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Masumi hummed to himself as he returned home with a bag light on homework and fresh with mushi-pan. He deposited the latter in the fridge with a little sticky note inviting his parents to try some, and headed up to his room. He sat at his desk, scrolled through his playlist for the bubbliest tunes he could find, and pulled out a pen for the work ahead. He soared through the papers with ease, the promise of a wonderful evening just a couple of hours away.

 

His dinner was filling and nutritious. He’d went out of his way to stay healthy for the sake of his skin, as well as for his streaming. He’d read up on all the streamers and how they manage before ever starting himself, and burning out was the opposite of what he wanted to do. He wasn’t yet streaming full-time, like many of them were, but some day. It had to happen.

 

It already had, and that was the thought that had Masumi perched on his bed with most of his makeup sprawled out before him and a few choice outfits hanging from his dresser door. His gaze lingered on the kimono he’d purchased some time ago. He hadn’t worn it on stream yet; it was for a special occasion. One guest...wasn’t special enough, no matter how much it meant to him. One day, he was going to wear it, and everybody would be dazzled.

 

He settled on a sporty collection of clothes, with tight leggings, an official Low-Life t-shirt, and an open hoodie. It was a combination he didn’t wear often. As boisterous as Low-Life was, he didn’t want to be seen as masculine in any sense of the word, and wearing tomboyish clothes like that wouldn’t have done him any favors. But with the confidence boost of having had Jellybeaner show up for the last couple of days, as well as their compliments, he decided to pull it on and check himself out in the mirror.

 

“Low-Life!” Masumi declared, as he saluted the mirror and cocked his hips. He cycled through a few of his favorite poses, most of them that couldn’t be seen while he was sitting at the stream, but made him smile all the same. He did the typical peace-sign pose, popped his leg, and couldn’t stop the grins that followed.

 

Masumi’s session with the mirror ended only when he realized he still had to set up the stream. The boy speedily set up the curtain that shielded the rest of his room from view, checked that the cameras were working (With a few extra poses just to make sure they were focused right, and only for that reason), and tested the controls on the game for that day. Then he was ready, his eyes on the countdown and his controller in his hands as the seconds passed. Three two, one…

 

“Welcome to Low-Life!” Masumi saluted the camera and put on his most winning smile. “Grab your blankets and put on your omamori, because today we’ll be playing Zero! It’s a little old and a lot scary, so it’s perfect for our spooky Saturdays, don’t you think? I don’t want to spoil things for anyone watching, so let’s get right in!” He invited, as he clicked through the menu and started the game proper.

 

While the protagonist of the game explored the haunted mansion, Masumi kept one eye on the view counter for the now-familiar name of Jellybeaner. The first hour passed and that was to be expected, and he was having fun with the creeping horror of the game. The second hour passed and he assured himself that they were probably going to show up, he wasn’t even halfway through. By the time the third had passed, he was doing his best to put all of his focus on the game and get used to talking to nobody.

 

The end of the fourth hour came and Masumi signed off with a lethargic salute. He went through his nightly rituals like he always did, doing everything he could to remember the scares of the game and how he’d managed to keep the stream going with all of the good hosting that he’d done before. That he still looked cute, even if nobody was there to see it.

 

But that shell was entirely stripped by the time he heard his parents get home, and he left his ofuro clad in his deep red jinbei just as there was a knock at his door.

 

“Hello, Masumi.” His father looked down at him, a gesture that had become significantly less looming as Masumi aged and realized just how short his father was. His father cocked his head, adjusted his glasses, and raised an eyebrow. “You seem upset."

 

“Oh.” Masumi bit his bottom lip and shrugged. “It’s nothing important. Do you remember the viewer I told you about?” His father gave a sharp nod. “They, um, didn’t show up today, so I think I’m back to the start...”

 

“And you will find another.” Hideki said.

 

“Maybe..”

 

“It is all we can hope for. You are due for a break, regardless. Would you like me to accompany you in Kyoto?”

 

Masumi blinked. “Oh, um, no, thank you, father. I think I’d like to explore on my own. But thanks!” He did his best to smile up at the clean-cut man.

 

“The offer is there.” Hideki said, as he took a step back. “Get some sleep and we’ll go in the morning. It will all seem better then.”

 

“Okay.” Masumi nodded. “Goodnight, father.”

 

“Goodnight, Masumi.” Hideki turned his foot to walk away. “Your moshi-pan is delicious.”

 

“Oh, thanks.” Masumi’s eyes regained some of their luster. “You had one already?”

 

“No.” Hideki adjusted his partially-loosened tie. “But I stole some from your mother’s plate.”

 

A little laugh escaped Masumi’s lips. “Goodnight.” He said, as he closed the door and padded over to his bed. Sleep came a little more easily than he’d expected.

 

Come morning, he had breakfast with his parents and shared a few details of the weeks they had. That of his parents didn’t change a great deal, but it was one of the easier weeks and that meant they would join him on his Kyoto trip. They prepared some things for their picnic, then headed off to the local train for the trip ahead. Masumi kept his eyes on the rolling hills as the rails soared beneath them, and then they were in the city.

