I'm here to review your short, Kaiba's Prostitute. First let me say that I'm not a professional, nor a trained editor. These are just the opinions of a hack, so take my comments with a grain of salt. Also, I always give 4 stars. It's no reflection on how good or bad I thought the piece was, more of a rubber stamp to make everyone happy.
Hopefully, you'll find something useful in this review. Since I'm not a professional, all I can do is edit as I would my own work. So, if any of my comments sound harsh, believe me, it's not something I've not been told before or discovered myself.
First off, the good. You're way ahead of the game in terms of story flow. Action, thought, reaction. You do a good job laying out the event, character's internal thoughts, and reaction. This can sometimes be the most difficult thing for a writer to master, so kudos as to handling that well. I think your dialog is also a strong point, though I'd suggest more contractions. People, in conversation, rarely say things like 'do not' or 'can not' when they'd just say 'don't' or 'can't' for example.
Now the bad. There's a lot of confusion in this story. Both with events as well as descriptions. The good thing is that that can be fixed. I understand this is fan fiction, but there needs to be some basic description of events and background so a casual reader won't get lost.
Your descriptions are lacking. I'd say this is the weak spot of the story. You've got several spots where you bring characters into a room without giving the reader any idea where or what they're doing.
This is one of the hardest things to accomplish as a writer. Maybe THE hardest thing. In your head, everything's clear. You know the motivation, what the room looks like, why John Snow is carrying a wolf-headed sword. But unless you tell your reader, they'll have no clue.
Don't think too much about this on your first draft. But when you come back to your story, things like this should be in the forefront of your mind. Constantly ask yourself, does the reader know where we're at? Do they know what this room looks like, or what the monster smells like? Feels like.
Which reminds me of another point. Where you have descriptions, you've done a decent job with them. But there are five senses, not just one. Use them! Smell and sound are easiest to work in, but if you REALLY want to catch your audience's attention throw in touch and taste!
Okay, that's about it. I stopped at chapter 3 as it looked like most of my comments would be similar to the ones above and this is a fairly long piece.
You've definitely got something to work with here, it just needs a little more description and polish.
Keep on writin',
Author's Note: My goal is to present both polyamory and sex work in a positive light despite the fact that we live in a world where most people see both in a negative light.
This is fan fiction designed to tease and please Seto Kaiba fans. However, it is also based on personal experience, starting from a day in my life where I could have met Seto Kaiba if he was a real person. I've changed names and other details, of course, but the point is that I've been through some pretty amazing things thus far in life, and this fuels much of my inspiration.
Extended summary: Prior to the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit, Seto Kaiba visits his brother's side venture on May Day and goes on a power trip, threatening to fire Mokuba's best employees and calling the art director's girlfriend a whore. Who will win the ultimate battle for control? Sex-positive story. Polyamory too. OC x Seto and more!
Chapter 1: Introductions
Joan stepped off Caltrain <confusion:What, who, or where is a 'Coltrain'? Need to make that clear> with her phone in hand, waiting for the next communication from her boyfriend. It was their fifth date and he had invited her to meet him at work, telling her to wear something cute. Not one for frills and ruffles, Joan opted for a knee-length navy blue dress with a white floral pattern. The neckline plunged low enough to attract attention without being dangerous.
Joan didn’t have to wait long for Marc. The tall, Filipino descendant of Genghis Khan <this paused me. How does being Filipino make him a descendent of Genghis Khan? Probably leave that bit out IMO> strode towards her on the platform, a prince of this urban jungle. Although a mere fraction of a centimeter shorter than him, Joan fell into his arms a quivering lump of woman, the excitement and tension from the past three weeks of not seeing him overtaking her. Her head pressed against his firm shoulder as she <stedied Active vs passive> tried to steady herself.
“Calm down. I’m here now. We’ll have the whole weekend together,” Marc said as he stroked Joan’s arms.
After the trembling subsided, she lifted her head and kissed him for as long as he would allow. He laughed, pushed her off him gently, and escorted her through the town as she worried about office etiquette.<I marked this for cut as I thought it a bit confusing and it doesn't seem to add to the plot
“We’re having a May Day party,” Marc explained as if this was all she needed to know.
<there's nothing here for the reader to attach to this explaination. Are there decorations or something that we need to know about? Why is he presenting this excuse? From the reader's perspective, that's not clear>
They entered a recessed door at the base of a three-story Victorian building and ascended a dark, narrow staircase. After passing a room with six <people> adults playing on their phones around a boardroom table, they entered a gigantic office with an open floor plan. Six rows of white desks with white computer monitors gave Joan a pang of agoraphobia, recalling an internship she’d endured five years ago. She took a deep breath and reassured herself that she worked from home now.
Marc led Joan through the maze of desks to the only other familiar face in the room: his wife Laura. Laura’s middle-aged features were smoothed by flawless makeup and an impeccably clean-cut Italian stood beside her chair. Joan tried to get a good look without staring too hard.
