Better Than Pink!
The billboard across from Hifumi’s club has changed. Four impossibly tall women with hair hanging to their knees gaze into the camera’s lens, challenging the viewer to object to the lurid yellow script written across their bodies. There’s nothing bright about their clothes or their expressions. It’s all sedate and serious and alluring.
Doppo makes a distressed noise and wrings his hands. “Sensei,” he says, “isn’t that…?”
“Yes,” says Jakurai. “It seems so.”
In the photograph, Ramuda peeks around one of the models’ bodies, winking, a finger to his lips assuring the viewer that this is their little secret. His other hand has a length of one model’s hair wrapped around it, the gesture passive but with the potential for danger. Instead of the bright pinks and blues Jakurai has come to associate irrevocably with Ramuda, he too is muted, his makeup and outfit sedate, his hair dyed lavender, a shade not too far off from Jakurai’s own.
The New Amemura Ramuda Collection. Coming Soon!
Jakurai stares up at him and can’t look away.
“Doppooooo!” someone whines, and Jakurai blinks, the spell broken as Hifumi jogs across the street and waves frantically. “You were supposed to text me when you got here. Am I supposed to be able to read your mind?”
“Sorry,” Doppo says and shakes his head. “We were just looking.” He points up. “Sorry.”
Hifumi rolls his eyes. “Oh, that,” he says. “It’s all the customers could talk about tonight. I don’t get it! Come on, let’s get out of here.”
As Matenrou walks away, together, Jakurai doesn’t look back again and he doesn’t pretend Ramuda’s secret smile is meant for him.
A few weeks later, the incident is forgotten. Jakurai is a busy man; a medical practice is enough to keep one’s calendar full and, on top of that, he has his territory to consider. He barely even ventures outside for long. So it’s understandable that he’d be startled hearing Ramuda’s voice drifting through the waiting room’s television speakers.
Jakurai looks up and immediately swallows hard.
Ramuda fills the screen, his hands clasped behind his back as he rocks back and forth on his heels. He’s dressed as he was on the billboard and a reporter holds a microphone to his mouth, drawing attention to it. Jakurai halfway expects Ramuda to launch into a rap, rhymes that will hurt his heart and take his breath away. But of course it’s not that kind of microphone.
“It’s nice to be here tonight. Thanks for having me!” Ramuda says, and though his voice is still its high, unnatural lilt, it seems like he’s matured somehow, at least a little. The thump of hope in Jakurai’s chest is an awful, traitorous thing and the blood rushing in his ears overrides the voiceover as the television flashes images of Ramuda’s designs heading down fashion show runways. Every model looks the same, so tall and thin, so serious, every woman with long, long hair.
“Amemura-kun, our viewers had a lot of questions they wanted to ask,” the reporter says when they return. When Ramuda offers her a wide, encouraging smile, she blushes visibly; Jakurai experiences a twinge of jealousy, followed by one of sympathy. It’s hard not to understand how she feels. “Your new collection is a huge success already, so you’re obviously doing something right.”
Ramuda laughs. “Glad to hear it!”
“But there’s only thing that I want to know: why the change? Your name is synonymous with bright, loud colors, and you’ve said yourself that your inspiration is often taken from hard candy.”
“Well,” says Ramuda, grabbing the reporter’s wrist to tug the microphone close to his mouth again, “the last thing I want is to get stale. Repeating the same things over and over makes you shrivel up, and I want to make sure I always have everyone’s attention. It must suck to be stuck in a rut, getting all old and dusty in a sad office somewhere, don’t you think, Reporter-chan?” He grins ferally, and tilts his head. He still has his fingers wrapped around the reporter. There are eight carpal bones that make up the wrist, tiny fragile things, often fractured and broken in accidents. Jakurai holds his breath.
The reporter laughs, maybe a little nervously. “I suppose so,” she says.
Ramuda lets go and hops back, spreading his arms wide. “So that’s why! Pink is out. Candy is out. No more lollipops.” His charming, easy smile is back in place of the more dangerous one. “At least not until I say so again!” Ramuda laughs and waves to the camera. “Thanks for supporting me, everyone!”
As the reporter throws back to the studio, Ramuda blows the camera kisses. Jakurai doesn’t hold up his hand to catch them; of course he doesn’t, that would be preposterous and childish. But he does keep his eyes glued to the screen until Ramuda fades from view.
A few days later, Jakurai is home -- actually home with no need to run off again until the next day and his relief is palpable. His patience for patients runs low. Jakurai pulls his hair into a long ponytail, changes into sweats, and flops back onto his couch, prepared for a lot nothing.
Then his phone rings.
Jakurai groans at the ceiling and weighs his options. The phone is across the room and he has a perfectly good answering service. Then again, it could be something unrelated to work; perhaps Hifumi has found himself in a bind again or Doppo needs him. With a sigh, he pushes himself to his feet.
The number is an unknown one, but Jakurai answers anyway. Before he can even say hello, a voice crackles through the line, high and dangerous and perhaps a bit amused: “Ehh, It’s funny,” Ramuda says into Jakurai’s ear. “I had a super-cool interview with a pretty lady and I know it aired in Shinjuku, and then like, magic -- whoosh, whoosh, ping! -- this whole huge bouquet of flowers showed up at my apartment that night.”
“Oh?” says Jakurai tiredly, sinking back down onto his couch, his phone pressed to his ear.
“Mmm-hmm. They were really pretty! But there was no card, isn’t that weird? And yeah, I get a lot of flowers from all sorts of friends! There are a lot of girls who like me a lot! But the really really really super extra crazy weird thing is none of my lady friends know where my apartment is, and I can’t think of anyone who does know that’d send me flowers without saying it was them. No one at all, nuh-uh, no way.”
“Don’t call me that,” Ramuda spits. “What are you wearing?”
Jakurai looks down, like he’s contemplating it. “Why?”
Ramuda hums. “Do you like my new collection, Jakurai?”
“You’re very talented,” Jakurai says because it’s the truth. “I’m not surprised by your success,” he adds because so is that.
“That’s not an answer, old man!” Ramuda sing-songs.
Jakurai hesitates. “Yes,” he says eventually. “I like it very much, Ramuda.”
“Does it remind you of anyone?”
“Why do you ask?” asks Jakurai.
“Because I want to dress you, right now. You’re not the only one who can stitch someone up, ahaha!”
It’s not a good idea. Nothing about Ramuda has ever been a good idea, but all of Jakurai’s sense and logic flies out the window as soon as the two of them are alone, face-to-face. Or, it would seem, on the phone.
“Think about it,” Ramuda says, his voice suddenly low and melodic; everyone says Jakurai is the haunting one, but he’s never believed that. “Let me dress you up and then leave it all on my floor after. I can stitch you up and then take you apart, piece by piece by piece.”
Jakurai sighs. He’s already standing; Ramuda has never needed his hand threaded through Jakurai’s hair to drag him down to his level.
“I’ll be right there,” he says and hangs up.
you're up, miyeokguk!