Chapter 24:

The second challenge

Bonded by Music

“Welcome everyone! I hope you are as excited as I am because the second challenge of ‘Tune it Up’ is already here! So let’s give a great applause to our amazing judges that are here again tonight, and of course to our talented contestants that are eagerly waiting to perform!”

While thunderous applause was heard in the theater, the staff members gathered the different pairs waiting backstage around a table. In the first challenge, the order to perform had been based on the number of followers they had obtained. This time it had been selected randomly.

“Wait, we are the 20th again?” Genta said with surprise after the even-more-stressed-folder-lady of the previous Saturday announced their number. “Well, we passed last time, so this has to be a good signal.”

“Yes, that or that we’re going to struggle again to convince the judges,” Eloy commented in what tried to be an ironic tone, but it came out more nervous than anything, which made Genta look at him.

“Are you still worried about the score?”

Eloy nodded. “Yesterday I only managed to play it once without making a single mistake.”

Genta placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Hey, I doubt that the judges are going to notice if you miss just one note.” Eloy opened his mouth to protest, but Genta seemed to read his mind. “Okay, yeah, probably ‘The Golden Ear’ will notice, but as long as we do as we’ve practiced, we’ll be fine.”

Eloy chuckled, still feeling nervous. “You sound so sure about it.”

“I am. In fact, I’m so confident that I’m going to make a bet: if all judges give their approval, you’ll have to get a tattoo with the number ‘20’.”

“What the–are you serious?”

“Yep, it can be in any place or size you want. I’m merciful,” Genta ironically said while Eloy still looked at him with shock. “But if just one of the judges considers that we shouldn’t pass, then I’ll do whatever you want for an entire day. Even getting a tattoo myself again.”

Eloy exhaled an incredulous laugh. “Damn, so you are really confident that we’re going to make it.”

Genta smiled. “Yeah, I wonder who’s the one at fault for that. Hint: he wears glasses, and a pink lipstick mark on his cheek.”

Eloy chuckled again, feeling his nervousness fading away. “Okay. I accept the bet.”

He was about to suggest approaching the stage to check on the 1st pair that had just been called to perform when Genta talked again. “By the way, you sure you don’t want to remove that?”

“Why? You said it was to fit with the topic,” Eloy commented in a purposely oblivious way, wondering if Genta would dare to continue with the conversation, or would change the topic instead.

Genta’s straightforwardness didn’t disappoint. “Yeah, well, that wasn’t the only reason.”

“Oh?” Eloy said, still pretending obliviousness. “What was the other reason then?”

Genta was blushing lightly now, but looked at Eloy straight in the eye when talking next.

“To remind Ayaka that you were my partner, not hers.” Eloy’s mouth opened in disbelief, which caused Genta to snort. “I know. It’s ridiculous. But she looked way too interested in you while doing your makeup and–” Genta sighed and crossed his arms, averting his eyes. “Honestly, I don’t know what got into me. Sorry.”

Eloy hummed, really fighting the smile that was about to split his face in two. “So basically, you were marking your territory?”

Genta looked at him again, his eyes open now in horror. “Shit, it sounds so much worse when you put it like that.”

“I know. You’re blushing harder now.” Genta threw a half-hearted glare at Eloy, who was fighting the urge to chuckle. “But just for the record I’m not interested in Ayaka. She’s not my type.”

Genta nodded, and Eloy would swear that Genta relaxed a bit. “What’s your type then?”

Eloy felt his heart skip a beat, but before he could gather the courage to honestly answer that question, the screen that was installed on one of the sides of the backstage turned on, attracting everyone’s attention, including theirs. Ayaka and Kota passed next to them at that moment, and she stopped to look at Eloy with a surprised expression on her face before smiling.

“I love the mark! It suits the topic a lot.”

The fact that she sounded sincere made Eloy start to laugh while Genta covered his eyes with his hand, showing a deep embarrassment that Eloy found quite cute.

* * *

Thanks to the performance being displayed for the people backstage, the wait passed faster than Eloy had feared. As they had predicted, the given keywords caused most of the performances to consist of slow, melodic songs that mainly focused on tragic love, often leaving the ‘change’ and ‘shameless’ keywords out.

The judges’ evaluations were rather fair in general, with Mr. Shin usually being the strictest, Pink Candy sometimes being a little too subjective with the people she liked or disliked, and Shiratori and King keeping balance with their respective calm and relaxed personalities.

Both Electric Soul and The Cords Brothers performed before Eloy and Genta, proving they were worthy rivals to take into account.

Ayaka and Kota had chosen a rather original song, ‘Strongest’, sung from a mother’s point of view to her ex-husband who had left her and their common child to be with someone else. Despite the sad topic, it had a rhythmic pace that Kota nailed with his electric keyboard and with the effects he chose, and that obtained the entire approbation of the judge.

On the contrary, Ren and Ryo’s performance was an adaptation of the famous ‘Can't Help Falling in Love’, played with violin and classical guitar. Ren added a little twist while singing it, adding a final verse on his own in which he hinted that the singer was in love with the wife of his best friend, probably to convey the meaning ‘shameless’. They also obtained the whole approbation of the judges.

A few more pairs performed then, before it was SevenEG’s turn. As expected, the contrast between Eloy dressed in a suit and Genta wearing that dark gown provoked a few confused murmurs in the audience.

To keep the surprise of the performance, the songs hadn’t been announced beforehand, so the host just introduced the contestants, then made a brief summary of their previous achievements in the contest, and finally they were free to perform.

Eloy was more nervous than the previous Saturday while sitting at the stage piano, so he made sure to take a deep breath, lock eyes with Genta, and wait for his usual nod and reassuring smile before also nodding towards the staff member, so that he started the background music that would accompany their performance.

They had expected that nostalgia would play in their favor when Eloy started playing as Genta sang the first verse of ‘Romeo and Cinderella’, a Vocaloid song, but the wave of applause and enthusiastic cheers that invaded the place took Eloy by surprise. He hadn’t expected that positive reaction.

It was a pity that he had to be so focused on playing. He would have loved to witness the moment when Genta, until then only standing in front of the microphone, theatrically removed his dark gown in order to reveal the fitted dress that he was wearing under it, at the exact moment in which he said the verses ‘And just for you, I'll show you mine too’.

Eloy found himself smiling and having the time of his life while playing as Genta moved through the stage now microphone in hand, replicating parts of the original choreography that he had been practicing non-stop during the entire week, which provoked new waves of cheers. Eloy was unable not to steal a couple of glances in Genta’s direction, and he admired how at ease he looked, as if dressing like that didn’t bother him at all.

When the ending was close, Genta turned around to give his back to the audience during the last instrumental part. At that moment Genta looked at Eloy, winked at him in a way that made Eloy’s heart flutter, and turned just in time to face the audience as the music finished.

While the greatest applause of the night filled the place, Eloy raised his hands from the piano, realizing then that he hadn’t missed a single note. With an incredulous but happy smile on his face, he stood up to walk towards Genta, who also approached him with a wide smirk to hug him with force.

“You can start thinking about that tattoo,” Genta whispered teasingly in Eloy’s ear through the noise, causing Eloy to smile even more before separating.

Just a glance at the four standing, applauding judges was enough to let them know that they had surpassed the second challenge with flying colors, without needing to hear the verdict.

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