This is kind of a prequel to one of my stories. It is set in Japan and I know people aren't very fond of that setting. However I don't see how I can make it work in another country because of the themes. It's okay if you don't read all of it, every little bit of feedback is welcome.
(Also there are two references hidden!)
Thanks a lot for taking the time to read it.“The train is now boarding. Please step back.”
I can't. I just can't do it. The doors are closing in front of me. I turn my back on the train. A sigh escapes my lips as I wonder where I should stay tonight.
First things first. I take out my cellphone and text my parents I won't be coming home this weekend. I don't wait for a reply. My bag is quite heavy but I try to look like I lift it quite easily. Girls aren't weak. At least I'm not.
After leaving the station I step on the streets and inhale deeply. What now?
Another sigh. I can't continue like this. So many people passing by. I watch them for a while. They look busy, too busy to mind anyone. A woman falls down on the street. Her knee is bleeding, but nobody is offering a helping hand. She gets up by herself and continues to walk as if nothing happened.
That's today's society for you. Nobody cares about anyone but themselves. Showing weakness means you'll be left behind. There's only little warmth left in this world and it's not worth looking for it. Can’t say I’m much different right?
No use crying over spilled milk. I need to accept these facts now before it's too late or I'll be hurt.
I feel like a rock in the middle of a river. The crowd flows around me. They're avoiding me the same way they would streetlight posts.
As I start walking I start thinking about the future. I have to make money somehow. I have to stop relying on my parents. I can't really work during daytime and nighttime jobs are a no for minors. If I'm not very lucky, I won't be able to get a job in a soap land or the likes. People in that business became more careful after the police started to enforce the law more strictly. Good for those being exploited, bad for me.
Since I'm in the shopping district anyway, some window shopping can't hurt, maybe it'll inspire me. I'm a highschool girl after all, a bit of daydreaming might lift my spirits. I can continue facing the harsh reality afterwards. It won't go away from looking away but it's important to let mind and soul rest for a bit.
While looking at a beautiful frilly summer dress, my daydreams are harshly interrupted by a stranger's voice.
“It's a beautiful dress, isn't it? The colour is refreshing.”
My body stiffens. Why is a stranger talking to me?
“Yes. Lilac is my favourite colour”, I reply and turn to him.
It’s an older man.
Suddenly a thought occurs to me: enjo kosai. I read about it in a newspaper, all the girls do it nowadays. While this would still be illegal, it would be a good source of income. Why didn’t I think of it earlier? But… Will I really be able to do it? I haven’t prepared at all, but maybe I can net in this guy. I mean why else would he talk to me like that?
“I'm sure it'd suit you.”
His voice and smile are kind. I should be cautious but he doesn't strike me as the violent type. Let's see how far I can get.
“It's pretty expensive though”, I sigh and look the dress with sad eyes. He's a typical business man - nice suit, seemingly expensive watch, short hair, a thin and important looking bag in his hand and also a small belly. His hair seems a bit greasy, but I can make this work.
“Well, it's a good quality brand after all. How about we go inside and you try it on? We can buy it then.”
“But I can't really accept a gift from a stranger!” I try to play innocent.
“Don't worry about that. You looked so sad… If that dress would make you happy, I'll gladly buy it for you.”
“But I don't even know your name.”
“Natsukawa Kenji. Pleased to meet you.”
“Chikamatsu Joruri. The pleasure is all mine.”
The man smiles gently. Should I give in now?
“I'm sorry, but still I can't accept. It would make me feel bad. I would never be able to repay.”
“Then how about that: We'll buy this dress and you'll put it on. Afterwards we'll have dinner together. That way I won't eat alone again and you can pay me back by keeping me company.”
“So you're lonely too…” I tilt my head to look like I'm thinking about it. But I already made my decision. I just need a bit of courage. “I guess it's okay then. It'll benefit us both so there's no debt.” I smile back at him.
“Well, then it's settled.” He opens the door. His movement is quite elegant.
While I put the dress on, he already pays it. We leave the store and he offers to link arms. I agree.
“You didn't even know if it would suit me, yet you payed right away?”
“A beautiful girl like you would look good in anything. A beautiful dress like this only compliments your natural beauty.” It's not like I’m an expert, but that compliment really is too much.
After we took a few steps, he asks me what restaurant I'd like to go to.
“Hmm… I really like Teppanyaki, but something like Ramen would be less expensive…” I think out loud.
Suddenly a tall man steps in front of us and my smile freezes. “You are too nice, Oniisan!”
A shiver runs down my spine. The man's body language is clear. Danger is approaching. Is he a Yakuza?
Instantly I let Kenji’s arm go and take a step back.
“Good evening.” The stranger's voice is as cool as his gaze. “Out on a date?”
“S-she’s a relative of mine. We're out to celebrate her birthday.” Kenji looks nervous. There's no way anyone would believe in his lie. There is just hoping I can get out of this unharmed.
“Ah, is that so? Then why did you introduce yourself to her?”
Kenji looks down. He tries to walk away, but the man blocks his way.
“Leaving your relative alone with a shady looking stranger, eh? That's rude. A man should protect a girl when in danger, even when she's a stranger. But you? You're just a wimpy bastard, hitting on school girls, trying to abuse them.”
