“...and that’s it for today, guys!” Masumi’s face was illuminated by the trio of screens that surrounded him. “We took down the Bazelgeuse, got some new mats, and juuust got that weekly down! Tomorrow, I’ll be back with something a little less violent and a little more fun. Keep an eye out for Low-Life!” The flanking screens captured his following salute, the smile on his shiny pink lips, and the flicker of his eyes to the little counters on the sides of those screens. Then the feed closed.
“Nothing.” The number zero lingered in Masumi’s mind as he shut down the screens and his console whirred to a stop. His smile faltered, but only for a moment, as he straightened himself back up and walked up to the full-length mirror beside him.
“You’re cute!” He told his reflection and swished his checkerboard skirt and felt an immediate rush of heat to his cheeks. “People want to see you!” He met his own eyes and hurriedly looked away. “Your...clothes are nice.” He whispered to himself and patted down his top. “Your make-up is adorable.” He half-smiled. “When people see you, they’re going to like you.” He pulled his eyes back to his reflection and smiled at it. “Low-Life wi-”
There was a creak from below. Masumi glanced at the nearby clock and the sound of shuffling feet made its way to his room. He was frozen in place, his legs feuding over where to go and his brain screeching at the sight of himself.
“Bazelgeuse...” Masumi muttered bitterly and hurriedly stripped off his skirt. He tossed it into his bottom drawer and retrieved a pair of jeans, a hoodie, and a surgical mask. He threw himself around his room in an attempt to pull them all on before the people reached his door. He gritted his teeth as his arm got stuck in the hoodie, forced himself in front of the mirror and bit his bottom lip as his perfectly made-up eyes, his luscious brown locks, still stood out.
The feet were on the other side of the door and he grabbed his hat, shoved it on, and tucked away as much hair as possible. Then the door opened.
“Good evening, Masumi.” A smile lightened up his mother’s weary face. “Have you finished,” She blinked at the sight of him. “Did you just finish streaming?”
“I did.” Masumi nodded vigorously and silently thanked his mask of shroud and shadow. “Just now.”
“Oh. Good. I hope it went well.”
“I think I’m getting better.” Masumi laughed shakily and a few seconds of silence stretched out.
“That’s good. We didn’t spe...well, that’s good. And your homework?”
“All done.” Masumi patted the neat stack of books on his academic desk. It was mostly bare, in sharp contrast to the one he used for streaming. The base of that one could scarcely be seen between screens, devices, and little figures.
“Superb.” Fujiko nodded. “If you can improve, you might,” She held up a finger. “Might get a bonus. How does that sound?”
Images of a closet thoroughly filled with skirt, dresses, and similar attire flooded Masumi’s mind.
“It sounds like I’m going to make you very proud.” Masumi beamed.
Fujiko couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Don’t get cocky.” She cautioned. “Now. Are those your new pajamas?”
“No. Sorry.” Masumi scratched the back of his head. “My streaming went late. I’ll just go ahead and bathe and then go to bed?” He started to shuffle towards his ofuro.
“Be quick about it. Goodnight, Masumi.” Fujiko said, then closed the door. Masumi let out a sigh of relief as he pulled off his disguise and tucked most of it away, then put his tight blue top in the bottom drawer. He reached into the depths of his closet and retrieved the colorful makeup box that was tucked among the rest of his secrets.
Masumi went through his nightly routine as quickly as he could manage. From the removal of his makeup, to the shower, to some light bathing and finally retiring to bed. The close-call with his parents had set his nerves on edge, but he’d just managed to pull through. It was almost like his victory over the Bazelgeuse, the thrill of success, the chance for his whole life to be ruined...although he doubted a horde of cats would be able to save him from his parents.
When he woke up, it was to an empty house. Masumi was free to go downstairs and prepare his bento box for school and do his makeup. He dared not put on much of it for school, for the sake of his reputation, or lack thereof, and their own rules. He could get away with subtle enhancements, making his skin a little more flawless and his lips a little more pink, but that was it.
His hair was the biggest obstacle. He’d grown it down to his shoulders, and it was brown, fluffy, and he liked to think naturally feminine. But he couldn’t accentuate it, not if he didn’t want the wrong kind of attention, not if he wanted to stay anonymous for his streaming. He could pass well enough to make people not think him and Low-Life were the same person, and that was the way he preferred it. So, he pulled on his blue cap, checked he had everything, and headed off to school.
Masumi’s commute to school was peaceful and didn’t involve nearly as much effort as his parent’s to their work. He could enjoy the natural beauty, the old houses, even if he was in a hurry. If he wasn’t, he could take the scenic route that took him around the outer-edges of the town, up hills and along paths that provided him with a view of the countryside that he liked to think couldn’t be matched.
