(I don't own JSR. I do own Botan. I think that's all there is to say. Please r+r!)
Tokyo-to in the rain.
It was one a.m. In front of the garage stood a damp, angry figure.
She glanced at her watch, and sighed. Her lips were pressed together, forming a painful line of miserable fury.
She wore a cream minidress, at the moment soaked and sticking to her cold legs. Flung over the dress was an old coat, which was hanging heavy with the weight of the water. Her feet were squashed into a battered pair of trainers, speckled with holes. One eye was blackened, and there was a bruised cut on her cheek.
Thunder growled above her, and she glanced up, her damp eyes glinting in the lightning that flickered above them.
"Come on…" she whispered. As she spoke her mouth trembled, and she quickly forced it back into an uncaring expression. Then she rubbed one damp white-gloved hand across her face.
Over the hiss of the rain echoed a low growl, that became louder and louder until three motorbikes screeched to a halt in front of the girl. More water splashed over her legs, but she didn't seem to notice.
"Hey, Gen, you ready?" one of the riders said.
"Yeah – yeah, I'm coming." The girl tried to smile, and came to sit behind the lead rider.
"That weird scratchy noise."
"Oh…that's just Jet Set Radio…" The girl bit her lip. She looked down at her radio wristwatch, and then, with one swift movement, ripped it off her wrist.
"What's Jet Set Radio?"
"Nothing. A dumb radio station."
The girl turned to glance back at the garage. Rain dribbled down the graffiti tags covering its walls. For a moment her eyes shone with tears, then she blinked them away, drew back her arm, and hurled the watch into the streams running along the gutter.
"Let's go," she said. "This place was getting old."
The riders gunned their engines, and the motorbikes tore off into the rainy night.
The watch lay on the pavement, its face rippling as the rainwater passed over it.
The bikes rode.
Gum stared at the lettering on the back of her cousin's jacket. Riders On The Storm, in sharp vicious letters like bolts of lightning.
Her throat hurt from keeping back the tears. She didn't want to leave the GGs. She'd thought – well, she'd thought they'd always be together. All friends. Looking out for each other whether they ended up in jail or the Old Folks Home.
Well, you thought wrong, she told herself. Her throat ached from keeping down the tears. You thought wrong. They think you're a psycho. They think you're a killer. They think you – she stopped her brain. Remembering it all still hurt.
But they could be right, a treacherous voice murmured. You know they could. You could have done it.
Gum gritted her teeth so hard that they ached. Well, it doesn't matter if I did or if I didn't. I'm leaving the GGs. They don't want me and nor does anyone else.
The Riders wouldn't let her stay. She'd have to go on, find some other place, some place where she could forget. Forgetting would be nice. Just impossible.
The sky growled again. Gum looked up. The darkness was being torn in half by banks of shining cloud. She shivered, and clung tighter to Botan's shoulders. Somewhere out there was someone who had a real mental problem.
What if that person was her?
She felt sick, her stomach trembled, and she tried not to think any more.
They seemed to drive for hours, finally screeching to a halt outside a tall, battered block of flats.
"Come on." Botan helped her off the bike. "Let's get inside."
The other two guys nodded to him, then roared off into the night again.
Gum let her cousin lead her up the steps to the balcony on the front of the building, and followed him along to one of the faded green doors. The ground was damp. Water soaked into her trainers, freezing her already numbed toes.
"Thanks for picking me up," she said.
"No worries." Botan unlocked the door. "You're family."
Gum walked inside, and instantly wanted to run back out again. This was too familiar. This was like home. Her old home.
The walls were painted a sickly yellow. The room smelt of old meals, cabbage, curry, and one bare light bulb hung there, glinting as the lightning flashed.
"Not bad, huh?" Botan grinned.
"It's okay." Gum watched as the water dripping off her soaked into the dust on the floor.
"Hey, I thought you've been a street punk since you ran out on everyone."
"Rudie." Gum wrapped her arms round herself, feeling her clothes squelch.
"Whatever. Why the this-ain't-good-enough act?"
"I'm sorry. I've been through some stuff and I'm kinda tense."
