Chapter 3: Welcome to Discussion!

We sat in Yamazaki's apartment, rubbing icepacks against our recent injuries. I was on the coach, and he was hunched over in his office chair, perusing a website on the computer.

The otaku groaned, "That's the last time I'm trying that out…"

I let out a laugh, but it sounded more like a wheeze for air. "Yeah…"

The silence continued. Whenever Yamazaki and I would hang out, we only talked half the time. At other times, we would just sit around in the same room, not really interacting, just being there. He didn't seem to mind. Usually, I didn't mind either. But today was different. I decided to tell him my problem.

"Yamazaki, I haven't talked to, heard, nor seen Misaki in weeks."

Yamazaki swerved around in his chair. He slouched toward me, genuinely interested. For once, he seemed to have some sympathy within his wispy brows. He said, "That girl you see sometimes? She's gone? That's... that's awful… Any idea what happened to her?"

I was about to say the NHK kidnapped her, but I ignored that thought. "I don't know… Maybe she had to go somewhere, like visit a sick aunt. Maybe she's at school. Or maybe she just got tired of talking to me… Maybe she was just fed up with me…"

"That's a lot of 'maybes'. You should be careful. You shouldn't let your imagination get the better of you. Of course, I know that in your particular case, you can't really help it..." Yamazaki made a movement with his hand, pointing upwards with one finger. "Still, you know what I always say… -She's a girl. This is what girls do. They break our hearts. Especially ones that belong to losers like us. And that's why... women... ARE ALL DIRTY WHORES!"

Yamazaki picked up a magazine of Ultraman that was lying on a nearby shelf. He thrust his hand into his pocket, yanked a pencil out, and jabbed two holes into the magazine. The magazine's cover was that of Ultraman's face. The two holes were evenly spaced from each other, both at the center of one of Ultraman's eyes. It was an improvised mask. Yamazaki covered his face with it, and began to yell, "BE GONE, EVIL WHORES! GO TO HELL, YOU BITCHES!" His free hand was above his head in clenched fist, waving it around in a circle.

"Yamazaki," I sighed, "Misaki was different. She genuinely wanted to help me."

My friend put down the magazine, the mask. He said, "Do you know that for sure?"

"Erm… well…" I wasn't sure. There was always something distant about Misaki. And I barely knew her personally. It had often occured to me that I knew nothing about her. Still, in the face of adversity, she was always there for me. It didn't seem like her to just get up and never talk to me again.

Yamazaki took my grumbling to be an answer, "You aren't sure. The only thing we do know is that she hasn't contacted you in weeks. And in my book, that's a bad sign. Forget about her. She is an evil whore. And I have a ton of new doujins and gal games for us to try out… And then there is always our project, the ga-"

"YAMAZAKI, I DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ANY OF THOSE STUPID THINGS," I shrieked. My heart jumped a beat as I yelled. This outburst surprised Yamazaki, and even myself. I could feel my face burning up.

The otaku immediately melted into his chair, grabbing the seat's arms with his hands. I must have scared him.

He replied, with some slight discomfort, "Whoa… Sato… chill out… I understand your pain…"

I took some deep breaths and tried to calm down. My voice shaked, "If you understood, then you could do a lot better by actually helping!"

"Alright… Let me ask you, how exactly do you feel?"

"It's hard to explain. Hurt, I guess."

"I think that's a result of our figh-"

My face started to burn up again, "SHUT UP!"

"Sorry! Okay. How are you hurt?"

I cleared my throat. This explanation was bound to be long, "I'm a hikikomori. I haven't talked to anybody, outside of you and her, for about-" I took a moment to do the math, "-three years. Honestly, after all this time, I feel like I don't know if I can match up to society's expectations. In a way, I'm like a little kid. I've forgotten the normal rules of human interaction. I need to learn it all over again. Still, I became a hiki for two reasons: one, because people... scare me-" I paused for a second, lost in thought, "-and two, I'm just not that much of a people person. I don't need to go to parties, nor need anybody's approval. I'm not a people person, and it doesn't really matter to me if I have many friends. When it comes to friends, Yamazaki, you're more than enough for me. But, the thing is, I'm still lonely. Like there's something missing. Outside of this small apartment complex, my own little world, there's so many people. There are so many people I don't know. And there are so many things I don't have. It's all very unnerving."

As I took a break from my long monologue, I looked over at Yamazaki. He had his back turned to me, looking at some image board on his computer.

What the... fuck?

"YAMAZAKI, PAY FREAKIN' ATTENTION!"

Yamazaki looked over his shoulder at me. "Yo, Sato," said Yamazaki with impatience, "I wasn't asking you about your typical mental anguish. I was asking about how hurt you are over Misaki. Pay attention, man. Because seriously, I'm having trouble paying attention to you."

I snapped, "I was getting to that!" I felt like yelling at Yamazaki again. I was getting more and more ticked off at him. But I held back. I needed him to understand the situation. Even then, I was beginning to feel like Sato vs. Yamazaki: Round 2 was right around the corner. I took another deep breath, and began to speak, "Alright, so, if you need a bloody summary of that speech I performed for you, let me inform you that I am lonely and depressed. Of course, you already know that.

