Track #1

new kid

In all my nineteen years of living, I'd always considered myself to be a patient, peace-loving person. I didn't even remember a time when I'd been truly angry with someone, and I never understood why people got so violent when they did.

Today though, I think I finally knew the feeling.

The door in front of me read '304'. Down the middle of an open hallway in a Tokyo apartment, I had a wheeled suitcase on my side and a rucksack on my back. My arms hurt from hauling my baggage up three flights of stairs, and my butt was sore from sitting on the train for seven hours.

Those were the least of my concerns.

My cousin was supposed to pick me up at the station two hours ago. He was a no-show not answering his phone, but never mind the fact that this was my first time in Tokyo. I had every chance of getting lost, but I was here now. I should be thankful.

I was furious.

Was it because I hadn't seen him in six years? Did this just give him the right to ditch me somehow? Even if he was my favorite cousin, that didn't give him a free pass.

I closed my eyes and took a deep sigh. No, I made it here in one piece, and I needed to let it go. I wasn't going to let any more negativity ruin my first day in Tokyo. Shin had always been a bit of a scatterbrain. Surely he had a plausible explanation somehow.

I finally pressed on the doorbell. I smoothened out my shirt and jeans, ready for our grand reunion.


I rang the doorbell again. I didn't get the address wrong now, did I? Unless he wasn't home...

Anger, mixed with panic, returned to me in a wave as I hammered on the button. No, he had to be here. Where else would he be if he wasn't at the goddamn station?

There was a rustle of locks. Hallelujah!

The door finally opened. A half-lidded eye peered through the crack of the chain lock.

"Who the hell are you?" A guy who I was not entirely sure was my cousin demanded.

"Shin?" I tried to make out the rest of his face. "Shin, is that you?"

"Yeah? What do you want?"

I took a step back and kicked the door. I didn't get to break the lock, but at least I hit him smack in the face.

"Ow!" he exclaimed. "What the hell?!"

"It's me, Haruki! You were supposed to pick me up!"

My cousin covered his nose and finally swung the door open. He had nothing but his boxers on. He was leaner and taller now, just short of six feet with his short, spiky hair a dyed light brown.

"God damn it!" he groaned, still covering his face. "I think you just broke my nose!"

"Good. That's payback."

"But seriously Haruki, is that you?" His eyes widened. "What happened to your hair? I can barely recognize you!"

"I just felt like chopping it off, and don't change the subject. Where the hell were you?"

"Wait... Isn't today Thursday?"

I wanted to hit his nose again. "It's Friday, you idiot!"

"Alright! Hold on!" He blocked the way when I tried to enter. "You can't come in right now!"

"Why the hell not?"

Behind him, a half-naked girl jumped around trying to put her pants on. This was the reason I got ditched today...?

I dropped my backpack and lunged for his neck. "I'm going to kill you!"

"Wait, wait, wait!" he cried, trying to pry my fingers off his throat. "I'm sorry! I swear to God, I totally forgot!"

"That's not making me feel any better!"

"Um, excuse me..."

The girl was now fully dressed as she stood behind Shin by the doorway.

"I'm going to go now," she murmured, giving my cousin a feeble pat on the arm as I paused in the middle of choking him. "I'll see you later, Shin."

She slinked out of the narrow space by the door and flashed me an uneasy smile. "Sorry."

"Bye!" He managed to shout out. "I'll call you!"

His dreamy gaze followed her down the hallway. I resumed putting pressure on his throat.

"Okay! Alright!" He coughed as I let him go. "Just get in, will ya?"

He was kind enough to bring in my luggage for me as I took off my shoes and stepped inside his small studio apartment.

A kitchen and a dining table instantly greeted me to my right. There were many pending dishes in the sink and a dirty frying pan on the stove as I ignored the sudden itch to clean. To the left was the shower, separate from the toilet, with a closet at the very end.

I braved forward to the bedroom, which was cluttered with clothes, snack wrappers, and plastic bags. I headed straight for the windows and slid them open, taking in fresh air before I suffocated.

"How can you live like this?" I demanded.

My cousin followed me to the room as he put his hands to his sides. "You're in Tokyo now, Haruki. Life here isn't as glamorous as it seems."

"This has nothing to do with being glamorous! You just don't clean!"

I heard a meow. A fat, white shorthair emerged from the bathroom and slinked around Shin's leg.

"I'm surprised you can even keep a pet alive."

Shin picked up the cat with a grin. "Yumi, tell her we live in paradise."

The animal simply stared at me with her big, green eyes.

I put a hand to the bridge of my nose. "I'm afraid to ask, but where do I sleep?"

"There's an extra futon in the closet... I think."

I shook my head and sighed. "You're hopeless."

"Oh relax, Haru-chan." He gingerly dropped Yumi as he walked to the window and looked outside. "You just got here! It's your first day in Tokyo! Aren't you excited?"

I glared at him. "I've had a change of mood over the last few hours."

"Tch, always so snarky." He snickered, ruffling my hair. "You haven't changed at all."

I tried to keep scowling, but I ended up breaking into a grin. His charm had always been to make everyone smile.

