Act 3: The Goal

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*Credit and thanks goes to MR. LEE'S!

Once class ends, Ren follows me to the food court, where I stop to grab two slices of pepperoni pizza and an iced tea. It’s around five in the evening, and Ren asks when I’m paying, “You’re eating that early for dinner? And that unhealthily?”
“Life of a university student, okay?” I give the cashier my credit card before retorting.

“Freshman fifteen . . .”

I snap at him, “I’m not a freshman anymore, okay?”

Ren’s mouth gapes, and his arms waddle back and forth in the air. “Wh-wh-what? You’re not a newbie at school? Oh god. My story needs to be changed. Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Now I have to restruc—“

“Well, you never asked.” I shift my gaze at him once again to grimace. “I’m twenty years old, and in August, I’ll turn twenty-one.”

He slams his palm at his face, groaning, “Oh god. Oh god. Why are you so old?”

Old? He’s calling me old? He’s the one that’s thirty! How dare he call me old, and what’s wrong with being twenty? I’m thinking more and more that he’s into young, pubescent girls. Gross. I’m hating . . . Oh no! I can’t hate him. Happy thoughts, Misa. Think of nice, cute marimo that you will eventually own one day. Ah, marimo. 

“Seriously . . . what am I going to do now? If I change your age, then this wouldn’t be a real story.” He snips away my good dreams, and I feel like I can hear glass shattering in the background. I find myself walking faster to the point where I’m lightly jogging. I can hear his feet stomping to catch up to me. “I think I’m just unlucky.”

Immediately, I stop at my heel and shout back at him, “You think you’re unlucky? What about me? Getting caught in your sh.it?” 

I almost crash into him, but he manages to back away just in time to state, “But, I’m paying you by the hour.”

“Yeah, if you get successful, then I’ll be able to get some money from you,” I argue. “A-a-and don’t use that stupid plot where the girl is a new student. University is so big. Who cares if she’s going to university for the first time? Just say that she has never dated before and then meets a crazy ass guy who won’t leave her alone. Tell them the truth, okay?”

Ren scratches the back of his head and asks, “So . . . you’ve never dated before?”

I let out a long, subdued groan. “Argh!” 

Ignoring him, I carry along the way back home. From all I said, that was what he got out of it? Seriously, I have to watch what I say when I’m around him. He means no good. He’s not even purposely teasing me. It’s just in his nature to ask these dumb questions that are blantantly blunt, and I’m stupid thinking that I can outrun him. The man is born with long legs, and he surpasses me easily. Then, he concludes, “Mhm, that does make my life easier. A virgin at twenty years old. Desperate for a boyfriend, and—“

“I am not desperate for a boyfriend!” I shriek at his face, almost spitting him in the eye. “I am perfectly fine with being single!”

His notebook now appears in his hands, and he scribbles down while remarking, “Has been single for so long that she has to brainwash herself into thinking that she is fine being alone. Decides to sign up for a psychological experiment to earn some hard cash. I think we’re getting somewhere, don’t you think so, Misa?”
“Psychological experiment?” I crack open the lid to my iced tea and take a sip to wait for his reply.

“I was thinking like . . . he sees if she’ll fall in love with him?” Ren cocks his head to the side and shrugs his shoulders.

“That . . . is an overdone idea, Ren,” I inform him after taking another gulp of my drink. “I really think you haven’t looked at your competitors’ stories. You know what? I think you should go with Takumi hiring Misa to learn how the guys’ mind works.”

“Doesn’t that make Takumi gay? I’m not writing BL you know?”

“Why not make it not an experiment? More like . . . an inexperienced writer looking for someone to learn about love? Wait, that has been covered by tons of mangaka, especially Watashi ni xx Shinasai.” I purse my lips together in deep thought. Is there a possibililty to use this idea or to push it further in some way?

“She needs the money?”

“No, that’ll turn to smut somehow,” I mutter. 

“He has a bet with his classmate?”

“No, no. That’s featured in tons of one shots.”

