Chapter 13:

The Lighter


“She! Is! So! CUUUUTE!!” Jojo happily howls, lifting his newly acquired Macaron plushie to the sky.Bookmark here

“Hehe. I’m glad you like it!” Tama beams back at him as they walk through the neon-illuminated streets. “Told ya I was good at crane games. I have like ten already.”Bookmark here

“How are you so good at this, Tama? Seriously! Do you just live at the arcade or something?”Bookmark here

Tama rubs a finger under his nose, proud.Bookmark here

“Kinda. I play at arcades almost every day, so I just got good at it with lots of practice.”Bookmark here

“Almost every day…” Jojo echoes, considering the meaning behind those words as he pets his new daughter. “Do you just like arcades, or…?”Bookmark here

He hopes that his trailing off will be enough of a hint for Tama. During his time as the president of the Anime club, Jojo had met plenty of kids that spent most of their time playing video games on their own. Loners who struggled making friends, for the most part. Tama’s fascination with Macaron and arcades simply rang too familiar to him.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, Tama doesn’t seem to catch his drift.Bookmark here

“I love arcades! I’m on a quest to find the perfect one, actually.”Bookmark here

“Huh? What’s the perfect arcade?”Bookmark here

“Well…” Tama crosses his arms behind his head, taking big steps. “A long time ago, there was this arcade near my place that had all my favorite games— seriously, all of them. I had the highest score in every machine. It was near this candy store, and I knew the names of all the kids that came by, too!”Bookmark here

Jojo’s eyebrow twitches with a tinge of jealousy as he realizes Tama might be a little more sociable than he thought.Bookmark here

“One day,” Tama continues, more solemnly, “some older kids came by— local delinquents, and they started thrashing the entire place for no reason. My friends and I tried to fight ‘em off as long as we could, but they were much bigger than us.”Bookmark here

“Tama…” Jojo whispers, sensing how difficult it is for him to share this story.Bookmark here

Tama turns to Jojo with a bitter smile, then shrugs.Bookmark here

“In the end, the entire place burned down. Those guys never came back, but my buddies and I never found another place as good as that arcade to hang out. That’s why we’re hopping through every arcade in the city looking for the perfect one that has something for each of us!”Bookmark here

“That’s so sad…!”Bookmark here

“Isn’t it? Haha.” Tama reaches to pat the Macaron plushie Jojo's clutching against his chest emphatically after hearing that story. “Yeah, it bummed me out real bad when it happened. But me and my friends grew closer after that, so it wasn’t all bad, hehe.”Bookmark here

Jojo sighs and gives Tama a look of sympathy.Bookmark here

“Still, sorry you lost your favorite place. I know how it is for guys like us, so, it must’ve sucked pretty bad...”Bookmark here

“Guys like ‘us’?” Tama asks, and Jojo immediately feels like he said something wrong, comparing both of them to each other. To his delight, Tama offers him a big smile in return, patting Jojo’s back. “Exactly! You get it, huh! We need our own little sanctuary!”Bookmark here

Jojo sighs with relief, his sense of kindred renewed, and Tama continues.Bookmark here

“Yeah, well. We were kids, you know. There was nothing we could do against high school bullies at the time, but now that I’m also in high school, if I ever see them, pow, pow!Bookmark here

Tama imitates a boxer punching the air, drawing the attention of some people also walking down the street who, in turn, veer further away to avoid them. Jojo laughs.Bookmark here

Pfft. You’re so scrawny, man! They’ll eat you alive before you can even get close to them!”Bookmark here

Tama circles around to stand in front of Jojo, a hand on his hips and face so close it almost touches Jojo's, pointing a finger right at his nose.Bookmark here

“There’s more to fights than just throwing punches, Jojo! You gotta be smart! You gotta have technique! More importantly, you gotta have flare!Bookmark here

Jojo leans back and away instinctively, almost able to see the fire in Tama’s eyes.Bookmark here

“Did you say 'flair'…? The hell you talkin’ about?” He pushes Tama’s hand away from his face, which doesn’t seem to bother the other boy in the least. “Trust me, delinquents are not the kind of people you wanna mess with. Picking a fight with them ain’t gonna bring your old arcade back, and it’ll only get you hurt, man.”Bookmark here

Tama tilts his head to the side; his smile unwavering.Bookmark here

“You talk like you're an expert on it.”Bookmark here

“Uh—” Jojo’s eyebrow twitches, wondering if maybe he said too much. After hearing how Tama feels about delinquents, he doesn’t think he can tell him he’s part of Makai, so he averts his eyes instead of answering.Bookmark here

Tama stares at him for a couple of stress-inducing seconds before stepping back and moving back to Jojo’s side, lacing his fingers together and raising his arms to the sky with a loud yawn. Jojo frowns.Bookmark here

“Hey, I’m serious, here! You’re my—” he stops himself for a long moment, hesitating before gathering the courage to continue. “You’re my friend, right? So it would suck if something happened to—”Bookmark here

Everlasting friend,” Tama corrects him, coming down from his yawn. Jojo blushes.Bookmark here

“E-Everlasting friend, yeah. So, um, d-don’t pick fights just because, ‘kay?”Bookmark here

Tama laughs and pats Jojo’s shoulder again.Bookmark here

“You’re a good guy, Jojo. The scar on your eye makes you look so scary, but on the inside you’re as soft as Macaron herself! …Ah!”Bookmark here