"I don't want to talk about it."
Botan shrugged and crossed over to the rusty cooker on the far side. "You want anything to eat?"
"It's –" She glanced at her watch, then remembered she didn't have it any more. "It's the middle of the night."
"I'm just trying to be a good host."
"I don't want to be hosted. I just want to sleep."
"Okay. You can have the sofa."
Gum followed his gaze to where a sagging brown sofa was leaning against the wall. "Thanks."
"See you in the morning, then?"
Botan walked out of the room, and left her.
Gum crept over to the sofa, and dropped down on it. It groaned underneath her, and she heard a spring snap in the depths.
She lay down, staring up at the stained ceiling above her. Outside it was very quiet. Tokyo-to was asleep.
I'm totally alone, Gum thought to herself. She couldn't stay with Botan forever. He was just putting her up for the night. So tomorrow she'd leave, go to another city even, try again.
How? She closed her eyes as the question reverberated in her mind. She couldn't be a rudie now. Her skates were gone, she'd left them back at the garage.
But that was good. She had to face the fact being a rudie had been the wrong choice. It had brought her nowhere but to this place.
And if it's you who did it, you'll just keep on failing…
"I won't," Gum said, trying to drown out the thought. "I won't, because I didn't do it!"
She screamed the last few words. There was a clap of thunder, and Botan came out of his room.
"What's with you?" he snapped.
"Look, you may as well tell me. Doesn't look like we're gonna get much sleep tonight."
Gum looked at him. She didn't want to tell him. She didn't want to tell anyone. But part of her brain wondered if talking about it – passing it on to someone else – might ease the pain.
"Okay," she said. "Okay, fine. I'll tell you. You wanna hear it? I'll tell you."
"Then get on with it, and stop stalling," Botan said.
"Fine." Gum closed her eyes, tried to think. "It started…I think it started about a week ago…"
It was raining, and the garage smelt of mud and damp hair.
Gum sat on the sofa, channel-hopping. Normally, she'd be out doing skating, or tagging, or something, but she hated going out in the rain if she didn't have to.
Mew was leaning against the sound system, talking to Slate, whom she went out with. She didn't like getting wet either, and Slate always hung wherever she did.
"In what experts are claiming is the wettest autumn in Japan since the…"
Gum switched off the weather report, and turned to stare out of the garage window. The sky was dark, and rain hissed against the glass, lying under the sounds of Jet Set Radio, of the pinball table bleeping, and Mew's and Slate's voices.
Which were rising.
"Don't give me a hard time," Mew snapped. "I'm sorry, okay, but –"
"You're sorry? Oh, good!" Sarcasm rang in Slate's voice. "You've met another guy and you're gonna go screw his brains out, but you're sorry. Well, that makes it all right, don't it?"
"Slate, shut up." Mew glared at him. "There's nothing I can do."
"You could try not listening to your hormones for once in your life."
"I don't have to stand here and listen to this," Mew snapped.
"Then don't. I sure don't want to see you any more."
"Fine!" Mew marched across to the garage door and wrenched it open. "You won't have to!" For a moment she stood silhouetted against the rain, then she turned and walked out into the greyness.
Slate watched her go. His eyes were narrowed. Then he turned, dashed away into the other room, and slammed the door behind him.
Gum sighed. Poor Slate. What was with Mew, throwing him off like that? He fancied her rotten. She wondered who this other guy was. Another GG? The only GG guy that seemed likely was Beat…
Gum let a small smile creep onto her face at the thought of Beat. He was always there for her, at least. She spent large portions of her life being angry, but he never walked away from her.
No, but Mew had never shown any interest in any of the other guys before. Some of them – especially Yo-Yo – had shown interest in her, but she'd never responded. Except to Slate, of course.
Well, maybe it was some guy from another gang. Or maybe she's lying. Gum rolled her eyes. It wasn't like she cared about Mew's love life. It was just with this everlasting rain she needed a distraction. When even skating wasn't fun…
The door flew open again, and she looked up to see Beat, Tab, and Cube coming in, all soaked to the skin.
"So it's still raining, then," she said, getting to her feet.
