Chapter 19:

The Lighter


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

“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.”

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

Tama rubs a finger under his nose, full of pride.

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

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

He hopes that was enough of a hint for Tama. During his time as the president of the Anime club, Jojo had met plenty of kids that spent just as much time playing video games. Loners who struggled to make friends for the most part. Tama’s fascination with Macaron and arcades simply rang a bell with him.

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

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

“Huh? What’s the perfect arcade?”

“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 on every machine. It was near this candy store, and I knew the names of all the kids that came by, too!”

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

“One day,” Tama continues, more solemnly, “some older kids came by, local delinquents, and they started trashing 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.”

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

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

“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!”

“That’s so sad…!”

“Isn’t it? Haha.” Tama reaches to pat the Macaron plushie clutched against Jojo’s 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.”

Jojo sighs and gives Tama a look of sympathy.

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

“Guys like us?” Tama asks.

Jojo immediately feels like he said something wrong by 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!”

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

“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!

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

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

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

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

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

“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.”

Tama tilts his head to the side, his smile unwavering.

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

“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 that he’s part of Makai, so he averts his eyes instead of answering.

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

“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—”

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

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

Tama laughs and pats Jojo’s shoulder again.

“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!”

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

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

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 that he doesn’t notice the tall man he backs into.

“… That hurt.”

The tall, older man’s voice makes both Jojo and Tama turn their heads towards him while still stuck in their playful tug of war.

Jojo quickly notices part of a large tattoo peeking out from his partially unbuttoned shirt. He’s bald, wears sunglasses at night, and holds an unlit cigarette in his hand. Behind him are two other adults that look just as scary as this guy. All three stare menacingly at them.

Jojo swallows and pulls away from Tama immediately.

“Sorry, we weren’t looking—”

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

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.

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


Jojo instinctively raises his voice upon hearing such a ridiculous request, but then, any further objection gets caught in his throat. 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.

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

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

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. Suddenly, Tama steps in front of him, facing the three men.

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

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.

The light blinks a few times, then it turns completely green. The cars begin to move.

WAAAHH! The lighter!!

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.

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

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

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 isn’t Romeo, and he's already got him involved with dangerous people.


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?

At that moment, Tama pulls his hand from his pocket, holding something shiny. The bald man does a double-take. Tama beams him with a smile.

“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!”

In Tama’s hand is a lighter— not cheap and plastic, but certainly worth a bit more. It is a metallic red with a childish design and cartoonish flames drawn on the sides.

Tama pops it open and offers the flame to the man, who hesitantly brings his cigarette onto it to ignite the tip.

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

The bald man grimaces and waves a hand to dismiss him.

“Eh, I had enough of ya. Scram.”

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

“Ah… Yeah…”

Jojo, still dumbfounded, lets Tama tug him away by the arm.

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

Tama’s nonsense barely registers to Jojo, who’s still trying to process that he became too paralyzed to help. If he couldn’t even do that much, how did he ever expect to help Romeo?

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

Jojo, disappointed in himself but back to his senses, sighs and shakes his head. He looks at Tama again.

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

“Nah, actually, this is—”

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. His eyes go wide the moment he looks at the caller ID.