On the way to Retsuko Academy, Masumi spotted another couple of students riding their bikes down the hill. He hesitated for a moment, adjusting his grip on his handles, and slumped slightly before turning down a different street.
Retsuko Academy was impressively large for its location, sprawled out as one large floor with a mildly labyrinthine design for all of the students from nearby towns it had to accommodate, as well as the nearby dorm building some students got to stay in. Masumi easily found his way through the halls, not taking much notice of anyone between going to the shoe rack and attending his homeroom.
His spot was near the back, by the windows, and he had a view of the fields outside. He’d often take the time to stare out and daydream, or else watch one of the other classes taking part in sports activities. Some were just filing out as his attention was suddenly seized.
“Sanada Masumi.” She called out, her pen lightly held between two manicured fingers. Like the rest of her, they longed to be glamorous and were held at bay by the school’s dress code.
“Present.” Masumi answered and was swiftly moved on from. He spent the rest of class in the same state, only noticed when necessary and otherwise left to his own devices. There were other students who seized attention, like Hifumi who always made a point to volunteer answers, and Kiryu, whose jokes were mostly amusing to those who took joy in seeing somebody suffer a teacher’s wrath.
He only became aware of how separate he was when lunchtime rolled around and he was left in the cafeteria, eating alone with only his imagination to keep him company. There were sometimes glimmers of hope, of being able to approach a group and start a conversation, but his legs turned to jelly and his voice got stuck in his throat. It was better for everyone if he just stayed sat where he was and thought about the things he could change first. Like his streaming.
Classes rolled through again and Masumi checked his schedule. The words Dance Club lit up his mind and he headed to the hall for just that.
“Hello, Masumi!” Yuna greeted him with bright eyes, the first one there and already in her dance gear. Other students were still shuffling in and headed off to the changing rooms, a couple who noticed the pair with little nods of their head. “Let’s get that dour look off your face!”
“I...I’m dour?” Masumi frowned, while his gut tugged at the implication.
“You are now! Got you!” The older student laughed and Masumi felt some weight being lifted from his shoulders. “Now go and get changed, we’re doing ballroom style today! Did you remember your hair ties?”
“Oh, um, no, sorry.” Masumi lied and felt a blush come to his cheeks. He didn’t want to be seen as any more feminine at school than he already did. Actually, he really wanted that, were it not for the judgment that would follow. The fact that he was in dance class alone was enough for some people to regard him as feminine.
“Silly boy! Here,” Yuna pulled a hair tie off of her arm and held it out to Masumi. “You should cut that hair if you’re not going to do anything with it! I think you’d be dashing if you styled it.”
Masumi bit his bottom lip as he tied up his hair and struggled to deal with the butterflies rising in his chest.
“Thanks.” He said, then walked off to get changed for the club itself. It went as well as usual, and he left with a smile. It was one of the few activities that left him feeling like he actually accomplished something with his time. He was doing well academically, he knew that, but there was little that filled him with as much life as the time spent twirling, moving, hopping with the other girls. He felt at home, and they seemed comfortable around him. That was all he really wanted.
He returned to an expectantly empty house, a little worn out from the bike ride there, and immediately set to finishing his homework for the day. It was done almost as quickly as it had been handed out, helped along by some music to keep his errant thoughts occupied, and then it was time for dinner. He ably finished cooking for himself, a skill learned thanks to his other club, and then it was time to prepare for a few hours of streaming.
That was his real favorite part of the day. Putting on the makeup and styling his hair always left him feeling like a new person, like Low-Life, and he hadn’t had a few hours of talking to nobody to wear him down. There was potential in the night ahead, the chance that somebody was going to show up, and it was that hope that kept him going.
He’d settled for something a little more vibrant for his potential viewers, a red flowery dress that clung to his narrow torso and flared out with his hips. He’d had it for a little while, and it fit him well. He accessorized it with a white jacket, something to help tighten up the view of his chest, and a white lower in his wavy brown locks. The urge to take a picture of himself looking so cute was overwhelming, but he knew that he’d always have his archives. They, at least, had no potential to be seen by somebody casually looking through his phone.
Masumi sat in his chair, pulled up the game of Kirby that he was going to entertain his viewers with, and finished the set-up right on time. The camera blinked on, the screens of his hosting sites lit up, and he threw up a salute and a smile.
“Welcome to the Low-Life! Today’s the day we’re going to tackle the jumps and bumps of Kirby. I’m no good at platformers, so please help me if you can! Let’s get started!” He begun and, just as he was moving through te third level of the day, he saw something he’d never seen before.
His viewer count had hit one.