"Very funny." Tab shook himself like a dog, and water spattered around him. Taking off his hat and wringing it out, he said, "If this don't let up I'm going into another line of work."
"It's not that bad," Cube said, flicking damp hair out of her eyes. "Refreshing, at least. And Onishima's finding it a lot harder to chase us in the rain. He doesn't come out personally half so much."
"Anyway, it's got to stop sometime," Beat said.
Gum walked over to him and he absently put an arm round her waist.
"So you got something done?" she asked.
Beat kissed her on the cheek, his lips cold. "Hmm? Oh, yeah, I guess so. Look, I got to go, okay? Got stuff to do."
"Ah, come on, Beat," Gum said. "You've been out all morning. Can't you hang with me even a little?"
"I will," he said. "I just got to meet someone now. See ya, okay?"
He kissed her again, quickly, and walked back out into the rain.
"Hey, don't worry about it," Cube said. "Guys have no sense of timing."
"I resent that," Tab said. "My timing is perfect."
"Sure it is," Gum said. She glared at the closed garage door, feeling stamped on. So much for Beat always being there for her.
"Hey, Gum, want a pinball tournament?" Tab said.
"You beat me last time, but I been practising, and there's a hi-score space with my name on it."
"I don't know." Gum sighed.
"Just say yes." Tab grabbed her hands and dragged her towards the pinball machine. "I won't ask for a smile and a song. Just play, okay?"
"If you insist."
"I do." And more quietly, "And don't worry about Beat, okay? I guess he's just in a jerky mood at the moment. It'll pass."
"You should know," Gum retorted, switching on the machine.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Now just sit back and watch while I kick your ass."
"In your dreams."
She won. But it didn't make her feel much better.
As the day wore on, she lay on the sofa, listening to the thunder growl, and wondering why she was suddenly so upset by this. It wasn't like Beat'd said he was mad with her.
You're just scared he doesn't like you any more, a dark voice whispered.
I'm not scared. I don't care if he doesn't like me. I don't need him, or anyone. I've never needed anyone before, have I?
Rain rattled on the garage roof.
He likes someone else. He's just like everyone. He thinks I'm a crazy bitch.
Don't be so stupid. I'm not crazy. I'm not. I'm a little touchy – so what? We've all got our faults. And Beat knows I'm like that. So he wouldn't drop me now. Would he?
She looked over at Slate, who was playing on the pinball machine slightly more violently than would be felt necessary. He'd just got dropped. Who was to say she wouldn't be next?
I won't let him. The thought rang out in her mind. I won't let him. She clenched her fists as the thunder rolled.
The next morning it was still raining. Gum opened her eyes, and cursed.
"And a very good morning to you, too." Tab's voice echoed from above her.
"Why won't it stop bloody well raining?"
"It's the wettest autumn since I don't know. How are you, anyway?"
"Sick of rain."
"Very funny. Anyway, I thought –"
"Hey, Gum, how are you?"
Gum sat up as she heard Beat's voice. "I'm fine. So you're back, then?"
"Yep." Beat straightened his headphones. "You're not mad?"
Tell him, her mind said.
No way. Screaming at him might make him disappear again.
Great. You're turning into one of those bimbos who do everything for their boyfriends. Yuck.
"Are you coming out skating?" Beat's voice broke into her thoughts.
Gum looked with disgust at the rain, then sighed. "Sure." She couldn't keep hiding in here. "I'll come."
Outside the roads were streams, speckled with rubbish. The water swirled around Gum's skates as she followed Beat across to the bus terminal.
"I hope we don't flood," he said.
"You think we might?"
"Well, it's not like the garage is on a hill, is it?"
Gum sighed, and started tagging a bus. He didn't have to speak to you like you were a prat, part of her mind muttered.
Why do I have a boyfriend in the first place? He's nothing but trouble!
She was half-joking, but then at the thought of them breaking up a cold hand that had nothing to do with the weather gripped her stomach.
Suddenly she heard a shriek, and looked round to see two other rudies standing facing each other under the bridge.