Marc kissed Laura and Joan exchanged nods with her. “Matteo has a theory on Dark Magician Girl,” Laura said.
“She’s a serial monogamist,” Matteo explained. “She grows stronger with every Dark Magician or Magician of Black Chaos in the graveyard. Shame they have to be in the graveyard and not on the field.”
<For a reader without a background in your fanfiction, these lines are quite confusing. Keep in mind that most fiction, even fan fiction need to be able to largely stand alone without too much help from prior material>
“Ouch!” Marc commented.
“I know, right?” Laura added.
<Point: It's been often suggested to stick with 'said' for dialog tags except in limited cases. 'Said' is pretty much invisible to the reader where as other tags may stop the flow>
“OK, well I’m going to show Joan around a bit,” Marc said before guiding her to a different aisle of desks.
A huge touch-screen monitor set at a nearly horizontal angle dominated Marc’s workspace. Marc gestured to some images tacked to the wall. “Those are the skins we haven’t released yet. The animators are still working on them.”
<Skins for what? And some readers might not know what skins are>
Joan looked from the big red devil on the wall to a dull training blade on Marc’s desk. He picked it up and handed it to her, a knowing twinkle in his eye. Joan admired the dents and scratches, wondering how many hours he had spent with the thing.
“Hungry?” Marc asked.
“A little,” Joan admitted. She put down the blade and followed him.
As they passed another desk, Marc spotted one of his 3D artists manipulating Flame Wingman’s crotch. “Don’t flatten it!” Marc exclaimed.
“I wasn’t. That was just for . . .” they passed a few technical phrases back and forth. It all went over Joan’s head.
<Use those technical terms. Showing vs telling. A sentence of technical terms won't throw off the reader and make Joan's confusion more palpitable. ALSO, make damn sure you use those tech terms correctly. There WILL be readers who know what they mean. You'll impress them with your competence>
“All right,” Marc patted the artist on the shoulder and proceeded to a lounge with a buffet table and a huge banner of a man in a billowing trench coat flourishing a smartphone like<a> some sort of sword. “Arrogant prick,” Marc whispered. “I told my boss that an Amazoness or something would attract more attention, but the CEO wants his face on everything. Seriously, that ensemble would hinder him in a real fight.”
Joan nodded and picked a few morsels off the buffet table. She glanced around for a place to sit, but Marc had other ideas. He led her over to an Asian man with shaggy black hair and deep violet eyes. “What do you think of the banner?” the Asian asked.
<You've got her eating, but nowhere describe where it came from. An easy sentence or two will clear that up>
Joan swallowed. “It makes it look like you’re developing an otome game, which is something I’d play, but you’ve got a . . . what’s it called again?”
“A MOBA based on Duel Monsters,” the Asian stated.
“OK, so yeah, if you’re trying to get a bunch of girls to play the game, he’s hot and all, just . . .” Joan trailed off.
The Asian sighed. “That’s my brother for you.”
Joan froze. “Brother?”
“She has a brother fetish,” Marc supplied.
“I see. Kaiba, Mokuba Kaiba,” he stuck out his hand for Joan to shake. “You’ll probably want to steer clear of my brother. He only fucks prostitutes and won’t get a real girlfriend because he’s afraid of gold diggers.”
“Well, Joan only fucks married men,” Marc said with a grin.
“One of my Michaels isn’t married,” Joan corrected. “I’m steering clear of divorced men, though. Too much baggage.”
Mokuba smiled. “You polyamorous people are complicated. How do you ever agree on anything?”
“Lots of communication, both verbal and nonverbal,” Marc said.
Mokuba’s phone buzzed. “Speak of the devil. I’ll get back to you later, OK?”
“Later,” Marc said. He then led Joan over to a friendly Dutch lady proudly explaining the history of May Day to anyone who would listen.
<How does the reader know she's dutch? >
Chapter 2: That One
Seto stepped out of a limo onto a quaint street lined with intricately detailed three-story buildings. He turned to his suited bodyguard with dark glasses and a thin mustache. “They call this Silicon Valley?”
<Instead of saying 'quaint' try and imaging what 'quaint' would look like and describe it>
Before Roland could reply, Seto was assaulted by a “Big brother!” call from Mokuba.
<Confusion: What does this mean, and who is Mokuba (the bodyguard)?>
“Mokuba, is this some sort of joke?” Seto asked.
Mokuba looked around. “What? This? We got a really great deal on the place, it’s a historic landmark, it’s really close to Caltrain, and just wait until you see the inside.”
Seto grumbled under his breath as he followed Roland and Mokuba up the dark, narrow staircase. <Who's Roland? Where did he come from? Is Roland the bodyguard?> When they reached the top <top of what?>, he was temporarily blinded by the brightly lit office.
<they're stepping into a workspace here. Take a second to describe it>
“Eh? Eh?” Mokuba waved an open palm at the workspace.
“Better,” Seto admitted.
