"I made an effort - quit laughing - if I had worn my usual stuff here they'd have me kicked out! Going here for a date was your idea, in case you conveniently forgot!" The ladies around them glare at Fukuda and make shushing noises. He glowers indignantly at Aoki.
"If only you'd suggested something other than McDonalds. Perhaps we wouldn't have met at the Berry Cafe." Aoki raises an eyebrow, daring him to reply.
"Look, at least McDonalds is cheaper than this place and doesn't have whatever the hell is this dish supposed to be," Fukuda mutters as he stabs his finger at a picture of a particularly frothy strawberry parfait. "What are you even getting, Aoki-jo?"
"Darjeeling and a slice of strawberry shortcake."
"Fine, fine," Fukuda says, as he lazily flags a waitress down. The waitress is wearing an outfit that looks like a strawberry parfait. Much like the cafe's decor, it's aggressively pink and frilly. She extricates her pink scented notepad from a compartment in her strawberry-patterned apron, and nods at Fukuda.
He jabs a thumb at Aoki. "She'll have the Darjeeling and strawberry shortcake, I'll have your Earl Grey and the dark chocolate cake."
The waitress bustles off to the kitchen.
"I hope you have plans for stuff after this. If I have to sit here and hear those women behind us gossip all afternoon..." Fukuda shoots the middle-aged women a glare, which they don't notice, because they are too engrossed in a story which requires plenty of hand gestures. Aoki tries not to imagine what they are talking about, and why that woman is holding her hands apart like that, with the rest of them making impressed noises.
"Bunch of old perverts, if you ask me," he mutters. Aoki breaks her gaze away from the woman's hands, which seem to be moving further and further apart as she talks about her activities last night.
"Aren't you the one listening in?"
"Oi, Aoki-jo, I wasn't the one who drew those weird-ass fanservice shots. Are you learning how to draw shonen manga from bondage porn?"
"I-I didn't insert pantyshots into a serious battle like you did! Dramatic tension isn't supposed to become sexual tension!"
"Ha! At least my pantyshots are really evocative - one of my readers sent me a note saying that he hasn't seen pantyshots this great in a long time!"
"Is your rampant perversion really something to be proud of, Fukuda-san?"
The saucers of tea clatter on the table, and both of them look up. The waitress looks like she is actively trying to wipe the overheard conversation from her mind. The plates of cake are set on the table, and the waitress walks off hurriedly, giving both of them a wide berth.
Aoki snorts with laughter, then freezes, but Fukuda doesn't look like he cares that her ladylike image slipped, because he's smirking, fork tines poised above his chocolate cake.
"Bet she never expected to hear that shit from us - but yeah, what are you doing after this?" He lifts the fork, taking a messy bite. It looks really good, and Aoki secretly wishes she'd ordered it instead of her strawberry shortcake. The frosting has melted, and drips onto the plate, soaking the bottom of the cake.
"Oh, I was...going to go to the bookstore nearby, they have a wallet collection that just came in." She mentally kicks herself, because the nearby bookstore is the girliest thing possible, and Fukuda would probably prefer going home and ending the date to actually stepping into the bookstore and viewing their collection of china cats and cute notebooks. "But...but if you prefer, we can do something else?"
"Nahhh, bookstore's fine. Want to try some cake? It's not half bad."
She half-expects him to try and feed her a bite of the cake (she's been raised on shoujo manga), but he shoves his plate over to her side of the table, snags her strawberry shortcake, and takes a huge forkful. She tries not to cringe at what his fork is doing to the delicate cake, and takes a tiny bite of his cake.
It's really good. She'll have to order it next time.
Later, at the bookstore, while she's trying to decide between the wallet with dancing cats and the wallet with rabbits on a picnic, Fukuda flips open a large floppy notebook and waves it in her face. Its interior illustration has an image of a frog trying its best to play the piano.
"Hey, Aoki-jo, do you think this drawing looks like a constipated lizard? Maybe it's just me, I dunno."
She opens her mouth, ready to indignantly defend the artistic choices of the illustrator, she knows just how hard it is to draw frogs...but the more she looks at it, the more she realises that the frog does, in fact, look like a lizard prepared to take the largest poop of its lifetime.
"And this fairy here" - Fukuda jabs a finger at the book - "he looks so damn fascinated with the lizard's ass, like he's gonna poop out gold and the fairy wants to be prepared."