Finally, I tackled the Misaki issue, "She... meant a lot to me. She gave me hope. Despite my being a loser hikikomori, talking to her made me feel, if even for just a slight second, normal. Pretty pathetic, right? And I knew her contract was bullshit. Like it would be possible to cure my hikikomori-ness. Except that by playing along, I could fool myself into believing that I was redeemable. I could fool myself into believing it was possible. Of course, the NHK won't allow me to be happy. By fooling myself, I forgot about that crucial fact." I leaned forward and buried my head in my hands, my palms brushing against my hair.

"Well," Yamazaki said, "I can relate. She was a big figure in your life, and she represented a possibility. A possible chance to be happy. It gave you hope. It gave you a reason to get up in the morning. In fact, at university, there are a few... somewhat evil whores... that I'm interested in. But I'm too shy to approach them. I'm too nervous that I'll get rejected. So I don't try. I keep them at a distance, building them up in my mind. It's not the best way to handle things, but it keeps me content. By not getting rejected, I still have a chance. I don't want to ruin the illusion. And, for all we know, all of the girls I fawn over feel the same way. I'm suspending reality to live in a dream. But dreams often beat reality. Just saying."

"Yeah..." I was happy Yamazaki knew what I was talking about. Not just about girls, but about... dreams in general... and how they conflict with reality.

Yamazaki changed the topic. "I know this is random, but, could you perhaps give me... a, erm... metaphorical description?"

My eyes widened. "Metaphorical description? What does that mean?"

"Like, a graphic description of your pain. You know... Whenever I'm down, I like making fun out of my problems." His words sounded subdued and they were strained. Yamazaki looked at the floor, and refused to give me eye contact. Perhaps this conversation had made him uncomfortable...

Why do I always do this? Even with a shut-in like Yamazaki, I fail at social interaction. It's all my fault. I'm such a bloody idiot. Damn...

Might as well try to cheer Yamazaki up.

"Well," I got on my knees, began to project my voice, and got all dramatic, "I feel like… some centipede is squirming around my inner organs, puncturing everything there. It's destroying me, from the inside out. I can feel holes in my lungs. All my arteries are cut… all of my veins are severed… My heart is a mangled mess. I am a mess." I crossed my arms against my chest and bent over, all for effect. You couldn't blame me for having some fun. I wondered how Yamazaki would react.

"Heh, yeah... It feels like you've been stabbed by an invisible dagger, right? But your description, with the centipede… That was a great! Quite on the graphic side. Reminds me of an h-game. Haha, isn't this fun?" Yamazaki's smile was glued to his face.

I stayed bent over, arms against my chest. It just occured to me, that instead of advancing my relationship with Misaki, I was playing imaginary games with an otaku. This realization hurt, a lot. I felt ashamed. Sweat began to drip down my face, and as I looked over at Yamazaki's floor mat, I could hear it whisper, "Haha, what a loser! NHK sure screwed him up!"

The posters on the wall began to laugh. They began to laugh at me. All of them exclaimed, "He's done for! He can't make anything out of his life!"

Yamazaki's figurines began to dance in circles, chanting vicious melodies. Above his computer, Yamazaki's equipment began to blare cold, electronic giggles. There was a whirlwind of commotion in the room. I had became the laughing stock of this tiny room - this small, putrid world.

Everything in this room, no, the universe was laughing at me.

Behind his opaque glasses, Yamazaki was chuckling.

"YAM-A-ZAK-IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" With incredible rage, perhaps equal and maybe even surpassing that of a pissed off typhoon, I threw my icepack across the room, where it collided with the wall. It exploded.

Flailing both hands in the air, Yamazaki attempted to show me that he meant no harm. He exclaimed, "WHOA-WHOA-WHOA-WHOAAAA! CHILL OUT! I DUNNO WHAT'S GOTTEN INTO YOU CALM DOWN NOTHING IS RONG OH MY GOD PLEASE!" He kept laughing, but was visibly scared. He began to choke on his laughter. After a loud gulp, and after much swallowing- "Well, Sato! If you're going to be this way… hung up, and, might I add, FREAKING TERRIFYING, then I suppose we have to do something about it!"

I stared at the wet spot the icepack made. "That's for sure…"

"And, I just thought up the perfect plan!" With this exciting revelation, Yamazaki folded his arms. He suddenly looked confident and assured. A grin was forming at the edge of his mouth. This newfound boldness made me uncomfortable, and wary.

"It better not have anything to do with your game."

"Nonono- Well… maybe- But no, that's not the point! She was an integral part of your life, and you need to get her back… If nothing changes, you'll be on a downward spiral from here! And if it is alright for me to admit this - ...I'm also afraid for the welfare of my icepacks."

I scratched the side of my head. I knew this was going to lead to trouble. "So, what do you propose?"

Yamazaki's smile reached as far as his face, "Well, what else? You get off your hikikomori ass, leave your room, and we go look for her!"