Mokuba introduced the nearest person, a dude with sun-bleached hair wearing a “Monsters of the Duel” sweatshirt. “This is Rob Fletcher, our video content manager. Rob, Seto.”
Rob stuck out a hand for Seto to shake, which he reluctantly took. “Hey bro, amped to finally meet you. How long are you going to be in Cali?”
Seto crossed his arms. “Two weeks.”
Rob shook a wavy lock out of his eyes. “Far out! Hey, you wanna make a guest appearance on our next livestream, bro?”
“No. You’re fired.”
“Whaaa?” Rob’s jaw dangled.
“Nobody gets to call me bro except Mokuba.”
Mokuba pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s just an American expression, Seto. And I’m not firing him. The fans like him.”
Seto turned his back on Rob and drew closer to Mokuba. “That slang actually attracts gamers?”
“They eat it up!” Mokuba assured. “People play games to relax, and there’s nothing more relaxed than that California surfer vibe.”
“As long as he’s actually boosting sales, you can keep him. Just don’t put me next to that guy in front of a camera.”
“Noted.” Mokuba led Seto over to Laura and Matteo. “This is our narrative designer Laura Aurelio. Laura, Seto.”
“Hey,” Laura gave him a quirky smirk. “How did you like my portrayal of the Shadow Realm in the lore?”
Daggers of ice shot from Seto’s gaze as traumatic memories of ancient Egyptian hooligans with magical 24-karat gold artifacts flashed through his mind. “The what now?”
“You know, since you and Mokuba spent some time in the Shadow Realm and all . . .” her confidence faltered and Matteo put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I mean, have you even been reading the lore?”
This time, Seto kept his glare on the object of his scorn while he conferred with his brother. “Mokuba, is there something I need to know about the lore?”
Laura looked away from Seto, her eyes pleading with Mokuba for help. “Don’t worry, Seto. Everyone knows it’s pure fantasy. Laura is just bouncing off some stories I told her.”
“You read every word this woman writes before it gets published?”
“Practically the entire staff does. I always check the final version before it goes out, of course.”
“She so much as tries to slip in any slander and she gets canned, got it?” Seto caught Matteo rolling his eyes. “And pretty boy here can pack up his things and leave now.”
“He doesn’t work for us,” Mokuba said.
“What is it, bring-your-boyfriend-to-work day?” Seto scoffed.
“Actually, kinda. It’s May Day and that’s . . . never mind, but Americans will glom<?> onto any excuse to celebrate. Consider it part of our vibrant and diverse office culture,” Mokuba explained.
“What a sham.” Seto turned on his heel and sauntered into the lounge. He made such a dramatic entrance with his arms crossed and his death glare that everyone in the room fell silent and turned to stare. Seeing his face beside the huge banner, he needed no introduction. Someone started clapping, and it crescendoed <Missuse of this word> into applause until Mokuba showed up. <isn't he standing next to him while giving him a tour?>
“Thanks for giving my brother a warm welcome, everyone. He’s had a long flight and he’s glad to finally meet you all,” Mokuba announced.
Seto ignored the cheers that followed. “Mokuba, why is that banner in here and not outside on display?”
“Oh that? We need to get permission from the city before we can put it up, especially since this is a historic landmark and all. It’s going to take a month to approve our application,” Mokuba lied.
“Then why didn’t you just bribe the city officials or . . .” Seto’s gaze fell on a pair of C-cup breasts pressed against navy blue fabric. The woman they were attached to stood tense but bored at the same time, soaking in every detail of her surroundings but eager to move on to something else. Such women, in his experience, were the most eager and passionate lovers. They didn’t simply go through the motions or lie in bed like a dead fish trying not to ruin their makeup before the next client. Seto reflexively tapped Roland’s chest with the back of his hand. “Get me that one. In the floral dress.”
Ever since an incident involving a broken wine glass and eight stitches followed by expensive scar removal procedures and lawsuit threats from both parties, Seto had Roland screen his prostitutes. “Sir, may I suggest a jaunt to Nevada? The laws here don’t permit-”
Roland remained stock still.
“Never mind. I’ll get that one myself.” Seto took a step forward but Mokuba caught his arm.
“Seto, no! That’s my art director’s girlfriend, and you already threatened to fire his wife!”
Seto’s eyes gleamed with <a hunter's> the hunger of a hunter. “Really now? Turns out I do know a good whore when I see one.” He jerked his arm out of Mokuba’s grasp and strode past the chattering game developers towards his target.
Chapter 3: The Deal
Marc slid a hand around Joan’s waist and pulled her close. “It’s that look in his eyes,” Marc whispered. “Kaiba’s not here for me.”
Joan barely had time to comprehend before Seto Kaiba stopped mere inches away from her. “How much?”
“For what?” Joan asked.
“A night with you,” Seto clarified.
“Um . . . five hundred dollars?” Joan suggested.
