#15 lullaby

I could feel the sweat on my face from the harsh and bright halogen lights as I looked at the crowd before me. Hundreds of people had their arms outstretched, all screaming and yearning for attention as they jumped up and down. The sound of bass, drum, and guitar blasted from the loudspeakers, pulsating throughout the hall. I felt the strings vibrating beneath my fingertips as I strummed hard to the beat.

Kei was thrashing his head up front, his platinum locks wild and messy. Shin paced around the stage, beckoning the audience with a hand to make them scream louder. Ryou knelt near the sea of hands reaching out to him, so close but not quite as he pulled back to leave them in agony. Behind us, Yuuichi struck with a fury that made his presence impossible to be ignored.

I walked closer to the edge of the stage, directly eyeing one fan in the front row as she stared back at me with her eyes wide and her mouth open. I smiled and winked at her, and unmistakably I saw tears in her eyes as she jumped up and down.

It was an adorable reaction, but I didn't allow myself to linger as the last few counts of the song came. I approached the center of the stage to join the rest, leaning my back against Shin's as we strummed our guitars together. Kei put a hand on Ryou's shoulders as we concluded the song with four final beats before lights out.

Screams exploded inside the hall. I felt my cousin's labored breathing beside me as the lights eventually returned. Yuuichi joined us to the front of the stage as we bowed and waved at everyone.

"Encore! Encore!" The crowd chanted, clapping their hands in unison.

Kei reached for the mic once more, raising a hand to placate the audience. It took a while, but the noise eventually died down.

"Before we do, we have an announcement to make," he smiled, pausing to catch up with his breathing while building tension at the same time.

"As you all know, we just recently launched Hellion, Devil Cherry's official fan club. As of today we're proud to say that we've just reached over a thousand members!"

I clapped enthusiastically with everyone as Shin whistled with his fingers.

"Now everyone must be wondering what the raffle was for at the beginning of the show," Kei grinned. "So to thank all of you for helping us reach this milestone, we are randomly selecting five people from the audience to join us backstage later today."

The crowd went berserk. I saw girls hugging each other, sobbing with excitement.

"So, you guys now ready for an encore or what?!"

We dutifully returned to our places with grins as the audience clamored for more.

The five fans that were chosen for the raffle joined us backstage after the show for a meet-and-greet, photo op, and received free signed merchandise. It was nice to see them so pleased to meet us, like we were Santas who just granted their biggest wishes. We only hung out with them for ten minutes, but it felt nice knowing they enjoyed their experience with us.

It had been a rather taxing two-hour live and I just wanted to change and relax. I walked down the empty corridor to the dressing room, cracking my neck and stretching in exhaustion.

Even from a distance I noticed that the door was already slightly ajar. I pushed it open, suddenly finding Kei with a fan that looked like one of the girls we met just a while ago. They froze in the middle of their make-out session by the dresser and stared back at me.

"Whoops," I quickly turned around. "Pardon me."

I headed back the same way, scowling. I take it as a huge improvement to feel nothing but irritation now, a positive sign that I was well and truly over whatever I felt for Kei. Yes, even despite what he had said to me just the other night...

I wonder... How would it feel like to be hurt by you?

I rolled my eyes at the reminder. It was just like him to say something so stupid. I should start compiling every cheesy line that comes out of his mouth and make a book out of it, with the title: "Quotes From A Big, Fat Liar". Honestly...

I made a turn down the hallway and almost bumped into Ryou.

We both froze just in time to prevent collision as he looked at me in faint surprise. I hadn't been alone with him since he told me I was a sell-out, but whatever.

"I wouldn't go into the dressing room right now if I were you," I advised. "Kei's a bit engaged in there with his latest conquest."

His thick brows furrowed with disapproval. "Oh."

I walked past him without another word.


I wanted to keep going, but curiosity got the better of me. I stopped and turned around.

He'd changed his top into a more comfortable, loose black shirt, but he still wore his black cargo pants and motorcycle boots from the live. The dark shadows around his eyes had smudged, giving his eyes their more sinister than usual look.

"About what I said the other day," he spoke. "I hope it didn't upset you."

It would've sounded better to hear an "I'm sorry", but I suppose that was the closest I was going to get.

"It's fine," I nonchalantly countered. "You're entitled to your own opinion."

"Good, because I won't apologize for what I said."

I take that back.

"Okay," I drily laughed. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No. I just want to know I can be honest with you is all."

At that moment it felt like the universe was playing a joke on me. Just minutes ago I was still reeling from the sweet, sugarcoating liar that was Kei, and now I was being dealt with the harsh but honest Ryou. Was this God's way of telling me I had no choice? At this point, I didn't even know which was the lesser evil.

