Chapter 1:



“If I died tomorrow

Would you even know my name?

In my depths of sorrow

Have you ever felt the same?

If I told you that I love you

Would you feel my love is wrong?

Or would you love me, too

And help me sing this song?”

The applause and screams thundered through the TV studio as the lights faded to black. My lungs burned from singing and dancing and my muscles felt like they were thrumming with exertion. I stood, head down, one hand still holding the microphone aloft, the other holding Yukiko’s hand tightly as the applause and screams continued to echo in the now darkness. This moment was the culmination of everything I’d worked for. The song I wrote and we all sang on top of the charts in eight countries, a world tour beginning on Monday with stops on four continents. I glanced over, surreptitiously at Sachi and felt a tinge of pain. Sachi was my one regret. If I’d been more obvious. If I’d been more insistent, then maybe…I sighed and glanced over at Yukiko and smiled at the feel of her hand in mine in the darkness while the screams of our fans echoed in my ears. It really can’t get any better than this, I thought.

One of the stage hands directed us toward the interview area as the studio lights were coming back up. Once the studio was lit, wisps of smoke could be seen, still hanging in the air from the pyrotechnics of our set we were seated on the couch, me in the center flanked on the left by Yukiko and the right by Sachi. On Yukiko’s left sat the fourth member of the group, Mari. The fans called to us and screamed our names as we waved at them excitedly.

“That was amazing!” the interviewer, an excitable woman in her mid thirties with stylish glasses, gushed, clapping along with the enthusiastic crowd.

“Thank you!” We all called back, grinning from ear to ear.

“It’s so great to be able to sing our new material to such a great audience!” Mari called and the roar from the crowd increased. “We are so grateful for your support!”

“So, is it true, Akari, that you wrote all the songs on the new album?” The interviewer turned the glare of her lip gloss on me and my practiced smile flicked up another notch.

“Well, I wrote the words but we all wrote the music and we all worked on the arrangement! It was a real team effort! The whole album was really an amazing experience and we really worked hard and hope everyone enjoys it!”

“We love you, Akariiii!” Calls from the audience rose to a crescendo and I blushed and waved back excitedly.

“I love you all, too!” I called and the audience screamed louder still, seeming to shake the entire building with their enthusiasm.

“So you’ve got your first ever headlining world tour coming up, Sachi! How excited are you?” The interviewer turned to the acknowledged leader of our group who grinned broadly, her dimples flashing cutely. I couldn’t help myself and pinched both of her cheeks and turned my head to the crowd and cameras.

“How cute is Sacchan?” I called, making the crowd squeal even louder and a blush spread across Sachi’s face.

“Tickle attack!” Sachi called and poked my side below my ribs. I leapt back into Yukiko’s lap and squirmed. “Akari’s horribly ticklish, everyone! Right under her ribs!”

“Th-that was a secret!” I cried as jolts spread out from where Sachi was tickling me. I tried to slither further away from Sachi’s attack while Yukiko laughed and held me tight. “Help me! I’m being bullied!” I cried, writhing under Sachi’s onslaught.

“Take your medicine!” Sachi laughed, taking as much joy in tickling me as the audience did in watching.

“I’m s-sorry!” I gasped. “I won’t touch your cheeks again!” The audience and interviewer laughed. Sachi nodded and smirked in satisfaction before turning back to the camera and winking conspiratorially.

“We’re so excited! This is a dream come true for all four of us and we can’t even believe how amazing this is!” Sachi enthused as I giggled, crawling off Yukiko’s lap and returned to my seat. I cast a playfully wary eye Sachi’s way which caused fresh waves of laughter to ripple through the crowd.

“What are you all looking forward to the most on the tour?”

“Well, for me I think seeing all of our amazing fans that have helped get us to where we are today and putting on the best shows we can possibly do to repay them for their faith and all the energy they give us!” Sachi looked out past the cameras to the crowd and clapped loudly for them. Predictably the crowd went wild. The interviewer turned to Mari who touched her lower lip with her finger as if deep in thought.

“I can’t wait to try the food everywhere! To taste the different flavors of each city! And to maybe take in some of the night life!” Mari finally said with a lascivious grin and waggle of her eyebrows. The crowd roared and whistled in appreciation.

“I think seeing all of the amazing places we’ll be playing. Each city and town is so amazing with a different feel to each one. I love listening to the traffic and seeing the night skyline and kind of hearing the city breathe!” Yukiko enthused with a wistful smile. “It’s like magic, isn’t it?” The audience seemed carried away in Yukiko’s reverie and clapped loudly in response. Yukiko could definitely work a crowd on an emotional level, I marveled. The interviewer looked to me and I grinned.

“I can’t wait to nap in every city and get a new T shirt from each one, too!” I pulled my black T shirt with a Led Zeppelin logo printed on it away from my chest for their approval. “T shirts are the best and naps are even better!”

“That’s terrible!” Yukiko teased me, puffing out her cheeks playfully.

“Well, you all took the good stuff!” I insisted. “Besides, I really do like T shirts and, don’t worry, you can all nap with me!” The crowd ooh’d enthusiastically at the insinuation.