Seto snorted. “Let me guess. That’s the base price and you charge extra for all the bells and whistles. I’ll pay you one hundred . . . thousand . . . yen, no more, for the all-inclusive package.” He enjoyed watching the emotions flicker across her face as she crunched the numbers.
Though Seto’s gaze pounded on the windows to her soul, Joan felt safe encircled by Marc’s powerful arm. “Oh . . . OK. Wait, are you talking tonight? Because I’m already spoken for tonight. Unless you happen to be into threesomes,” she added hopefully.
Seto eyed the athletic art director, who was completely at ease and in fact seemed to be enjoying the show. “How much is he paying you?”
“He’s not. He’s my boyfriend. Can you wait until Sunday evening? I was planning to go home then, but if I can do laundry at Marc’s place, I can take a sick day on Monday.”
“Tsk tsk, lying to your employer,” Seto taunted.
“It’s an expression. My boss will never know, actually. I work from home and stay ahead of schedule so I don’t drop behind if something comes up.”
“Ooooh, smart whore!” Seto’s cock began to harden in his tight leather pants. “If you’ll excuse me, Roland will handle-” he took a step away.
“Hold on!” Marc grinned wickedly upon seeing Seto’s predicament. “You came all this way and you have no words for the art director who worked so hard on your lovely banner? Marc Aurelio.” Marc stuck out his hand to shake.
Seto obliged. “Hello Marc. If you weren’t the only artist who could portray me properly, I’d fire you for bringing a whore to work. By the way, did you know that your girlfriend is a whore?”
Marc’s dark walnut eyes twinkled. “Of course. She told me about this one time a college boy paid her for a blowjob. And I just heard through the grapevine that she got another customer.”
Taken aback by Marc’s positivity, Seto blinked. He’d been trying to make a quick getaway by insulting his subordinate and leaving Marc speechless, but it had oddly backfired. At least that had alleviated his erection. “Good for her. So, I hear your wife has been dicking around in the Shadow Realm.”
“Oh yeah, that. It’s more of a side thought to the game, really. When a player’s life points reach zero, they’re not traditionally dead but rather banished to the Shadow Realm until they respawn. American parents like the sound of that better,” Marc explained.
“Just to be clear, there’s no actual Shadow Realm, right?”
“It’s represented by a blue and purple nebula surrounding the battlefield, but practically speaking, no. No actual Shadow Realm,” Marc confirmed.
“Good. If a man dressed in a towel and heavy gold jewelry shows up trying to poke your forehead with a giant key or some bullshit, have the fucker arrested.”
Marc chuckled. “Oh I’m so doing that for Halloween now.”
“Is that another one of your crazy American holidays?”
“You should see the Halloween skins we’re planning. The American market is going to eat. it. up.”
“Are you going to put Joey Wheeler in a dog costume?”
“I’ll add it to the list.”
This elicited a little smile from Seto. “Do a good job and you just might get a raise. Same with your whore.”
“My girlfriend, your whore,” Marc corrected.
Joan smiled with her lower lip between her teeth and Seto’s cock pulsed again. “K thanks bye.” Seto rushed back to Mokuba and Roland.
“I’m surprised you didn’t get slapped,” Mokuba said.
“Or punched,” Roland added.
“I told you I know a good whore when I see one. I’m going to the washroom. Roland, I expect to find her in my suite Sunday evening.”
As soon as Seto was out of sight, Roland sighed. “I hate cleaning up after his messes.”
“I think this one will be OK,” Mokuba said.
“Do you happen to know her name?” Roland asked.
“It’s Joan. Don’t know her last name, though.”
“How about her bodyguard?”
“You mean her boyfriend? That’s Marc Aurelio.”
“All right, thanks.” Roland made his way through the crowd to Marc, who was now introducing Joan to one of the programmers. “Mr. Aurelio, may I have a private word with your lovely companion?”
“Popular today, aren’t we?” Marc teased. “Go ahead.”
“Please follow me, madam.” Roland led Joan into a corner of the room. “I’m sorry, Mr. Kaiba neglected to tell me your name. I’m his bodyguard and personal assistant Roland.”
“I’m Joan Saunders.” She offered her hand and Roland shook it.
“Ms. Saunders, have you come to a satisfactory business agreement with Mr. Kaiba?”
“How much, if I may ask?”
“One hundred thousand yen.”
Roland blinked. “Is that per hour or for the entire evening?”
“The entire evening.”
“To be clear, you’re being paid for your time only. Any action Mr. Kaiba may request of you will be performed only by your own free will or not at all.”
“Understood. You know, if both Kaiba brothers were involved, I’d do it for free.”
Roland frowned. “Don’t let Seto Kaiba hear you say that. He’ll think you’re a gold digger pretending to be an escort.”
“Good to know. In that case, how about I offer Mokuba a discount?”
Roland glanced back at the younger brother, who was discretely observing from afar. “He’s never asked me to arrange such matters for him, but I can pass along the offer.”
“All right, cool.”
“In any case madam, what is your preferred method of payment and contact information?”