“Then . . . unexpected marriage from her mom to this other—“

“No,” I interrupt, “that’s again used too often. No, he’s not going to be her professor. Even being the best friend of the guy she likes.”

“They live in the same building?”

“No, no! No childhood friends, no renting the same place like Good Morning Call. I want something different, Ren!” I let out my inner manga annoyance out. “I want something real, something that’ll make me go ‘Oh, I can relate to that.’”

“Well, we do have that boyfriendless factor down. I’m sure most girls can relate to that,” Ren utters.

“Right.” 

I point my drink at him and finish the last gulp before chucking into a bin nearby. I’m known to be a super fast drinker who has no romantic side. I’m like that man who has just finished a hot bath and is in his boxers. He’s opening the mini fridge and then cracking open a beer. He’s chugging it down. He forgets that there’s also a woman living in the same place as him, and she inevitably screams that he’s a pervert. I’m definitely not that woman.

In fact, even when we’re walking, I’m a few steps ahead of him. We’ve been walking and talking all this time that we’re already at the subway station. I’m taking the metro back to my place, and I’m still wondering . . .

“Hey!” I suddenly shout once we grab our seats. Everyone turns to frown at me. I don’t blame them. Talking on your cell phone is considered extremely rude. Shouting? That’s probably just as bad. So, I tone down my voice and explain, “Why don’t we make it like . . . oh wait . . . There’s that finished series about love stories on the bus: Haruyuki Bus. Great.”

“Why don’t we just stick with university . . . and she signs up for his experiment to earn his cash. He wants to run a test to figure out how to make girls get guys?” 

“Because . . . she wants to be rich and he too wants to be rich?”

“I guess she’s obsessed with money . . .” he coughs. “Like you Misa. Speaking of which, why do you care so much about money?”

I notably tell him, “Because in this world, if you don’t have money, then you’ll live horribly. Plus, buying stuff is so much more satisfying than doing those lovey dovey stuff. My Mulberry bag will never leave me.” 

“So, I take it your family has influenced you to think this way?”

“My mom came from a rich family, but one of her grandma’s brothers wasted everything away. She became a middle-income household and still married for love, which she claims to be the biggest mistake of her life.” I’m not exactly sure why it’s so easy for me to tell him these family secrets. I barely even know him. I hear the announcer publicizing my stop, so I get up with Ren following behind me. We’re again walking and talking in the station and heading up the stairs. “You see, my dad is too imaginative. Have you read Tokyo Alice?” I turn around to ask him to find him shaking his head. “I guess that’s more josei manga, but anyhow, my family is like Arisugawa’s. My dad likes to dream about big things, while my mom has to ground him firmly. You know the most important lesson I ever learned was that you should never rely on a man to make money.”

“Interesting.” Ren clicks his tongue along with his pen. “Basically, Misaki just wants to earn some more money to spend on the finer things in life while Takumi just needs to pay his tuition? His breakup with his ex causes him to do poorly and school and as a result, he has to earn money somehow?”

“That doesn’t sound too bad, Ren,” I compliment and decide to open up my takeout box to devour my pizza. I know how rude this is, but my stomach has started to growl really badly. 

“Oh good.”

“Except,” I take a huge bite of my pepperoni pizza and explain after swallowing, “ I would add that Misaki has no idea that Takumi and his ex. She’s too concerned about making money.”

Luckily, Ren is too busy thinking and scribbling that he doesn’t even look up to see my pizza-filled face. “All right, so how would she go about seducing a guy?” he asks.

“Mm . . . that’s a good question. Let me think about it.”

I end up thinking for too long that I finish the two pizzas and we make it to the front of the lobby of my apartment building. I discard the bag of trash into a bin near the entrance. Then, I reach into my knapsack for my keys. I always have toruble remembering where I slipped that chain of keys. Front pocket? Back pocket? In my bag? I end up having to check them all and embarrass myself like that. 

“Misa . . .”

“Yes?” I look up feeling a bit flustered.

