta considers replying with a ridiculous number, but instead he says, None.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to reply.

… then why is there a cat in your lap?

A smile tugs at the corners of Shōta’s lips and he brings up his camera app again, reangling his phone to capture an image of the four other stray cats wolfing down dry food from the bowls lined up against the side of the apartment building.

‘Hizashi’ responds with a message that says: So you’re being extorted for food by the cat yakuza. Got it.

Shōta lets out another little snort, somewhere between amusement and annoyance.

My apartment building doesn’t allow pets so I feed the strays, he explains.

So what you’re saying is that the only reason you’re not a cat hoarder is that you’re not allowed to be one.

One cat is not a hoard.

Unless I’m miscounting, there are four cats in the photo you just sent me, plus the one in your lap. Five cats is sort of a hoard.

Shōta doesn’t dignify that text with a reply, instead locking his phone and going back to petting the cat in his lap. Her purring gets louder, a steady rumble underneath his palm, the warmth of her small body seeping into his thighs through the fabric of his tracksuit.

However, a moment later he’s broken out of the moment by the buzz of his phone.

When he glances at the phone screen, he sees that it’s a photo instead of a text this time. Briefly, he considers ignoring it, but in the end curiosity gets the better of him, and he unlocks his phone again, tapping over to open the conversation and bringing up the picture.

It’s of a cat, a Scottish Fold from the look of its ears, coat a lovely dappled orange.

However, it’s the framing of the picture, more than the contents itself, that makes Shōta pause. Unlike all of the other photos ‘Hizashi’ has sent him, it’s a little angled, clearly devoid of a filter or any other editing for that matter. The cat is lounging on a plush carpeted floor behind a series of floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and Shōta’s forehead creases as he wonders if the photo was taken from the balcony of the building across the way.

Slowly, Shōta starts to wonder if this is the first original photo ‘Hizashi’ has sent him, instead of just scavenging from Present Mic’s social media accounts.

Another text pops up into view.

My neighbor’s cat.

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, Your neighbor has a beautiful Scottish Fold.

A what now?

The breed.

How can you tell what breed it is?? I thought all cats were the same.

The ears, Shōta replies. He doesn’t mention that Scottish Folds and Munchkin Cats are about the only breeds he can reliably recognize.

Wait the ears are supposed to be like that?

The ears are what makes them so expensive.

Expensive???

Up to 300,000 yen.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a moment to reply, and part of Shōta wonders if he’s googling the price to confirm.

So between one ridiculously fancy cat and five mangy alley cats, you chose the five alley cats. And you’re not a cat hoarder in the making?

Shōta takes ten more cat photos and sends them to ‘Hizashi’ out of spite.

---

“So,” Nemuri says over barbeque, licking sesame sauce off her lips. “Is that the same guy?”

Shōta relocks his phone and shoves it into his pocket without replying to the new message that’s popped up in his chat with ‘Hizashi.’

“None of your business,” Shōta huffs. Unfortunately, for Nemuri that’s as good as a ‘yes.’

“Are you going to finally show me a pic?” Nemuri presses, leaning further over the table, her breasts swelling up under the low neckline of her shirt. Shōta does the gentlemanly thing and pretends not to notice.

“No,” Shōta replies curtly, snagging a piece of beef off the grill before it crosses over to the wrong side of crispy.

“Well, if you’re not going to show me his picture then you have to at least tell me what the sex is like,” Nemuri huffs, pushing out her lower lip in a pout.

Shōta promptly chokes on his beef.

“I mean, it must be good if this guy has got you grinning down at your phone like an idiot all the time,” Nemuri continues, absentmindedly pushing a glass of water over towards Shōta. “He’s even got you sneaking off to the kitchen and bathroom to check messages.” A smirk curls the edges of her lips. “You’re not sexing during work hours, are you?”

“We haven’t had sex,” Shōta grits out, once he’s finally managed to clear his airway again.

Nemuri blinks at him, looking caught off guard.

“You’re joking, right?” Nemuri asks, her eyebrows disappearing up towards her hairline.

Shōta glares.

“The whole reason I downloaded that app on your phone was to get you laid!” Nemuri exclaims, like she’s personally offended that Shōta’s using a dating app for dating purposes, instead of quick hookups.

(Not that Shōta’s actually using it for dating either, but she doesn’t need to know that.)

Shōta almost says, My right hand works fine, but then thinks better of it.

“I’m not going to hook up with some stranger from the internet,” he says instead, snagging another piece of meat from the grill. “We had an assembly warning the students not to do that last month.”

Technically the assembly was more about not meeting shady internet ‘friends’ than about hookup apps, but the same principle applies.

“You’re an adult with fifteen years of judo training,” Nemuri replies, waving off his protests. “And you need to get laid before you become so much of a workaholic you start fucking your desk instead.”

