Chapter 2:

Chocolate Bar

Bubblegum Beat

Veni clings to Nao's arm as they pass through a long dark road. Streetlamps in this area are few and far between. Some flicker irregularly and some are dimmer than the stars above them. Newspapers and aluminium cans are littered all over the place. Building walls are a canvas to spray paints and posters.

They pass by a few groups of people smoking and mumbling, but there's not enough light for Veni to make out where exactly they are and how many.

"A-Are we there yet?" Veni nervously asks in a low voice. The only time she feels some sort of relief is when they are under any light source where she can see further than a meter. "You said it was nearby."

"I didn't say that."

"You did!"

"You're gonna rip off my sleeve," Nao struggles to fix her jacket from Veni's hold. "Relax. It's just around the corner," as she's about to turn to a street.

This intersection has the brightest streetlamp so far. The entire intersection is visible for once. But because of that, it makes everything further than the light's reach look a lot darker. Veni pulls her back before she can take a single step onto it.

"Oh... no...," Veni's voice starts to shake. "No, no. No way. You can't be serious."

Nao turns to see her eyes fixated on the street sign. "What is it?" she calmly asks.

"Please tell me you're not serious," Veni pulls on Nao's arm even tighter. "We're not actually heading to this street, right?"

"We are."

"No! Are you crazy? It's Sweet street! The Sweet street! Surely, you've heard of it. It's where every bad news happens!"

"You're exaggerating. Come on," Nao tries to take a step but gets pulled back again.

"No way I'm going there!"

"Too bad. It's the only way."

"C-Can we go somewhere else then?"


"Oh, come on! Stop being so difficult. I shouldn't even be here right now. I'm definitely not going there."

"Relax. It's just right there. You can almost smell it."

"That's what you said earlier! We've been walking down this road for a good twenty minutes already!" Veni starts to alternately shift her weight on her legs. "Look. I-I'll just pay you, okay?"

"I don't accept money."

"Please? I'm not even allowed there. I'm not allowed to drink alcohol. I'm only seventeen."

"So am I."

"Wha- Then why do you want a drink?!"

"Juice is not a drink?"

"You can buy juice anywhere!"

"It's better here. Trust me."

"Nooo! Come on. Anything but that. Please? Pretty pretty please?" Her voice is getting weaker, she's almost in tears. "I really really really just want to go home."

Nao lets out an audible sigh. "Fine," she turns to face Veni completely whose grip loosens when she hears that. "You don't have to push yourself. You can go home."

"Really?!" Veni's face lights up. The relief and excitement overflow. She wants to jump.

"Yup," Nao raises her arm to point up to the road they walked. The bright bridge they started at the far end is a pin light from where they stand, and that's the only thing in sight. Surrounded by darkness, the tall buildings on both sides block the natural light of the night sky. "We just walked down this path. It's a straight line. Hard to get lost. When you get there, you should be able to find your way back home."

Veni keeps her smile wide against its will. "You're... You're walking me back, right?"


"You promised you will!"

"I didn't," Nao turns around and starts walking but she finds Veni clinging onto her arm again and pulling her back.

"Where are you going?!"

"Getting myself a drink."

"Let's get a drink somewhere else!"

"I thought you wanted to go home?"

"I'm scared!"

"Not my problem."

"You-" Veni can't bring herself to badmouth her right now. In the short time that they've been together, Veni realizes that Nao would abandon her then and there in a heartbeat without remorse if she wills it. She's the only safety she has right now and she can't afford for that to happen.

She still has her phone in her person. She can ring up her parents to pick her up wherever she is currently. She would get into a lot of trouble, no doubt, but at least it would be a safe kind of trouble. Though, she knows she can't pull out her phone right now.

"Okay, okay," she calms down. "I get it. I'll go. Just don't leave me, okay?"

Nao finally successfully takes a step forward.

"You're such a demon, by the way," Veni whispers with a sniffle.

"I get that a lot," she nonchalantly replies.

Only short of twenty steps until they're standing in front of an establishment's door. A bar. Huge windows on the side. For once, Nao wasn't lying about it being just around the corner.

"This is it?"

"This is it," she pushes the door open with Veni hiding behind her now knowing what to expect.

They take a step inside. A piece of soft jazz music is playing, lights dimmed enough to add to the calm atmosphere. Not a huge place, only about six big tables, three on each side of the front door, and a long bar. There are only about a handful of customers inside. Four taking a table at the far end, and two at the bar in front of the bartender, a mean-looking lady with her blonde hair covering part of her face.

The chime of their entrance only caught the attention of the bartender and one of the guys at the bar, a guy with red mohawk hair wearing a leather jacket.

"Ah," the guy speaks. "Tart. Just in time." The guy notices Veni behind Nao as they approach him. "Hm? Who's that?"