“Why don’t you just place your keys in the same place so you don’t forget?” Ren suggests, and as soon as he asks that, I find what I’m looking for. “And why don’t you eat slower? I hope you don’t do that in front of other guys.” 

Plugging the right key into the hole, I answer one of his questions, “You said that Takumi likes to tease Misa right?”

“Yeah.”

As I push open the door and hold it for him, I reply, “Then, Takumi would probably suggest that she go pick up a guy.”

The two of us head straight towards the elevator, and once I press the up button, Ren declares, “All right, Misa, so you’ll have to go find a guy.”

“Wh-what?” I glimpse at him. “What’d you say?”

The elevator doors open, signalling for us to enter. When I press for the fifth floor, Ren remarks, “I said that you’ll have to go find a guy. I’m thinking that to make your life funner, you’ll sit at the food court and the seventeenth guy that passes by you will be the guy you ask out.”

“Why seventeen?”

“Oh, I quite like that number.”

“Your birthday?”

“How’d you know? My birthday is on January 17th.”

The elevator doors open once more, and I lead him down the corridor on the right. “Just a lucky guess,” I say.

“You are good, Misa.”

“Sure, sure,” I answer when we reach the room at the end of the hall. Stabbing another key into the lock, I twist the knob and give a heavy push. The door creaks, and my room is as cold as ever. I always remember to put the heat at a low state when I’m out. It saves money.

Ren manages to sneeze as soon as he comes into my place. “Sheesh, Misa, you really are cheap,” he comments.

Slipping off my shoes, I hand him a set of guest slippers. He thanks me, and I wander to the living room to dump my bag onto the couch. “Sit,” I command him while pointing at the leather chair across from the burgundy, velvet couch. “I’ll go make some tea.”

“Oh, I don’t drink tea,” Ren says. “I’ll just have some water.”

“Good, you’re making my life easier.” I walk towards the kitchen to wash my hands and then to open the fridge for some cold water. “You sure you don’t want anything to eat?”

“No, it’s fine, but thank you for offering,” Ren speaks in an awkwardly suave tone. “You know, Misa, you’re not a bad girl. You’re pretty inviting for strangers. It’s kind of dangerous if you think about it. You may have just invited a serial killer.”

“This is the first time I’ve done this.”

“You make it seem like you’re having a one-night stand. I think I’m going to write down that line. Seems funny.”

I whisper quietly to myself as I pour two fresh glasses of water, “I’m pretty sure your friends go crazy because of you.”

He almost makes me drop my cup when he clarifies, “Oh no, my friends don’t go crazy. I never ask my friends for advice anyways.”

“So, you usually think of your plots by yourself?” I eye him pensively. He doesn’t seem like a creative genius at all.

“Yeah, I guess you could put it that way.”

“What?” I march to the couch with two glasses of water in my hands. Taking a seat across from him, I set the drinks on the coffee table. Then, I confirm, “You actually base real events into your manga?”

“Not Hating You.” He grasps the glass with his hand and answers with his lips pressing against the rim. “That was the third piece that I thought of completely on my own. My first few series were based on my life.”

“Did anyone know about that?”

He takes a tiny amount of water in before replying, “Obviously my exes knew.”

“And they didn’t’ mind?”

“Only one actually knew from the start. The others broke up with me after realizing what I was doing. Those girls said I was exploiting them and using them just for my job. They didn’t understand though. I was just inspired. It’s like a composer writing a song about his lover.”

Yeah, except not a play-by-play scene of what happened in the relationship. “And so you thought you’d stop using real-life situations?”

“Yeah . . . it just . . . gets messy.”

I’m wondering how those manga series ended now. I’m tempted to go borrow his old works from a comic shop and understand what happened. Wait . . . why am I even getting curious about this man’s life? I don’t even know Ren for a whole day, and now I want to know his life history? You know what, I shouldn’t even care. So what if he’s using me? I’m using him too. I want my bowler’s hat, my Prada bow-tie flats and Dior ring. I have pictures of these babies taped on a board in my bedroom, so I know what my goals are. Therefore, this deal will not get messy at all. I take another glance at the man ahead of me: Ren. There’s no way that I’m going to fall for some kiddy, awkward guy who can disguise himself as a vampire. I don’t fall in love easily anyways. 

