"I don't get it."
It was just a car, but so much more complicated than Anzu Mazaki ever would have expected.
And she was just window shopping, too.
Maybe she should have brought the guys along...
'No way. If I told them I was getting a car, they'd ask about where I'd be getting the money, and then I'd have to explain everything to them...'
It was too complicated. Not just the cars, but the whole situation! An RX-7, or a Lancer Evolution? Maybe neither-- maybe a sporty Roadster, or perhaps an Integra?
But Anzu wasn't considering purchasing a car simply because she had the money to. Rather, she wanted a car to give her that sense of freedom that she never had, being trapped in the congested center of Tokyo, in the tiny prefecture of Domino. And besides that, until she finished high school, freedom had to come in some other form than her long-standing dream of dancing in New York. She still had a year to go-- until April. She was already eighteen --had been since August, actually-- but she'd never bothered to buy a car. Unlike Honda, who'd gotten ahold of an old motorcycle and repaired it, riding it illegally until he was practically a master of the streets, Anzu only recently learned to drive-- and now wanted a car to call her own.
It wasn't as if she couldn't afford it-- she was, after all, one of Tokyo's richest heiresses.
But nobody else knew that.
Ever since her parents' deaths, Anzu went to painstaking efforts to keep her identity a secret. She didn't want her friends to think she was some sort of snotty rich girl, or a spoiled rotten brat. Her parents had worked hard for their riches, and taught Anzu to have the same determination and spirit in everything she did. Of course, they'd never approved of her dream of becoming a dancer, but...
'I want my freedom.'
And that was the end reason why Anzu Mazaki found herself alone at a Gunma prefecture car dealership, looking at various vehicles. She hadn't the slightest clue what the difference was between the various types of engines or shifting systems, let alone what made one car 'better' than another.
So she kept on looking.
"She looks a little lost," Sayuki commented blandly, crossing her arms over her chest.
The tall brunette beside her cast a glance in Sayuki's direction; her friend was staring at a younger girl some distance away. The girl wandered from car to car without any real sense or purpose. Instead of walking around the cars and inspecting their every centimeter, the way Ryousuke and Keisuke were doing now, the brunette peered at the car statistics taped to the windows.
"It's probably her first car," Mako Satou responded, turning back to the Takahashi brothers, who'd accompanied the Mt. Usui racers --also known as the team Impact Blue-- while they inspected the latest Mazda model on the lot-- an RX-8.
Moments later, the younger girl wandered in their direction, looking at the same cars Ryousuke and Keisuke just inspected moments before. She repeated the same routine as before-- casting a once-over of the car, and then peering intently at the information displayed in the window.
"She's got nice legs," Sayuki muttered to Mako under her breath. "Bet she's got fast reflexes."
"You think she's a racer?" Mako questioned, eyeing the girl. Female street racers were few and far between, all across Japan. Mako and Sayuki were the top racers on their home turf of Mt. Usui, but almost all their rivals were guys. In fact, no other female had challenged them. At least, not since....
"We're finished," Ryousuke stated, stepping away from the RX-8. Ryousuke, the leader and analyst of the Akagi RedSuns, needed only to look at a car --whether it was in action or not-- to discover its strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, his impulsive brother Keisuke --the RedSun's ace driver since Ryousuke 'retired,' cared little about a car's statistics, and more about winning.
"Hm. I bet she's got potential, but with the way she's looking at cars..." Sayuki chuckled blandly, clicking her tongue in her cheek. "She's an amateur if I've ever seen one. Still... I wish I had those legs."
"What are you talking about?" Keisuke asked, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walked forward. Frankly, walking around at dealerships bored him. He much preferred actually being behind the wheel of his FD, feeling the pressure and tearing down the streets and winding up and down hills.
