Chapter 16:


Purple Prose

For as long as Issei learned how to play guitar, his greatest dream was to be a musician, to be in a band with his brother Tsukasa and tour the world with their songs.

Then he died. For years, Issei spiraled into a darkness so deep, nothing could pierce it, yet as fate would have it, he crossed paths with Takao, who carried the same dream. Once Kanka came into the picture, the pieces fell into place, and Secret Prose began their quest inside The Montauk.

That was nearly a year ago. It took them a while to build up a reputation, thanks to their busy schedules, but they did–Issei was proud of who they became. On top of that, Issei’s darkness had a pinprick of light when Mr. Matsuda dropped that bombshell a week ago: an agent was watching them. Their chance finally came. Issei worked so hard to create their last song–Secret Prose played their hearts out–they gave the crowd their concert of a lifetime–

–he blew it.

Issei slunk against the wall out of sight. His face felt hot, and his chest tightened. His mouth trembled as he took in a wavering breath trying to come to terms with what he just saw: the agent chose Purple Lotus and handed Murasaki her card. He should be happy for her. All the logic centers in his brain told him to be glad–his time will come soon–but his emotions waged war over how he should feel. He tried piecing together some semblance of a silver lining. Since Purple Lotus would get signed, no one else would be in the running…but that’s what he felt for the last month–a whole month of running in circles–then Purple Lotus came along, and they were picked up that very week later.

It fell apart on him. Issei couldn’t take it.

“I’m sorry, Tsukasa…I failed…I still can’t do what you asked…”

He heard footsteps come his way. Issei shot to his feet, and he pretended to sneeze into his hands.


He sniffed obnoxiously while rubbing his nose with his pocket tissue. “Oh, hey there…great job out there, that was really something.”

Murasaki was peeking around the corner.

“Why are your eyes so red?”

Issei faked a yawn. “I think it’s just cause I’m tired,” he lied. “It’s been a while since I’ve headlined–have you seen any of my band mates? I can’t find them.”

She seemed to look through his eyes as though she didn’t believe him, then Murasaki craned her head around before shaking it. Her eyes were red, too, but for an obviously-different reason.

“I don’t think they’re around here. But listen–remember how we were gonna celebrate tonight? The boys and I were gonna go to Proteinium Records since they haven’t been there before, so once you find your band mates, do you want to come with?”

“Ah…yeah. Yeah, we’ll join you. I’m looking forward to it.” Issei smiled, rather, he tried to.

Murasaki beamed. "Great! We’ll go reserve a big table–see you soon!” She waved at him before joining her band mates, and Issei, his body feeling like stone, simply held his arm up.

How he wished he could smile alongside her.

At the very least, he should make do with his promise. Kanka and Takao must have thought he went back to the lobby after getting dressed, so he tried to intercept them by going across the auditorium. However, Stage Right was next to Mr. Matsuda’s office, and about to climb the steps to reach him was the agent. Her job finished, she seemed pleased with herself as she glanced at her phone before approaching the door.

“Excuse me!”

At once, Issei felt a burning desire to know the truth and ran after her.

She looked down and behind her with one leg on the top step. “Yes? Oh–you’re the front man of Secret Prose, right?”

Issei took a deep bow, having no recourse but to put all the cards on the table. “Please…is there any possibility of accepting us as well?”

He glanced up, and the agent, momentarily taken aback, regained her stiff composure. “You saw that, did you? I’m sorry, but I’m afraid our company only has room for one new band, and as I’ve already made my decision, there’s nothing I can do.”

Issei didn’t relent. “Then…then tell me…what made you choose them over us?”

The agent sighed and responded immediately, as if he wasn’t the only sad sack to demand an answer. “Secret Prose…your song order was fine. The performance was impeccable, and while the entertainment was simple, the feeling and power of the band and the emotion behind the lyrics were exquisite. Secret Prose was impressive.”

His breath caught in his throat. “Th–then why?”

She cut him off. “Secret Prose’s genre is Progressive Metal, right? Your genre is too niche for our company. First and foremost, a record company’s priority is to make money. We take a big risk hiring new talent, and if a band doesn’t sell, the company will go in the red and our customers lose confidence in us. Purple Lotus is J-Rock. Furthermore, your voice is Baritone. All the front men in bands today are at least a Tenor. For our company, your voice is simply unmarketable, and while your band has great talent, your talent is not right for us.”

Issei couldn’t find strength to speak. Not again…

Her voice carried a tone of finality. “At the end of the day, signing Purple Lotus was simply a foregone conclusion.” Then she turned on her heel and entered the manager’s office.

“So that’s it,” he muttered. “We just…wouldn’t make them any cash.”

It would have hurt less if she just said Purple Lotus had more talent.

Issei’s back popped as he straightened up, fighting every desire to just collapse on the floor. Every step felt like lifting bags of concrete.

“Dude, there you are! What are you doing by the manager’s office?”