"Name's Gummy," Nao heads toward the seat right beside the guy.

"Gummy?" he raises his voice, sounding goofier. "Ahahaha! What a funny name! Is it your new victim? It's been a long time since you last brought someone in." 

"She just followed me here by herself," Nao sits down. Veni wants to comment on her lie, but she's trying not to attract attention. She scans around for the restroom.

"Yeah, right," the bartender interjects, she's leaning on the bar, head rested on her palm and looking unamused. "Like we'd believe that."

Nao signs Veni to take the seat beside her. She follows suit all while still grabbing onto her arm.

"Hey, hey. Come on. Introduce us to her," the red mohawk guy insists.

Nao points at the guy while looking at Veni. "This is Rooster. He's just a harmless rooster. Don't mind him."

"What?! Come on. Do it properly!" the rooster cries. After another look at him, Veni thought how fitting it was. He does look like a rooster up close. Kinda sounds like one, too. She finds his animated reaction funny but her nerves are keeping her from even cracking a smile.

"Getting anything?" the bartender walks in front of Veni. She looks pissed. With one of her eyes hidden behind her bangs, it's hard to tell what she's thinking. Veni tries to find the right words to utter, fearing that saying a single bad thing would mean immediate trouble with her.

"U-Uhm...," her voice is still shaking. "I'm... I'm supposed to buy her a drink."

Nao takes her mask off her face and guitar off her shoulder and rests it between her legs. "That's Donut," introducing the bartender to Veni. "Don't worry, she's not actually pissed. That's just how she looks like."

The bartender glares at her and goes back to Veni. Up close, she starts to notice how red Veni's eyes are. The bartender's eyebrow twitches. "Tart, you...!" she reaches to pinch Nao's cheek with one hand.

"Ah! Aaaah!" Nao tries to get her grip off her cheek, but it gets tighter the more she pulls.

 "Did you make her cry?!" Now the bartender is visibly and audibly pissed. "You played her with your colours, didn't you? I told you to stop doing that!"

"What?!" The rooster reacts. "You made her cry? You're awful, Tart."

"I didn't! She just cried by herself!" Nao denies.

"Quit lying!" the bartender pulls.

"Ow, ow, ow! It hurts!"

Finally, she lets go. Nao rubs her cheek. The bartender sighs and gets back to Veni.

"Please excuse our girl. She never learns. Do you want anything to drink? It's on the house."

"Uhm... I was supposed to buy-"

"Don't worry about her. You don't have to buy her anything. She doesn't pay for anything, to begin with." She reaches for a pitcher. "How about some water?"

Veni reluctantly nods.

"I also want-"

"Grab your own," the bartender cuts Nao before she can even request her drink. Nao's arms drop and she lets out a soft groan.

"Another pint for me, Donut!" the rooster adds, then turns to Nao. "Is Gummy your classmate, Tart?"

"No. I just met her at the bridge."

"The bridge?" his eyes widen. "She's from the uptown?! You just snatched a police warrant! What were you thinking?"

The bartender's glare snaps back at Nao who immediately covers her cheeks.

"I- I'm gonna pour myself a drink." Nao leans her guitar against the bar and stands up. Veni's hands slide off her jacket as she walks away.

"Prepare your other cheek while you're at it," the bartender rests her hand on her waist and sighs. "Seriously, that girl... Don't worry," her voice softens looking at Veni. "I'll make sure she brings you home safe." She places a glass of iced water in front of Veni.

"T-Thank you."

"Does anyone know you're here? Parents?"

"No... No."

"Do you need a phone to call them?"

"N-No. I'm fine. Thank you, though."

Veni slowly starts feeling more at ease with Donut than she did with Nao. For now, she believes their assurance that she'll get home safely.

"Uhm," Veni leans forward slightly and speaks in a low voice. "About what you said earlier..."


"Like... Playing with colours... What does that mean?"

"Oh. Don't worry about it. It's just something she has. She doesn't actually know you, and you don't know her if that's what's bothering you."

"Huh...," Veni tries to piece what Donut is talking about, but can't seem to fit it together.

"She just reads what you show her. Maybe you just showed more than you should have."

"Hm?" she's even more confused. "What do you-"

"Hey, Gummy!" the rooster interrupts, tapping on Nao's seat. "Come, come! Check this out."

Veni's attention was cut for a moment. By the time she looks back to Donut to finish her question, she's already walking away to take empty glasses to the sink. She turns back to the excited rooster and notices the radio in front of him and his hand over the volume knob. She moves a seat closer.

"Prepare to be amazed. Our guy Toffee here will be singing through this radio any moment now."

"Don't give the girl high expectations," the farther guy who has been quietly drinking all this time speaks with his glass touching his mouth. "It's nothing special." The top button of his shirt is open, and his stylish hair sits perfectly above his brows. Unlike the rooster, he's quite the looker.