She starts to laugh, and they end up buying the notebook as well. They write in it and thoroughly vandalise the notebook with a ballpoint pen. The constipated frog/lizard ends up surrounded by a throng of horrified rabbits, a few fairies on motorcycles, and an elaborate illustration of Doraemon as a pirate.
She ends up keeping the notebook in her drawer.
From then on, whenever he calls her up to complain about his rankings, or his lack of inspiration for his series, she photocopies a page from the notebook, writes a message on the photocopy, and faxes it over to him.
It's worth the trouble, just to hear him laugh.
"You look weird as hell, Aoki-jo," and Aoki supposes that's Fukuda's idea of a greeting. She flushes and smooths the wrinkles on her dark purple dress. It's a bit shorter and tighter than she'd like, and she felt the compulsion to pull on a pair of leggings before she put on her slouchy boots. Her shoulders feel oddly bare - she's foregone the usual sweater. She's spent the time in between the endless storyboards and the endless inking trying to plan an outfit for this date, and she's mildly dismayed at his immediate reaction.
He hastily backtracks. "Weird, yeah, but cute as hell - anyway, movie night, right?"
"Right!" She isn't sure what movie he's picked, but she hopes it won't be something too horrifying - she asked him to pick something that he'd usually watch. There's no point in toning down his taste to spare her - they are dating, even if she has trouble believing it sometimes.
"Oh, it's a kung-fu flick, hope you don't mind. Figure it shouldn't be too gory, yeah?"
"It's fine, when does it start?"
"Ah, eight-thirty. There's a convenience store nearby, I'm probably gonna grab some stuff before the movie. That okay with you?"
She nods, and he leads the way.
Fukuda buys a ton of snacks from the store, all the kind of thing she tries to avoid eating out of concern for her health. Aoki buys a bottle of water, and he offers to cram it into his rucksack. Aoki's amazed at his packing skills, and the seemingly-infinite holding capacity of his rucksack.
He brings his rucksack into the cinema, because he refuses to buy any refreshments from the counter. She's worried that they'll get caught, but he claps a hand on her back reassuringly, before he remembers she isn't wearing her usual sweater and hastily takes it away. The warmth of his hand lingers on her skin. He's right, they don't get caught, and it is much cheaper. He rummages through the bag right after they sit down, and hands her the bottle of water. She struggles to open it, but can't manage to break the plastic seal, and using the hem of her dress to grip the bottle cap would look downright obscene. She's seriously considering remaining thirsty for the rest of the night when Fukuda snags the bottle, twists its cap a few times, and hands it back.
"Hey, no problem. Want some Hello Panda? It's chocolate-flavoured."
She sticks her hand into the box and takes a few. They're better than she remembered - the last time she ate those was in high school. She tries not to chew too loudly.
Fifteen minutes through the movie, she's shivering with cold. The air-conditioning seems to be set to Arctic temperatures, and she regrets not bringing her fluffy sweater, even if it would ruin her look.
"Cold, Aoki-jo? Here, put this on." Fukuda doffs his hoodie and hands it to her. She pulls it on. It's warm and so large that she's practically swimming in it. It feels great for a moment, she's actually comfortable and warm, before she remembers that Fukuda would probably freeze to death without it.
"Won't you be cold now? Ah, here, have it back," and she pulls the zipper down, extricating her arms from the huge sleeves.
"Nah, it's fine." He pulls on the long sleeves of his shirt to highlight their presence. "It's pretty warm like this - besides, what kind of boyf...pal would I be if I let you freeze to death in a cinema?"
"Thank you." She puts the jacket back on, and takes a moment to consider her next phrase. "I meant, thank you, boyfriend."
He splutters and fumbles his pack of wasabi peas, but manages a nice recovery, even if a few peas fall on the ground.
The movie is not her usual thing, but it actually has an interesting plot, and the main character moves very fluidly. She takes mental notes on how his body shifts before the fight - she's never been any good at action scenes, Fukuda's always been excellent at them. Maybe because of this sort of movie. But the best part of watching the movie is seeing Fukuda enthusiastic, his back ramrod-straight, entirely focused on watching. He winces when the hero takes a blow, and leans closer to the screen when the hero unleashes his skills on the members of the evil organisation.
