Chapter 3:


Bonded by Music

Eloy didn’t consider himself a nosy person. He had always preferred to go on his own, so he was often the last person to hear about the gossip of the people around him, both in school and later at the university.

But there he was, staring unabashedly at the Glaring Dude – no, Genta – as he animatedly conversed with the waitresses, adopting a relaxed stance that contrasted with the cautious attitude he had displayed towards Eloy at the convenience store the other day. In fact, he was not just staring; he was foolishly putting in serious effort to catch snippets of their conversation, even if doing that would be useless with the noise of the place.

“Anyway, it’s fine if you don’t want to play, but at least I hope you won't leave me alone and will applaud like crazy when I go on stage, and... wait, what are you looking at?”

Eloy insulted himself internally. He had forgotten that, unlike him, Cara was the nosy type.

“Nothing, I was just–” Too late, Eloy thought when Cara only needed a second to follow his gaze and hum in that amused way that Eloy had learned to fear.

“Well, well, well, I didn’t know that you were into the ‘bad boy’ type now.”

“It’s not that,” Eloy rapidly said, which only made Cara's smile grow wider as she took another sip. It didn't help that whenever drinks were involved, the girl became even more brazen. It was amusing to witness as a mere observer, but not when he was somehow involved in her schemes.

“Come on, Eloy, you don’t need to pretend with me!” Cara patted Eloy’s back with enough strength to make his glasses slide to the tip of his nose. “If you like that guy, I can subtly give you guys some privacy.”

After readjusting his glasses, Eloy was about to retort to his friend that subtlety wasn't one of her strong points when he noticed the waitress who had served them pointing in their direction. As a result, Genta looked straight towards them. Eloy observed how the guy's relaxed stance suddenly became tense, which slightly annoyed him.

“Oh, is he looking back at you?” Cara opened her mouth in realization. She grabbed Eloy’s arm and shook it with urgency. “Wait, wait, wait, is he–”

“Yes, Cara, he is. So please do me a favor and don't call him Glaring Dude to his face, okay?”

Eloy waited for Cara to make the zip-mouth-throw-the-key-away gesture before focusing on Genta again. Eloy caught the guy nodding towards the waitress with the ponytail. She then lifted the bar flap so that Genta could join her and her coworker behind the counter. Genta was carrying some bags that he proceeded to hand to the waitress with short hair before approaching Eloy and Cara.

Once again, Eloy felt surprised as his pulse quickened a bit when Genta abruptly positioned himself in front of him.

“Yo. Wasn’t sure that you’d actually show up.”

Genta’s words were blunt, and he was frowning again while leaning both hands on the counter. However, now that they were in close proximity, Eloy sensed that the tension surrounding Genta seemed to be due to nervousness rather than wariness. Eloy found himself slightly relieved by this improvement.

“Well, I could never say no to a free drink.” Eloy responded, instantly regretting his choice of words as they sounded incredibly cliché. In fact, he couldn't blame Cara when she poorly suppressed a laugh with a cough. "Thanks for the invitation."

“No problem.” A faint hint of a smirk appeared on Genta’s face. “So, you’ve got a name, or should I come up with a pet name on you too?”

Eloy's mouth hung open, and Cara was on the verge of spitting out the last sip of her drink.

“So the waitress told you–”

“–about the ‘Glaring Dude' thing? Yeah, she did.”

“Great,” Eloy muttered, adjusting his glasses in his signature ‘I’m-embarrassed’ gesture while seeing that Cara’s shoulders had started shaking suspiciously. It was clear that his foolish friend was struggling to contain her laughter. “Sorry about that. I didn’t say it in a bad way or anything.”

Genta waved off his apology with a snort.

“Don’t sweat it. It’s not the worst thing I’ve been called,” he said with irony, just before pointing at Eloy with his chin. "So, are you going to tell me your name, Mr. Glasses?"

Eloy chuckled. He hadn’t expected that Genta actually came up with a nickname.

“I’m Eloy. Nice to formally meet you.” Eloy heard Cara clear her throat next to him. He felt a little guilty for momentarily forgetting that she was also there. “And this is Cara.”

“Hi! Nice to meet you too,” Cara chimed in, and Eloy was surprised when Genta answered the woman with a nod. Normally there was no guy that didn’t react to Cara’s objectively beautiful smile. No straight guy, at the very least. “Hey, one quick question: you used to work here, right? Do you know who I have to talk to in order to go to the stage and perform?”

“Well, it depends. If you want to play the piano, you just have to wait for the person before you to finish their piece. If you want to sing, you can either do it while someone else plays the piano, or ask Mako or Narumi for the song you want, and they will play it on the speakers,” Genta explained.

“Okay, thanks a lot!” Cara bumped her shoulder against Eloy. “Since a certain Mr. Glasses has chickened out of joining me, I guess I'll have to request a song for myself.”

Despite her apparent disappointed words, Cara playfully winked at Eloy before standing up from her stool in order to approach one of the waitresses, who were currently serving people at the opposite side of the counter.

“Most of the people who come here aren’t pros or anything,” Genta said suddenly, catching Eloy's attention once again. “They just come here to have a nice time, so they won’t jeer at you if your singing isn’t perfect. And if there are some hidden pricks that don’t know how to behave, the staff will make sure they never come back.”

Genta's blunt way of speaking contrasted with the reassurance his words conveyed. It was a curious combination that brought a smile to Eloy's face.

“Have you had to deal with them?” Eloy took a wild guess, and the way Genta snorted indicated that he had guessed correctly.

“Yeah, something like that.”

Eloy wouldn’t have minded learning more about that story, but it seemed that Genta wasn’t planning to add anything else.

“It seems like you have needed to deal with a lot of jerks lately.”

Genta visibly tensed at the mention of the store incident.

“With more than I'd like, that's for sure,” Genta vaguely responded, indicating that he wasn't going to provide any additional information either.

At that moment the waitress with the ponytail - Mako or Narumi, Eloy didn’t know yet - approached Genta and placed a beer in front of him.

“Here, for you. Now that you're finally of legal age to drink this," the waitress teased.

Eloy's eyes widened upon hearing her comment, causing Genta to roll his eyes, although it was clear that his annoyance was feigned. So Genta was twenty, meaning that the guy was seven years younger than him. Damn, he really wasn't good at guessing people's ages.

At that moment the music that was playing in the background came to a stop and the familiar first notes of ‘Sakura Biyori’ started to sound. Eloy realized that while he had been talking to Genta, Cara had already made her way to the stage and was confidently standing in the center, microphone in hand.

As Cara began singing the first verse of the song, Eloy heard Genta hiss. He turned towards him and noticed a faint grimace on his face.

“What’s wrong?” Eloy asked, his confusion evident, causing Genta to jump in his seat.

“Eh? Oh, nothing,” Genta responded, trying to brush off the question.

Eloy raised an eyebrow.

“That pained expression on your face doesn't look like 'nothing',” Eloy said, a playful smile forming on his lips. “Isn't she doing it very well?”

Genta blushed slightly, caught red-handed.

“No. I mean, yes,” Genta stammered. He seemed so flustered that Eloy half-expected him to vanish under the counter. “Sorry, I didn’t want to criticize your girlfriend or anything. It’s just that the first notes were off, but she isn’t bad at all.”

Eloy’s eyes opened wide.

“Wait,” Eloy pointed at Genta as realization dawned on him, “so you like singing?”

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