Strangers of Sorts

Hotel Roku-Jyuu-Kyu: Chapter 6

Tatsu and Touji stepped out of the break room on the first floor above the street level. Somewhere down the cold stairwell, the sound of dripping water could be heard, along with the wind picking up outside. Tatsu shined the big flashlight down the stairs into the abyss, and then up the banister to the shadowy level above.

Touji shut the door carefully behind him, before scooting up right on Tatsu’s heels. “Back off a bit, would ya?” The big man complained. Touji gulped, and grabbed onto the stairway’s railing. In his other hand, he felt the heavy key ring shifting around in his grasp, with the key Sachiko had noted to him trapped between his thumb and forefinger.

Tatsu looked back with an intimidating glare before nodding up the stairs for Touji to follow. The light drifted back and forth over the shallow staircase in the otherwise pitch blackness. Touji carefully placed his steps in order to not stub his foot into the hard riser in his slippers.

“Hey.” Touji spoke up. He held on tightly to the keys nervously. “When we first showed up at your level, you were yelling about something. Saying your family was gonna shut down this business. You’re like important, or something?”

Tatsu stopped mid step. “Huh?” He responded menacingly.

Touji held his breath. He attempted to catch the look on the tall man’s face up above him on the stairway.

“Eh, well…” Tatsu grumbled. “It’s nothing like that. I was just talking out my ass. Trying to act tough for my girl, you know.”

“Yeah.” Touji muttered back.

Tatsu continued ascending in short, calculated steps. “When I saw it was just you guys; some itsy-bitsy housekeeper and two kids, I had to back down. Kyouka would accuse me of trying to scare you and your, uh… babysitter.”

Touji processed the words for a few moments before responding. “Babysitter? You mean Karen?”

“Ah, well, I guess you are a bit old for a sitter.” Touji remarked calmly. “Tutor then?”

“She’s my girlfriend!” Touji announced insistently.

Tatsu breathed loudly out his nose briefly, before his loud laugh filled the echoy space. “Hah, I know that. It’s just she has almost half a meter on you, kid.”

“Well, what does that matter?” Touji responded. He could feel his cheeks going red from embarrassment and annoyance. “She’s a college student, a couple years older. That’s just how it is.”

With a final step, Touji’s foot reached the flat ground of the landing at the second floor. Tatsu pointed the light at the door to find the old handle that squeaked as he wrenched it open. “Oh, a college girl!” He teased. “You must be the talk of the school. No doubt your parents are proud, too.”

Touji followed after Tatsu as they continued down the hall. The tall man’s light scanned the doors, looking for one that didn’t belong to a guest room. “Nobody at my school knows about it. Not my parents either.”

“Ooh!” Tatsu let out a high-pitched whine. “You’re running around, bringing your college girlfriend around to love hotels. I never could have gotten away with that when I was your age. Then again, I had already done some other things that warranted me being kept on a short lead, always being watched.”

Touji pursed his lips and waited to respond. “Like what?”

Tatsu stopped in place, and shined the flashlight at the door in front of them at end of the hall. It was painted differently, and lacked the electronic lock of the others. “This must be it.”

“Don’t change the subject.” Touji chimed in.

“Change the subject?” Tatsu snorted. “This is what we’re here for. Or would you rather be bullshitting while those girls down there starve to death. Get up here and unlock it.”

Touji sighed loudly as he jumbled the keys in his hand. He grasped tightly onto the singular key between his fingers, before squeezing past Tatsu to get to the door. “I can’t argue with you there. I can’t help but worry about that Kasumi woman too, with that date of hers.”

“Oh, the prostitute?” Tatsu said nonchalantly. “That dude wasn’t just being a hard-ass. Some of my… friends… had seen her about, working. Dunno what her story is, though.”

Touji examined the man’s face in the reflection of the light for any sign of him joking again. Tatsu’s looked on at the door as Touji shoved the key into the lock and turned it with a click.

Kyouka stroked her hair, pulling at the tiny knots that had formed at the ends of it. Ibaraki snorted and turned over. His snoring paused for a moment, before regaining its distracting rhythm. Kasumi let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her back back and forth over the wall behind her.

Sachiko sighed and twiddled her thumbs, carefully picking at her fingernails in the dim light of the candle atop the table. “Do you ever wonder about your client base, miss?” Karen spoke across the table while attempting to make contact with the housekeeper.

Kyouka and Kasumi looked up in response to the question, silently wondering what the response would be. Sachiko looked up silently and shrugged her shoulders, a word resting at the tip of her tongue. “No, seems counter productive. All I see are the numbers of people that come to stay. It comes down to the number of beds I have to change.”

“Well, you’re lucky.” Kasumi spoke up. “You can skip the rooms we were in today. Nothing was happening in a blackout like this.”

Kyouka snorted loudly while holding back a laugh. Karen looked over to the woman, who held her mouth.

“What are you laughing about?” Kasumi engaged her sharply.