That's when the hero kicks someone so hard that his head explodes, and Aoki starts coughing because she wasn't expecting that, and she feels sort of nauseous when she looks at the splatter of brain matter on the camera lens. All Fukuda's attention is on her now, and he hesitantly rubs her back, asking her if she needs to go outside, even though the movie's at the point before the climax where the hero is battling eight men at once. She takes a swig of her bottled water, and the sensation fades after a while, but Fukuda keeps stealing concerned looks at her even after she recovers.
When they get out of the theater, Aoki starts to apologise, but Fukuda doesn't seem very perturbed about missing part of the movie to calm her down.
"Shut up and don't be stupid, it's not your fault for getting grossed-out, and I chose to check on you because you're...my girlfriend."
"Thank you, Fukuda-san. Besides that scene, it was quite a good movie...I quite liked the scene where he had to stop the huge martial arts robot."
"Wait, you liked that, but not his fight with the evil chick? You were looking away from the screen, I saw you! It was a kickass fight, and you were checking your watch!" He sounds very affronted.
Aoki mentally notes the fact that he was looking at her throughout the film, feels oddly flattered and steels herself for one of their debates. "Her acting was absolutely painful to watch, and did you hear the way she pronounced his name? Just awful." She tries to imitate the evil girl's strange inflection, and Fukuda is amused despite his best efforts to keep a straight face, sticking to his viewpoint that the warehouse fight was kickass and Aoki was a philistine for not appreciating it.
Eventually they agree that, yes, the martial arts robot was the best point of the film, and settle into comfortable conversation as they walk to his bike.
"Thanks for giving this a shot, I know it's really not your kinda thing. Want a ride back? I'll drop you off."
"Don't be silly, I liked it...well, despite that scene, and yes, I'd love a ride."
When she's riding pillion that night, she hugs him a little tighter than normal. She's still wearing his hoodie - he refuses to take it back until they reach her place - and it billows in the night air.
When they reach her place, she alights, and hands the hoodie back to him. He gets off the bike and puts it on again.
"Want me to walk you up, Aoki-jo?"
"No, it's all right, I can manage! Thank you for the nice date. See you next week!"
Before she can lose her nerve, she leans in to hug him.
After a brief moment of shock and confusion, he hugs her back.
Aoki's not looking her best today, but it doesn't matter, because all she's doing is buying manga supplies and heading back home to catch up on that week's dramas. Maybe she'll cook, if she can muster the energy to venture into the grocery store.
She's walking out of her favourite art supply store with some ink and nibs when she sees Fukuda sitting on a bench near a fountain and fiddling with a gadget. He has a bag from the same art store between his feet, and his rucksack is next to him. He looks quite rumpled, and his hair is a mess.
"Oh, hello!" She's about to ask him what he's doing here, but decides against it, for fear of asking a stupid question.
"Yo, Aoki-jo. Bought some stuff, but didn't want to go back to my apartment - it's a shithole - figured I'd bum around here for a bit." He pats the empty part of the bench. "Wanna join, or do you have shit to do?"
She thinks about it, and meeting Fukuda is definitely preferable to watching all the taped shows she's missed, even if she isn't prepared for this meeting. She has practically no makeup on, and she's wearing her most comfortable (and rattiest) sweater. She puts the bag on the ground, and sits down next to him.
"What are you doing, Fukuda-san?"
"Ah, y'know, people-watching, playing some Pokemon. Just bought this version today, trying to get the hang of Pokemon on the DS. Too used to my old Gameboy."
She struggles to think of another sentence to drive the conversation along. She honestly knows nothing about Pokemon or Gameboys or the DS, and it's pointless to feign knowledge with Fukuda when he's so adept at reading her reactions.
"Oh, what's it like? I've never tried."
"Aoki-jo...you write for Shonen Jump but you've never played Pokemon?! What the hell, how do you even live?" He selects a few options on the DS and shoves it into her hands, looking at her intently. "You've gotta at least try it - it's pretty damn fun once you get the hang of it."
She stares down at the screen, unsure of how to handle the device.
"It says to enter my name. How do I do that?"
"Oh, right, right, gimme a sec," he mutters. He takes the DS back from her and navigates deftly through the screens, giving her a crash-course on Pokemon that she forgets about the moment the DS is back in her hands. He patiently reminds her of the menu functions when she starts to hesitate, and instructs her on the best starter to choose when she spends several minutes trying to decide which one looks the best at battling. Despite her initial reluctance, she finds herself getting engrossed in the game. Fukuda alternates between glancing at her and staring at the people passing by.