"Listen, munchkin," a voice she recognised as Mew's snarled. "Either you leave me alone, or I kill you. Which is it to be?"
"Mew, I just wanted to talk to you, okay?"
That was Yo-Yo, sounding uncharacteristically cross.
"Yeah, right! What does 'talking' mean this time? Stealing my bra? Slapping my butt? Or just the plain old wolf-whistle?"
"I've changed, okay? Well, not totally…but this time I do just want to talk. Honest."
"So get on with it," Mew snapped.
"Um…" Yo-Yo stared at his feet, shuffled them, sending ripples across the water. He took a deep breath.
"What?" Mew screamed. "Oh, very funny, gummi bear! Just grow up and get a life!"
Gum winced as Mew shoved Yo-Yo backwards. He lost his balance and sat down in the puddles.
"Leave me alone!" Mew shouted, and skated away.
Gum skated over to Yo-Yo, and saw Beat approach from the other side.
"You okay, man?" Beat helped the damp GG to his feet.
"Yeah, I'm just swell. Getting rejected makes my day." Yo-Yo scowled. "I'm going home, okay? If you see Mew, tell her I'm sorry I existed."
He skated off out of the bus terminal, and was lost in the rain.
"I don't think I've seen Yo-Yo that mad before," Beat said. "Still, he does like Mew."
"Can't imagine why." Gum shivered, her fingers stinging with cold.
Beat looked at her, and she felt sick as she saw dislike in his face. "Just quit getting at Mew, okay?" he snapped. "She's not a total bimbo, you know. Maybe you're the one who should grow up and get a life."
"What?" Gum stammered.
Beat glanced at the ground. "I'm sorry, okay?" he said. "I didn't mean that. But it's just – stop being so mean about other people. It's boring."
Gum stared at him, unable to speak.
"Stop looking like that." Beat turned away from her. "I said I was sorry."
He began to skate back to the bus terminal. Gum stood, staring at him, and then she screamed after him, "I hate you!"
Her voice echoed around the bus terminal, childish and furious. He didn't look back.
She could feel her whole body shaking with rage. It frightened her. If she didn't do something, it would break her, it was too big for her to contain…
She looked around the bus terminal, and saw Beat's tag on the side of one of the buses. She dashed over to it, whipped out a can of black paint, and sprayed all over the tag until it was nothing but a dark, dripping mess.
Then she began to skate home.
She was almost back at the garage when she saw Beat up ahead. He was skating with Mew. They were talking, and she saw Beat reach out and brush some raindrops off Mew's arm.
They look like a couple, Gum thought.
Then – no. No. They can't be.
Sick with fury, she skated faster, and caught up with them. "Hi."
"Oh, hey, Gum." Mew gave her a smile. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, I guess." Why are you walking with him? What were you talking about?
"Hey, Gum, I'm sorry," Beat said. "I just –"
"Don't worry about it." Were you angry because it was Mew I dissed? You think she's better than me?
Don't you dare steal my boyfriend, Mew. Don't you dare.
As they entered the garage Gum turned and walked away from them both, not wanting to see how they looked at each other. She could feel everyone's eyes on her back, so she hurried into the next room and dropped down on the old sofa the GGs had put there.
She could feel herself trembling, and it disgusted her. Why was she so scared about just losing a boyfriend? She'd still be able to see him.
She heard the front door open and close – the rattle of rain on the roof – music outside. But she didn't want to go out there and be friendly. Drawing her knees up to her chest, she rested her head on them, and felt acidic tears sting her eyes.
She must have dozed off there, for she was woken by a crash.
Peeling open her eyes, she glanced up just in time to see Cube throw a can of paint across the room. It struck the wall, and the Gothic GG shouted, "Fine! Be like that! See if I – damn – well – care –" With each word she flung another can of paint.
"Cube?" Gum said. "Um – what's happened?"
Cube jumped, dropping the last can, and turned round. "Oh. Oh, sorry, I didn't see you – I thought you'd gone out."
"What's with you?"
Cube blushed. "Nothing. I'm just pissed about something."
"I gathered that."
"I got a mental slap round the face, that's all." Cube shrugged. "Some – some guy."