“Nothing, nothing.” Kyouka said while regaining her composure. “Just remembering. We got into a disagreement, Tatsu and I. I broke an empty bottle… a glass one… over his shoulder, but apparently it wasn’t enough to stifle his lust. Not even a blackout could have stopped him.”

Kasumi shook her head defeated and leaned back against the wall. “Well, good for you then.” She ended bitterly.

Kyouka peered over at the still passed-out Ibaraki. “I can understand your situation, but this doll over here must have got some action from her little boyfriend.” She directed across the kotatsu table. “Isn’t that right?”

Karen shook her head and covered her face with her long sweater sleeve. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Kasumi looked Karen up and down for a moment before blurting out. “Ah I see. First time, huh? Probably for the kid, too.”

“Ugh, I can’t imagine losing your virginity at a love hotel!” Kyouka butted in. “Talk about way too safe. You’ve gotta live dangerously! Like in your parents house, never knowing when they might be home. Or in the back of a car, in an empty parking lot, worrying if some police officer is gonna shine his light in your window. Gotta be with some old condom, too, one that’s been floating around in a back pocket for months.”

Karen giggled and tried to hide her smile. “Ugh, I guess I can’t hide anything from you two. Well, we didn’t even get around to doing it anyways when the blackout hit.”

Kyouka shifted uncomfortably and sat up to look Karen up and down. “Can’t imagine that would have stopped him, especially with a cute young thing like you.”

“He said he wanted to be able to see me, with the lights on and all.” Karen sighed loudly, covering up a laugh. “Boys.”

“I knew it.” Kasumi nodded slowly. “He was still able to look you in the eye after. Most young ones just run away as soon as they can after.”

Karen shook her head and gritted her teeth in embarrassment. “Well, what about your first time? Sounds like yours were quite adventurous.”

Kyouka sighed loudly and twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. “I lost mine to one of the guys from my school… if you want to call it that. He was always truant. That’s what made him just so cool, though- like, not caring.” She smacked her lips and looked up at the ceiling to help her imagination. “It was in a karaoke place we lost it together. He snuck in some whiskey. We had some some awful loud J-pop playing to block out the sounds. Actually, we were making out for a bit before realizing that our time was going to run out if we didn’t get too the real action fast enough, so we just got to it like that.”

Kasumi huffed loudly from her spot near the corner. “Lost mine in a love hotel.” She said meekly.

Kyouka peered over at her for a moment, hoping to hear her quickly follow up the statement with a ‘just kidding’ or something of the sort.

Sachiko shifted under her own blanket loudly, catching attention of the other girls. Kyouka turned to her shyly and made tentative eye contact. The older woman blinked back silently.

“You must just hate all this gossip.” Kyouka apologized. “Tatsu says I need to watch my mouth sometimes.”

The housekeeper cracked a small smile and shrugged exaggeratedly. “I work at a love hotel. Somewhere after all these years, my shame kinda drifted away. Just like the stains on the sheets and comforters.” She concluded dryly.

Karen covered her mouth with her and tried to stifle her sudden gigging.
“Yeah, laugh all you want, girlie.” Kasumi spoke up indignantly. “We get payed to be here. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a drink at a bar.”

Karen’s laughter came to an abrupt end, and she exhaled a long breath. “So…” She blinked, rolling her eyes around to room to only briefly take a glimpse at the gaudy-looking woman. “What he was saying wasn’t just him being some… drunk idiot?”

Kasumi peered over the table sneakily at the still sleeping Ibaraki, whose snoring had faded with his turning to face the floor. “I mean, I hardly know the man.” She shrugged. “He was already drinking when I… caught up with him, so who knows if his state of mind is completely based on how much alcohol he’s drank.”

Kyouka grunted in agreement. “Kasumi-chan, was it?” She scrutinized.

Kasumi rolled her eyes in response. “The things you put up with when you’re trying your best to lower yourself to the level of these men…”

“You got a real name, then?” Kyouka continued her line of interrogation.

“What’s it to you?” Kasumi sneered.

Kyouka clicked her tongue loudly and leaned back against the wall away from the conversation. “Guess you’ve got appearances to keep up, even if they are the bimbo type.” She muttered under her breath.

“It’s Akiko.” She responded, avoiding eye contact. “Boring, I know.”

“Akiko-san.” Karen spoke up. “See, now we’re like proper girlfriends. I’m Karen by the way, and my boyfriend is Touji.”

“Kyouka.” The woman muttered.

“Nicetomeetya’” Akiko said shortly. She paused for a few seconds mulling over her words before building up the courage to respond. “You know, I’m fine with looking like a bimbo. I’m sure you both know what it’s like getting a man’s attention with personality alone. Really, in my line of work, you could have the personality of a koi fish, as long as you have the right push up bra and flashy makeup and jewelry.”

Karen looked down at her chest and cleavage hiding underneath her shirt that had dried awkwardly atop the fancy bra underneath. “No kidding. And the only thing a guy has to have is a pretty face, or a wallet full of money.”

“Or food.” Tatsu’s loud voice announced as the door swung open wildly. “Sorry for the wait, ladies!”

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