“Ok, so,” The interviewer shifted in her seat and leaned forward toward Yukiko. “I have got to know, since it’s everywhere! What is it like dating Jin Nakamoto of Hansamu?” I blinked, my smile stuck on my face. The crowd had grown silent in anticipation and in this new, surreal quiet I could almost feel my heart drop into my belly. I looked over at Yukiko who kept her eyes forward, a blush spreading across her face. I felt Sachi grab my hand in hers tightly as all the air seemed to have been knocked from my lungs.

“Eh?” I squeaked. Surely that was a joke. Yukiko and I were dating. We had been for almost three months, now. We’d slept together two days earlier, enjoying the dawn after a night spent in each other’s arms. This was a joke, and not a good one. Right, Yukiko?

“W-well, it’s still very early so I can’t really say much,” Yukiko replied haltingly, her eyes darting to our management staff standing off stage, looks of horror spreading across their faces. Why is she letting this hateful jest go on? She should laugh and roll her eyes at the absurdity of this farce, right?

“Does he come around often? I mean, did he help with the album?” The interviewer pressed eagerly.

“We haven’t really talked about the album,” Yukiko said, her voice trembling. She was not debunking this rumor. Could it…my mind recoiled in horror. I turned my face away from Yukiko to Sachi.

“Eh?” I breathed again. She looked almost as lost as I was.

“That’s got to be exciting, the prospect of having someone as big as Jin coming around, right?” The interviewer asked, ignoring Yukiko’s protestations. “Are you collaborating on anything big?” My vision swam and it felt like a black hole had opened in the center of my stomach and my insides were caught in the event horizon, slowly being drawn in and crushed in the gravity of my own heartbreak. My brain could not process what the interviewer was saying but my smile somehow stayed in place.

“Eh?” I answered. My brain seemed to be on some strange and tragic loop and had stopped giving my mouth any instructions. Yukiko’s eyes flicked to me, finally, and it felt like my lungs had been coated in cotton. This was not a joke. This was not something I would giggle about later. I tried to breathe but my breath was coming in short bursts and I began to feel lightheaded as it felt like my life suddenly developed a list and had begun to take on water. Shhh, the rational part of my brain soothed. Just calm down. Don’t panic. Keep smiling.

“W-well, we’re obviously excited, we’re all big fans of Hansamu,” Mari stammered, the first to recover as usual. “But we wrote the album ourselves.”

“He didn’t help at all?” The interviewer was not convinced. Our management team had gotten over their initial shock and was now in motion.

“No, no,” Mari insisted, powering through her agitation. “We worked very hard and wanted this album to be something special. We didn’t have anyone help us with it.”

“Our little Akari wrote all the lyrics and most of the music herself,” Sachi interjected, finally finding her voice after the initial shock was beginning to fade. “We all contributed to each song, though, but no one helped us.”

“Well the album is simply amazing! And it’s tearing up the charts, too!” The interviewer enthused. “I hear your next single from the album is the song ‘Fuller’. That song really gets my blood pumping and makes me want to dance!” The crowd roared its approval but my world seemed to be shrinking to a near pinpoint. The lights were blinding me and I blinked again slowly, trying to clear my vision. “So, Akari, is ‘Fuller’ abo-“The interviewer paused and cocked her head, listening to something.

“Oh! I’m so sorry but it looks like we’re going to have to cut the interview short!” The interviewer exclaimed, the voices from her earpiece signaling our management had pulled the plug. The crowd groaned in disappointment. “But I want to thank Kunoichi for coming here today! I know we’re all wishing them good luck on their upcoming tour and if you haven’t bought their new album you should! Be safe, be happy and bye for now!” The stage lights lowered and our managers rushed forward to escort Yukiko off the stage. I remained where I was amidst the flurry of activity around me, a sinking ship in a sea of frantic motion. My eyes wouldn’t focus and my free hand hung limply at my side, the other still held tight by Sachi.

“Fucking help me, Mari,” Sachi hissed barely perceptively, lifting me awkwardly to my feet. Mari took my other side and the two helped me toward the dressing room.

“Please forgive us, Akari isn’t feeling well,” I heard our lead manager, Hiroto, say to the interviewer.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t know! She needs to take care of her body!” The interviewer sounded distraught.

“Well, she insisted on doing your show because she admires you so much,” Hiroto lied.

“I’m sorry, please forgive me,” I mumbled brokenly, my head felt fuzzy and my legs were like rubber.

“What in the fuck was that?” Mari demanded as we stumbled into the dressing room and closed the door. She collapsed on the couch and fixed us both with an angry stare. “Did you know about this, Sachi?”

“Of course not!” Sachi snapped back.

“How could we be blindsided like this on national television?” Mari moaned, holding her head in her hands. There was a darkness rising inside me and I swayed unsteadily.

“Are you ok, Akarin?” Sachi stared at me with concern.

“I’m Akari and I’m not feeling well,” I announced woodenly, the pinprick of light my vision had narrowed to blinked out. The darkness consumed me and I fell into it headlong.