It had rained. Jun felt the force of it the moment she stepped outside, the heavy warmth of the air that had recently been filled with moisture. Now the air that had been hot and dry this morning felt thick as soup, and she hesitated as she tried to catch her breath. All around, puddles shimmered like dark mirrors. Drops of moisture were still falling from the eaves of buildings, and a few people clutched umbrellas defensively, as if expecting the squall to return without warning.
*Nothing like a summer rain,* thought Jun. *Nothing like it to shoot up the humidity and turn my hair into a mop.*
She sighed and ran her hand through her unruly red hair. Despite her best attempts at taming it, it still seemed to maintain a mind of its own, flying off in all directions and leaving her struggling with shampoos and hair creams.
Still, eternal optimism was her way of life, which was why she was out today. She had taken herself to the mall as an early birthday present and gotten herself a total makeover. First she'd bought a nice new outfit, complete with matching new shoes. Then it was on the salon for a facial and an attempt to find someone who could put her wayward hair in order. The attempt had been remarkably successful, and she was feeling quite pleased with herself as she stepped out of the mall.
*And now I have to put up with this humidity,* she groused. *Oh, well. On the bright side, at least it didn't start raining while I was on the way home! I would have gotten completely soaking...*
She didn't finish the thought, because at that moment, a man on a motor scooter shot by, straight through one of the largest puddles, sending up plumes of water. For a moment, they seemed to hang in the air like great reaching claws, before falling down over the hapless girl by the roadside.
"Ack!" she shrieked, dropping her shopping bag as she jumped away too late. She stared down at herself in dismay. The water had splashed her from top to bottom, dripping off her face and hair, splattering her new clothes with grime. Even as she stood and gawped, the man on the motor scooter reached the end of the block, stopped, made a U-turn, and returned. Jun's first feeling was a dread that the driver felt he had not done a complete enough job the first time and was coming back for another pass. However, as he drew nearer, the driver slowed and came to a halt in front of her. She glared at him, taking a breath to give him a piece of her mind.
"Oh, look at that mess!" said the driver, sounding distinctly chagrined. "I am so sorry. Are you okay?"
"I think so," said Jun, nonplused. "Just a little wet, I think."
"Yeah... Anyway, I'm really sorry about that," said the driver. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Well, I..." Jun began, and stopped.
The driver had taken off his biker's helmet, allowing him a clear view of his face. She stared.
"I know you!" she blurted. "You're Shuu Kido!"
"That's right," he answered, looking slightly puzzled. "I don't believe I know you, though. Have we met?"
"Well, not really, but..." said Jun, starting to feel embarrassed. She'd been fostering a crush on Shuu since the day she'd first seen him, but up until now, they had not spoken face to face. She had been hoping for a memorable first meeting, something that would leave an indelible first impression, but this was not how she had wanted it to happen! She had wanted to make a good impression. She had not wanted to have him meet her while she was soaking wet and muddy, with her mascara making dark rivulets down her face.
"Come to think of it, you do look vaguely familiar," said Shuu. "You wouldn't by any chance be related to Daisuke Motomiya, would you?"
"That's right. He's my little brother," Jun replied. "I saw you bringing him home once and asked him who you were."
"And you remembered this long? I'm impressed," said Shuu. "Anyway, I really didn't mean to splash you like that. I guess I didn't see you or something. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," she told him. "A little water never hurt anyone, right?"
He laughed. "So they say. Still, I wish I could make it up to you... Say, could I give you a ride home?"
"Hey, I did it for your brother, didn't I? I know the way. Besides, I do kind of owe you a favor."
"Well... Okay," she said.
Shuu grinned. "Here, allow me."
He scooped up her bag from where it had fallen and put it in a basket in the back of the scooter. That left Jun with very little choice but to climb onto the scooter with him.
"I don't have a spare helmet," Shuu told her, "so you're just going to have to hang on tight to me, okay?"
Jun swallowed hard, glad she was now standing behind him so he couldn't see her blushing. "Okay."
"All right. When we start moving, just hold on, and lean into the curves. Got it?"
"Okay, here we go."
He started the scooter up again, and she felt the vibration beneath her feet as the engine came to life. He guided it smoothly away from the curb and back into the main street. For a moment, the movement startled her, and she tightened her hold on him, but she soon grew used to the sensation and relaxed. They weren't really going that fast, not in these traffic-congested streets. It was actually an enjoyable ride.
"This is fun!" she said.
Shuu laughed. "Beats walking, that's for sure. I love this little machine. It doesn't look like much, but it's a lot more fun than some of those flashy cars."
"Don't you have a car?" asked Jun thoughtfully. "I was sure you were driving one last time I saw you..."