Joan gave him her PayPal address and phone number so he could send a car to collect her. Roland shook her hand once again and returned to Mokuba. Seto still hadn’t returned from the washroom.
“So how’d it go?” Mokuba asked.
“She’s . . . offering you a discount,” Roland said.
Mokuba watched the woman smiling and laughing with his art director. She was positively glowing. “Does she offer the girlfriend experience?” he blurted before he could think too hard about it.
“Possibly. I can ask, but first I should check on Seto.”
“Right. One thing, though. If she does, don’t tell me how much it costs. I don’t want to think about how much I’m paying her. As long as it’s a reasonable rate, I’ll trust you to manage it.”
“Understood.” Roland made his way to the washroom and knocked. “Mr. Kaiba, is everything all right in there?”
“About time! Roland, I need a change of pants. Get me some pronto!”
Rather than ask why or argue, Roland called the limo driver immediately. He looked around the hallway to ensure that nobody was listening. “Special request, rush delivery.” Roland then proceeded to give detailed instructions.
Roland ended the call and made his way to the open office. He snatched a blank piece of paper from a printer and a sharpie from a desk. After writing “Out of Order” on the paper, he taped it to the washroom door. He then went out to the curb to wait.
After a little while, Joan and Marc passed him on their way out. They gave him a little wave and continued on their way. Not long after, Laura and her boyfriend Matteo appeared. “Yo! Seto Kaiba your boss?” Laura asked.
“Affirmative,” Roland responded.
“Tell me honestly, is he a little fucked in the head?”
Roland remained stoic. “Laura Aurelio, was it? Any connection to Marc Aurelio?”
“Yeah, we’re married. Why?”
“It’s curious seeing you two leave separately and with different people.”
“Well, we’re polyamorous and it’s not like it’s some big secret.”
“Does he work for you?” Roland gestured at Matteo.
Laura stepped closer to the bodyguard, offering challenge. “What the fuck? Are you saying he’s out of my league?”
Roland remained unfazed. “No disrespect intended, madam. Merely making conversation.”
“Then why would you ask such a thing?”
“Are you Seto Kaiba’s gigolo?”
That elicited a snort from Roland. “No. You’re the first to come to that conclusion.”
Laura grinned. “Methinks he doth protest too much.”
“Think all you want. I’m not at liberty to disclose anything without Mr. Kaiba’s express permission, and one of those few things I’m allowed to say is that he’s not gay.”
“So you mean if he was diagnosed as psychotic and off his meds, that would be a secret too?”
“Mrs. Aurelio, why are you pressing this matter?”
“Merely making conversation,” Laura quipped. “Ciao!”
Roland watched the couple walk away, disappointed to see his entertainment go but also relieved that temptation was gone. Working for Seto Kaiba could drive most people nuts, but the pay was excellent and Roland had been doing it so long now that it was second nature to him. It had put his kids through college, and though his wife stayed back in Japan when he accompanied Seto on business trips, he was looking forward to traveling the world with her during retirement.
Seto’s limo pulled up and the driver handed Roland a discrete briefcase. Roland nodded to the driver as he took it and then made his way back up the narrow staircase.
Chapter 4: Shopping
Joan's weekend with Marc was a whirlwind of grappling in bed, learning to play Monsters of the Duel, posing for sketches, making messes in the kitchen, sending nudes to her other guys, and walking in the sun. He kept her on her toes, breathlessly yet wholly alive. She slept reluctantly but efficiently, her attention focused on the hardness of his body and the strength of his pulse.
After Joan finished her Sunday morning shower, she wore her towel into the bedroom. She looked at Marc as she dropped it, and he was drawn to her like a magnet. Their lips melded as his hands slid over her bare hips. Still holding her, Marc teased, "We're never gonna leave."
As inviting as the prospect sounded, Joan's stomach screamed for the breakfast with friends Marc had promised her. She drew away and dressed quickly, donning the cargo pants and rugged hiking boots she'd planned on for a comfortable journey home.
Marc eyed Joan. "You plan to show up in Seto Kaiba's bedroom like that?"
"Feces! I totally forgot about that. Can I use your washing machine?"
"No need for that. I'll buy you a dress after breakfast. I have one condition, though."
"Whatever you're wearing the next time I see you, I get to rip it off."
Joan cocked her head, going through her mental closet for an outfit she'd be willing to part with. "Deal." Joan stuffed her dirty clothes into her backpack and they headed out the door.
They walked several blocks arm-in-arm to a café famous for its apple fritters. Five hipsters stood in front of it. Marc walked up to them and introduced Joan to a vegan, a professional cosplayer, an aspiring author, a vlogger, and one of his art students. They were about Joan's age, twenty five, not Marc's forty four. Still, Joan felt awkward around so many strangers who already had close-knit ties between them. She put on a fake smile and pressed her business card into the aspiring author's hand but otherwise let Marc do the talking. Marc bragged about how he met Joan on OKCupid and then proceeded to recount some of his worst dates for comparison. Joan slipped into the role of arm candy, laughing at the right moments and only speaking if a question was directed at her.