"I'd rather not say. It was just a big mess, that's all. I told – I told him I – liked him – and he wasn't too keen. That's all."
"Forget about it." Cube glanced down at her fingers. "I thought I was the only one here – after he stormed out –"
"He stormed out?"
"I told you he wasn't too keen." She smiled, but Gum could see hurt in her face. "I thought I was on my own, that's why I freaked. Did I wake you or something?"
"Yeah, but don't worry about it."
"You don't look too happy yourself," Cube said. "Are you and Beat having a row or something?"
"I don't know. He told me he thinks I'm a bitch."
"Way. Wasn't exactly a Valentine's card."
"Ah, come on. He's probably just tense – as sick of the rain as you are."
"Anyway, he's gone out again, him and – and Mew –"
"Oh, come on, you don't think Mew's going after him, do you? She may be a bit flirty but she wouldn't deliberately steal someone else's guy."
"Wouldn't she?" Gum remembered how Mew had smiled at Beat as they walked. A sweet smile. A kind smile. The smile of someone who never said anything cruel about anyone.
Beat liked girls like that.
"If you don't mind," she said, "I'd like to be alone. I'm sorry about your guy."
Cube shrugged. "I'll get over it."
She walked out of the room, and kicked the pinball machine.
Leaning back, Gum closed her eyes.
"Hey, Gum, I'm going out, okay?" Cube's voice echoed in her tired mind. "The others should be back soon."
She heard footsteps, the door opening and shutting again, silence. Alone.
That's what you're going to be for a long time…
"He does love me," Gum said. "He does, I'm sure he does. Doesn't he?"
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep again.
Gum sat up as Garam's voice rang out from the main room.
"What is it?" she called.
"We've been flooded."
Gum got up and walked out into the main room, which was now a few inches deep in water that rippled around her skates.
"Great." Beat had come in after Garam. "Just great."
As he opened the door, more water started pooling in.
"What are we gonna do?" Cube stared at the flood.
"We can't stay here," Mew said. "It's gross – and it's cold!"
"Well, what can we do?" Gum said. "Find a new place?"
"That might be the best idea," Beat said. "There's an old house I know near Center Street. It probably won't have been flooded. And as far as I know, no one's taken it."
"I guess that'll do." Mew sighed. "We pick up our stuff, then?"
"As much as we can carry."
The GGs walked in single file up Center Street and finally reached the building Beat had mentioned.
"Well?" he said. "What do you think?"
"Umm…" Mew bit her lip. "Well…"
"It's a dump," Cube said.
Gum glanced over the house. It was a low building, with several boarded-up windows. The rain spattered the rotting walls.
"Look," Beat said. "It's either this, or we all go home and play Noah. Now come on."
"You did lock the garage, right?" Gum said as Beat pushed open the house door.
"Yes. No. Yes. No, I remember, I did. And I got a padlock for this place."
They stepped inside.
"I reiterate my earlier opinion," Cube said, coughing in the dust. "It's a dump."
Beat glared at her. "Okay, people, let's set up home."
The GGs crowded inside as the rain pounded against the windows.
The house was four-roomed, two-storied, and dark.
Gum stood in the rusting kitchen, leaning against the pinball machine, which Combo had dumped next to a dead fridge. On the wall there was a mouldering picture of a vase of flowers, a glass case containing an axe with In Case Of Fire written above it, several damp stains, and an empty plate rack.
"Man, it's hardly the Ritz," she muttered, listening to the thumps around her as the GGs settled in. She could see through the open door Yo-Yo attempting to juggle several cans of spray paint, Tab looking for Potts, and Combo working on reanimating the TV.
"Hey, Gum, move it, the master of pinball is coming through!" Slate dashed towards the pinball machine, Cube following. "Cube here thinks she can beat me."
"You know I can. Admit it."
Gum stepped out of the way and Slate and Cube, glaring at each other, took possession of the pinball machine. Sighing, Gum headed back into the other room.
"Where are the others?" she said.
"Piranha and Garam went upstairs…" Yo-Yo sniggered. "Dunno where Beat and Mew are."