Takao found him instead.

Issei didn’t have the energy to make an excuse. “Nothing–hey…good work, guys. Purple Lotus already left for Proteinium Records and they’re gonna reserve a table for us. Do you want to join?”

“Hell yeah!” Kanka said, rubbing his stomach. “I’m starving. I swear, looking at you both, I burn twice the calories as you guys beating on the drums.”

“No joke,” Takao said, smiling, “his back was soaked. I’m so exhausted, I just wanna eat then crawl into bed.”

“Yeah. Same.”

The two bands met together at a large, round table in the center of Proteinium Records. The ‘Bands of the Hour’, the chefs had said, not knowing they should only be praising one. One of them arranged the seating so that Murasaki sat next to him, and while that gave him a fleeting feeling of comfort, it was like trying to light a candle without a wick.

“Man,” Takao began, “to think you two can play harp and contrabass! That’s insane.” He dumped a whole cup of sake down his throat before filling it again. “Hey, did you guys see the agent anywhere?" He smiled devilishly. "Who did she pick, huh?”

Issei gulped, preparing for the most awkward moment of his life, but surprisingly, Ichiriki shrugged. “Soon as we got dressed, the tables were empty. No suits or nothing.”

Kanka clapped his forehead. “Are you serious!? What, did she just get up and leave?”

Hamada joined in the facade. “Apparently, dude. Guess she didn’t like what we threw down.”

Takao snorted. “Man, she wouldn’t know talent if it bit her in the ass, and fellas, I know we have talent.” He raised his sake cup. “To us!”

Issei just went with the motions. Faces, arms, glasses, and bodies blurred and became part of the background. All the laughing was muffled. Issei struggled to even be in the conversation, but he had to: it was their moment, and he couldn’t ruin what was rightfully the next chapter in their careers. 

Still, Issei’s defense had cracks, and Takao asked “hey man, are you doing alright?”

Thankfully, Murasaki repeated that he was simply tired, and they left him alone.

After what felt like hours, they finished dining, and with Hamada carrying Kanka over his shoulder, Purple Lotus and Secret Prose went their separate ways. Issei shuffled home.

“Alright Issei, do your thing and escort Murasaki for us!”

She snapped at Ichiriki. “Come on, stop being an ass for once–see you next week, boys!”

Several footsteps faded into the night, but one pair came closer. All Issei could manage right now was looking at his own.

“A lot happened tonight, didn’t it?”

“Yeah…that was quite a show.”

“Issei…you saw the agent give me the card, didn’t you?”

His throat became heavy. “I’m sorry…I did.”

He saw her lean forward in the corner of his eyes. “What are you apologizing for? Hey, look at me.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“I know you can--let me help.”

Issei felt her warm hands gently touch his face, her fingers slowly guiding his chin. But when he glanced up and caught her concerned eyes staring back at him, Issei dropped his head and broke down, unable to hold back any longer.

Yet Murasaki kept holding on to his face, and her thumbs brushed away the tears in his eyes, causing him to blink and make more fall. “What’s the matter, Issei? What happened?”

With shaky breaths, he recalled his conversation with the agent, how hard it was to lie to his band, how it gripped him inside keeping them in the dark.

“I kn-know I should be happy for you,” he said, stuttering, “but I just can’t. Takao’s struggling in college, and Kanka’s working eleven hours a day for his family–it’s n-not just my dream, but theirs too, and we keep getting passed over because they think we’re not marketable! We’ve been at this for a year! A year of rugs slipping out from under us. I promised my b-brother I'd make it, and I keep failing him again and again. Why can’t they trust us?”

“You do have talent! I know you do!”

Murasaki wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “I had to jump out of the lobby and join the crowd because I wanted to hear your voice as close as possible! You wrote and composed those songs, too, didn’t you? There’s no way you won’t get chosen soon! You’re brimming with talent.”

Then she let go. Murasaki stared for a moment. “Do you know why I ended that video call so suddenly? Because you sang right in my ear. I had to compose myself–you have the best voice I have ever heard in my life.”

Noticing how stunned Issei must have looked, she giggled. “I was just too embarrassed to say it. I mean it, though: your time will come. Someone with brains will recognize your bottomless pit of talent, and you’ll prove everyone wrong.”

Issei sniffed. No one had ever gushed so much about him before. Maybe the night didn't end like he had hoped, but right now, this moment is what he needed, someone to cast away the pain and drive the doubt from his mind.

Breathing deeply, Issei’s arms caressed Murasaki’s back and waist, and he took in her warmth and kindness. One side of his face touched hers, and there, they hugged tightly in the cool, misty night. The wind seemed to help sway them. He wouldn’t mind if they were there until sunrise, caressing each other for hours on end.

“Thank you, Murasaki.”

They pulled away, their faces just inches from touching. Issei must have grinned, because Murasaki poked his lips.

“There’s that smile I knew you had.”