 

With his heart still heavy from disappointment, Masumi decided to pay a visit to his favorite store in his favorite complex of Mina. He didn’t stand out too much from the rest of the crowd, as he weaved his way into neat wide-open building that started to wander through the racks and shelves covered in all manner of women’s clothing. Here, he walked with a little more confidence. At a glance, some people would mistake him for a girl anyway, and there was one person who helped put him at ease.

 

“Oh, who’s this?” Came a husky voice from behind Masumi, as he spun around to face the owner of the voice. She stood at least a head higher than him, with a tight white blouse that clung to her a little too well, a lustrous pastel skirt, and lips cast in a sinfully dark hue. “Is that...my favorite customer?” She put both hands to her cheeks and opened her mouth wide. “It is! Little Sanada!”

 

“Hey, Miss Takahashi.” Masumi gave her a cursory smile. “I’m, um. I’m just browsing.”

 

“Still at school and you’re spending your free time hunting for your girlfriend’s clothes.” Takahashi sighed dreamily. “You’re too good for her, Sanada. You should spend your time with me.” She put on a pout.

 

“My time?” Masumi met her eyes. “I don’t want to be rude, but, um, that’s not how you say ‘money’.”

 

“You wound me, Sanada!” Takahashi placed a hand over her heart. “That’s just one of your amazing qualities. But, now that you mention it, there is this wonderful blue lingeri-”

 

“Stop that!” Masumi’s cheeks suddenly turned pink. “It-It’s rude to bully young people!”

 

“Are you saying I’m old?” Takahashi gasped and pointed a finger at Masumi. “If you weren’t so rich, that tongue of yours would put a serious dent in our relationship.”

 

“I-I have a girlfriend already!” Masumi protested.

 

“But I never get to see her.” Takahashi pointed out with a sly grin. “Why doesn’t she come here herself?”

 

“She’s scared of creepy managers.” Masumi stuck his tongue out at the woman.

 

“I think she just doesn’t want you see us side by side.” Takahashi booped the young man’s nose. “All those clothes I’ve helped you choose, don’t think I haven’t noticed a certain something. Or, lack, of something?” She surreptitiously scratched the place below her blouse.

 

“W-Well...I...she...” Masumi resolved to stare at the shelf. “She’s not been feeling good lately. I wanted to buy her something to help her feel pretty. Can you help?”

 

Takahashi smiled warmly and bobbed her head. “I think we can find something suitable for your little lady friend. Did she like the last dress you bought her?” She asked, as she beckoned for Masumi to follow her along the shelves.

 

“Y-Yeah, the flowers especially were things she liked.” Masumi joined Takahashi’s side and tried his best to follow her gaze along the shelves. “I think she wants something very feminine this time. To, um, make her feel like she’s very womanly.”

 

“Is that what she’s after?” Takahashi glanced at the young man. “It surprises me every time. Normally women who go after men like you are a bit more like tomboys.”

 

“Men like me?”

 

“You know, you’re,” Takahashi put a finger to her full lips. “Gentle. In your manners, in how you walk, and your size. Tomboys love boys like that for some reason, maybe because they hang around with so many normal boys. But who am I to judge?” She giggled. “Femininity it is. I have an outfit I’ve been keeping for myself, but...I’ll let her use it.” They came upon a mannequin tucked in a corner of the store.

 

Masumi was immediately enraptured by it. It was a red apron dress, pleated at the short skirt, with a white blouse and black ribbon around the neck that mimicked the upper half of Takahashi’s outfit. But there was also a blue sash around the waist, and on its legs were a set of ornate stockings that carried a faintly gilded design. It was completed with a set of red slip-ons. He stared at it until Takahashi’s fingers snapped in front of his face.

 

“Welcome back to the world of the conscious.” Takahashi grinned toothily. “So, I take it that you’ll be taking it?”

 

“Y-Yes!” Masumi declared, as all of his worries were suddenly washed away by a pair of imaginary people. One was of him in the outfit, the other of Takahashi in the outfit, and his mind struggled between which image to choose. “Please.” He added, still blushing.

 

“I’ll find the ones in her sizes right away.” Takahashi winked at Masumi and strode off to the tune of clacking heels Masumi was left alone with the dress, and he faintly ran his fingers over the material. From the blouse to the dress to the stockings, all of it was perfect. He already planned his night out in his mind, and it didn’t matter if he wasn’t streaming that night. It was what he was going to wear and feel good about it.

 

Takahashi called him over to the counter, the outfit already inside and wrapped up nicely. He was going to have to find a replacement bag, like always, but he took it with a smile on his face.

 

“Oh, the things I could have done with an allowance like that...” Takahashi lamented as Masumi left.

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Hazuzu

Bio: Stock art for Words on a Screen from: https://www.deviantart.com/artmasterrich/art/Closeup-of-My-Keyboard-207386064

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