Sayuki only pointed towards the girl, who looked hopelessly confused by all the data presented on the car sheets. While lot owners typically rushed to help anyone on the lot, the Takahashi brothers explicitly asked the annoying salesman to leave them alone for the duration of their inspection-- and since the Takahashi brothers were the heirs to the most prestigious hospitals across Japan, the salesman was more than willing to obey. The problem was, however, that there was someone potentially wanting a car, and the stupid lot owner was still holed up in his office.
For reasons beyond his understanding, this irritated Keisuke Takahashi, and he found himself approaching the girl, with the slight hope of helping her out.
"Need some help?"
"Hm?" Anzu glanced up abruptly, startled to see someone else there. And not just anyone else --not a fat, balding salesman, like she'd expected, but a rather handsome, older guy, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and slightly baggy jeans.
"You look a bit lost. Looking for something in particular?"
Why was he doing this? It wasn't as if the girl was a racer. Though, he had to admit... Sayuki was right. The girl did have nice legs.
Keisuke abruptly dropped his gaze, pretending to inspect the tires as his face heated up. The girl had to be eighteen or younger! What was he --a twenty-one year old star racer-- doing thinking about some strange girl's legs?
"I... well, I know I want a car, but I really don't have the slightest clue where to start. I guess I really should have done some more research before I got here..." Anzu sighed heavily, turning back to the RX-8 and peering confusedly at the data page.
"You plan on driving to school, or..." Keisuke trailed off purposefully. She couldn't be a racer, that much was certain, but every driver had potential. Keisuke Takahashi only knew that too well.
"Everywhere. Anywhere. I just... I want to feel the wind blowing in my face, feel the grip of the tires on the road, see the lights shining off the pavement at midnight..." Anzu blinked rapidly, realizing she'd practically waxed poetic about what she hoped driving would do for her. In more words than necessary-- freedom.
"I get it," Keisuke remembered that feeling-- wanting more than anything to just get away from the world, and encapsulate himself in a dimension entirely his own. The world of his car-- the world of street racing.
"Well, the first thing you're going to need to look for isn't going to be listed on those pages. You've really got to look the entire car over, and then if you find one you like, test drive it."
"Well, that's the problem," Anzu grumbled under her breath, "I don't even know which ones I like, or what I'm looking for in a car. I just... I've got no idea what I'm doing." She frowned, as if detesting the fact that she was doing something without any prior knowledge. But that was the world of cars-- everyone started from scratch, and every drive presented a new learning experience.
"Balance," Keisuke stated. "Performance balance-- between speed and maneuverability. You want a car that can go fast, but it's no good if you can't control it. You want to visit the mountains, so if you've got a fast car, you better be able to handle the curves and the hills."
"Balance..." Anzu repeated softly. "I understand that much. I guess I have a bit of experience in that area."
Off Keisuke's querying look, Anzu smiled, explaining, "Dancer. You look like a total idiot if you don't have balance when you try to dance-- I guess in the same way, it applies to driving."
Well, it was certainly a comparison Keisuke never would have thought of before. And it certainly explained where she got those gorgeous, toned legs...
Talking to cover up his embarassment, Keisuke continued, "Each car has its strengths and weaknesses though-- you definitely want to keep that in mind when you're looking for something. This RX-8 might be fast, but certain options for it might sacrifice the speed in favor of better maneuverability, or vice versa. It's true with almost every car-- even the weighty ones like a Skyline, or a lighter one like--"
Keisuke stopped, suddenly feeling three gazes boring into his head. Glancing around, he noted that his brother, Sayuki, and Mako were all standing behind him, each wearing a slight variation of a smirk or smile. Ryousuke's was the hardest of all of them to notice, but given that they were brothers, Keisuke knew immediately that his brother was pleased.
'Count on me to start babbling technicalities I hardly know to a girl who isn't even a racer!'
"Like?" Anzu prompted, genuinely curious. She wasn't aware that cars had different weights-- but she supposed it only made sense. After all, if dancers each weighed differently, then why not cars? In the same way that she had stamina and reflexes, cars had different parts that made it heavy or light, fast or slow. Some had higher horsepower than others, and some had better gas per kilometer than others.