Fashion can make me squeal. Men just make me scoff, and no, I don’t swing the other way. I just find that men, in general, are inferior to women. Men are just getting lazier as women are progressing, yet a lot of jobs still favour men. Not fair.

That’s why I need a guy who can match up to me, and that’s why I’ve been single for all these days. I haven’t met him yet, and this new guy, Ren, sure as hell isn’t him. I’m not going to say Ren will never be him because I might jinx myself in the process. I’m just going to say that my gut feeling tells me that he and I are better off as business partners.

“So . . .” My voice lingers onwards. “What’s next?”

“I guess . . . we need to find your ‘Jin.’”

“And Misaki will be with Jin in the end right?”

“We’ll have to see the readers’ comments and polls.” He tilts his his head to the side and leans his arms backwards for a weird stretch. “That’ll help us figure things out, and my editor will judge too.”

“I’m just saying that if this manga will follow my real life, then Misaki shouldn’t be with Takumi in the end. You get what I’m saying?” I raise an eyebrow and direct my nearly empty glass towards him.

Bobbing his head up and down, he agrees, “Yeah, it’ll be weird for sure. I’m going to make Takumi and Misaki’s relationship to be based on friendship, and not on love. So, you get that feeling of friendship on one side and romance on the other.”

“I agree. Now, let me just record how much you owe me for today.”

“Misa . . . do you do this to all your friends?”

“No, just to you.”

He shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head quite a few times. “Honestly, why can’t you be as cute as Misa Misa? It’s a shame, Misa. It’s such a shame.”

“It’s not like I’m dating you or anything, so it doesn’t really matter,” I remind him.

“Oh, you’re the type that acts differently in front of her boyfriend? I guess I should note that down for Misaki.” Out slips his notebook and pen from his blazer pocket. He flips to a new page to make some more observations.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never had one before, so who knows what I’ll be like.”

Again, he does his continuous head bobble. “That’s true. That’s true.”

“When do I need the guy by?”

Gazing up at the ceiling, he bites his lower lip and reveals his fangs. I can’t help thinking that he’s a secret vampire waiting to be discovered by some hunter. The guy has some sharp, sharp teeth, and just as I make that conclusion, he looks straight at me and responds, “It is the beginning of the month, thank god, but as soon as possible so I can get a sketch of him down. Today is Thursday, so I’ll meet you at school tomorrow on Friday. You can do your stuff while I watch.”

“And how are we going to meet and schedule stuff if I don’t have your number?” I inquire.

He makes the signal of a fake gun with his fingers and shoots it at me. “That’s a very good point, Misa. Let’s trade numbers now then!” He leaps from his seat to where I am. I don’t know why I’m so obedient, but I just hand him my phone that I placed in the pocket of my navy cardigan. I watch him do his thing, and soon, he passes my phone back to me. 

“I’ll catch ya later then, Misa!” He waves at me and rushes out the door. 

“But . . .”

Wait . . . you don’t know my schedule. How are you supposed to know when to meet me? And . . . you didn’t even pay me yet . . .

Those are the sentences I wished I said aloud. What can I say? The man knows when to run away, and I’m supposed to go off and chase some other guy. I know I’m reaching my brink of optimism, so I go find my wallet in my backpack.The photographs of my babies are stashed, where peooe normally put their family photos in. 

Ah, Dior ring, Prada flats, Chanel rainboots, Mikimoto pearl necklace, PS1 bag. . . 

Yoshi! Ikuzo!” I pump my fists to my sides to power up. 

That’s right. I’m here to earn some cash, and to do that, Mr. Seventeen will have to fall for me. I think I’m up for that challenge.

*"Yoshi! Ikuzo!" means "Yes! Let's go!"
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