#73: How You Are

"Oh, hello, first dick pic of the week." Alicia turned her head away and tapped the screen."Block block block. Ugh, it was pale and skinny and taken from the side. Who takes them from the side?!"

Percy scowled, seated across from her in the café booth. "So, not flattering, then?"

"A dick pic is never flattering, but even to the twisted mind that thinks it is, it can't be good when I have to figure out what I’m even looking at. If anything, your genitals should be the last thing you show your partner, not the first. What will it take for these dudes to learn?"

"Probably hearing it earlier in life, from someone like yourself, seated in an adjacent booth in the coffee shop."

Alicia whirled around to meet the frowning eyes of a couple having breakfast with their early-teen son. The boy looked away, less embarrassed by the subject of the discussion than by overhearing it with his parents present. Alicia waved apologetically. "So hey, I'm sorry I said all that so loud, but I do want you to know I stand by all of it." Alicia turned her attention back to her phone and Cobb salad.

Stopping for lunch had been their reward for getting on the road ahead of schedule. It helped that the hotel where Alicia crashed the previous night was on the way. She had headed downtown to meet friend and fellow cosplay star Mystic Mari for dinner, coffee, movies, and all else they could cram into Mari's single night in town. Their evening culminated with a late-night livestream in which Alicia proved she could do twenty—ultimately thirty-two—push-ups with Mari planking on her back.

Despite her wee-hours adventure, Alicia appeared fresh and rested, having skipped breakfast in favor of sleeping in and showering. She wore her kawaii in the streets, senpai in the sheets tank top with a black miniskirt and sneakers. She picked at her salad with her fingers while her free hand scrolled her phone. After several minutes of eating in silence, Alicia spoke up.

"Percy-Kun, I've got a question."

Surprised, Percy fumbled his sip of coffee, spilling a few drops on his light blue Northshore Athletics t-shirt. "Yeah?"

"Why me?"

Percy laughed to himself, having asked himself that exact question three hours earlier when Alicia darted out of the hotel barefoot wearing a light blue cat kigurumi. "Because of how you are."

Alicia smirked. "How I am?"

"When I'm with you, I can only count on the unexpected. You are reliably unpredictable. "

"And you want that?"

"I appreciate what you have brought to my straight-and-narrow life. I'm a skinny white guy with glasses from a Catholic family in Baltimore. I iron and tuck in my t-shirts."

"Don't stop doing that, btw."

"I don't know why you like that so much."

"You know, I can totally see why you and Krysta didn't work out. Don't get me wrong, I'm way glad you like what I'm giving you—in more ways than one—and I'm not implying you've still got a thing for Krysta. I mean, Krysta's great, but dating her would be like dating a supervillain: you think it's going to be naughty and exciting, but it ends up being all plotting and scheming and fancy tech with barely any time left over for sex."

Not inaccurate, Percy thought.

"Not that I can speak to how she is in bed, but you can because you and her dated for a while. It's not something I think about a lot, but it's crossed my mind. And, to be clear, I mean the thought of Krysta having sex in general, not necessarily Krysta having sex with you."

Wow. Percy mused. She's just going to plow right through this one, isn't she?

"But it's not like that matters since we're not talking about sex, per se—Hey, did I use 'per se,' right? I always meant to look that up. Anyways, for living with Krysta as long as I have, I can't say I've heard her that many times. And when I did, I couldn’t be sure it was her, you know, having an 'orgasm.'"

Why did she put 'orgasm' in air quotes?

"It's not like I burst in like, 'Hey Krysta, did you just have an orgasm?' every time I hear what might be the sound of Krysta getting off. God, do you know how many of her live streams I would have walked in on by now? Sometimes, I think the only reason Krysta even puts up with me is because I—unlike every other roommate she's had since whenever she started showing her boobs online—never once walked in on any of her streams because I know how important that stuff is to her."

Percy nodded. "Of course."