“I- I I'm sorry!” Kenji bows deeply. Just a coward. I'm a bit disappointed but also stressed. I will have to deal with this guy by myself.
“Shouldn't I tell the police about you harassing an underage girl?”
“I- I w-won’t do it again. I promise! I deeply apologise. So please forgive me. I've done wrong, I can see it now and I'm sorry!”
“Shut up! You really are annoying. Just leave and pray we won't meet again.” His voice is strangely quiet.
Kenji leaves as quickly as he can and leaves me behind. He does not look back - not even once. I sigh and look at the man.
He looks right back at me. His bushy brows make him look really scary.
There's a strange kind of tension but both of us stay silent for some moments.
“Why didn't you run away?” He breaks the silence.
“Would it have done me any good? Either you are my saviour and I should properly thank you or you are up to no good and wouldn't let me leave that easily.” I try to sound confident but feel like I'm failing.
“Interesting answer.” His smile is genuine, I think. but he still has a scary face...
“Why did you go with him?”
“That's none of your business.”
“Oh, is that so? Not too long ago you were able to trust a stranger, following him around to an unknown place.”
“I got something out of it. Plus, to be honest, he didn't look too dangerous. As you can see he's just a coward. I was safe.”
“But I'm too shady?” The man looks quite amused by now. He makes me feel like I can calm down a bit.
“Yes.” I'm getting the hang of playing brave and confident. I look him straight in the eye. He just starts to laugh quietly.
“If you need money, just come with me. I might have a job for you. If you can trust me, that is.” He walks past me.
I mean if he just lets me go like that he can't be that bad of a guy, right? Following him now might be the solution to my problems. Am I trusting people too easily? Am I just pretending to do so? I'm not sure anymore.
I follow the man and wonder if I’m still sane.
We end up in a cabaret club. In a VIP room to be exact. It's too early for business I guess because the club is pretty empty. Harada Eiichi - the strange man - really is shady because he is in fact the owner of this very business. But at least he doesn’t seem to be a Yakuza.
I'm sitting on a sofa, next to me a cute girl in a nice dress. I guess she's in her mid 20s.
“Joruri-Chan, right? Would you like some orange juice?” she asks me. I nod. She smiles and pours some juice in my glass. Even though she’s young, she also seems to be quite experienced in serving here.
Harada is sitting across the table, writing something on a sheet of paper.
“There are multiple ways we can approach this”, he says. “For example you could work here. Misaki would do your makeup and show you the ropes. Weekends are off.”
“What about the police? This is against the law. You would be taking quite the risk.”
“That's true, but as long as you stay quiet about this it'll work out. I have some friends who will help out if things get tough.” So at least he has Yakuza friends I guess.
The girl next to me, I suppose she’s that Misaki, smiles at me. “I'll gladly help you out. Being a hostess is hard work though. Just take Papa’s offer if you think you are up to it.”
“What about the payment?” I'm honestly interested.
“I can give you a room or maybe a small apartment, depending on how much you work and how well you are doing.”
“Sounds too good to be true. What about money? I have to eat and drink too, you know.”
Harada smiles. “We’ll get you food, don’t worry. But I’m hesitant to give you money. Let’s see how it goes first. If I can trust you not to spend your paycheck on drugs we might shift to money. There are some terms you have to agree to.” He passes me a paper. Misaki hands me a beautiful pen without being asked for it.
“Of course this is not a real contract but I think it's good to have something to refer to. I think you understand that in this business law can’t help you too much.”
Misaki and Harada start chatting, but I concentrate on reading.
I, ____, want to work at the Shining Lotus.
I will work on weekdays starting between 6pm and 8pm for at least 4 hours a day.
I agree to the following terms:
I will not talk to anyone about my work at the Shining Lotus
except the owners and the staff.
Exceptions might be talked about and agreed upon, but can be withdrawn any time.
If I want to take a day off
I will ask about it at least one week in advance.
I will still work for at least 20 hours a week/ 80 hours a month.
I will hide my age from the customers.
I will not consume any drugs including alcohol.
I will not date or sleep with any customer.
I will not take on another job.
If I happen to be short on money, I will discuss it with the owners first. They may or may not give me a higher payment or an additional job.
I will do my best to get good grades in school.
If any doubt arises, I will show proof of my grades to the owners.
I'm free to talk about any kind of problem to the owners as they will gladly listen and help.
Starting with point 6, things were starting to get more and more weird, but what's with point 8?
“I'm sorry for being rude, but how can I take this seriously? I mean… Talk to you about problems?”
“We are a family. Maybe you won't understand now, but this is not just another job. We want to make the customers feel at home. Only if the staff are feeling well they can convey that feeling to our customers.” He doesn't look mad, just dead serious about his business.
I nod and take a deep breath.
“You can always quit after working enough hours for the month”, he adds.
“Don't worry. Mama, Papa and I will teach you all you need to know.” Misaki smiles.
This sounds too good to be true… Reluctantly I fill in my name and sign the contract. So does… Papa.
“You should introduce her”, says Papa. Misaki gets up.
“Come, let’s meet Mama. Ah, and please just talk like you would at home. No need for horrifics or anything!”
Oh my, what did I get myself into?