Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"HATSUKOI." (Ren'Ai Rensai, #2)

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Translation: "First love."
Japanese Title: 「初恋。」
Published: November 30th, 2012
Price: $4.99
Era: Past
Time Period: December, 1992 - April, 1993
Editor: Lindsay York
Cover Photo: Wisky
Paperback: Available


If society has taught Aiko anything, it's that one day she will marry a man. Not until she meets Reina, a lesbian with a knack for flirting, does she decide she wants to experience a different kind of sexual liberation - assuming she can overcome her insecurities and nosy family. As she succumbs more and more to Reina's charms, however, Aiko wonders if she can really abandon everyone's expectations.

Reina has met plenty of girls like Aiko before: cute, naive, and ready to screw the status quo. After being burned by countless young women who go on to marry men and forget their lesbian lives, how can Reina trust yet another "good girl" following her around? Especially when she thinks she may be having those foreign feelings for her best friend instead.

Time will only tell if Hatsukoi, or "first love," has really come to two such different people. Is their relationship genuine or just another footnote amongst flirting, lying, and sneaking around love hotels?


Tokyo; December 10th, 1992

Somewhere, Aiko’s favorite song played on a stereo.

Her ears followed the pop-rock sounds to the corner of the room where two girls huddled around a mirror, applying makeup. Aiko turned to her cousin Shizuka and waited for her to proceed with the tour and introductions. It was Aiko’s first time to see the backstage of a music theater, and she didn’t want to embarrass herself or get her cousin in trouble.

She always thought such a scene would be alight with human energy, but the few staff members wandering around yawned behind limp hands. A costumer pushed a rack of colorful sequined dresses across the room and was followed by everyone else, except for the two girls still applying. Aiko recognized their dresses as the same style Shizuka wore.

“Are those your group mates?” she asked.

Shizuka nodded with the same dead energy. “Two of them, anyway.”

“Is one of them the American?”

“Well, one of them is American.” Shizuka blinked. “No, not the one I told you about. The other one is blond.”

“There are two Americans?” Aiko had heard about one, a pale blonde with a high voice and a sordid reputation, if sarcastic cousins were credible. “How lucky!”

“Yeah, lucky. They talk in English behind our backs. Well, fight is more like it.” Shizuka took a step further into the light. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the nicer one.”

Although she sauntered through the room without a worry, Aiko took more care to ensure she didn’t step on a forgotten feather or bump her head against the cords hanging from the ceiling. This place is so amazing. Every time she watched a live music show on television, she wondered what the places the talents retreated to offstage were like. Now that she had a cousin in the entertainment industry, it was like Christmas came three weeks early.

“Yo!” Shizuka called as they approached the duo of bandmates. “If you two aren’t careful, you’re going to kill our make-up supply and piss off the manager.”

One of the women dropped her eyeliner and craned her head around, revealing Western face framed with bobbed brown hair. “Is there a problem?” Aiko was surprised the foreigner spoke Japanese well. “Or are you jealous we got the new stock before you?”

“Oh, please.” Shizuka smiled. “Ai-chan, this is my fellow forgotten backup singer, Michiko.” She stepped out of the way so Aiko was unexpectedly presented on a bashful platter. “She’s the other American I just now told you about.”

Michiko also smiled and extended a hand towards Aiko. "Hajimemashite,” the American greeted. “What’s your name?”

The giddiness over getting to shake hands like a “real” foreigner was enough to make Aiko beam, although her eyes kept pointed to the ground. “Hajimemashite,” she said, and gripped Michiko’s soft hand. Aiko pulled it away again before her shyness could overcome her. “My name is Aiko. Aiko Takeuchi.”

“Oi!” Shizuka smacked the other woman on the shoulder. “Don’t be rude!”

“Eh?” The woman in blue spun around. Vibrant eyes shrouded in thick eyeliner stared at Aiko, dissecting her, judging her.

Aiko didn’t know why another Japanese girl’s face shocked her so much. Maybe it was the eyeliner, or the eyes – upon reflection later in life, Aiko would gauge it was a combination of those eyes alongside the sleek and long, black hair making her heart still in her chest. This woman looked like a veritable Cleopatra.

She did not, however, talk like an Egyptian ruler.

Mou, Shi-chan, why’d you bring a little girl in here? We just practiced for three hours and I’m tired.”

“You’re a dog,” Shizuka bit with a sharp tongue. To Aiko, she said, “This is Reina. She sings well but is all sorts of gross.”

“Yeah, well, fuck you too.” But Reina grinned, and confusion swam in Aiko – perhaps from the rough and coarse words coming out of such a dainty mouth. Reina’s vocabulary made her sound like the tough boys at Aiko’s old high school.

Shizuka responded with a thump on Reina’s shoulder, and soon the group mates laughed in unison while Aiko stood in perplexity. They must be really close. She never took her cousin as somebody to laugh at another woman’s crudeness, but this world she worked in was different from everyday society.

As the laughing died down, Reina pulled out a carton of cigarettes and passed one to Michiko. Shizuka further surprised Aiko by reaching out to take one as well – since when did she smoke? Did her mother know? Before the lighter in Michiko’s hand sparked to life, the cigarette carton appeared in hand’s reach.

Ii yo.” Reina shoved the carton at Aiko again. “Ah, let me guess, you don’t smoke.”

