It's mainly a shoujo thing, but there's an incredibly common trope in manga in which two or more delinquents surround a lone woman and try to pressure her into accompanying them…somewhere. I've never been clear what the end goal is: do delinquents in Japan try to pressure random women into sex? It's a little weird. Additionally, there's a high probability that if some random guy walks up and says, "Hey, this is my girlfriend"—true or not—the delinquents will back off. Because someone who is trying to isolate a woman in order to extort sex from her is going to care if she has a boyfriend? It makes literally no sense to me, and I'm honestly curious if this sort of behavior is actually common in Japan, or if it's just one of those things that happens in manga.
In any case, while I'm sure there are all sorts of scuzzy people on this side of the water, too, I've never seen someone in real life trying to bully a woman in that way.
There were three of them, all of whom looked to be older than me by a few years, and they were clustered around a woman who was sitting at one of the tables arranged down the middle of the concourse in this particular part of the mall. I couldn't see her very well, thanks to Hooligans One, Two, and Three.
"Hey, babe, how about you come with us? We promise you'll have a good time," said Stooge #1.
Ugh, seriously, this was straight out of a manga in all the worst ways.
"No, thank you," said the woman. "I'm waiting for someone."
"Aw, you can ditch him," wheedled Stooge #2. "You'll have a way better afternoon with us."
The woman was silent. Maybe she was opting for staring at them in hopes they realized they were hassling her in the middle of a busy mall and came to their senses. It didn't work.
Meanwhile, I was agonizing. This was clearly a manga event and given that I was the only manga protagonist around—at least so far as I was aware—that meant it was aimed at me. In the normal order of things, I would have walked straight past these three without pausing. Their posture and clothing practically oozed belligerence, and I'm not a confrontational sort. Plus, it frankly wasn't my problem, and if the woman refused to accede to their demands it was unlikely anything would happen given the public setting.
However, the fact that it was a manga event meant that if I interfered I had a very good idea of how things would play out: I'd be the hero, the woman would be grateful, and—wait just a second. I knew from her voice that this woman wasn't Rachel (also I'd seen Rachel walking the other direction, so unless she could teleport that was obviously impossible), but Rachel was my love interest. Why was I running across this scenario for some stranger? And—the hoodlums shifted enough that I caught a glimpse of her face—a woman who was obviously older than me, at that?
I was getting very uneasy about this, but as I stood there dithering the three men were getting more aggressive. Stooge #1 reached forward and grabbed the woman's arm.
Alright, fine. I'd play this out, if only because I hated seeing someone targeted for nothing more than plotline purposes and I wanted to know if the sneaking suspicion I'd just had was correct. The only question was how to approach—pretending to be her boyfriend was classic, but I just couldn't believe that would put anyone as stupid as these three obviously were off. There was no way I could physically intimidate them, even if they didn't have numbers on their side; I couldn't see any mall security nearby; and—hmm, actually, maybe I could bluff them into backing off. Now that I thought about it, I did know the right way to deal with a situation like this.
I took a deep breath and stepped forward. Operation White Knight was a go, nervousness be damned.
I stopped just out of reach of Stooge #1. "Hey," I said, a little louder than I thought was necessary. "She said she wasn't interested."
Stooge #3 looked my way and sneered. "Piss off."
"Are you three deaf? She said she wasn't interested, so perhaps you should be the ones to piss off."
That got the attention of the other two, and Stooge #1 let go of the woman as the three turned to me. Stooge #3 took a couple steps my way and loomed a bit. "You want me to mess you up? Get lost, little boy."
I wanted to back up out of range so bad. Instead I forced myself to stare Stooge #3 right in the eyes and tried to ignore my nerves which were saying in no uncertain terms that I needed to exit this situation immediately. It's okay, fight or flight response. I've got the Power of Manga backing me up here.
"You know," I said, "I took a class on what to do when some asshole physically threatens you in public." That was a lie; Sasha took the class, though she very enthusiastically shared the contents of it with the rest of us over the course of the next week. "What do you suppose will happen if I suddenly start screaming at the top of my lungs for people to call the cops? You know, since we're standing in the middle of a crowded mall."
Stooge #3 paled and backed up half a step as he and his buddies looked around. Sure enough, there weren't a lot of people near enough to overhear us at normal volume, but there were plenty passing by and pointedly not looking our way. I also noticed at least one shop clerk standing near the entrance to their store looking this way.
Evidently the same occurred to the Stooges.
"Shit," grumbled Stooge #2. "Let's just go."
"Fine," spat Stooge #1. "You watch yourself, asshole." The three strode past me, Stooge #3 making sure to bash his shoulder into mine, making me stumble. Great. I really hoped I wasn't going to run into those three anytime soon. Picking fights with adults who can wipe the floor with me is not in my wheelhouse.
On the other hand…event cleared! I turned toward the woman I'd helped, who had stood up from her seat and was walking my way.
Ooookay, well now I knew why those three idiots were trying to pick her up: the woman was sex on legs. Honestly, I had to admire the balls on those three. She was so far out of their league it was like three tattered tomcats trying to hit on a wild tigress.
The woman was pretty short—a good head shorter than me—and looked to be of Mexican descent. Her hair was such a dark brown it was practically black, except when the light hit it just right and gave it chocolate highlights. She was wearing form-fitting clothes that accentuated a classically hourglass figure, and although she didn't have an obvious sway to her hips or anything the way she moved was indescribably erotic. As I'd noticed before, she was definitely older than me; at a guess I'd put her in her late twenties or early thirties, though I'm terrible at placing a person's age.
I admit: as soon as she started moving toward me I froze up completely.
"Well aren't you the chivalrous one," the woman purred. She had a surprisingly deep voice for someone so short. There was a distinct quirk to the corner of her mouth which made me think she might be mocking me, but honestly I was still having trouble forming coherent thoughts and didn't come up with a single response.
The woman eyed me, then laid a hand on my arm. Ack! Warning! Sex goddess critically close! "I don't have much time, but let me buy you a drink in thanks," she said, nodding across the concourse at the nearby Stirbucks.
"No, uh—" I cogently managed, but the woman was already leading the way and like a snake tracking a charmer's flute I naturally followed in her wake.
"What would you like?" asked the woman as we entered the Stirbucks. Uh, you? Except you're likely twice my age.
"Ah, um, a green tea lemonade?" I hazarded. Wasn't that what I always ordered, on the few times I'd visited a Stirbucks? I think so, at least. Answer unclear, try again later.
"Coming right up," she said. Was I a dirty bastard for thinking that sounded kind of like a come on? Yes, yes I was.
It took an effort, but out of sheer self-preservation, I avoided watching the woman stride to the counter and forced myself to take a seat near the front window. Man, was I glad I stared down those hoodlums. But yeesh, was that ever a terrible decision.
After placing an order and gesturing my way, the woman returned. As she walked toward me she checked a small watch on the underside of her wrist.
"I'm really sorry, but I'm not going to have any time to spend with you," she said. "I'm meeting someone in a few minutes, and those wannabe pickup artists almost made me late already. Thank you again for standing up for me."
"Er, no, it wasn't a big deal," I managed.
"Well, I appreciated it anyway," she said with a smile. She started to move past me, but paused to put her hand on my shoulder and lean over. "Thanks, Xavier," she said. "See you at school." And she was gone out the door.