A-san, a member of the block committee, generally left the personal lives of her neighbors alone, but her young daughter, A-chan of Prefecture B Middle School and part of the Go-Home club, paid a bit more attention. She invited her friends over every Wednesday for a study session, which usually involved less studying and more lounging around her room reading manga, eating snacks, and most recently, watching people from the window. Or, really, watching a certain neighbor going to and fro on his errands.
“There he is!” A-chan whispered to her friends, B-chan and C-chan. They crowded behind her, peaking over the sill and careful not to get caught.
A tall dark haired man in a tracksuit and mirrored sunglasses greeted a chipper woman in a professional suit. Whatever he showed her in the shopping bag he was carrying made her face light up, and holy moly, he was blushing.
“It’s so romantic,” B-chan murmured, clutching her hands to her heart.
All three backed away from the window and huddled in close to gossip.
“I wonder how they met?”
A-chan held up a finger. “I bet they were highschool friends.”
“She was the student council president,” C-chan joined in gamely.
“He was the resident delinquent!” B-chan offered.
She always noticed him from afar and wanted to help him, but couldn’t bring up the courage to talk to him because he was kind of scary. One day, she saw him rescue a stray cat from the rain and was won over by his gentle side.
“Or, maybe they were childhood friends,” C-chan said, picking up the thread.
They played together when they were younger, but grew apart and went to separate middle schools until one day, he transferred into hers after getting kicked out of his old one. He was still rough around the edges, and wasn’t that good at school work, so she tutored him. They kept growing closer and closer, until…
“They’d made a promise to get married on the playground when they were little, and their parents insisted on them keeping it,” B-chan interjected.
A-chan looked skeptical. “That’s too much like a manga plot, B-chan.”
B-chan pouted, and C-chan backed her up. “It could happen! Wouldn’t it be sooo romantic if it did?”
The girls sighed together at the thought, and spent the rest of the afternoon sharing snacks and wondering which of their recent manga obsessions was most possible to come true in real life.
Masa was sitting around with his bros when they started talking about his bigger bro, Tatsu.
“Yo, you hear?” said E-kun, flicking the ash from his cigarette.
“Hear about what, man?” F-chan asked, rubbing a sore shoulder. Masa, who spent more time with his bigger bro than any other bros nowadays, knew that guy would have a massager to offer him or something.
“The Immortal Tastu,” E-kun exhaled smoke in a long burst, “he got married, man.”
They all cackled like hyenas at the thought. “Who the fuck would want to marry him, bro?”
“I dunno, bro. How’d he even meet a woman?”
“Maybe she was some oyabun’s lady.”
“Bet she’s got a lot of fire.”
After wiping out the whole gang, Tatsu had her cornered but she wasn’t backing down. She had a knife to his belly, teary eyed but fierce, ready to gut him for what he had done. So, he liked the spark in her eyes, and after knocking the knife aside, said, ‘Why don’t you forget the past and try to think of the future, huh?’ And she swooned at his manliness and switched sides right there.
“Nah, man, he’s the straightforward type. He probably saw her on the street and couldn’t get her out of his head.”
Tatsu was walking one day and saw her walking, too. The breath knocked out of him; it was love at first sight. He followed her home, got her address, staked out her schedule. He waited for the perfect moment to appear with a super big bouquet of flowers and declare his love, “Will you do me the honor of dating me with the intention of marriage?” She was immediately charmed, ‘cause every lady loves ‘em some flowers and poetry and junk, and that was that.
“Maybe they knew each other. You know, before he entered the family. Heard he was always a rough kid.”
Tatsu and his lady were a thing back in middle school, but they broke up once the guy got too rough. Or he broke it off ‘cause she would be in danger and he couldn’t take putting his lady in a tough spot. Or maybe they weren’t a thing but met through a gang war: he was part of a rival faction and she was a Yankee chick trying to make a name for herself. He bested her in a duel of equals and they were a thing ever since. Or she beat him, and he had to serve her for the rest of his life.
Speculation died down as the discussion of romance brought forth a pervasive thought that knocked the whole room quiet: ‘ Man, I want a girlfriend!’
“Babe, you’re going to be late,” Miku warned, not the one in a rush for once, copying Tatsu’s usual griping tone.
“It’s fine, babe,” came the strained voice of Tatsu from the bathroom. He had a meeting with his friends from the neighborhood society and he had to look his best or something.
Miku turned a page in her magazine, and made it halfway through the spread before her husband burst into the front of the apartment like a rocket.
“Lunch is on the counter, unwrap it when you’re ready. I left the laundry out, so bring it in if I’m not back by 1400, ‘cause it looks like rain, okay? Loveyoubye.”