"That wasn't mine. I was borrowing it. Professor Takenouchi and I share it while I'm on campus and share the cost of gas. Kind of like carpooling, only we don't have to follow each other around all the time. It's convenient when we're on the road, but just for short hops, I like my scooter." He patted the handlebars affectionately. "This used to belong to my big brother Shin before he graduated."
"You have another brother?" asked Jun. She'd only been aware of her brother's friend, Jyou.
"Yeah. Shin's the oldest. He's already taken off for some big medical school somewhere. My little brother Jyou wants to go to the same place when his turn comes."
"But not you?"
"Nah," said Shuu with a laugh. "I'm the oddball in the bunch."
"I don't think there's anything strange about you," she replied. "I think you're very nice. Besides, I know I wouldn't want to spend all my time messing around with blood and germs and all that icky stuff."
"My sentiments exactly! I get a little queasy just listening to my dad talking about what he does at work," Shuu said. "I'm happier as a scholar."
"Is that what you do? Nobody told me."
"Most of the time, I'm Professor Takenouchi's helper. We study legends and folklore, things like that. It's a lot of fun," Shuu explained. "I'm also dabbling in film. I'm pretty handy with a camera."
"Really?" Jun asked, impressed. "I'm really interested in film. I always wanted to be an actress."
"Do you have any stage experience yet?"
"Oh, sure, I'm on the school's drama club."
"I'm sure you're wonderful," said Shuu. "Hey, if you get any spare time, maybe you could be in one of my movies. My last leading lady graduated, so I need a new one fast."
Jun beamed. "I'd love to."
"Great! I'll have to hurry up with my script, then. Better hold on; the speed limit's going up."
With no more warning than that, he cranked up the gas and sent the scooter zipping forwards at an abruptly increased velocity. Jun gave a squeak and tightened her grip again. They weren't just trundling along through slow-moving traffic now - they were clipping along at a rate that was surprising for such an unassuming little machine. The wind whipped past Jun's face, drying away the last of the dampness and making her hair whip out behind her. Soon she realized she was enjoying the sensation. It was one thing to be riding in a car, safely encased by walls of steel. It was another thing entirely to be moving with complete freedom, with nothing between her and the outside world, feeling the air rushing by her as they traveled. It was an exhilarating sensation. Shuu glanced over his shoulder at her and grinned.
"Having fun?" he asked.
"Feel like being daring?"
She grinned and nodded again.
"Okay. Hang on - here we go!"
They swung around a corner and onto an empty side street, skimming so low that Jun was sure her shoulder was about to skim the pavement as they banked into the curve. They straightened and began barreling up the street, ascending a short hill. With a wrench, Shuu actually managed to make the scooter leap into the air for a short distance before touching back down to earth. They rolled to the bottom of the hill and pulled to a stop.
"Still okay back there?" asked Shuu.
Jun laughed. "That was fun! I didn't know you could do that on one of these."
Shuu gave her a grin. "Don't tell anyone. My dad would kill me if he knew I was trick riding on this thing."
"Then why do you do it?"
"I don't know. I guess I'm just a born rebel." He laughed. "As much of a rebel as anyone can be when they spend so much time with their nose in a book. I just like doing my own thing."
"I admire that," she said.
They finished the drive back to Jun's apartment in companionable silence. Shuu guided the scooter gently into a free parking space.
"Here we are," he said. "Safe at home."
"I guess so," Jun replied. "Thanks for the ride. It was fun."
"No problem. It's the least I could do after I splashed you like that."
"That's all right. See, I'm dry already."
"Yeah, but your clothes..."
"Oh. I suppose you're right," said Shuu. "Anyway, it was nice seeing you... um. I'm sorry, but I don't think I got your name."
"It's Jun. Jun Motomiya."
"Nice name. Well, Jun, I hope I see you again sometime soon. It's been nice meeting you."
"It's been nice meeting you too," she replied. "Really nice."
"Yeah," said Shuu. He showed no inclination to leave.
"You know," said Jun, "I can see why you love this scooter."
"Yes. It's nice that you can appreciate it for what it is and not what it looks like."
"Oh, well. I guess I'm just an intellectual. I'm used to looking beyond the surface of things," he said. "Of course, sometimes it's easier than others..."
His eyes met hers, and she felt herself blushing.
"Where are you going to go now?" she asked him.
He shrugged. "Nowhere in particular. I was just out cruising today."
"Can I come?"
He smiled. "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot."
"Great," she said. "Let me put my bag away, and I'll be right back."
She dashed into the building and hurried to her own apartment. As she barged through the door, her mother caught a glimpse of her.
"Jun! What happened to you? You're a mess!" she said.
"No time, Mom, I'm in a hurry," she called back.
She dashed into her room and tossed her bag onto her bed. As she ran out again, she got a look at herself in the mirror. Her makeup was still smeared, her hair wind-tossed, her clothes mud-spattered, but as she ran outside and saw Shuu smile as he caught sight of her, she'd never felt more beautiful.