Chapter 10:

The 20th pair

Bonded by Music

In contrast to the previous week, which had passed extremely slowly, that week prior to the final audition flew by. At first, Eloy had doubted that they could respect the timetable prepared by Ms. Yamane, as it entailed several hours of practice in both the closed mornings and the pre-opening afternoons when the bar was inaccessible to the public.

However, they managed to do it, and by the day of the audition, they had practiced a diverse selection of pieces that covered multiple musical genres. This approach would significantly enhance their chances of being selected for the first stage, considering previous seasons of 'Tune it Up' where contestants were sometimes rejected due to their chosen pieces being monotonous or similar.

That had been the positive aspect of the entire week. The less positive part was that, despite spending a lot of time with Genta, Eloy didn't feel that they had made any progress in getting to know each other better. In fact, Eloy had learned more about Mako and Narumi after sharing a few quick meals together in Harmony than about his own partner, as Genta always left whenever they took a break.

It was true that whenever Eloy had texted Genta with suggestions about new pieces to try, the guy had always answered and actively participated in the conversation. Moreover, they harmonized well during performances, often requiring only a couple of attempts to play a piece from beginning to end in a decent manner.

However, many mysteries still surrounded Genta. For instance, Genta himself had claimed that he was participating in the contest solely for the money, but Eloy could think of easier ways to earn it than entering a highly renowned competition. Also, he still didn’t know why those pricks had targeted Genta that day. As for Genta's family, all Eloy knew was that he lived with his mother, a fact revealed by Ms. Yamane, who had been good friends with her for more than a decade.

That was all. And it wasn’t as if Eloy wanted to become besties with Genta. That would be certainly pathetic - for starters because of that seven-year age gap difference. But Eloy believed that trust would be crucial as the contest progressed, and at the moment, it felt somewhat lacking.

Although thinking about it, they had actually made the first cut, so secrecy didn’t seem to be a problem for them so far, which had eventually stopped Eloy from bringing up those topics, out of the risk of causing an unpleasant mood between them.

Eloy’s thoughts were wandering about all that, causing him to be about to miss his stop. Once back on the street, Eloy checked the address on his mobile. The audition was scheduled to take place at Kunitachi College of Music, specifically in the New 1st Building.

He and Genta were supposed to meet at the college entrance, but as he approached it, Eloy realized that they should have chosen a better meeting point. The place was packed with people. A security checkpoint had been set up, and several guards were keeping an eye on the boisterous crowd, primarily composed of females carrying banners and signs declaring their love for King, the former idol and judge, to ensure they didn't go beyond the control.

Eloy had to present his confirmation email and his ID to the guard at the entrance so that he was allowed to enter the campus. He was about to call Genta but this one beat him to it.

“Hey, I’m already inside the building. Where are you?”

Eloy checked his watch to make sure that he wasn’t running late, but it wasn’t 8:30 AM yet. He was relieved to see that Genta had arrived early.

There was a direct path from the main gate to the building, so Eloy reached it relatively quickly. Also, with Genta's instructions he managed to locate the correct corridor without much difficulty. The place was crowded with people as well, and it reminded Eloy of the pre-exam atmosphere from his university years. It was a feeling he hadn't missed, and it made him nervous.

Fortunately, Genta was easily recognizable, so Eloy had no trouble spotting him leaning against one of the walls with his arms crossed.

“Hi,” Eloy greeted, also leaning against the wall. He had rushed a bit to avoid making Genta wait longer and was a little breathless. "Have you been here long?"

“Fifteen minutes or so.” Genta handed a sticker to Eloy with the number 20 written on it. “You have to stick this to your t-shirt.”

Eloy did as Genta said. According to the email instructions, the auditions had started the previous Friday, and would continue throughout the weekend. Eloy and Genta were among the 40 pairs scheduled to audition that Saturday. Each pair would have no more than 15 minutes to perform, and they would know that same day if they passed or not. They had no knowledge of how many of the previous 20 pairs had advanced, as this part of the stage wouldn't be broadcast until it was completed.

The order to audition had been randomized, and being the 20th pair meant that they were the last one to perform in the morning session, which ran from 9 am to 2:30 PM, with a 30-minute break in between for lunch.

For the next half-an-hour they stood there, silently observing the other pairs as the time to start the selection drew near. Five minutes remained until 9 AM when Genta suddenly reached into the pocket of his jeans to retrieve his phone, which was vibrating.

Shit,” Genta cursed before returning the phone to his pocket. “I have to go now.”

Eloy frowned as Genta hastily grabbed his backpack. “Wait, going where?”

“To work. But don’t worry, I’ll be back before it’s our turn.”

It took Eloy a moment to react, but he managed to grab Genta’s arm, stopping his leave.

“Are you serious?” Eloy let out an incredulous, humorless laugh. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to leave now?”

Eloy felt Genta tense. “Look, I informed my superior that I needed this day off, and she was okay with it, but her superior just changed his mind and sent me a bunch of deliveries to make.”

“And can’t you just tell your boss to screw it?”

Genta snorted. “Yeah, I could, and then goodbye to the job, so I have to do them.” With a swift shake of his arm, Genta easily broke free from Eloy's grip, as Eloy's shock had caused him to lose his hold. “Like I’ve said, I’ll be back in time. See you later.”

“Wait, Genta!” But Genta was already sprinting down the corridor, leaving Eloy standing there, with a dumbfounded expression on his face and with the worst five hours of wait ahead of him.

* * *

Eloy took a deep breath when the 19th pair entered the room. He had tried to stay calm, but he didn’t know what emotion was winning right then: nervousness, because the audition was approaching, or anger, because the audition was approaching and Genta wasn’t there yet.

Just as Eloy was about to go search for someone to explain their situation, he spotted Genta reentering the building. Eloy muttered under his breath and placed his hands on his hips, waiting for Genta to approach.

Eloy had a few things ready to say to Genta, but they died on his throat after taking a close look at him.

“Are you okay?” Eloy asked with genuine concern. Genta was breathing heavily, drenched in sweat, and leaning over with both hands on his knees, his head hanging low between his shoulders. He looked on the verge of collapsing at any moment.

“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine.” Genta straightened up and removed the thin shirt that he had been wearing over his t-shirt before slumping against the wall. Eloy noticed for the first time the small tattoos adorning Genta’s arms, as they had always been covered until now. “Just need a minute.”

Eloy sighed and crouched down to retrieve his water bottle from his backpack. He offered it to Genta, who took it with a breathless ‘thanks’ before taking a sip.

“Genta, you’re in no condition to sing.”

Genta paused his drinking and let out a snort that came out a little weak.

“I said I just need a minute, okay?” Before Eloy could argue further, the door to the room swung open, and the pair ahead of them exited on the verge of tears, just moments before the contest coordinator called out their number. “Come on, it’s our turn.”

Eloy exhaled a deep sigh and reluctantly followed Genta towards the room. He recalled the encouraging messages he had received from Elia and Cara and hoped that they would bring them luck. Because they were really going to need it. 

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