Aiko shook her head as Reina leaned back and took a light from Michiko. Soon three plumes of smoke wafted around Aiko’s head and made her swoon; she wasn’t sure if the high was from second-hand smoke or from seeing Reina wrap her tongue and skinny fingers around a cigarette. Men who smoked were disgusting and inconsiderate, but something about a woman crossing her legs and pursing her lips made Aiko double-take.

“Figures.” The smoke lingered around Reina’s face, obscuring her thin eyes. “You’re a good girl, I bet. You don’t smoke, get drunk, or fuck.” When the smoke cleared Aiko could see Reina’s eyes searing, daring her to respond.

“Oh, shut up and leave her alone. Don’t listen to her.” Shizuka took another draft of her cigarette. “This one never stops thinking about sex.”

“Hey, at least I get some.”

“I told you, I’m not interested in women.”

Throughout this small exchange, Michiko kept a curious eye on Aiko and her reactions. Now, upon both the declaration of Reina’s passive thoughts and her assumptions about Shizuka, Michiko studied Aiko’s face as if she had a second nose.

“Maybe she’s not as good as you think she is, Reina-chan,” Michiko said. “She hasn’t flinched once upon hearing the naughty things we’re saying about you.”

“Naughty? Don’t drag me into this.” Shizuka waved her hand, her cigarette smoke bouncing up and down.

When Aiko spoke to defend herself, her voice was a pitiful squeak. “I’m sorry, Michiko-san,” and it pained her sensibilities to not call Michiko by her last name, but since she did not know it, she resorted to the more familiar given, “I’m afraid my reactions are not satisfactory to you because I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m sorry if I sound dense.”

Michiko’s brows rose and Reina laughed. “See. Told you,” she said in triumph. “She’s so goody-goody she doesn’t even know a conversation about fucking.”

“Not everybody is as sexually needy as you,” Michiko mumbled between goes at her cigarette.

Aiko blushed. She certainly knew sex! How old did they think she was? But that’s not what they had been talking about at all. The conversation was about an implication between Shizuka and Reina. Absurd. Shizuka had a boyfriend.

But then she announced to Aiko in out-loud confidence, “Reina is a lesbian.”

Scoffing, Reina stood and threatened her with a roll of the tongue and some brash, masculine words. “Hey! Who told you it was okay to just blab that around? Shinjiran.” She smashed her cigarette into an ashtray. “I’m gonna get a beer.”

Michiko asked for one as well before Reina stalked off to another room. “Don’t mind her,” she then said to Aiko. “She’s a rude little lesbian. I’m a much nicer one.” She discarded her cigarette next to Reina’s.


Even Shizuka spun her head towards Aiko at that. “Are you serious? You don’t know what that means?”

Aiko stiffened. “I know what it means.” She had Western friends; of course she knew what a “lesbian” was. The word was even in Hollywood movies! But a Japanese woman? A lesbian? It didn’t make sense. “But isn’t that…weird?”

“Not if you like fucking women.”

No amount of blinking could make Michiko’s statement clearer. Aiko tried to imagine two Japanese women having sex, and all she could come up with was two naked women bumping into each other and apologizing as if they were on a crowded (nudist) train. She blushed again. “How would somebody know that?”

“You…want to fuck women.” Michiko rolled her eyes as if to say, “Japanese.” Aiko knew that eye-roll well from her foreign-exchange friends. “It’s not rocket science.”

Maa, don’t listen to her.” Shizuka tugged on Aiko’s arm. “They’re perverts.”

Before Michiko could open her mouth, Reina reemerged with two beers in her hands. “Are you still educating her about vaginas?” she asked, passing a beer to Michiko.

When their eyes met, Aiko thought she saw a familiar teasing quality, although it unnerved her. What if she thinks I’m some sort of prey now? Where did that thought come from?

“Oi, Little Miss Good Girl.” Reina snapped her fingers to get Aiko’s attention. Her eyes unglazed and she looked into a satisfying smirk on Reina’s face. “How’d you like it if I fucked your pussy real good?”

All the blood froze in Aiko’s body as Shizuka smacked Reina on the head and Michiko likewise said some scolding words. The three of them would’ve been amusing to any impartial onlooker, but to Aiko all she could see was Reina’s mischievous smile and hear her naughty words. Do what? To my what? She took a step back from the fray of “That’s my fucking cousin you pervert!” and “Reina, you no-good idiot!” and hugged the wall as if nobody could see her there.

“How’d you like it if I fucked your pussy real good?”

“Come on, Ai-chan.” Shizuka appeared, taking Aiko by the arm and hauling her towards the rear exit. “I’ll take you to the train station. I’m sorry I introduced you to that asshole.”

They were outside in the alley before Aiko could look back and see either Michiko or Reina again. A light December drizzle began to fall as Shizuka pointed out the direction to the nearest station and offered Aiko fare to get home. She glanced around as if she were in a dream.

“How’d you like if I fucked your pussy real good?”

“Don’t worry about anything.” Aiko shoved the money away and took a step towards the main road. “It’s fine. Really.” She said some curt goodbyes to her cousin and thanked her for the tour. Before Shizuka could respond, Aiko was halfway down the alleyway, her shoes dunking in the puddles and heart pounding in her chest.  



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