Chapter 43:


Bonded by Music

“That damn BITCH! I knew she was plotting something when it took her so long to contact you. I knew it!”

“Cara, we don’t even know if Cristina was involved in all this.”

“Oh, please, Eloy, are you kidding me?! She never liked that you entered that contest! And come on, a meeting on a Friday at 1 PM?! What kind of shitty time is that?! It’s obvious that she has pulled the strings!”

Eloy exhaled a deep breath as he continued to pace back and forth in his room. He had debated whether to call Elia or Cara after his meeting with Cristina ended, but he eventually chose to reach out to his friend. After all, Elia was working at the moment, and Eloy didn’t want to worry her, or put her in a difficult position by asking her to keep the secret from their parents. At least for the time being.

“Cristina has as much to lose as I am if I lose the scholarship. It can’t have been her.”

Cara exhaled a resigned sigh on the other end of the line.

“I’m not going to convince you and you’re not going to convince me, but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is,” Cara’s tone shifted to concern, “what are you going to do?”

Eloy stopped his pacing, sitting down on his bed again.

“I…I don’t know.” He leaned his elbows on his knees and let out a heavy sigh. “The two options are pretty bad. And no matter what I choose, I…”

‘I’ll end up disappointing someone’, Eloy thought, but he left the sentence hanging.

“...end up screwed,” Cara finished his thought for him, her frustration evident in her voice.

Eloy managed a humorless chuckle. “Yes, it's a total mess.”

At that moment his phone rang with an incoming message. It was Genta, who had just sent him a selfie with him pretending to be asleep, because there was no one at the store and he was bored.

Eloy swallowed, took a deep breath, and after thanking Cara for her support, he told her he had to go.

He arrived at the 7-Eleven where Genta was working when he still had an hour left before he could leave the store. During the subway ride, Eloy had time to think about his options and managed to make up his mind.

As he had anticipated, his decision settled a gnawing guilt in his chest when he saw Genta through the store’s glass, standing behind the counter and dressed in the store uniform while checking his phone in a relaxed, carefree attitude.

Eloy's heart raced in his chest as he reached for his phone to send a text to Genta. He watched as Genta's eyes widened before looking towards the street. Genta’s expression lit up when he spotted Eloy, intensifying the guilt Eloy was already feeling. His nervousness also increased when Genta left the counter to approach the door of the store.

“Damn, you couldn’t wait anymore to see me or what–?” Genta had started talking in a mocking but happy tone when being outside, but after seeing Eloy’s expression, he stopped talking and frowned with concern. “Hey, are you okay?”

Eloy’s mouth opened and closed, struggling to find the words. He had practiced what he was going to say Genta on his way there, but now that the moment had come, the words were failing him.

“Eloy,” Genta took a step closer and touched his arm in a reassuring gesture, “what’s wrong?”

Eloy took a deep breath, and after insulting himself for failing spectacularly at keeping his composure, he finally spoke with a strained tone.

“Cristina called me about an hour ago.” He had never thought that, one day, sustaining Genta’s eyes would be so difficult. “Genta, I can’t participate in the final challenge of the contest.”

For a brief moment, Genta looked at him, almost frozen. Then, slowly, he withdrew his hand from Eloy's arm.

“Is it a joke?” Genta eventually asked, before exhaling a weak snort of disbelief. “I mean, it would be a really shitty one. But please, tell me it’s a joke.”

Eloy swallowed and shook his head. “I need to attend a meeting with the scholarship organizers to convince them that participating in the contest isn’t hindering my PhD. And if I don’t go, I’ll lose the scholarship–”

“But wait, wait a moment,” Genta exhaled a broken, humorless laugh. “You can’t participate in the challenge because of a meeting? What the fuck, can’t you just reschedule it or something?”

“If I do that, I’ll be just confirming their doubts about not taking my PhD seriously,” Eloy said, unable to meet Genta’s eyes when realization slowly sank in.

“But…But we are so close…” Genta muttered, exhaling a new incredulous snort before irritation completely tinged his voice. “We’re so damn close, Eloy. Can’t you really talk to your tutor? We…We just need another week! Just until the contest finishes and then–” Genta stopped talking, since Eloy’s expression was all the answer he needed. Genta then clenched his jaw and brusquely turned around. “Fuck.

Eloy felt a lump forming in his throat when Genta placed his hands on his head, starting to take deep breaths.

“I’m sorry, Genta. I’m really sorry–”

“You know, when we decided to send that application and participate in the contest, I never thought that we were going to go that far. I thought that we would drop at some point.” Genta turned around brusquely, his expression now showing only frustration. “But we made it. We beat all the challenges, and made it to the Finals. Together. And now that we are so close, with an actual chance of winning, are you seriously telling me that this is it? That all this, all that we did, was for nothing?”

Eloy gulped, desperately trying to come up with something to say. Anything.

“We can try to talk to the judges. We can explain this to them, and figure out a way so that you can still do it alone–”

“Sure, because doing a solo in a only-pair contest just in the Finals is going to work.” Genta said sarcastically before crossing his arms and leaning against the wall of the store. “It won’t work, Eloy. You know it won’t. It’s over.”

Eloy exhaled a deep trembling breath and looked down to the ground. Genta was right. It was over. There was no point in trying to come up with a magical solution when there was an actual one. The one that he had decided not to choose.

Not to mention the fact that a few days ago he had offered Genta to help with the debt, assuming they could make it, just to completely destroy his hopes now.

He felt like a real jerk. He was a real jerk.

“Listen, Genta, regarding the debt, I promise I’ll do everything I can to help you–”

“You know what you could have done?” Genta suddenly said, gritting his teeth while looking at Eloy. “You could have read the conditions of that fucking scholarship better before getting us both involved in this. That would have helped.”

Genta had just delivered those words, which felt like a knife piercing through Eloy’s chest, when a couple approached Genta cautiously.

“Uhm…excuse me, is the store open?”

“Oh, yes. Yes it is,” Genta rapidly adopted his work voice, straightened up, and bowed towards the customers before apologizing for the confusion.

Once the customers entered the store, Genta addressed Eloy again, this time without meeting his eyes.

“I have to get back to work. I’ll call my supervisor to tell him I’ll be doing the whole night shift today, so you should go back.”

Eloy could only stare at Genta’s stiff back as this one turned around to re-enter the store. Eloy was about to leave as well, his throat feeling extremely tight, when he heard the door of the store opening.

He turned around and saw Genta standing there, this time looking at him.

“Text me when you’re home.”

Eloy stared at Genta with his eyes open wide. The fact that, despite his anger and disappointment, Genta had asked him that, made Eloy have to bite his lower lip to keep it from trembling.

"Will do."

Eloy managed to hold himself together while riding the subway, and also when entering the share house and passing by a few enthusiastic tenants who were planning to go out. He even managed to keep his composure when reaching his room and texting Genta, letting him know that he was back home safely.

But as he sat on his bed, his gaze fell on the small tattoo on his inner wrist, and his vision started to blur.

And that night, for the first time in years, he cried himself to sleep.

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