Goin' to the Chapel
By Mess


The Star Reversed: No hope, no future, no motivation - a goal which can never be reached, or does not exist at all.

"Do you think I'm just stupid, Maya?  That for some reason I can't think at the same level as you four?  I don't know..."

The day that Ulala Serizawa met Maya Amano, a local dance college closed its doors for the last time in the face of fierce competition from a nearby chain.  The steel mill downsized, and tech stock rose with their usual inflationary glee.  Three members of the Seven Sister's High School baseball team were hospitalized for a disappointingly common strain of food-poisoning, and a full half of the economics class that they had been enrolled in failed an exam that would later be audited by the school board after complaints by several disappointed (to put it mildly) parents.

Ulala was of the less academically blessed half, while Maya passed with a mark on the more successful side of decent.

In later years Ulala - who at the time was not a persona wielder, nor a redhead - could be forgiven for considering the first day of an incidental acquaintance a portent.  One not delineated in the harbingers of cards and numbers and stars and dragons which would later lose their place among the heavens, but a more disturbingly concrete reality.

The day that Ulala Serizawa met Maya Amano at a tai-chi course, she made the best friend that she'd ever have. Ulala quit the class soon after.  Maya kept on for another three moths.

Maya's stake in it was rather irrelevant - to Ulala, anyways.  She was nice, happy, kind, smart.. the kind of person a girl relied on.  The kind of person a guy could fall for.  She wasn't perfect - oh, far from it - but she was the New-Style Successful Working Girl before even leaving home.  Determined.  Intelligent.  Ready for anything.  And the kind of person that took stock so completely in their dreams that they could not help but become reality.

It was naturally the reason that they could afford a half-decent apartment a the Lunar Palace apartment complex - third floor, north wing - that had not only a balcony but separate rooms in an eminently convenient part of town.  Maya's income from Kismet was scant but steady, and kept them going between Ulala's sporadic spurts of cash flow.  Seasonal work was like that.  Maya understood - it all evened out.  Ulala did he cleaning on sunday afternoons when the sun made the entrance-way wondrously warm while fighting the hangover-of-the-week. Amano paid a little bit extra into the rent when Ulala took her latest class.  A license to drive cabs.  Bartending school.  Flamenco dancing. Typing courses.

After the audit, Ulala had on the fateful day eight years earlier still not passed her economics class and decided right then and there that she would get out of school as soon as possible.  That wasn't her dream.

And the moral of this story is not that Ulala should have studied for her mid-term test instead of attending the screening of a badly-subtitled version of Pretty Woman.  Nor that she should have been more like her friend - for indeed, then they would not have been friends in the first place.  Not that she should have more of a goal than going to the chapel with a prince charming who was running disturbingly late, or even that the woman mustn't continue a well-supported but intrinsically temporary lifestyle that she might chase the vague dream of having a dream at all.

The moral is that at the moment, in a largely empty room full or punching bags and treadmills at the too-big-to-be-upscale GOLD's gym, Maya Amano had absolutely nothing to do with the white hockey tape she'd put about her knuckles.  Or the polaroid of a photogenic telemarketer likewise pinned to the stuffed, hanging object being consensually abused.  Or how she did on one insignificant exam and a pointless class at a local community college paid for by middle-aged parents indulging their only daughter.

Jealousy does not, as a general rule, take on human form - especially a victim's.

The Joker was no exception.

Maya Amano had nothing to do with it.  Because if a padlock and the one who set it had their way, Maya Amano was not going to die.

If Maya Amano had been one to believe in people, then Ulala Serizawa likewise believed in things.  That was no different three months before Ulala's impromptu breakdown than it was in a quickly evacuating building. That saturday the auburn-haired woman had decided to order a tequila at Therapy instead of a nighty-night.

Tonight she was going to meet someone.  Much like she was going to meet someone last night, and the night before that, and the nit before that.  The power of blind optimism is not to be underestimated.

Tequila - worm and all - was the order of the day because of a flamenco lesson given by the slightly top-heavy Senorita Alba in a small studio at the corner of Ninth and Takashi.  A nice place in the Konan district.  Well, for Konan district. The proprietor (who made a mean martini, by the way), sporting large hoop earrings and a shawl on the sleazier side of cheap, said that Serizawa was a natural.  That Serizawa had passion.

Maya, who was sitting beside her, did not have passion.  But she had money and prospects and men to make up for it. Passion was for people like Ulala - who lived for today and the green latin liquid to match black eyes.

It was not for another five minutes of sipping and laughing and talking that she noticed Maya shift a bit. Nothing noticeable, but enough to tip her off.  You didn't hang out with someone for the majority of your adult life without picking these things up like a bad cold. A bit weary, her friend was - a bit uncomfortable. And paying no attention to the umbrella-clad confection at her side.

"You okay, Ma-ya?" Ulala smiled, nodding with a quick black-painted grin to some people waving at her from the corner through a primal electronic beat.  Therapy wasn't quite Club Zodiac. This particular hole in the wall was a bit more retro, a bit more stylish, and a bit more cutting-edge than what had devolved into the latest teeny-bopper craze.  The fox had a nose for that kind of thing, and it was well-known that if Ulala Serizawa bothered to show up somewhere it must be worth visiting (or at least, in her less lucid moments, she of the same name liked to think so).  The boxer was one one of the more experienced creatures on the club circuit.  People used to know her name.  Now they knew her face, and the semi-comfortable chromium stool she took instead of dancing.  Just another part of the furniture.

Maya looked.. uncomfortable.  Tired and bloodshot.  Like she wanted to leave - it was as if something she couldn't quite bring herself to look at was crawling down the back of her perch.  So Ulala waved her off, because there was no reason to be here if you weren't going to have a good time.  And that, make no mistake, was almost as great a craving as the blood-curdling drive for nicotine or alcohol or any far more alluring substance that might crop up in this place.

Serizawa was not the talented Ms. Amano, no matter how much they might have grown together over ten years of acquaintance.  Her parents hated that particular development.  Clad in hand-made cobwebs, she was the sort of person a guy had fun with.  The life of the party, the soul of the crowd - the beating, bleeding heart of a good time.

But not tonight.

The old crowd didn't come in often anymore, and after Maya left Ulala could see why.  She caught onto these things.  Eventually. Sixth sense?  Hah.

All around her they