She was left slow blinking in the dust as her handsome boo grabbed his bag and scrambled out, slamming the door behind him.
There was a resounding silence. Tick-tick, went the clock on the wall. She leisurely finished her magazine and lay out on the tatami, listening to the clock and faint tinkle of the wind chimes Tatsu’d put up that spring.
She eventually found the energy to move, and stood by the island diving kitchen from living room, idly scratching the back of her calf with her opposite foot. On the counter was a plastic-wrapped plate of omurice covered in a bunch of ketchup hearts. “Don’t eat this too late,” read a note taped to the table. He’d even drawn a crude little smiley face, with crooked sunglasses and a sparkly smile.
Miku laughed into her fist, charmed. He’d been showing a lot of his cute side lately.
He definitely showed that softer side more nowadays than when they’d met, she considered. It had been on her mind recently, what with their anniversary coming up. Maybe they should go back there for something? She’d have to talk to him about it.
Miku yawned and stretched; her shirt lifted enough to show her back, and the tail end of bright swirling color there. He hadn’t changed that much, really; he still had abs that wouldn’t quit and a mean snacking game.
She loved him like oni-giri loved nori.
Miku picked up the plate and sat back down in the living room. Now to enjoy the rest of her day off with a home cooked meal and some video games.
“Sorry I’m late, I got caught in traffic, but-” Miku rushed in in a frenzy, juggling between her purse, suit jacket, and portfolio case.
The shop owner laughed it off and told her to take her time. She wasn’t late, exactly, but she’d hoped to get here sooner for more time to talk about the design.
M-san was a professional, and took his job seriously, even though he could only work with one person at a time. There was space to wait in the front; only once she’d put her things down and taken a breath did she realize she wasn’t alone.
The man across from her was crouched like a middle school delinquent and staring her down. She noticed, in order: a- he was shirtless; b- he had fantastic abs; c- he was wearing sunglasses indoors; and d- his ink was fantastic.
She tucked a loose hair behind her ear and smiled. “What are you getting?”
“Huhhhh?” he drawled in a ‘you talking to me’ way, bearing teeth like a snarling dog.
“Are you finishing a piece or getting something new?” she asked again, peering around to get a better look at his shoulders. Man those designs were really nice but this angle was bad.
He didn’t answer.
“Hey, do you mind if I take a closer look?” She was, inch by inch, ever closer.
“Uh,” he said, nonplussed, because this little lady was already in his space.
“You’ve got some really nice details on this one.” She wasn’t touching him, but her interest was enough to make the hardened yakuza type blush. Not that Miku noticed, turning to the design on his other side. “This isn’t from M-san. Who’s your guy?”
“Leave ‘em alone, Miku-chan,” interrupted the gruff voice of the shop owner.
She pouted and backed off. The tattooed guy was looking away, face in his hands. What, did he not want to talk about his stuff? But that was part of the fun, you know, talking about what tattoos meant to you.
“Your guy’s done,” M-san told the tattoo guy, sticking a thumb into the main area behind him. “Wanna pick him up?”
A younger looking guy was laid out on the shop chair with a blank expression on his face. He had a list of care instructions safety-pinned to his sleeveless shirt.
Oh, so he’d been waiting for someone? Miku felt kind of disappointed. He was interesting looking, even if he didn’t say much.
The guy stood up abruptly, through his friend over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and dumped him unceremoniously in the chair Miku had been sitting in. It was over in the space of a breath. (M-san muttered, in the background, “I didn’t mean literally…”)
She watched his muscles twitch and flex as he came to stand over her, a looming figure, and asked, red dusting his cheeks, “What’re you getting?”
Miku’s face lit up in a wide grin, and she started chattering at him about the details, from first concept (“It’s been on my mind for, like, ages, you know? But I didn’t know what it was going to look like until recently.”) to first session (“It’s all healed! But I’ve been so busy lately - and itching to come back.”) all through M-san resetting the space and getting her stuff out. She paused long enough to confer with M-san, a good twenty minutes, over the design and color details, with the guy (“Tatsu,” he supplied gruffly) hovering over her shoulder.
There was an awkward space between set-up and start when she had to remove her top layer so M-san could get to her back and Tatsu got real embarrassed for her and looked away (and almost broke a window trying to close the blinds). It was a while before Miku, laughing too much to really be convincing, got him to look back at her in her backless undershirt. He did a dogeza apology after, but it was fine, really. (And maybe she was charmed a little here, too, by how much he cared about her modesty and all that.)
At the first touch of needle against skin, she reached out to him. “Hey. Tell me about your tattoos.”
“Well,” Tatsu got to a halting start, rubbing the back of his neck.
After her session, they had a next date for coffee that weekend.
And, as they say, the rest is history (in a new disciple following the way of the house husband.)