"So, you've come all the way here for college huh?" He crossed his arms. "I bet Aunt and Uncle must be so proud of you. What did you say you were taking up again?"

"Computer science."

"You always were a geek."

"You're one to talk. You barely passed high school."

He dramatically put a hand to his chest. "Who needs books when I have music?"

I laughed. "Yeah? And how's that going for you?"

Shin's eyes widened. "Shit. What time is it?"

I glanced at my watch. "A quarter to five. Why?"

"Christ!" He jumped, snatching the nearest shirt he could find. "I'm going to be late!"

"Late?" I repeated. "Late for what?"

"Late for a gig!" He hastily slipped into his jeans. "My band's playing tonight. You wanna come?"

"Are you kidding? I just experienced the most stressful day of my life." I emphatically replied. "Of course I'm going."

We took a train to the city and ended up in a small live house called The Yellow Room. The place was small and reeked of cigarette smoke, but the crowd here mostly comprised of young women. Dressed in the current fashion they didn't seem the type to be listening to the heavy metal group currently playing onstage, but I guess that's why nobody else was paying the band much attention. Their playing sucked anyway.

"Hey, what can I get for ya?" The bartender asked.

"Uh, you got orange juice or something?" Lame, I know. One more year, then I can party.

The bartender stared at me like I just sprouted another head, but he ended up pouring a carton of orange juice into a glass anyway.

There were several half-hearted claps as the band exited the stage. The lights and the chatter returned to the room as I anticipated my cousin's performance. The last time I heard him play was with his makeshift band in high school. After that it was an endless string of groups since he moved here to Tokyo to try and make it big. Most of my family thought he'd lost his mind, but I've always admired him for his perseverance.

The hall finally dimmed again as the lights onstage turned red. A guy with light brown hair in a white shirt and vest entered and settled behind the drums. Three other guys, one of them my cousin, followed after. I moved closer to the stage, trying to get a better view with my orange juice in hand.

Shin had changed into a monochrome striped shirt and skinny jeans. He slung a white bass guitar over his shoulder and took his place on the right side of the stage. The guy on the left side, wearing a black cardigan and a brooding expression, held a maroon Gibson Les Paul.

The vocalist at the center adjusted the mic stand in front of him. He wore a white V-neck and black leather jeans. He was a total looker, the kind that sent pretty much all the girls moving closer to the stage and bumping against me. In fact, everyone in Shin's band was good-looking, like a boy band but with guitars. Was that why there were so many women here?

Slung over the frontman was a black, vintage Fender Mustang—an instrument I didn't think I'd ever get to see outside of a magazine. All I had was an acoustic guitar that I left back home, but if I were to have a dream guitar, it would look a lot like that one.

"Hi guys, we're Devil Cherry." The vocalist had a low, silky voice as he smiled to the crowd. "How's everyone doing tonight?"

There were several excited squeals.

"Our first song tonight is a cover of Buck-Tick's 'Chocolate'. We hope you enjoy."

He clutched the microphone with one hand, the other on the neck of his guitar. Without accompaniment he began,

Ah, give me chocolate

The sound of distorted guitars and heavy bass instantly filled the room. I stared at the band onstage, amazed at the feel of the music pounding against my ears and the lights flashing before my eyes.

Outside the world is dancing
Beyond the door of terror
I reach out my hand
And listen to the laughter echo

The vocalist danced to the industrial rock sound as he strummed his guitar. He had a deep, sensual voice, fitting the melody of the song.

Salivate for me; I deserve respect
Spill it all out; I know you want to dissolve too

On the right side of the stage Shin swayed to the music, his usual childish grin subdued to a playful smirk as he winked at the girls below.

The guitarist on the left side wasn't even looking at his strings, and the drummer at the back struck with an intensity that didn't match his small frame. Shin's band sounded amazing, and it almost irritated the heck out of me.

My eyes remained glued to the stage as I took a sip of my orange juice again.

My first day in Tokyo was finally off to a good start.

"Hey, Haruki!"

I turned as Shin approached me from the opposite end of the club.

"Hey." I grinned, leaning against a barstool. "You guys were pretty awesome back there."

"What did I tell ya?" he laughed, putting a hand on my shoulder. "I want you to meet the guys. Come with me."

The crowd seemed to part for us like the Red Sea. A good number of women in the bar stared at us; hearts in their eyes for him and daggers for me.

"Well aren't you popular."

"We play here regularly." He winked. "I might have a fan or two."

He pushed open a door that read 'Staff Only' as we arrived down a narrow, dimly lit hallway. The walls were covered with numerous doodles from past performers saying "we're going to be number one!" or "we're the best band ever!" in different colors.

Shin stopped in front of another door. We arrived in the dressing room, where two other bands were gathered in different corners. At the farthest end by the dressers were Shin's band mates.

"Guys, this my cousin Haruki."

I feebly waved to the group, feeling a little intimidated to be the only girl in the room. "Hi."

The vocalist was lazily sitting against the dresser with an unlit cigarette on his lips. It was like looking at a model the way his black leather jeans and knee-high motorcycle boots clung to him perfectly like a second skin. He had disheveled, jet-black hair, and his eyes, smeared with eyeliner, were a mesmerizing shade of dark grey.

