Lies, chapter 2: Joshua Claiborne

Karai let out a gasp of air as the corset closed in on her waist. Not the most comfortable feeling, but she was resolute. “Tighter, Lin!” she exclaimed.

“You know, I remember a time when you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything remotely constricting. Last week, no? So why the change?”

“No change (oof!). If wearing this thing helps keep Joshua happy and my cover intact, I see no reason not to wear it. Pure pragmatism,” she said with a sly smile.

“Sweetie, the guy’s already smitten with you,” Lin continued as eliminated any slack in the corset laces. “Fetish or not, I’m sure he doesn’t expect you to torture yourself every time you’re with him.”

“Oh, you’re being overdramatic.”

The new corset was a shorter version of the one worn at the club, this one stopping just below the breasts. This time, she’d decided to reduce her waist some 12 centimeters, an idea whose merit now seemed increasingly dubious.

“There, all done,” Lin finally said, as she tied up the excess corset lace into a bow.

“Thank you.”

“No problem, sweetie. Anyway, like I was saying, it’s okay if you like the guy—
he seemed harmless enough from what I saw of him, so go nuts. Still, don’t forget that you’re on a mission; you’re eventually going to have to break his heart and ditch him.”

Karai felt a sudden twinge in her stomach. She hoped it had come from the corset. “I know my orders,” she responded.

“Good. Well, I won’t keep you, then. Have fun!”

Joshua Claiborne couldn’t believe his luck. While his innate inconspicuousness usually suited him just fine, it had the annoying side effect of making him (nearly) completely unattractive to the opposite sex. Any woman he managed to find a rapport with would inevitable give him the “I don’t think of you that way” speech. What made Karai different? Joshua had no clue, and at this point, he didn’t much care.

“So, Mr. Claiborne,” Karai asked, as the couple waited for their food to arrive. “What exactly is it you do at that company of yours?”

“Well, I’m Senior network administrator. I make sure the network works—it’s not really that interesting. How about you?”

I’m training to take over the largest crime syndicate in the world. Also, I’m working on my M.B.A. is what Karai would have said, if she was being totally honest. Instead, she told him the previously-concocted story of how she hoped to become a psychologist. The talk continued over similarly mundane lines until the food arrived. As they ate, Karai asked Joshua what had brought him to Japan.

“Robots.”

“Robots?”

“Did you ever watch New Century Evangelion?”

“Giant robots. Hopelessly screwed up people. Mindfuck ending,” she said, stressing “mindfuck” in English. “I’m familiar with it.”

“Well, I first watched it when I was in high school. A friend of mine had just imported the series—this was back when it hadn’t been officially translated—and shown it to me. It seemed like the coolest thing ever. It made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do.”

“Build giant robots.”

“Yeah. I got my degree on computer science, then moved here to try to get my master’s.”

“And…?”

“Well, I couldn’t. I ran myself ragged for months, and I still couldn’t make the grade. After having a small mental breakdown, I decided to give it up.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“So eventually, I found my current job at Cyberbiotics—nothing fancy, and not what I expected to be doing when I turned 23, but it’s at least somewhat tangentially related to robotics.”

“It’s not that I’m dissatisfied—not really,” Joshua continued, between bites of his sashimi. “The work is okay, and I’m making okay money—I just expected to be somewhere else at this stage. Okay, so maybe I am dissatisfied.”

At the moment, however, Joshua was very much not dissatisfied; he was too busy staring at his dinner companion to even think about it. Those eyes. That hair. That perfect hourglass figure. All that in a geeky, non-Japanese personality? It didn’t seem possible (it wasn’t).

“Um…my eyes are up here.”

“Oh, sorry, you’re right. It’s just, your waist…I kind of have a corset fetish, just in case it wasn’t completely obvious.”

“Don’t worry—it’s completely obvious,” she said, with a wink. “Lucky you ran into me, then. Not too many people in Japan tightlace—wrong body type for it.”

“How did you start?” Joshua asked, as he moved on to his cucumber salad, which he attacked with gusto.

“Oh, about two years ago.” Karai lied. My then-boyfriend asked me to try them out, so I did. You can see which of the two lasted longer.”

“So I won’t have to deal with irate boyfriends, then? Good—I’m quite fond of my teeth. By the way, just how tight is that corset, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m guessing…20 inches?”

“Right on the nose.”

“And is it comfortable? I know I’d never be able to wear one as tightly as you do, and I know that expecting women to do something men would never do is a horrible double standard, but there it is.”

It was, in retrospect, a ridiculous comment, and not really funny. Still, when it was said, it elicited a loud guffah from Karai, the sort which itself elicits strange looks from bystanders, and, although she took it in stride at the moment, it bothered her the more she thought about it latter on.

Karai never laughed. While she was not without a sense of humor, she had proved mostly incapable of producing that particular vocal expulsion: living with her father had given her no chance to develop it, and by the time she’d earned a measure of independence, the action had grown to seem alien to her. Even her Karai Himeru persona rarely laughed—Karai had decided early on that since she couldn’t do it naturally, she was better off not trying to fake it.

Worse still, the laughter had felt unexpectedly comforting and warm, like walking through the woods in a spring morning. It was a feeling she wished to feel again, and was now inextricably tied to the one person she was supposed to hurt.

“Hey, Karai, are you sure I can get something? I’m afraid I’ll destroy the aesthetic perfection or the fridge or something.” Like the rest of her apartment, Karai’s fridge was organized to the point of eerie tidiness. Food was organized by category, and there was nary a stray smudge to be found.

“You will, but don’t worry about it. If you’re that worried”—she stepped into the kitchen—”let me get it for you.” She had changed into shorts and a t-shirt emblazoned with an animated penguin.

The date had taken a bad turn when a combination of the tight corset and a full stomach had made Karai feel ill. At Joshua’s insistence, they cut their dinner short, and headed to Karai’s apartment.

“So I’m guessing the date is over?” Joshua asked, as he opened the beer can Karai had passed him. “Feeling better?”

“Much—although right now, I just want to crawl into bed and go to sleep.”

“And am I included in that scheme?”

“Not really, no—sorry,” Karai said, with a pained look on her face. “Raincheck?”

“Sure—just don’t tighten your corsets too much.”

“I know…! I just wanted to look good for you.”

Joshua blushed. “Thank you. Even so, I’d rather have you not wearing a corset at all than having you get sick on me—you sick is a turn-off.”

“Noted. Sorry I ruined our date.”

“Ruined? Not really. It would take at least a ninja attack before I’d consider a moment with you ruined.” With that comment and a kiss goodbye, Joshua left.

Now alone and with time to kill, Karai proceeded to work on her report on the outing, as required by Foot bylaws–best get unpleasant tasks out of the way as soon as possible. As she recalled the events of the night, the young ninja smiled.

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