Although breakfast was delicious, Joan felt relieved to get away from the table of strangers and stroll through the shopping district with Marc. "You're going to need something that makes you feel unstoppable tonight," Marc said.
Joan pressed her cheek to Marc's bicep. "You are my unstoppable."
"I'm not going to be there. I mean you'll need a dress that makes you feel like a sex goddess."
Several items in store windows caught Joan's eye, but Marc kept guiding her past the shops until they reached the most hoity-toity store in town sporting tuxedos and evening gowns in the window. They spotted the cocktail dress section and walked amongst the racks. Marc shook his head at everything until he pulled out a red halter with a neckline that plunged to the waist.
"Seriously?" Joan said. "I don't have a bra for that at home, much less with me."
"What kind of whore wears a bra?" Marc teased. "Come on, at least let me see you try it on."
Joan sighed and took it to the fitting room, earning a hard stare from the attendant on her way in. She pulled off her hiking boots and cargo pants, then her T-shirt and bra. She then carefully arranged the flimsy fabric of the dress, pulling it up and down in an endless dilemma between covering her nipples or her panties.
"Can I see?" Marc called.
"This isn't going to work. I'm too tall for it," Joan replied.
"Just let me see!"
Joan adjusted the fabric one more time and opened the door. She hunched her back until Marc said, "Stand up straight." She did so and her green polka dot panties popped into view. "OK, yeah, you have a point."
"What is the occasion, if I may ask," the attendant butted in.
"That's classified," Marc said with a saucy wink.
"I see. May I suggest the costume shop on Bargain Boulevard?"
"Oh isn't that cute?" Marc said to Joan. "He thinks he makes more in a month than you make in a day."
"Yeah sure, whatever," Joan said. She knew it was an exaggeration but decided not to contradict him. "I'm getting out of this thing." She shut the door.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store," the attendant said.
"No problem," Marc agreed. "If you like, I'll even tell my wife how rude you were to me and my girlfriend."
The attendant sneered, "I doubt that. Security!"
Just then, Roland walked by with a stack of black leather pants. His head reflexively turned at the call for security. "Hello Mr. Aurelio. What seems to be the trouble?"
"This gentleman doesn't want customers today," Marc said calmly.
Joan emerged from the fitting room. "Hello Ms. Saunders," Roland greeted.
"Hey, you don't work here!" the attendant shouted.
"Correct. I work for Seto Kaiba," Roland said.
"The fuck you do. Get out now!"
An actual security guard arrived and sized up the two hulking men plus the woman in boots as tough as his. "Gentlemen. Lady. We don't want any trouble here."
Roland flashed a black credit card. "I'm purchasing these. I'm on a tight schedule and don't have time to find them elsewhere."
"Right, uh . . ." the security guard said.
"And I'll escort this little troublemaker out," Marc said as he took Joan by the arm.
Bewildered, Joan went with Marc while Roland went to the checkout counter, the security guard watching their every move.
"It's because I'm brown," Marc said as soon as they got out. "The white virgin boys get jealous."
Joan relaxed. "Gee, all he had to do was ask nicely and I could have helped him with that problem."
"See? That's the attitude you need to keep a cool head in Seto's bed."
They linked hands and continued on to another store, this time looking through breezy summer dresses that allowed for ease of movement. Joan chose a white one with multicolored butterflies but Marc wasn't satisfied. Joan bought the dress for herself and they continued searching through other stores.
Marc spotted a blue one-sleeved dress with glitter embedded in the fabric and had Joan try it on. This time, the stretchy fabric allowed her to move confidently. "I have a bra that would work with this, but it's at home," Joan said.
"Bouncing boobs are more enticing," Marc assured.
"I guess. Look, it's too early for this kind of dress anyway. I'll wear the white one for now and change later."
Marc bought the blue dress and they settled into a noodle shop for lunch. Joan changed in the bathroom, keeping her boots.
While they ate, Marc texted his wife about the situation. "Have you told Michael you're not coming home tonight?"
"Guess I better do that now." Joan pulled out her phone and shot off the message quickly.
"Laura says that Seto is fucked in the head, so watch out," Marc relayed.
"How so?" Joan asked
"That shadow realm stuff Mokuba told her about is a trigger for him. Just be careful and get the fuck out of there if he does anything too freaky."
"OK, I won't let him tie me up, at least not tonight."
"Good ground rule. You know what else? I'm going to call you before I go to bed to make sure you're all right. Are you sleeping with him or do you need to crash on my couch?"
"Not sure yet."
Marc went back to texting. "Laura's offering to sleep on the couch."
"She says that if Seto is a real sicko, you're going to need me more than she will."
"I guess," Joan conceded.
Marc sighed as he read the next text silently. "I'm texting Mokuba."
"Just in case he knows anything we should know, childhood cruelty to animals or the like."