“You’re disgusting,” Shōta says flatly.

“Studies suggest that sex reduces stress and helps people sleep,” Nemuri counters, snagging an onion off the grill. “And you could use both of those.”

Shōta can’t really argue with that.

The conversation progresses to other topics from there, but it still lingers in the back of Shōta’s mind. It’s been longer than he’d like to admit since he last had someone in his bed, but it doesn’t bother him usually, not when he has so many other things to occupy his time. He does like sex, though, likes the rush of endorphins and the heat of another body pressed flush against his, skin salty with sweat in a way that should be unappetizing, but somehow isn’t.

Of course, it’s not like he can actually have sex with ‘Hizashi.’ ‘Hizashi’ is exactly the sort of shady catfish they use in examples when talking to kids about internet safety, and as much as Shōta enjoys talking to him, there’s no way for him to justify meeting up with someone who he knows is lying about their identity.

Still, a small, small part of him thinks that sex with ‘Hizashi’ might be nice. He’d probably be fun in bed, at the very least.

You’ve been ignoring me all night :(

Shōta’s slumped in a seat on the train home when he finally digs his phone out of his pocket again to check his messages.

I was at dinner with a friend, he starts to type, but then pauses.

He deletes the message and drafts a new one.

I was looking to see if there were any new profiles with good shirtless photos.

He hits send before he can think better of it, and then wonders if half a beer with dinner is enough to impair his critical thought nowadays.

Mine isn’t good enough for you anymore?!

The text is followed by an emoji crying very dramatically.

There’s only one, Shōta replies.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ longer to reply this time. Shōta’s starting to wonder if he’d gone too far with the flirting, although it’s not anything worse than things they’ve said to each other in previous conversations, and the train reaches his stop before he receives a response.

As he walks the few blocks back to his apartment, part of Shōta wishes that he had some cool night air to bring him back to his senses, but the atmosphere is stifled by the heavy warmth of summer, and Shōta can feel a bit of sweat bead against his skin.

When he finally gets back into his apartment, he tugs off his shoes and then makes his way over the bed set up in the corner of the single room, collapsing down onto it.

Then he picks up his phone again.

‘Hizashi’ has sent a photo.

How’s this? the following message reads, and Shōta feels his heartrate kick up a notch as he taps on the photo, blowing it up to full size.

It doesn’t seem like one of Present Mic’s photos, at first glance, but the person’s face has been carefully cropped out of the frame. The person’s chest isn’t very muscular, but it’s not terribly weak looking either, slender and clean-shaven, except for the light dusting of hair leading down under the elastic of the person’s sweatpants.

Shōta feels a rush of arousal pool low in his stomach even though he knows the photo is a fake.

You cropped out your face, Shōta finally manages to reply.

I’m in the entertainment industry, ‘Hizashi’ replies. I can’t risk any compromising photos getting leaked.

For a split-second, Shōta’s mind superimposes Present Mic’s face onto the photo, and he pushes it out of his mind the moment he realizes what he’s doing.

You think I’d leak your photos?

No. The reply comes without hesitation. But technology is scary and Google owns everything.

A laugh escapes Shōta’s mouth before he can stop it.

I suppose it’ll do, he types out.

‘Hizashi’ sends him a winking emoji, but doesn’t ask for a shirtless photo in return.

Shōta’s almost disappointed.

---

Getting off to shirtless photos of ‘Hizashi’ doesn’t really change their relationship, somehow.

Then again, it’s not like it was actually a photo of whoever it is on the other end of the phone, and by the time Shōta had let himself slip fully into the fantasy, he’d ended up coming to an image of Present Mic with ‘Hizashi’s personality.

He’d felt guilty for approximately five seconds before reminding himself that Present Mic has done plenty of provocative photoshoots before, and it’s not like they’d ever meet anyway. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

It hasn’t happened again, though. Their conversations turn flirty occasionally, but they always turn mundane again soon enough.

Shōta collapses onto his couch as soon as he gets home.

Then, he digs his phone out of his pocket.

There’s a new message from ‘Hizashi,’ as there always is. It’s a photo of his neighbor’s cat this time, and Shōta smiles slightly as he looks at it, the orange cat stretched out in a pool of sunlight. ‘Hizashi’ has been sending him a new photo of the cat nearly every day now, and they’re by far Shōta’s favorites, a small peek into the life of whoever’s really behind this account, instead of just photos stolen from Present Mic’s Instagram.

Now which one of us is going to turn into a cat hoarder? Shōta replies.

He switches over to Instagram after he sends the message, bringing up Present Mic’s profile with practiced ease. Lately he’s started to play a game where he tries to guess what photos ‘Hizashi’ will send him, and he tries to memorize the captions to give him something to make questions out of, to see how deep ‘Hizashi’s commitment to this scam actually goes.