"So, speaking of what would be amazing for my brand, I don't suppose you want to take a two-hour detour west to go to the Yumi Nakamoto meet-and-greet at the Kellsburg Mall?"

Percy stammered, his brain unready for the sudden change of subject. "Yumi Nakamoto?"

"Also known as NEKO: the super-buff, mega-awesome JPOP idol, also cosplayer, also all-around adorable. She's doing a signing at J Pop Importium."

"Isn't that where you buy all your Pocky?"

"I've also signed at events there. I'm on their VIP mailing list for events. I also follow Yumi on, like, everything."

Percy shook his head and chuckled. "Sounds like you and Yumi have a lot in common."

"She's like my sister city except for people."

"So, like, a sister?"

"Yeah, but better. Anyways, I've had people saying it'd be amazing if we could meet and do a shoot together."

"You think there are still tickets?"

"Of course not. It's Yumi-freakin-Nakamoto. I would have had tickets myself if I hadn't been on an airplane when they went on sale. I figure we'll go there, and I'll come up with some way of getting us in. I'll say I'm her adopted sister, speak some Japanese, then flex all raw like this." Alicia raised her arms into a double-biceps pose, eliciting more glances from the family in the adjacent booth.

Percy laughed, shaking his head. "As much as I'd love to see that plan in action, I'm going to have to say 'no.'" Alicia deflated before she noticed Percy retrieving an envelope from his jacket and placing it on the table. Percy reached for his phone as Alicia snatched up the envelope and ripped it open, and he was filming by the time she started screaming and slamming her hands on the table.

"VIP backstage access!?! How in the holy hell did you get these?"

Percy took a beat to sip his coffee before continuing. "I got them for her previous midwest appearance when you thought you were going to be home a year ago. Krysta recommended I reach out to her management, and that ended up working. But then—"

"I went to Japan!"

"I would have said something, but I didn't want you all bummed out, particularly given how happy you were about that audition. Yumi understood when I told her."

Alicia slapped her hands to her face. "YOU SPOKE TO YUMI NAKAMOTO?"

"Well, through Instagram DMs."


"And she is every bit as nice as you describe her. Said she's looking forward to meeting you."

"OH MY GOD. Yumi Nakamoto knows who I am. How did she sound? Hopefully, she wasn't just like, 'oh yeah, she's that one cosplayer who does burpees all the time. Maybe I'll sign a t-shirt for her.'"

"Again, I didn't talk to her. We exchanged a couple of messages, and her production company sent me the badges."

"This is so crazy. Do you understand how big of a deal this is? I mean, yeah, I showed how a super-buff girl could work in cosplay. She did that IN JAPAN and for FREAKING JPOP!" Alicia gripped the passes tightly. "So why didn't you tell me this year? What if I had another conflict?"

"I figure I'd keep asking you to keep the weekend open, and if something equally big or bigger came up this year, I'd reschedule again. Of course, what could top your flying to Shibuya to audition in-person for a voice role in a volleyball-themed hentai?"

"Fun fact: it wasn't an in-person audition. The producers were surprised to see me show up there."

"Well, regardless. It all worked out, and we're on our way to a VIP meet-and-greet with Yumi Nakamoto."

"Best boyfriend ever!" Alicia squeed and climbed over the table to kiss Percy, giving the mother in the adjacent booth a direct rear view of Alicia's miniskirt. The woman abruptly stood, hurrying her husband and son out of their seats and towards the door. Percy, meanwhile, took his shower of kisses, then waited patiently as Alicia inelegantly slid back into her seat, fixed her hair, and returned to her phone, giggling with glee as she sipped her latte.

"I assume you're sharing the big news. I should tell you, I—"

"I know you recorded me the first time. I SO appreciate your getting the 'genuine' reaction, and I definitely want you to send it to me for posterity and stuff, but I'm going to do it again, and this time I'm gonna let my eyes go crossed. So, get that camera ready. I'm going big this time!"

Percy smiled.