"I'm freaking out a little here," Joan admitted. "I'm having flashbacks to some horror movies my ex showed me."
"Laura's the one freaking out. It's probably because Seto threatened to fire her over the shadow realm stuff. You'll be fine. Too many people know you'll be with him for him to try anything nasty." Marc looked down at his phone again. "Mokuba says the prostitutes in Japan always go home safe . . . but sometimes Roland has to shove a morning after pill down their throats."
"Sheesh! Speaking of Roland, I don't know what time he's picking me up. He has my number but I don't have his."
"Yeah, and Laura wants me all to herself by four." Marc sunk back into his phone.
"I brought books for the train. I can just read," Joan said.
Marc continued poking at his phone. Then his finger froze and his eyes darted rapidly over the text.
"Hey, isn't my generation supposed to be the one obsessed with our phones?" Joan asked.
"Sorry. It's just that my boss is offering to take you to dinner."
Joan's jaw dropped. "I thought he was monogamous."
"Me too. This could get complicated. He . . . he says to negotiate your fees with Roland because Roland works for him too."
"He says he wants to experience more American culture, but he doesn't want to actually date an American girl because he plans to go back to Japan eventually. He just wants to pretend for a while."
"That makes things a lot less complicated," Joan said.
"It does." Marc sat back in his chair and stroked his hairless chin. "I guess this makes me your pimp then."
"Lol," Joan said.
"So that's a yes then?"
"Yes to dinner with Mokuba."
"Aw, for a second there I was hoping I could pimp you out to the waiter."
Joan swatted Marc's arm playfully.
Chapter 5: That Stupid Banner
After lunch, Marc and Joan went to a park, where he showed her some stick fighting basics. They were still going through drills when Mokuba arrived. The raven-haired man stood quietly watching until Joan noticed. "Oh, hey!"
"Hey," Mokuba replied.
Marc put away their sticks and wrapped his arms aggressively around Joan's waist as he faced his boss. "Same rules as your brother. My girlfriend. Your whore."
Mokuba rubbed the back of his neck. "I've never actually done this before."
Marc's glare hardened. "Good. You are now experiencing what American teenagers feel when they meet their date's father for the first time."
As this sunk in, a smile spread Mokuba's lips. "All right, good one."
Marc smiled as well and released Joan. "Have fun now!" He waved as he walked off.
Joan watched Marc walk away and focused on preserving the memory of his touch. He never kissed her goodbye, only hello. Turning back to Mokuba, she slung her backpack and purse over one shoulder. "So what's the plan?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that. You're the American," Mokuba said.
Joan eyed the almost-stranger before her. He dressed casually in jeans and a striped shirt, approachable. The best way to make him less of a stranger was to get closer to him. "OK, let's start with a hug. Americans do that a lot."
"OK." The last time Mokuba had hugged even his brother was when he was a little kid. He stepped forward awkwardly and held his arms out.
Joan leaned in and wrapped her arms around his upper back. "You're so rigid. Relax. Smell my hair or something."
Mokuba inhaled and caught a subtle whiff of lavender mingled with fresh pheromones from the light sweat she'd worked up with Marc. "Yeah, that is nice."
Joan gently broke the hug. "See? A hug can tell you a lot about a person."
"What did you learn about me?" Mokuba asked.
Joan couldn't put into words most of what she felt while hugging him, but it was a nice hug once he loosened up. She settled for saying, "That you need more practice. Are you a virgin?"
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"If you see it as a problem, I can help you fix it, but if you'd rather stay that way, it's not my place to judge."
"So have you had a lot of virgin clients?" Mokuba asked.
"During college, four virgins, but not as clients. You and Seto are only my second and third clients ever."
"Really?" Mokuba's eyes went wide.
Joan slipped her hand into Mokuba's and they began strolling through the park. "It was just a blowjob, but yeah, he paid me, so it counts. What about you, though? Have you ever even had a girlfriend?"
"Kinda, for a little while."
"She left for college. I think I could have kept her if I'd gone with her, but Seto said it wasn't worth it."
"The college or the woman?"
"Both. Seto wanted me to stick around and run Kaiba Corporation's side ventures, so that's what I did. First I ran some tournaments, then Kaiba Land, then Duel Academy, and now Seto's decided to call our American branch Super Kaiba Megacorp because it's way smaller than our office in Japan and he thinks it's funny." Mokuba's breathing quickened.
"Are you doing all this to please him, or do you actually enjoy the work you do?"
"It's a little of both. If he let me run the show more, I could have more fun with it. Even though this is his first visit to Silicon Valley, he's been bossing me around over the phone. I mean, you saw that stupid banner. Marc had to handle that one personally to get it right, and it was a complete waste of time for him. I can't bring myself to display it on the street, so what's the point?"
Joan stopped walking and drew Mokuba down to a bench, encircling him in a comforting embrace. "You know, it's pretty, so it's not going to scare away anybody. If you put it on the street, you wouldn't have to look at it inside all day. And who says you have to have only one banner anyway? Get Marc to make something you actually like and put that where you can see it on your way into work."