"Fine," I dispassionately repeated as I forced out a smile. "I appreciate your honesty. I hope you'll feel the same way when I'm the one being honest with you."

"Of course."

"Great, because I don't need your validation for my actions. I know what I'm being made to do, and I could care less if you don't like it."

I turned on my heel and continued walking before he could say another word.

Waves crashed onto the shore as seagulls flew overhead; a sight that refreshed and relaxed me as I took in the salty, sandy breeze of the sea. Even with dark clouds looming, the beach was a breathtaking view from the balcony as I heard footsteps behind me.

"This is a nice place, huh?" Yuuichi stood beside me. "Too bad it's supposed to rain all weekend."

"It doesn't matter," I elatedly sighed. "We finally get to be away from the city. The next few days are going to be great."

I turned around, leaning against the ledge as I observed the swank, two-story glass beach house before me. It belonged to our producer and label head Tom, who decided to give it to us for the weekend for a much-needed break. This was meant as a reward for our continued success as of late, but we all knew this was also a way to get us inspired to work on our upcoming album.

"I bet the beaches in Nagasaki are way better," Yuuichi mused.

"Oh yeah," I nodded. "Bright, blue-green waters and white sand..."

The drummer despondently sighed. Before us, the waters were a dark and murky gray, the shore devoid of people as thunder rolled ominously in the distance.

"Don't worry, Yuu-chan," I patted him on the shoulder. "Who knows? Maybe the weather will change tomorrow."

He merely sighed again as we headed back inside.

The storm arrived late in the night as rain pelted heavily on the windows. I watched the lightning flash shadows on the ceiling as I lay in bed, completely awake. With a sigh, I fumbled for my cellphone beside me, realizing that it was already two in the morning. I looked to my side and found Yuuichi soundlessly sleeping, his back facing me as he lay on the opposite bed.

After a sumptuous seafood dinner at a local restaurant, everyone had become too stuffed to do anything else. I'd been ready to pass out on the ride back, but ever since I climbed into bed I'd been wide-awake ever since.

I closed my eyes again, trying to lull myself with the sound of the rain for the nth time. I waited and waited, but sleep never came.

With a sigh, I parted the sheets and got up. I put on my slippers, slowly walking to the door to avoid making noise.

I softly closed the door behind me, walking down the dark, empty hallway in a loose shirt and pajamas. I heard my cousin snoring in the next room and grinned, knowing his roommate Ryou was surely suffering. We'd drawn lots picking each other's bunkmates, and I was lucky I got the drummer.

I put a hand on the banister and descended the stairs. I walked around the living room for a while, observing the storm from the wide, glass windows. Lightning still struck from time to time, casting shadows on the walls.

I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge, but I didn't feel like snacking on anything. I idly tapped a finger on the kitchen island until I was reminded of the recording room in the basement.

When I arrived downstairs, I was surprised to find the lights on. On the big, leather chair facing the mixing board were two hands on the armrest.

I opened the sliding door, but the person didn't seem to notice my presence. Cautiously I neared the chair, and I found Ryou with headphones on and eyes closed beneath his thick-framed eyeglasses.

Poor guy. Who could blame him? With all the ruckus Shin was causing in his room, it was no wonder he retreated down here.

Ryou's eyes flew open. I almost jumped in surprise.

"Haruki?" He removed his headphones as he sat up, frowning. "What are you doing here?"

"Sorry," I stammered. "I didn't know anyone was going to be in here."

"It's fine. I wasn't really sleeping, "He turned off the music player in his pocket. "What brings you down here?"

I looked around the small recording room, which was long and narrow as the glass panel beyond the mixing board separated us from the booth. Ryou had only several of the lights on, giving the room a soft, orange glow.

"I can't sleep," I shrugged, heading to one of the two long couches behind him. "It's raining like crazy outside you know."

I picked up a music magazine from the coffee table and sat down, mindlessly flipping through the pages.

I heard his chair creak as he moved in his seat. "I know. I was trying to get some work done tonight."

I watched some of the light reflect on the magazine's glossy pages. Ryou didn't say anything more, but I could feel his eyes on me.

"I'm sorry about the other day," I murmured. "I was being rude."

When he remained silent, I turned to face him again. I met his pensive gaze as he idly shrugged.

"It's fine. You're entitled to your own opinion."

I stared at him in disbelief as he directly quoted me with a smirk. I laughed, shaking my head.

I continued browsing the magazine as we lapsed into comfortable silence. I folded my legs on the couch, reading as Ryou faced the mixing board once more.

"Do you still write songs?"

"Hm?" I looked up to catch his inquisitive stare. "Umm... a little bit, from time to time. Why?"