It’s strange, actually. ‘Hizashi’ always seems to choose recent photos, ones that could easily expose him as a catfish, but whenever Shōta asks him a question, he answers flawlessly.

“Maybe he actually is Present Mic,” Shōta mutters to himself. The corners of his lips twitch has he tries not to laugh at the thought.

Finally, his phone buzzes with a text.

Yeah, she’s so cute :)

The message makes Shōta pause.

He’s never seen ‘Hizashi’ use a regular smiling emoji before, instead of something more flashy.

So you agree that you’re going to turn into a cat hoarder, Shōta replies, his mouth twisting down into a frown.

It takes a little longer than usual for ‘Hizashi’ to reply.

Sometimes you just can’t fight human nature.

Shōta stares.

Loving small animals seems pretty intrinsic, ‘Hizashi’ adds a moment later.

Shōta hesitates, but then types out, Are you alright?

Again, it takes ‘Hizashi’ longer than usual to reply.

No, I’m not alright. You’re turning me into a cat hoarder!

It should come across as light and teasing, like their usual banter does, but there’s something about the phrasing that makes it seem heavy in Shōta’s mind, and his forehead creases to match his frown.

Are you alright? he asks again.

Another pause.

Do you have some sort of sixth sense? ‘Hizashi’ finally replies.

Is that a “no”?

Just had a rough day.

Shōta can almost hear the soft, self-deprecating laugh that accompanies it.

Tell me.

It’s not a request.

Just some reporters trying to rile me. I can handle them, though.

Briefly, Shōta wonders if this is still part of the whole Present Mic act, but something tells him it’s genuine. Maybe ‘Hizashi’ really does work in the music industry, although it’s probably something less glamorous, like a PA or manager.

Then again, it seems like he lives in a building across from a fancy high rise with tenants who own spoiled Scottish Fold cats. Maybe he’s an executive instead.

If you need to vent, then vent, Shōta says, typing out the message with careful taps. I don’t know anything about the entertainment industry so I probably won’t understand it anyway.

A few long seconds stretch on as he waits for a response. Eventually the seconds morph into a minute, and a minute into two, and Shōta’s about to put away his phone and accept that ‘Hizashi’ doesn’t want to talk when a very long message pops up on his screen.

It was just stupid people writing stupid articles. And I know it’s not true and I know everyone else knows it’s not true but if I get mad about it then that’s just another article for them to write and so I just have to deal with it. And then on top of that work went long today because the schedule got delayed because there was a big accident on the expressway which made people late.

Another shorter message appears below it.

And now I’m at home alone trying to figure out if I have enough energy to cook or if I’m going to order takeout for like the fifth time this week.

The business executive theory is getting stronger. Of course, that also means that ‘Hizashi’ is probably a balding fifty-year-old instead of a twenty-something popstar.

Order takeout, Shōta finally replies.

Thanks for taking one decision off my plate, ‘Hizashi’ says. He follows it up with a smiling emoji.

Shōta pauses for a moment, searching for something appropriately comforting to say. Before he can find the right words, though, his phone buzzes with another message.

Wow, I feel way better.

Shōta’s forehead creases.

I guess I just needed someone to notice I wasn’t doing well. Usually unless I make a scene out of it, people assume I’m fine.

So not arguing with me is your way of crying for help, Shōta types out, hoping his dry tone comes through in text form.

I wouldn’t say it was a “cry for help.” I just didn’t have the energy for it.

A small huff of laughter escapes Shōta’s mouth and his lips quirk up into a smile.

Clearly you’re fine now. He pauses, then adds, You should get a cat.

???

Barely a second later, You really are trying to turn me into a cat hoarder, pops up in the chat, and idly Shōta wonders how it’s possible for someone to type that quickly.

Pets are good for lonely workaholics, Shōta explains.

So now you’re calling me a lonely workaholic, ‘Hizashi’ replies, and Shōta can practically hear the indignant huff in his voice.

Am I wrong?

‘Hizashi’ doesn’t dignify his message with a reply.

Taking care of the stray cats in my neighborhood improves my mood when I don’t have the time or energy for human interaction, Shōta continues, typing out the text with careful movements. And if you vent to a cat, it’ll understand about as much of it as I do.

It takes ‘Hizashi’ a little longer to reply this time, and Shōta wonders if he’s googling “the benefits of cat ownership.”

Finally, ‘Hizashi’ says, I don’t have the time for a pet.

Shōta lets out a little snort. Aren’t famous popstars supposed to have personal assistants who are employed solely to carry around their poodles and Persians?

You don’t have to take cats for walks, Shōta replies. They just need a bit of attention every day.

He pauses.

Or you could just get two cats to occupy each other.

A couple moments pass before Shōta’s phone buzzes with another message.

If I end up with seven cats, I blame you.

If Shōta laughs, there’s no one to hear him.