"Ah...Fukuda-san, isn't it boring for you, sitting here and watching me play? Do you want a turn?"
"Nah, it's kinda fun helping you. I don't mind. You having fun, though?"
Oddly enough, she is, so she nods enthusiastically. She's about to level her newest (and cutest) Pokemon up, so she returns her attention to the game. She hopes he'll learn a new attack once he hits level twelve.
He scoots a bit closer to her, takes a deep breath to steel himself, then says, "Hey, would you mind if I kiss you on the cheek?"
She's so shocked that she fumbles the DS, and it plummets to the ground. Fukuda snags it right before it hits, then peers at the screen. The kiss is forgotten.
"I told you not to catch that! It's completely worthless at this stage! And how did this one get to be a higher level than your starter?! Your starter should always be your strongest Pokemon!"
"It was adorable and I liked the design, so I used it more often!"
"Well, how the hell do you think your starter feels, huh?! Your new useless Pokemon's gonna pass out when it meets the next gym leader! And Pen-Pen will have to fight, and you'll white-out because he isn't even levelled up enough to fight solo!"
"I'll level him up, then!"
She snatches the DS back from him and starts switching the slots of her Pokemon team, furiously tapping the touchscreen. After a few minutes of her trainer angrily tromping around in the tall grass and beating wild Pokemon up, she glances at Fukuda.
"Fukuda-san, are you ever concerned...you know...that our relationship is going kind of slowly?"
"Don't say stupid shit. As long as we have fun together, it's all good, isn't it? Don't want to pressure you into anything."
She looks at him. It isn't obvious, due to his long hair, but he's actually blushing. She thinks about what he's just said, and all he's done for her, and their yelling at each other over the phone about pantyshots, and how he's always helped her out without any strings attached.
She thinks about the way he looked at her when he first asked if she wanted to go on a date with him, and that's what spurs her next action.
She leans over, brushes his hair off his face, and pecks him on the cheek. She enjoys his shocked face for a moment - he looks like his brain isn't capable of processing what has just happened - and kisses him again, on the same spot.
He snaps out of the shock, and hesitantly moves in for a kiss. His breath tickles her cheek, and his upper lip has a bit of scratchy stubble, but she doesn't mind. He draws back after a while, and his lips are parted - she half-expects him to say something romantic or compliment her.
"It's practically dinnertime - wanna go grab a burger or something? We'll have to walk, though, my bike's being repaired."
She's brutally reminded that she's writing for Shonen Jump and not Margaret or Ribon.
"I don't mind a burger, but maybe MOS Burger? Their hamburgers are better than McDonalds."
"Ohhh, Aoki-jo, a lady like you knows about hamburgers? Careful! They'll revoke your lady status if they catch you!"
She rolls her eyes, and stuffs the DS back into its protective bag. She hands it back to him, and picks up her bag of art supplies. She hands the other plastic bag to him, and he tries to fit it into his rucksack before giving up and carrying it.
"Want me to carry your stuff too?" He holds the handles of his plastic bag open, inviting her to put her bag inside.
"No, it's all right, Fukuda-san. I can manage."
"Hey, if you insist - next time I'll show you how to play Phoenix Wright. It's kinda like Seigi no Mikata, but in a video game. Think you'll like it."
They don't fit together at all, and the passersby are gaping at them, probably trying to figure out why such a pretty woman is with someone who looks like an unshorn ruffian, and why they're so engaged in their conversation with each other.
There won't be any long-legged princes on white horses. Instead there's Fukuda in all his lanky glory, with his motorbike that is slightly too small for two people and occasionally belches awful-smelling smoke. He's obsessed with fast-food and action movies, and sometimes he calls her while he's in the bathroom and sees absolutely nothing wrong with that. He'll never understand her obsession with rabbits and her collection of Tanemura Arina manga, and he curses more than she'd like to hear.
There are days where she thinks Fukuda must have originated from another planet, and she has no hope of understanding him at all, which is probably true. But despite all their dissimilarities, he likes her, and they get along fine.
They'll never be a perfect match, but who cares?
They have fun anyway.