Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Music of Our Lies
“If ramen had a soundtrack, it would be filled with trumpets,” Kei said. We were playing our favorite game of creating songs while we waited for our food.
“Bad ramen’s a blaring trumpet in your ear. Good ramen’s rich and salty. It deserves violins,” I countered.
Kei laughed. “Ramen is made of violins smooth like the broth, melodies of piano like perfectly boiled noodles, and flutes like the green onion and hanjyuku egg toppings. And maybe a bit of trumpets. You win, Miki-chan.”
I grinned back but I glanced at the empty seat to my right. “It’s too bad Ryo couldn’t join us today.” Ryo egged us on when we made songs for everything from crepes to zarusoba.
“He wasn’t even at home when I left. I bet he was studying all night at a cafe or something. You know how he is these days.” He shrugged.
But this still didn’t seem usual to me. Usual was Kei and Ryo, sitting next to me, watching a movie, performing as ChemicalRock on a random sidewalk in Tokyo, or stuffing our faces with sweets from the candy store. Usual was Kei getting excited about some new band and playing their CD for us, and Ryo and I laughing and talking quietly while Kei -- quiet for once -- had immersed himself in the music.
But “usual” had gone out the window when Kei and I had started dating. After that, our hangouts had become me and Kei, and sometimes, rarely, Ryo.
Kei pulled his phone out of his pocket. It was blinking rapidly. He flipped his phone open and frowned. “My mom called.”
Mrs. Sato was infamous for only sending messages: Don’t forget to pick up some bread on your way home or Did you go to cram school today? Kei even bet that if his house was on fire, Mrs. Sato would message him: Can you call 119 for me? I think the rice cooker caught on fire.
I thought it was weird that they didn’t talk face-to-face, but between Mr. Sato’s work, Mrs. Sato’s piano lessons for some of the top piano players in the country and Kei’s cram school and, of course, ChemicalRock, our indie band, it was rare for them to sit down in the same room together. Not that they had any cute, sweet family gatherings, anyway. Kei and Ryo were the sons of the Mr. Sato, the CEO of the multi-billion yen Sato Industries.
“Miki-chan, I’m going to call her back, okay?” he said, flashing his usual grin. I smiled up at him and he slipped out of the restaurant. Kei had lended me his black ChemicalRock jacket and I rolled up the too-big sleeves, getting ready for the ramen.
I eyed the chef preparing our ramen behind the counter. The bald man knocked his strainer full of noodles against the side of the huge, metal vat to drain the freshly-boiled noodles. I loved the way the steam curled up from the noodles, like a hand reaching out toward me and beckoning for me to submerge myself in its warmth. My stomach growled and an overweight salaryman glanced at me. Embarrassed, I drank some water to fill my stomach.
My thoughts went back to the movie that we had just watched. My fingers tapped against my leg as the closing theme song reverberated in my mind. When I wasn’t playing music or listening to music through my tinny headphones, I always had a song stuck in my head. Ryo called it “the perpetual soundtrack to Miki’s life.”
I watched Kei through the glass door. There was something off about the way he was speaking rapidly into the phone, the way that he was pressing his hand to his forehead. A prickle of unease crept down my spine. I pulled the black jacket closer to me. Kei, usually so bubbly and energetic, leaned down with his hand on his knee, as if he had trouble standing
Our eyes met through the glass. He looked at me searchingly, as if I could stop his hands from turning bone-white as he clenched his phone or if I could play a song that would chase the painful memories of this phone call away. It was the last time he looked at me this way. It was a long time before I saw him look at anyone that way.
The chef slid our steaming ramen bowls onto the counter in front of me, but I couldn’t smell the rich pork broth or the pungent garlic anymore.
“I’m so sorry. We have to go.” I apologized to the chef, who was confused as I backed away and bowed apologetically.
I hurried out of the restaurant. Kei was pushing his hair off of his forehead. His usually tanned face was pale. “That can’t be… I can’t believe…” he said into the phone, almost pleadingly.
I brushed my hand against his arm and he jerked up. His eyes were wild, almost unfamiliar.
My heart beat erratically, like a melody that had forgotten its tempo.
“Never mind, I’ll head back now. I’ll be there soon,” he said, and snapped the phone shut.
He reached for my hand, pulling me close. “I have to go home,” he said, leaning his forehead against mine. His skin was cold against mine, but his hand was clammy.
“My mom’s shaken up. She’s barely coherent,” he said, pressing his hand to his eyes. That was bizarre. His mother was one of the most graceful, eloquent people I knew.
“W-what? Why? Did something happen to your father?”
Heart attacks from chronic overwork were commonplace in Japan, and as common as a heart attack from being overweight. Because it wasn’t his mother and it couldn’t possibly be…
“No,” he said, but the intensity in his eyes didn't lighten. “It’s Ryo.”
The music in my mind died out and there was ringing in my ears.
His voice dropped to a whisper, but I could hear him all too well. “He’s gone.”
I wanted to stop those words from touching my ears. I begged to hear screeching violins and off-pitch notes. Anything.
But then, even worse, came the silence.