The rooster guy wraps his arm around him. "This one is Toffee, by the way! Our very own soon-to-be international rockstar!"

"Please...," the guy scoffs.

"And I'm Reese," pointing a thumb to his chest. "Our very own soon-to-be international rockstar's coach!"

Donut mockingly chuckles as she steps back in.

"What, Donut? You've got something to say? Why don't you say it to my face, huh? Tell me I'm not right!"

"No, you're right... In your own world."

Nao emerges from the back carrying a glass of juice. Behind her is an old man wearing the same attire as Donut.

"Pops!" Reese calls. "Just in time. Come, come!"

Meanwhile, Donut doesn't react so positively. "I told you to rest already, old man! We've got this covered."

"Now, now," the old man fans his palm up and down. "I heard we've got a new guest so I came to greet them." Donut sighs. He sees Veni beside Reese while Nao takes a seat beside her. "Is it you, young lady?"

"Uh... Yes... I suppose."

"Nice to meet you. I hope our guys didn't scare you too much."

"Oh... No... Not at all," thinking it was actually the girls who have scared her more so far.

"Ah!" Reese turns the radio's volume up as a music intro starts to play. "Here it is!"

The vocals come in. Reese suddenly erupts. "Did you hear that? Did you hear that?! That's our boy! Ahaha!" Reese shakes Toffee back and forth. The old man starts grinning.

"You're disgustingly excited about this," Donut remarks.

"Shut up, Reese. We can't hear the song," Nao adds.

"Oh, come on! You two are such downers," Reese complains.

"Ohh..." With a brief silence, Veni is able to hear it clearer. She recognizes it immediately. "It's from Lavender's new album, isn't it?"

"You know about it?" Toffee turns to her surprised. It's a light reaction, but the most expressive she has seen him so far.

"Yeah! I just got my copy of it today!"

"Crazy. You have an obscure taste."

"What's the title again? Uhh...," Veni tries to refresh her memory. "Rus... Rusting Chains. Featuring uhh... Chris.... topher.... Gace...," it slowly starts to sink in for her.

"What, Toffee?! You've already got a fan?!" Reese pulls on him, he's almost in tears. "My man has already gone places. I'm so proud and jealous of you, goddamnit!!" He points at the group of four people at the corner of the bar. "Hey, shitheads! Next round's on me!"

"Yeah!!" They cheer in unison, raising their half-empty mugs in the air.

Reese lightly tugs on Veni. "How'd you find this kid, Tart? She's great!" Nao ignores him and enjoys her drink.

Undistracted by the noise, Veni tries to have a conversation with Toffee.

"You performed with Lavender? That's so cooool!"

"It's nothing," Toffee brushes the tip of his nose with his thumb, failing to hide his flattered smile. "But it is pretty cool, yeah."

"Must be nice! Man, I wish I can even go to one of his concerts. Is he as crazy as they say?"

"Beyond what you've heard, I can tell you that. It's always a blast when he's around."

"No way! Really? Wild!!"

Reese tries to find the right timing to insert into their conversation but he can't compete with the two fanatics. "Cool, huh? Yeah. Yeah. Ahaha!"

"What's wrong, coach?" mocks Donut.

"Shush! We're having a moment here!"

"The only moment you're having there is being out of place," Nao takes a break from her drink to throw an insult.

"Why are you two picking on me tonight, huh?"

"Huh?" Donut expresses her confusion. "What are you talking about? We pick on you every night."

Veni and Toffee continue talking while Donut and Reese are having their own banter. Nao sits on the side quietly finishing her drink. The bartender laughs amidst the little chaos.

"Alright, Gummy," Nao stands up and nudges Veni. "Time to go."

Chatter stops. Veni looks at Nao's empty glass. "Now?"


"Going already?" Reese looks at her. "Gummy's still having fun. Stay for a bit."

"I'm sleepy." Nao looks at Veni and her puppy eyes, clearly wanting to repeat Reese's suggestion. She turns around and starts walking towards the door. "Or you can walk home by yourself, too." Nao waves back at them. "I'm heading out, Pops."

"Ah!" Veni hurriedly stands up.  Before chasing after Nao, she turns to the folks to bow and say goodbye. "Thank you so much!"

Donut nods up at her.

"See ya around, Gummy!" Reese turns around in his seat to face Veni.

"It was nice talking to you," Toffee waves two fingers, imitating a salute.

"Take care on your way home," the old man smiles.

In contrast to the energy when she arrived, Veni can't help but smile at the good wishes she's receiving as she leaves despite just meeting them not too long ago.

She waves at them as she dashes to the exit.

"Hey! Wait up!" she can be heard shouting as the bar's door closes.

Bubblegum Beat