Chapter 8:


Purple Prose

Issei hadn’t heard from Murasaki again, and he couldn’t help but feel it was his fault. Everything was fine with the video call until he sang, then she couldn't wait to hang up on him.

There was practically nothing he could do either, save for texting her again. Well, it’s worth a shot. He texted her again on Tuesday.

<How’s it going? Working on a new song for next Friday, what about you?>

The three jumbling dots appeared again, and Issei held his breath waiting for something–anything–until they disappeared. She left him on Read again.

What is going on? It was disappointing, but he couldn’t let one video call sour his mood. For now, Secret Prose had to prepare for Friday night.

On Wednesday morning, Issei texted Secret Prose’s group chat.

<Crucial meeting. Convene at Roasted Blues coffee shop at 10:30 PM.>

To make sure they didn’t forget, he texted again in the evening, and even told them to order what they wanted if he was late.

Smooth Jazz bopped and swayed over the speakers, and the succulent smell of treats saturated the air as Issei stepped inside the coffee shop, jingling a bell when he opened the fancy mahogany door. The duet of scents wafted in from the kitchens: the staff was no doubt baking at that very moment. Roasted coffee beans crept through the air and spiraled around their booth as Issei arrived–thanks to the overhead fan. When Issei sat down, however, he was met with disappointed frowns.

"A coffee shop at night?" Kanka said flatly. "I'm not supposed to drink caffeine so late in the day–the missus will have a fit.”

“Sorry–first thing that came to mind,” Issei said. He brought a scalding cup of the coffee shop’s famous Blue Tea to his lips and carefully took a sip.

Takao groaned. “You had the whole day to think of something else.”

“Hey, I’m paying the check, so eat some apple turnovers or something.” Issei reached into his bag and handed them their parts.

They exchanged confused looks. “Where’s the black?” Kanka asked. “All this white space is a little simple for our usual shtick.”

His bass player nodded. “It’s boring–it barely even gets energy at the end.”

“Well I just thought that–”

“What does yours look like Issei?”

“–maybe a slow song would add variety–HEY!”

Takao swiped his part out of his hand, and before Issei could protest, his eyes scanned the music with great speed.

“What the hell? The Light of Day? Acoustic guitar? Traditional pick?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Let’s skip the fact that you have three times the action in this song than us. Issei, what is this?”

For a moment, Murasaki’s smile popped up in Issei’s head...he cast it away. It’s not just her, and it’s not like that, he felt. It was necessary. Yet he found himself rubbing the back of his head again.

No. Be brave. Be proud of what you made.

Issei looked straight in his eyes. “It’s a love song.”

Takao's bangs bounced as his hand hit the table, rattling the tray of pastries as he and Kanka glanced at each other like they just witnessed a scandal. Then all at once they burst out laughing.

“I told you man! I told you he’d get infatuated!”

Customers turned their heads with irate looks while Kanka shook his head and smiled devilishly. “Our boy Issei’s growing up! I’m so proud–I’m gonna tell the wife about this.”

Issei folded his arms and tapped one finger. “What you’re gonna do is pipe down before you get us thrown out.”

“My bad, my bad!”

That didn’t stop Takao from being in a teasing mood. “How did this come about, man? I thought Secret Prose was Progressive Metal, not Soft Rock! Murasaki struck you that deep?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, she didn’t strike me that deep. We just hit it off a little. More to the point, if an agent’s gonna take us on, we need to get an album together.” Issei relayed what the manager told him.

“So a love song is purely for variety, and people can’t get enough of them anyway.”

“No, no, no, nah Bro.” Takao waved his hand lazily. “You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to us. Clearly something went down after Sunday night. What in the world happened after I left?”

He spared them the details while a dapper-looking waiter brought them some pastries. “Well, after I took Murasaki to her train, I found a note in my ear that had her number, and it said ‘call me if anything comes up’.” Then he told them about the video call while obviously leaving out the embarrassing part of why she suddenly hung up.

Takao put his hands together. “So let me get this straight,” he began. “She gives you her number to help her get used to Morioka, when she has two band mates who could do the same?”

Kanka nodded to every word. “Yep. Looks like you struck Murasaki too–she’s fallen head-over-heels.”

He had no idea how much that literally happened. Just hearing Kanka say those words–and Takao agreeing–made Issei’s heart do a flip. Why, then, was Murasaki leaving him on Read, and not only that, but also erasing the message she clearly was about to send?

Takao sighed. “Alright, we’ll do your silly little love song. But I want a bigger part because, love song or not, it needs excitement!”

“Signed by an agent, huh?” Kanka leaned back and watched the ceiling fan spin over him. “Just imagine. I could leave my job and spend ten hours slamming the drums for better pay.”

Issei found an opportunity and snatched his acoustic guitar part out of Takao’s hands. “This is a chance unlike any other, but who knows when the next chance will come? We need three songs to play on Friday, because we’re Headlining. Which three do we pick?”

Surprisingly, Takao had the answer right away. 

“Ebisu–this love song–and One More Day. No question.” 

He had that look in his eye, that inner genius Issei knew Takao had, one that sensed a song's full potential. What proof did he need? He chose Ebisu, a song he barely finished, and The Light of Day, a song that needs rewritten in three days. Issei knew he wasn’t joking.

“Oh, now you like Ebisu,” Issei said, grinning.

“Yes, now I like it. Don’t get any more ideas of throwing surprise songs at the gig.”

“Promise. Any objections, Kanka?”

“None at all.”

“See you Friday then.” Issei held out a fist, and Secret Prose fist-bumped.

The day when Issei felt alive again was not until tomorrow night, but since his love song still needed work, he was perfectly fine staying home to work on it.

That is until he ran out of food.

He was sitting on the couch watching Eggbite’s new music video and eating cup ramen, but when he opened his fridge, it was barren with nothing to drink. Grumbling, he fetched a glass and filled it with water from the sink.

Eggbite’s J-Metal track ended abruptly, and their blistering guitar solo was replaced with a chip tune as a news segment came on.

“Police in the Aomori prefecture are looking for a woman who has gone missing since last Sunday.”

She’ll turn up, Issei thought as he took a drink. Probably some high school graduate who's celebrating her freedom and her parents are freaked out.

“The missing person is twenty-two-year-old Murasaki Tategoto of Mutsu, seen here.”

Issei spat out his water and dived for the couch. Murasaki missing? He just saw her Tuesday! This was impossible.

Her photo was on the spokeswoman’s left, wearing a casual printed sweater with a university pin on her collar. Something about the photo was uncanny: Issei may have only known her for a couple days, but Murasaki always had an animated, spirited aura about her, with healthy hair and a lively face.

The Murasaki on the TV had deadened eyes, stiff shoulders, sunken eyebrows, and dry, frayed hair. It was as if this Murasaki had nothing to live for.

“If anyone has any idea of Murasaki Tategoto’s whereabouts, please contact your local authorities.”

The news segment ended, and just when the program continued with another band’s music video, Issei’s thumb hit the remote’s Off switch in an instant.

Pope Evaristus