Susanne faked a smile as she opened the door to the closet-sized capsule hotel in Akihabara, wondering if it had been a mistake to take her two teenage sons to Japan for their senior year spring break.
“This room sucks dick,” Jake said.
“It’s like a coffin,” James added. “All three of us are in here?”
“We’re gonna asphyxiate on mom’s farts,” Jake said.
Susanne set her suitcase beside her small bed and tried not to listen. Her boys had begged her since they were little to go to Japan. She’d budgeted and clipped coupons and saved up for five years to pay for this trip. To make extra money, she’d started, and then closed, a series of Etsy shops selling pillows or candles or little felted figurines; every few months a new craft she’d take up with big hopes, only to quit when she’d decide she was an amateur, an imposter compared to the other ladies on the website. When she’d finally saved enough to book the plane tickets and hotel, she gave up on her crafting dreams and shut down her Etsy shop, accepting that she was never any good at it anyway.
“Why aren’t we staying in that sick skyscraper?” James said, pressing his forehead against the room’s eight-inch window.
Jake pulled his brother away and smacked his own forehead against the glass. “That’s where rich pimps live,” he said, admiring the 60-story all-glass tower, the contents of its luxury rooms tauntingly visible to everyone below. “Losers like mom stay down here in the gutters.”
“Let’s get out of this shithole,” James said.
“Where are you going?” Susanne said. “I have tickets for us to go to the botanical garden in an hour.”
Jake burst out laughing. “We’re going to the augmented reality strip club. Hand-drawn digital babes strut their jugs and asses. And you only have to be sixteen to get in, so you can’t say shit to stop us.”
The twins raced out of the room. Susanne opened her wallet, looked at the three botanical garden tickets — $80 each — and set them aside. She didn’t want to go to the garden alone. She didn’t want to do much of anything anymore.
But she needed to get out of the small room, and so she trudged down the cramped hallway and into the hotel bar.
“Sweet tea, please?” Susanne asked the perky waitress. After a confusing back and forth, the waitress served a steaming pot of something green. Susanne forced a smile and a thank you, then sniffed the steam and winced. All around her sat groups of laughing friends and snuggling couples. She’d grown used to dining alone after Greg had left her for his waif of a secretary seven years ago, but that night she sensed she was on display. Susanne had always felt bigger than she wished she was, but here — the only American — she felt monstrously large.
The small waitress returned with a gymnastic smile, like a yoga pose Susanne knew not to try. “Salad?” Susanne said. “Plain?”
A woman sitting behind the waitress stared at Susanne, and she feared she’d accidentally said something embarrassing in Japanese. She shook her head. “Never mind. I’m okay. Nothing for me.” She waved the waitress away, wanting to be left alone.
But the other woman whispered into her friend’s ear, staring at Susanne. The friend’s eyes lit up.
Susanne turned away from them, imagining they were comparing her arms to those of some creature from one of the scary cartoons James and Jake watched. But a group of three sitting in a booth looked at Susanne as well. So did four at another table, and five waitresses clustered together to whisper and watch.
She couldn’t take it anymore, and so she left several Japanese bills on the table, assuming it was far more than the price of the tea, but knowing she wasn’t going to be spending the money anyway. Head down, she rushed towards the exit. But four large bodyguards in black suits blocked the door, and behind them a tall, handsome man entered the bar.
The other patrons gasped, recognizing the man. The bar’s hostess sensed Susanne’s confusion and whispered into her ear, “Movie star.”
Feeling even more out of place, Susanne looked down at her big sneakers, waiting for the man to clear the doorway and let her leave. But the tall man stared at Susanne. His eyes widened and a smile curled over his face.
“Please just let me go,” Susanne said, feeling like a circus freak show.
“Susanne,” the tall man said. “Susanne?” He reached into his jacket and withdrew a felted cocker spaniel.
Susanne tilted her head, confused.
The tall man reached into a second pocket and pulled out a cloth square on which Susanne had embroidered SWEET TEA, Y’ALL.
Susanne turned to the hostess. “Why does he have those?”
The hostess held out her phone, showing a pink-and-purple Japanese fan website dedicated to Susanne. Her crafts on Etsy had won over tastemakers there, who found her authentic American style charming, sassy, and fun. Hundreds of internet groups had formed trying to uncover more information about the mysterious American artist known only as Susanne R, but after she’d closed all of her accounts, they’d been unable to find more than the one photograph of her face she’d used on her Etsy profile. Her disappearance had only fueled her legendary status, and made the value of her items skyrocket on the secondary market.
“Susanne?” the tall man said again. He held the felted cocker spaniel to his heart, and then reached one hand around the small of Susanne’s back. It had been nearly a decade since she’d been touched, and the contact shocked her, like static. But she gave in to the feeling — warm and safe and sure, more of a man’s hold on her than she’d ever felt from Greg. The man was gorgeous, and Susanne’s heart raced as he leaned in to kiss her. His lips were timid and respectful at first, but passion grew as his right hand massaged the back of Susanne’s head.
“Why the fuck did you want to go there?” Jake barked at his brother as they left the augmented reality strip club late that night. “That was disgusting.”
“You’re the pervert who wanted to go,” James said, feeling frightened and out of place on the busy city sidewalk.
Jake called his mother, but she didn’t answer. He tried again, and still nothing.
“Dude,” James said. “Check out the top floor of the pimp skyscraper. People are fucking.”
Jake’s face lit up as he scanned the windows, locating the two nude figures in the penthouse bouncing madly up and down, unashamed.
James held up his phone and zoomed in for a better look, but his glee soured. “Wait, what the fuck, that can’t–“
The twins didn’t have to say a word, as they both knew that was their mother up there, mounting a muscular Japanese movie star. Fully nude and free, Susanne had the tall man pinned on the bed and she rode him with abandon, savoring that the whole city was watching her broad bottom and full thighs at work, pounding one of the wealthiest and most attractive men in Japan. She smiled wide and screamed in ecstasy, hoping that everyone down there on the street would hear.
On the bedside table sat two VIP tickets to the botanical gardens, which she and the tall man would enjoy, all by themselves, the next day.