Swiftly, Tama circles back in front of Jojo, squeezing his face and pulling on his cheeks like rubber.Bookmark here

“That makes you the anti-Macaron, doesn’t it!? Because she’s cute outside and vicious on the inside, and you’re—”Bookmark here

Arghhh!! I get it! Knock it off already!!” Jojo pushes at Tama’s face, embarrassed. Tama laughs as loud as ever and keeps trying to pull his cheeks, so enthralled in his playful fight with Jojo he doesn’t notice the tall man he bumps into behind him.Bookmark here

“…That hurt.”Bookmark here

The tall, older man’s voice makes both Jojo and Tama turn their heads towards him, still pulling and pushing each other.Bookmark here

Jojo quickly notices a portion of a large tattoo peeking out from his partially unbuttoned shirt. He’s bald, wearing sunglasses at night, and holds an unlit cigarette in his hand. Behind him are two other adults looking just as scary as this guy, all three staring at them.Bookmark here

Jojo swallows and pulls away from Tama immediately.Bookmark here

“Sorry, we weren’t looking—”Bookmark here

“You gonna pick up my lighter or what, kid?” The bald man cuts him off.Bookmark here

Jojo looks at him, confused. The bald man tilts his chin to the side of the street where cars drive by, currently stopped by a red light. Jojo follows the place he’s pointing at with his eyes, and sees a cheap lighter lying on the pavement.Bookmark here

“Light’s turning green soon. I’ll forgive you if you hurry up.”Bookmark here

What!?Bookmark here

Jojo raises his voice on instinct upon hearing such a ridiculous request, but not a second later, he’s paralyzed. Part of him wants to yell at this guy for ordering him to pick up what is obviously a regular, convenience store lighter from a soon-to-be car-riddled road, but it’s also clear these guys are dangerous, and getting involved with them would be a bad idea.Bookmark here

To make matters worse, Tama's here, and after Jojo’s speech about not messing with delinquents, he doesn’t think opposing them is a good idea.Bookmark here

The bald man languidly waves his unlit cigarette at him. “Tick tock, kid.” The guys behind him chuckle.Bookmark here

Jojo clenches his fist. He realizes that hurrying up might actually be the better choice here, so he takes a step forward towards the road, but Tama immediately steps in front of him, facing the three men.Bookmark here

“Tama!?” Jojo yelps and immediately lowers his voice to a whisper. “What are you doing!?Bookmark here

Tama doesn’t turn back to look at him. He has both hands in his pockets, looking up at the taller men silently. Jojo stands behind him, unable to see Tama's expression.Bookmark here

The light turns yellow. Then green. The cars begin to move.Bookmark here

WAAAHH! The lighter!!Bookmark here

Jojo whips toward the street and watches in horror as so, so many cars run over the cheap lighter on the street. He messes up his hair with his hands like he always does when he panics.Bookmark here

Behind him, the three men and Tama silently stare at each other.Bookmark here

“Ho ho. That wasn’t very smart, was it?” says the bald man.Bookmark here

The other two men languidly surround Tama from either side. Jojo quickly turns to look at them and feels his blood run cold. His first ever friend that isn’t Romeo, and he's already got him involved with dangerous people.Bookmark here

“Tama—!”Bookmark here

He's frozen in place with fear. Unlike Romeo, Jojo isn’t strong or fast. What could he do? He couldn’t even rescue himself; how does he expect to save others?Bookmark here

At that moment, Tama takes a hand out of his pocket, holding something shiny. The bald man does a double take. Tama beams him a smile.Bookmark here

“Aw, man, sorry for that! My friend’s a little slow sometimes, don’t get mad at him!” He takes a step closer to the bald man, which puts the other two men on edge. “Here, lemme help ya!”Bookmark here

In Tama’s hand is a lighter— not cheap and plastic like the man's, but not exactly elegant, either. It’s metallic red with a childish design and cartoonish flames drawn on the sides.Bookmark here

Tama pops it open and offers the flame to the man, who hesitantly brings his cigarette onto it and lights it up.Bookmark here

“You can keep this one if you like, y’know, to replace that ugly one that got squished!”Bookmark here

The bald man grimaces and waves a dismissive hand at him.Bookmark here

“Eh, I had enough of ya. Scram.”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir!” Tama cheerfully puts his lighter away and turns to Jojo again. “Let’s go, Jojo! It’s super late now.”Bookmark here

“Ah… Yeah…”Bookmark here

Jojo, still dumbfounded, lets Tama tug him by the arm away from the three men.Bookmark here

“Heheh. I told ya, didn’t I?” Tama proudly declares, grinning, painting an invisible rainbow with his hand above their heads. “To win battles, the most important thing is flare!Bookmark here

Tama’s nonsense barely registers to Jojo, who’s still trying to process that he got paralyzed instead of jumping in to help. If he couldn’t even help Tama, how did he ever expect to help Romeo?Bookmark here

“Hey, what’s wrong? You still scared, Jojo?”Bookmark here

Jojo, disappointed in himself but back to his senses, sighs and shakes his head, looking at Tama again.Bookmark here

“Why do you have a lighter? You smoke?”Bookmark here

“Nah, actually, this is—”Bookmark here

Jojo’s smartphone rings loudly with a fighting game jingle familiar to both of them, interrupting the conversation. Jojo isn’t used to getting calls unless it’s his family, so he rustles quickly through his pocket to pull it out, and his eyes go wide the moment he looks at the caller ID.Bookmark here

B-Boss…!?Bookmark here

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