Beat and Mew.
Gum's throat tightened. Their names sounded good together.
Beat and Mew.
She dashed towards the stairs, stumbled up them, dust clouds rising as her skates struck the wood. As she reached the top she was confronted by two doors. She wrenched at one, and Garam yelled, "Hey, give a guy some privacy!"
Gum slammed the door shut, and turned to face the other one. Her hand was shaking.
Don't open it, her mind said. Walk away. That way you won't find anything out.
She heard someone giggle in the other room, and rage roared up inside her. Don't you dare laugh at me!
She wrenched at the door, slammed it back against the wall.
Up until that minute she'd still been thinking that maybe it'd be okay.
Now she knew it wasn't.
Beat and Mew sprang apart.
Beat's shirt was off. Mew's dress was crumpled around her waist.
"Ever heard of knocking?" Beat snapped.
Gum stared at them, unable to move.
"Gum, I'm really sorry," Mew said. She pulled her dress back up, smoothed her hair, smiled. "But – look – I'm afraid – well, he and I, we just –"
Maybe I won't ever be able to move, part of Gum's mind thought. Maybe I'll just stay frozen in this doorway forever.
"Gum?" Mew said. "Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm not okay, you fucking whore!"
Wow, someone's mad, Gum thought.
"Gum, quit it!" Beat stood up, pulling on his T-shirt. "Look, I'm sorry, but it's over. It – is – over. It has been for a long time."
This can't be happening, Gum thought. It just can't be. I'll wake up, and this will all have been a dream.
Oh, don't be so stupid. It's obvious this is real.
"Beat?" she said. Her voice sounded so small.
"I'm sorry." Beat looked away from her. "Come on, Mew."
He and Mew sidled past her. As they reached the stairs, Mew turned back and gave Gum a small, ashamed smile.
And the fury snapped.
Red blazing in front of her eyes, Gum rushed forward, aching all over with rage. Mew's hair was smooth in her fingers as she pulled at it, she heard the other GG shriek, hit out at those pretty eyes and that sweet smile and those petite cheekbones, felt someone grab her arm, shouting echoed in her ears, then suddenly her collar tightened round her neck and she was lifted off the ground.
Mew was crouched on the step, sobbing, blood pulsing from the scratches on her face. Gum twisted round to see that Combo was holding her by the back of her dress, and that the other GGs were clustering at the bottom of the stairs. Only Garam and Piranha were still absent.
"You bitch!" Beat shouted. "Why can't you just leave us alone? Why can't you just let us be happy?"
"Hey, lay off her!" Tab yelled, pushing his way through the crowd. "You're the one who was two-timing her!"
"You keep your nose out of this!" Beat retorted. "Just stop it, Gum. Just stop it!"
"Why should I?" Gum yelled. "You cheated on me!"
"I was going to tell you," Beat said. "Honest. I didn't mean for you to find out that way –"
"Then how did you?" Gum said as Combo put her down. "You were gonna send a photo or something?"
Beat stared at the ground. "I'm sorry."
He helped Mew to her feet. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, still crying a little.
"Come on," Beat said. "Let's go for a walk."
Gum stared at them as they made their way down the steps, holding hands. Her throat ached with misery and fury.
"Gum?" Tab was looking at her. "Are you okay?"
The others were staring up at her as well.
She opened her mouth to try and speak, and felt her lip begin to tremble. Knowing she was about to really burst into tears, she turned and ran. Not into the bedroom Beat and Mew had just vacated, but towards the ladder she could see at the end of the corridor. She dashed up it, and through the trapdoor into the attic.
This area was only about three foot high, and covered in dust, but she didn't care. Slamming the trapdoor shut, she let the darkness flow in, and cried and cried and cried.
Gum watched Botan's face as she finished speaking.
"Sorry," she said. "I guess this is all sounding like some dumb romance story."
"No, don't worry 'bout it. I'm still listening."
The rain knocked on the window, and Gum shivered.
"Okay," she said. "I haven't got to the important bit yet."
"Just get on with it, okay?"
So she did.
(I hope you enjoyed that…please r+r!)