Ryou pushed back his glasses as he tilted around in his seat. "I told Tom I want to incorporate a new sound into the album. I want it to be a pleasant surprise to the listener."

"What kind of sound?"

"Anything. I want us to be able to experiment with different styles," he mused. "What we have now is good, but I don't want us to sound the same each time."

"I know what you mean," I grinned. "I don't think we can stay all heavy and hardcore ten years down the road."

Ryou rose from his seat and grabbed the acoustic guitar by the wall. He sat on the other couch facing me. He propped it on his lap, plucking some strings to fine-tune them.

I closed the magazine. "Now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever seen you with an acoustic."

"Everyone starts with an acoustic," he replied, turning the knobs. I sat up straighter, curious to hear what he would play.

He began with a few, melodious plucks. It sounded folk, smooth flowing and effortless, until the tempo gradually built up to a catchy, upbeat blues sound. It was a song I didn't recognize, and as his playing dwindled back down to a slow, sexy flamenco, I realized that he was showcasing a medley of different genres.

I stared, mesmerized by the way his fingers moved so easily and gracefully on the strings and along the neck of the guitar. The lovely sound of slow, melodious plucking reverberated in the confines of the small recording room as I closed my eyes, drowning in the music. It was easy to imagine being on a beach at sunset, lying on a hammock listening to that Spanish guitar, instead of the storm raging on the cold sea outside...

I opened my eyes when he abruptly stopped playing.

"Why'd you stop?"

"I thought you fell asleep."

"Are you kidding?" I laughed. "That was amazing! I wish I could play just like you."

"You don't give yourself enough credit," he smirked, handing me the guitar. "Your turn."

"Oh, great," I snorted, halfheartedly accepting the instrument. "After that, I'm just gonna sound like a complete amateur."

"Play one of your songs," he requested. "I want to hear it."

"I've never finished a song, you know. I just write a few stanzas here and there," I uneasily shifted the guitar on my lap. "Besides, they're really not that good and my voice is crap—"

"Haruki," He gently interrupted. "Just sing."

I mentally went through the list of unfinished songs in my head, trying to think of which one would sound the least lame.

I cleared my throat and dropped my gaze to my lap. I didn't want to see him watching me when I made a mess of myself.

I began strumming to a slow, melancholic tune. This was a song I wrote during my senior year of high school, and it felt both weird and nostalgic at the same time to play it again after so many years.

The summer days are long
And I can't dream enough at night
I want to be where you are now
I want to be where it feels right

My voice was slightly shaky and faint like a falsetto, but I cleared my throat again to sound more natural. I figured, what the hell. I might as well embarrass myself with confidence.

I don't want to think about tomorrow
I won't let the reality sink in
I'll be there with you someday
And those nights will never end

The strumming became harder, and suddenly I remembered the times when I stayed in my room for hours, crumpling heaps of paper trying to come up with the perfect song. I remembered the times when my fingers first hurt, or how frustrated I felt listening to the dull twangs of my inadequacy. I badly wanted to get past those days then, but now I realized I could embrace them wholeheartedly.

I'll look back
I won't ever let myself regret this
Our time is now and no one can tell us otherwise
I'll tell myself for as long as it takes that I can make it
I'll be with you someday, somehow

I stopped strumming. "And that's all I have."

I drew strength just to be able to look at Ryou again, expecting to see him shaking his head in amusement or pity. Instead, he eyed me thoughtfully as a bigger than usual smile slowly formed on his lips.

"Well how about that," he chuckled. "We've got a budding songstress right here."

I was somewhat distracted by the way his face completely lit up when he really smiled. On most days he looked either deadpanned or brooding, and humor almost always came to him in a derisive manner. He suddenly looked youthful like a carefree teenager, and his glasses added to the positively charming look.

"Well, it's stupid," I lamely finished as I placed the guitar on the couch. "Now I remember why I didn't finish it."

"We should do a session band where we all switch places," he suggested. "You should take up vocals."

"Yeah? And what would you play?"

"I can do drums."

I grinned, yawning. "Is there anything you can't do?"

Ryou shook his head with a smirk as he stood up with me, grabbing his headphones by the mixing board. "Let's call it a night."

He pulled the glass door open for me as we headed upstairs. The rain turned to a gentle drizzle outside as we made it to the second floor hallway. I walked past his room, hearing Shin still snoring.

I put a hand on the doorknob. "There's no shame in sleeping on the couch downstairs, you know."

Perhaps I imagined it, either from the darkness or my drowsiness, but I thought I saw him smile again.

"Good night, Haruki."

"Good night, Ryou."

to be continued