Chapter 9:

Some research and a new ally

Bonded by Music

“So, we’ll give Cara five minutes of courtesy to join us, but just five, okay? We have a lot to discuss today."

Eloy waited for Mako and Narumi to disappear through the door that led to the store room before looking at Genta. They were both sitting at one of the tables of Harmony, facing each other.

“She’s taking all this very seriously,” he commented.

“She is,” Genta agreed, continuing to play with his nails without averting his eyes. "But the contest was her idea, so it makes sense."

Eloy nodded and leaned back against his chair, crossing his legs. The bar was closed to the public until 7PM, which left them around four hours to ‘prepare the strategy’, as Mako had called it.

“By the way, we have passed the preselection.”

Genta looked at Eloy with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, and that’s why I’ve already paid you ¥500.”

Eloy was about to chuckle upon hearing the unsaid: 'and I'm not paying you more.'

"Yes, I know, but you said you'd tell me why you wanted to participate, if we made the cut."

His comment made Genta tense.

“Ah. Yeah, I said that.” It was evident that Genta didn’t feel too comfortable with the idea. Eloy was about to retract his question, despite the curiosity he felt, when Genta spoke. “Well, it’s pretty simple: I could really use the money from the prize.

Eloy nodded.

“So money is your main motivation. Well, it’s a valid one.”

If he wasn’t mistaken, the prize money was equivalent to €250,000, which was a rather considerable sum even if he only got half of it. However, it was clear that Genta wasn’t telling him the entire story.

“What about you?” Genta asked before Eloy could gather the courage to ask further. “Do you already know why you want to do this? Because last time, you didn’t seem to have it too clear.”

Eloy felt his heart skip a beat. He had managed to come up with an explanation, but he was sure that it would sound ridiculous when said aloud.

He was still thinking about how to answer when the door of the bar opened, and Cara practically stomped into the place. It seemed that she had needed to leave her part-time job at the reception hotel in a hurry in order to be able to join them.

“Oof, just in time!” Cara said breathlessly before approaching their table. As Eloy had expected, the Irish woman stopped next to him with her eyes half-closed. “Just out of curiosity, if you had not been selected, would you have ever told me about it?”

Eloy was tempted to lie, but eventually decided to be honest.

“Probably not,” he confessed with an apologetic grimace, causing Cara to exhale a soft sigh before ruffling Eloy’s hair, messing it even more.

“Well, you get 5 points for sincerity, at least,” she playfully said before dragging a chair from another table closer to Eloy. Cara had barely sat down when Mako and Narumi exited from the store room, dragging a wheeled, covered whiteboard with them.

“Oh, perfect timing,” Mako said while Eloy looked at the whiteboard with confusion. “So, now that we all are here, let’s begin.”

Mako removed the fabric covering the whiteboard without any theatrics, and Eloy’s eyes opened wide. The surface was completely covered in annotations and posits of different colors. Before he could even try to read the huge amount of information collected there, Mako was already talking.

“So, I’ve been doing some research this week. As you probably know, people haven’t stopped making hypotheses about who the judges may be since the new season of ‘Tune it Up’ was announced. And after the reveal of the silhouettes on the website, there are a few things that we know.”

Without saying a word or losing her smile, Narumi suddenly pointed with an extendable stick at the first of the four colored posits stuck on the left side of the whiteboard.

“So, starting with the first judge, we have Pink Candy. Even if you aren’t a TikTok user, you must have heard about her at least once, because she is one of the most popular influencers in Japan. She started acquiring fame due to her kawaii looks and dance videos, but lately she has also focused on singing.”

After Mako stopped talking, Narumi diligently pointed at the second post-it.

“The second judge is Mai Shiratori. I confess that I didn’t know who she was until a few days ago, but she was a really famous ballet dancer in the nineties. People started calling her ‘The Swan’, not just because of her surname, but also due to her delicate dance style.

Narumi pointed at the next post-it.

“Now, for the third judge, people were convinced that it would be an idol. But until his silhouette was revealed, no one could expect it would be King. He was the most popular member of the ‘PSLoveU’ boys band, and he’s gained even more fame since going solo, thanks to his elaborate - and also sexy - performances.”

Finally, Narumi pointed at the four post-it.

“And lastly, the fourth and final judge is Shin Sang-jun.” Eloy’s mouth hung slack when hearing the name, which caused Mako to smile. “It seems that Eloy is the only one who knows who he is. Do you want to do the honors?”

Eloy was about to say that he was fine listening to her, but everyone was looking at him, which prompted him to speak.

“Well, he started as a really awesome piano player, but some years ago he switched to composing. He created music for several Korean period dramas before coming to Japan after getting married. I think he also had a famous nickname, but I don't remember what it is.”

Mako nodded approvingly.

“The Golden Ear. There is a rumor circulating that he is able to detect and memorize all the discordant notes that are played in concerts. Among the four members, he’s probably going to be the most difficult to impress.” Mako smiled widely. “And that’s all for now. Any questions so far?”

Both Eloy and Genta shook their heads.

“Thank you for the presentation,” Eloy said with a smile. “You did an impressive research.”

Mako blushed slightly while waving her hand dismissively.

“It wasn’t that hard. The information was there, I only had to summarize it.” Eloy was about to say that doing that was precisely the tricky part when suddenly Mako flipped the whiteboard. “Although for this part, both Narumi and I had a lot of help.”

Eloy’s mouth hung slack once again when seeing that the other side of the whiteboard was completely filled with what seemed to be several music-related tasks, from practicing piano to singing lessons.

“Well, this is nothing compared to the homework Cristina gives you,” Cara said jokingly while Eloy continued staring at that insanely packed schedule. It was then when he realized that Genta hadn’t reacted at any moment, which was quite suspicious.

“Wait, did you already know about all this?” he asked while pointing at the whiteboard, but to his surprise, Genta shook his head.

“Nope. But after Mako and Narumi told me that she wanted to offer us a hand, I kinda expected this to happen.”

“She?” Eloy repeated, frowning with confusion. “Who is she?”

As if it had been orchestrated, the door chimed, and a tall, classy woman of indeterminate age entered the bar. She removed the large sunglasses that she was wearing and approached the group, while Eloy and Cara kept staring at her with dumbfounded expressions.

“Oh, I see that you have already talked about the judges. Well done, ladies.” The woman's voice was sweet when speaking to the waitresses, but her gaze was inquisitive as she suddenly focused on Eloy, causing him to gulp slightly. “So you are the famous Eloy. Nice to finally meet you. I’m Noriko Yamane, the owner of Harmony.”

Eloy’s eyes opened wide at that. He stood up and bowed his head towards the woman with his arms pressed on either side of his body.

“N-Nice to meet you too. And thank you a lot for letting us stay at the bar to prepare for the contest.”

The woman laughed at this comment.

“Please, there’s no need to be so formal. I’ve known Genta since he was a child, so I’ll gladly help you with the contest.

Eloy blinked and looked towards Genta, who was scratching the back of his head a little awkwardly.

He hadn't even had time to read half of the schedule that Ms. Yamane had prepared for them, but what he knew for certain was that they needed to work on their communication skills ASAP.

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