"I guess there's always that, and I'll probably do it after Seto leaves. I'm just tired of having to find sneaky ways of doing what's right for the company. Like our narrative designer Laura. I wanted someone who could really play up the dark history of Duel Monsters and bring it to life, and I knew Seto would hire some stiff if I put out an open call for applications, so I gave Laura a try and it worked out. Then she introduced me to a friend who became our video content manager and he's amazing, but now that Seto's met them, he wants to fire them both."
"Seriously? I mean he kinda threatened Marc too, but . . ." Joan trailed off.
"Marc is practically untouchable. He's a frontrunner in the industry and we stole him from a rival company. Seto had a lot of fun rubbing it in their faces afterwards. I was the one who wined and dined Marc, though."
"Yeah, he told me about how you basically gave him and Laura an all-expenses-paid California vacation before he came to work for you."
"All true." Mokuba leaned back against the bench. "It was actually a lot of fun for me too. It made me feel like I had real friends again."
"Aren't they still your friends now?"
"Kinda, I guess. It's not like we do anything outside of work now, but they make work fun. Like how they invented this game with Kuriboh plushies. Kuribohs are basically these little brown furballs. For every day someone is late or misses work, they get a Kuriboh on their desk. Then they can't get rid of it until someone else is late, so now anybody with Kuribohs shows up extra early."
The practice struck Joan as a public humiliation tactic, but at least it was more benign than the backstabbing she'd experienced at her erstwhile internship. "Why don't you ask Marc and Laura to hang out sometime?"
"It's different now that they actually work for me."
"OK then. There are lots of other ways to meet people: hobby classes and dating websites."
Mokuba sighed. "I know. I just don't want to leave too many people behind when I go back to Japan. I know how it feels to get left behind. I mean, you have someone, more than just one someone, right? So when I go, you'll still have someone."
"So that's why you've hired me?"
"Um, well, yeah. Can we not talk about that, though? I want to pretend."
Joan felt that she had gathered enough information from Mokuba to go on. "In that case, maybe we should start over."
"What do you mean by that?"
Joan stood, walked five paces away, spun five hundred forty degrees, and approached the bench. "Hey there. Have you seen my bicycle by chance? I'm sure I locked it up here an hour ago."
"Uh . . ." Mokuba paused as he got his head in the game. "Sorry. I didn't see any bicycles when I got here."
"Damn. That means I'll have to walk home. It will be dark by the time I get there."
"I could give you a ride home," Mokuba offered.
"No way, really? Let me buy you dinner first then. I'm Joan, by the way." Joan extended a hand.
Mokuba stood and shook it. "I'm Mokuba."
"Cool. What do you like to eat?"
"Burgers and fries."
Joan suppressed a giggle at his stated preference for American food. "I passed a place that looked good earlier. It's not far," Joan gestured north.
"Lead the way!" Mokuba said.
Mokuba stood and walked beside her, feeling awkwardness in the swing of an empty hand no longer touching hers. "I know this is stupid, but have we met before?"
Joan shook her head. "Not a chance. I would have remembered eyes like yours."
"I edit novels, and one of my clients wrote a historical fiction story about violet-eyed Klondike Kate. I'd never seen someone with violet eyes and I had to check the internet to see if it was even possible. You're the first one I've met in real life, and your eyes are incredibly captivating."
Mokuba blushed. "Oh. Thank you."
"So, do you live around here?"
The conversation went on like that as they ordered food and stuffed their faces, sticking to surface-level topics. Joan refrained from mentioning her other guys as they got an overview of each other in terms of favorite colors, animals, cities they'd visited, and music.
"I haven't been to a dance since prom," Joan said as they were picking through the last few fries.
"Prom is not even a thing in Japan, but I went to some corporate galas. My guardian made sure I took formal dance lessons, but I never got to, you know, just dance, like to popular music and stuff."
Several times now, Joan had noted the use of the term "guardian" and decided to avoid asking about his parents. That conversation could be saved for a later date. "You know, I've never been clubbing. Most of my friends are too nerdy to do that with me."
"Me neither. That sounds like an adventure."
Joan's phone buzzed. "Hold that thought." It was Roland, asking for her location. Joan texted him back quickly. "That was my, uh, roommate wondering why I'm not home yet. She's on her way to pick me up. I guess you'll have to give me that ride another time."
"How about a ride to and from the club?" Mokuba suggested.
"How about this Friday?"
"Um . . . my weekends are pretty much booked for the next month." Joan pulled up the planner on her phone. "Would a weekday evening work for you? It would be less crowded then anyway."
"I might wind up with a Kuriboh the morning after, but hey, why not?"
Joan finalized the note in her planner and looked up to see a limo outside the wall-to-wall windows of the burger joint. "I think that's my ride. I gotta go." She slipped Mokuba a business card with her phone number on it and gave him a peck on the cheek before scampering away.
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