Chapter 18:

New Best Friend


As the night rolled in and both went their separate ways, Jojo finds himself walking listlessly home, heartbroken over the previous conversation with what he considers his best friend. The intersection he wanders through bustles with people leaving work. The glare of the neon lights and electric billboards obscure the sadness in his heart.

He walks with his eyes blankly at his phone, wondering if he should try again with Romeo or let it be. Part of him knows Romeo just said those things to protect him, but another part of him feels like he'll lose their friendship if he pries too much.

“Boss... “

He stares at his phone for a few more seconds before deciding to put it back in his pocket with a dramatic sigh.

“I didn’t do anythin’ wrong, but I wanna get back on his good side….”

Befriending Romeo hadn’t been easy. Jojo started following him around until he eventually became part of his life, but it had taken such a long time to get to that point. Fear of burning that bridge conflicted with his desire to be a better friend, and that ended on a sour note. Worst of all, he was concerned that Meru would take over the place he fought so hard for.

He clicks his tongue and kicks an empty water bottle on the street.

“Stupid Meru. Why doesn't he get treated the same as m— Ah!

He realizes a moment too late that he had just kicked someone’s trash, and quickly runs after the bottle.

It leads him into a part of the city, close to an arcade that is still bustling with life even after dark. He picks up the bottle while peering inside, his eyes immediately fixed on a crane game machine. The prizes are all from one of his favorite fighting games— particularly plush dolls of the girl he mains, the cute magical girl Macaron.

“Aaah… I haven’t been to this side of town in a while… Can’t believe there’s new merch of my daughter!”

He tosses the bottle in a trashcan before rushing into the noisy arcade, making a beeline toward the crane machine with excitement. His worries over his friendship with Romeo take a backseat in his mind almost immediately.

He reaches inside his pocket for his wallet and gets down to business. No matter how much he concentrates and talks nicely to the machine, his first two attempts end with nothing— not even a small chance of victory.

“Dammit, I used to be so good at this!”

For his third attempt, he switches to cursing out the machine instead of complimenting it. To his surprise, he’s able to lift one of the plush toys a few centimeters before it falls down again, teasing him with hope before making him angry. He bangs his fist against the glass.

“Come on! I need a win today! Pleeeease!

The fourth attempt, unfortunately, isn't as good as his third. He can't get the crane to grab any Macaron plushies, never mind lift them. As a sad jingle plays, he pulls back from the machine and ruffles his hair with his hands, frustrated.

Whyyyyy!! Why is nothing going right for me today! What did I do to deserve this!?”

He bangs his head on the glass and leaves it there, whimpering softly as he wallows in misery. He's convinced that this is a bad omen, and that failing to get his best girl is a sure sign that everyone's rejected him.

“It’s over… I've lost it all…”

Softly, he puts a hand on the glass and lifts his face, looking inside the machine at all the prizes inside. He sighs in defeat.

“Am I really that useless…?”

“Hey, come on. It’s just a crane game!”

From behind, a voice snaps him out of his self-pity spiral. He turns to look at the source. It’s a young boy around his age with spiky, dark red hair. He’s wearing a different school blazer. Strangely, the sleeves are messily ripped just below the elbow— same as his pants, torn similarly below the knee. Instead of a shirt, he has bandages wrapped around his chest and a small cut that is patched up on his nose. Jojo blinks.


Whoa! Cool scar!” The boy immediately points at Jojo’s eye, impressed.

Jojo blushes, instinctively covering his eye with his hand. Despite how he acts when he’s with Romeo, his real introverted self comes out when alone, especially with someone bluntly approaching him like this.

“Oh, this? H-Haha… I always forget it’s there…”

“How’d you get it!?”

Jojo averts his eyes with embarrassment. “I… rode a bike really fast… downhill… I must have hit something sharp on my way down…”

That ‘something sharp’ was an earring or a blade from one of the Kappore thugs he accidentally ran over that day, but there’s no reason to bring that up now in front of a stranger.

“Can I touch it!?”


Before Jojo can react, the other boy is already reaching for his head with both hands, knocking Jojo’s hand aside before running his thumb over the scar. His grip is so tight that Jojo can’t help but stammer in disbelief as this guy smashes his face. Finally, Jojo composes himself and pushes him away.

“W-W-What the hell, man!?”

The boy shoots Jojo a look of confusion but retains an unwavering smile while his hands hover mid-air.

“You said I could touch it!”

“I did not!

“Ohh…” The kid moves his hands behind his head, crossing one foot in front of the other. “I thought you did. My bad!”

Jojo rubs his jaw with his palm, glaring at him. But before he can yell at him again, his eyes catch a keychain hanging from the other boy’s belt— a Macaron keychain, the same character he was trying to win a plushie of just moments ago. Jojo immediately lights up and points at it.

“No way! You’re a Macaron fan, too!?”

The other boy looks down at his belt to see what Jojo’s pointing at before his gaze darts back up with a big, cheerful smile.

“Damn right, I am! She’s the best! The cutest! And totally underrated! She should be the main fighter if you ask me! Front and center, right in the middle of the title screen!”

Jojo balls his fists and shakes them with joy in front of him.

“Right!? Right!? That’s what I always say!! Most people don’t even bother using her ‘cuz she doesn’t have a long-range, but that’s only ‘cuz they don’t know how to use her!”

The other boy copies his stance, his voice matching Jojo’s loudness.

“Yeah! You get it, scarface! Wooow! I’ve never met another hardcore Macaron fan in my life! I keep her on my belt for good luck, and this is the first time anyone’s ever recognized her!”

“What!? Seriously!?”

“Yeah!! This is so crazy!”

Jojo feels a spark of happiness formed by kindred interests that he’s never felt with anyone other than Romeo before. The other boy thumps Jojo’s shoulder with one fist while pointing a thumb at himself with his other hand, his cheerful smile never faltering.

“You can call me Tama! And lucky for you, I’m amazing at crane games!”

Jojo blinks, a little overwhelmed.

“I’m Jojo… Wait, are you saying—?”

Tama takes a step back and pushes Jojo aside, moving in front of the machine as he rolls his sleeves up.

“I sure am! To commemorate our everlasting friendship, I’ll get you your Macaron plushie!”


Jojo grips the side of the machine dramatically, looking at him with big, teary eyes. Tama laughs, extending a hand to Jojo.

“Ah, but you’re paying, though, hehe.”

Nodding, Jojo takes out his wallet again and hands Tama enough change for a few tries, but Tama gives most of it back, shaking his head.

“Nope,” he says, giving Jojo a confident smirk. “I won’t need that much. Just one try should do it.”

“S-So cool…!

Jojo latches against the glass on the side of the machine again and watches how Tama carefully maneuvers the claw. It drops down and grips a Macaron plushie securely before dragging it higher and higher.

To his own surprise, Jojo’s eyes are not focused on the game, but rather on Tama himself. His interest in the prize faded gradually the moment Tama brashly declared them as friends everlasting. And for the first time ever, Jojo feels like he doesn’t need Romeo in his life after all.