Each car, individual...
"Well... like an Eight-Six."
"An Eight-Six?" Anzu repeated, not understanding. "Is that a kind of car?"
"Yeah-- an old one, really, but... it's light. Depends on the driver, but the one guy I know that has one... drifts pretty well." Of course, Keisuke Takahashi wasn't about to go to any great lengths to compliment Takumi Fujiwara and his outdated Trueno 86, but his words were the truth.
"Drifting...?" It sounded fascinating-- like the wind rushing all around you, traveling so fast you couldn't even see the outside world as anything more than a blur...
"When you turn the wheel in the opposite direction you're trying to trying to go... you can use all four wheels to control the car so you don't get pulled by the G-forces, coming out of the turn," Keisuke explained, trying to use layman's terms so the girl could understand. A look of enlightenment came over her face, and she nodded with a smile.
"Make sense," Anzu murmured. "You're forcing the weight to go to the opposite side so that the force pulls the car, right?"
She understood faster than most people, at any rate.
"That's about it."
An uncomfortable silence settled between them, as Keisuke realized he had nothing further to say, and Anzu herself realized she'd run out of questions to ask.
While they'd been talking, the sky above had darkened to a deep gray, the clouds rolling in and over the area.
"Oh man-- it's going to rain..." Anzu murmured, sheilding her eyes. "Thank you for all the help-- I... I really have to get going now!"
She started dashing towards the opposite end of the lot, much to Keisuke's surprise-- he hadn't even had the chance to ask her name, let alone say goodbye.
Ryousuke turned around and started walking back towards his own white RX-7, Sayuki and Mako in tow. The two girls of Impact Blue usually drove a Nissan SilEighty, a cross between a Silvia and a 180, the 180 being the major body of the car, while the Silvia parts made up the front. However, on the particular day the two team leaders decided to go car browsing, they decided to conserve gas by only taking two cars-- Keisuke's yellow RX-7 FD3S, and Ryousuke's "White Comet," or the RX-7 FC3S.
Keisuke followed shortly thereafter, wondering if he'd ever see the young dancer again.
Well, that just stunk.
It was pouring rain, she was all the way out in Gunma, and now the one bus that would have taken her to the train station and back home pulled away from the curb-- moments before Anzu reached the stop. She was already soaking wet, her pale blue sleeveless shirt clinging to her skin and her denim shorts heavy on her legs.
'Why did I have to wear this outfit today? Why not something more sensible? Oh, why'd it have to RAIN?!'
Frustrated, Anzu flopped down on the bus shelter bench-- though the small space couldn't really be called a shelter, since rain pelted through holes in the plastic ceiling, further wetting Anzu to the bone.
"Need a ride?"
Anzu looked up froom between sopping strands of brown hair; it was the guy from earlier!
"What are you doing, doofus?" Sayuki called out from another car, scowling at Keisuke, stopped in front of Anzu and the bus shelter.
"Just go, Ryousuke! I'll be back before dark!" Keisuke shot back, ignoring Sayuki, hollering at him from the rear seat. The other girl in the passenger seat remained perfectly composed and quiet, while Ryousuke only raised an eyebrow.
"I-If you wouldn't mind, yeah, I'd really appreciate it," Anzu called to Keisuke, while she held her hair up with one hand.
"Not at all. Come on!"
What was he thinking? She was just some random girl he'd met on a dealership lot, yet...
She dashed around the side of the car, hurriedly opening the passenger side door and climbing in. Ryousuke nodded briefly at Keisuke before speeding off, much to the protests of the loud girl in the backseat.
Moments later, Keisuke himself sped off, only bothering to ask Anzu where her 'home' was after they'd headed towards the freeway.
"Oh! I'm sorry I didn't mention it... I'm not exactly close to here. I'm all the way near Tokyo, in Domino."