He removed the cigarette from his lips and smiled. "Hi, I'm Kei."

The guitarist to his right was sitting on a chair. His dark, deep-set eyes, square jawline and five o'clock shadow gave him a tough, no-nonsense vibe as he curtly nodded at me. He introduced himself as Ryou.

The drummer stood leaning against a table beside Shin. He looked young with his light brown hair, round eyes, and small face. Out of all of them, he seemed the closest to my age.

"I'm Yuuichi," he greeted in a light voice. "Nice to meet you."

"So how'd you find our little number, Haruki-chan?" Kei asked, crossing his legs. I always thought leather pants would feel uncomfortable, but the vocalist made it seem otherwise.

"It was cool." I nodded. "You guys sounded great."

"Admit it." Shin put an arm around my shoulders. "You just became my number one fan."

"I don't know about that," I laughed. "But maybe now I'm not so ashamed to say I'm related to you."

"Are you kidding me? You should be proud that I'm your cousin! Girls throw panties at me, worship me..."

Yuuichi shook his head behind him. Ryou lit a cigarette and idly watched Shin's long monologue as Kei took out a piece of gum and started chewing with a grin.

"One time there was even this chick following me..."

"Has he always been like this?" The vocalist inquired.

"Delusional?" I snorted. "Yeah."

"… I have stalkers, Haruki. You have no idea how much of a hot topic I am with the ladies." Shin concluded with a cross of his arms.

Ryou took a deep drag of his cigarette. "Didn't some granny ask you out for a drink the other day?"

"I politely said no," Shin stated. "Thirty-five's the limit for me."

"Oh, you mean the old rocker lady that was here last Tuesday?" Kei elbowed the guitarist. "I hear she's loaded."

"Damn." Ryou raised his eyebrows. "I'll take her out."

"That's disgusting." Yuuichi shuddered as Kei barked in laughter. "Too bad she's got her eyes set on you, Shin."

"That's sweet." I grinned, patting my cousin. "When can I meet her?"

"Enough! Now you're just making fun of me!" Shin snapped. "You're supposed to have my back! Why are you siding with them?!"

"What? Grandma's sixty-five and you love her. That's just five years off."

Shin's band mates laughed.

"At least sense of humor runs in her side of the family." Kei grinned. "We like your cousin already, Shin."

Weirdly enough, I already like them too.

Three days passed by in a blur, and the next thing I knew it was already the first day of school. Maybe I was yet to recuperate from all that traveling, but I felt exhausted.

"I'm home," I sang, smiling at Yumi as she meowed at my arrival. Her tail was up in curiosity as she followed me to the bedroom, where I collapsed facedown on Shin's bed.

Although I just attended an orientation class, the day started out early and hectic. All my energy was pretty much spent on riding a Tokyo train during rush hour. I'm yet to get used to the craziness of this new city life.

I slowly sat up from the bed and looked around. It was half past four in the afternoon, and Shin shouldn't be home for another couple of hours.

Two guitar cases were leaning against the wall at the opposite end of the room. I walked up to it and picked up the smaller, wider case, bringing it back to the bed and taking out Shin's acoustic guitar.

I placed it on my lap and plucked several strings. Yumi remained sitting at the foot of the bed, observing me with her big eyes.

"I dedicate this song to Yumi. Thanks for being my number one fan."

I placed a hand on the neck of the guitar and strummed, traveling my fingers through the riffs of the song.

I'm not alone
I can't believe it; I still doubt it
Until I met you
I couldn't even see myself

The sound of soft plucking filled the silence of the room as my fingers moved along the chords.

I used to walk all by myself
Not noticing this blinding light
Everything that I touched, I was afraid and I wondered
I miss you, your eyes
I love you, I think of you

I was only about to sing the next line when I saw my cousin standing by the doorway.

"Holy—" I almost jumped. "You scared the crap out of me!"

"Go on." He grinned. "Continue."

I narrowed my eyes at him and put the guitar away. "Well, you're home early."

"Hey, why'd you stop?" He pouted, approaching the bed. "Isn't that my guitar? Where's yours?"

"Left it back home," I muttered. "Extra luggage."

"Fair enough." He sat down beside me. "I didn't know you still played."

I stared at the guitar on the bed. "I'll always play."

Shin had been playing for years, but it was only when I saw him team up with his first band in high school did he inspire me to take it up as well. Mine had always been more of a hobby, because really, what were the chances of becoming a famous musician? I admired Shin for keeping the dream alive after all this time and wished I had his drive.

"You know what, one of these days we should get together again." He elbowed me. "You, me, and the guys. We should play."

"And embarrass myself? I don't think so."

"Oh come on, they'll love you even if you suck. They find you pretty cool, you know?"

"They do?" I raised my eyebrows. "And for your information, I do not suck."

"Then it's decided!" he declared. "We'll have a jam session soon!"

When I arrived here in Tokyo a few days ago, I was set to live my life as a normal college student for the next four years.

But something told me Shin and his friends were going to change that somehow.

to be continued