"Domino?" He hadn't heard of it before-- but Keisuke was always up to a new driving challenge. Tokyo hardly presented the challenges of the mountainous Gunma prefecture, but maybe he'd at least learn something interesting about his passenger.
"So why a sportscar?" Keisuke asked, "Why not something a bit... well..."
"A bit more secure?" Anzu smiled. "That's not exactly my style, I guess. Some people would probably say it's completely against my style, but... well, I'm looking for fun, I guess. Something exciting."
Keisuke paused, wondering what to say to this piece of information. A young girl, a fresh driver...
'She wants a thrill.'
Well, Keisuke knew what could give her a thrill-- the same thing that induced his own wild spirit, his competitive nature, and fueled his daily life.
"What about street racing?"
"Street racing? I... I gotta admit, I don't know much about it," Anzu admitted, "but go on."
Keisuke briefly skimmed over what street racing was-- using normal cars, usually tuned up, and racing them up and down regular streets. The best places to race tended to be in the mountainous regions, with lots of hills and curves, but there were other places that offered just as much a challenge without being too far away. Much to his surprise, Keisuke's passenger seemed completely enthralled with his description of street racing-- though he carefully left out the fact that he himself was a street racer-- as were Ryousuke, Sayuki, and Mako.
For some reason, Keisuke didn't want her to pre-judge him based on his name, his experience, or the team logo plastered on the side of his car. He was just Keisuke Takahashi, and maybe, just maybe...
"Wow. It sounds... really exciting. I wish I could get into something like that-- something for me to really practice on, and have fun with at the same time."
Once upon a time, dancing had done that for Anzu Mazaki, but it no longer provided her with the same challenges or excitement that it had when she'd initially started. She knew if she wanted to recapture that feeling, she had to make her way to New York-- but that seemed so far off. And in the meantime....
Of course, she'd just spoken the magical words, and Keisuke found himself blurting out his next words before he'd really thought them over.
"Tomorrow-- I can pick you up and we can look at cars at dealerships. We can find something that you could race in."
He didn't even know her name, and here he was inviting her out to look at cars with him! What was he thinking?
"D-Do you mean that? I... wow. It'd really mean a lot," Anzu mumbled, scratching behind her ear. She stared guiltily at the puddles of rainwater collecting in the folds of the seat and on the floor. She'd already apologized several times before, but her courteous driver had told her --each time, with equal politeness and force-- that it was no big deal. Somehow, Anzu was inclined to think otherwise, judging from how clean the car was, but she didn't push the matter.
"Y-Yeah," Keisuke replied back, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. She was just a high-school girl, and he was practically hitting on her!
'Am not. She's just looking for a good car to race with, and that's something I can help her with.'
Nothing wrong with that, right?
They arrived in Domino not an hour later, where it was still raining, but not as heavily as it had been in Gunma. Anzu smiled at Keisuke as she ambled out of the car, pausing on her doorstep to wring out her shirt a bit more. Keisuke awkwardly followed, admiring the quaintness of the small house, and briefly wondering how a girl who lived in such small quarters could possibly afford a brand new car.
"I really appreciate what you did for me-- oh!" Anzu blinked, looking startled for a moment, before her expression melted into a gentle smile. "I didn't properly introduce myself, after all this time. I'm Anzu Mazaki. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Much to Keisuke's surprise, Anzu bowed deeply before him-- a practice Keisuke thought died out with his parents or grandparents. He would have much rather shaken her hand or something, but she was bowing to him, so Keisuke returned the gesture in kind-- looking a bit awkward and gangling as he did so, given that he too, was a bit wet, and wore heavier, baggier clothes than Anzu. Not to mention he was a good ten centimeters taller than her, at least.
"Takahashi," Keisuke mumbled, hoping she wouldn't immediately associate his name with his family's fortune, "Keisuke Takahashi."
When he finally dared to look up at her again, she was smiling --still in that same gentle, sweet way-- and despite being frozen from the rain and his wet clothes, a warm feeling spread throughout Keisuke's body.
"It's nice to meet you."