The seats around the table are comfortably cushioned with a dark wood frame to match the table and covered in a variety of jewel-toned fabrics. When Rome reaches the table, Noh is lounging back comfortably on one side and Emma is leaning forward on the other side to blow gently into her cup before taking a tiny sip. Nervous about sitting next to Noh, Rome heads for the vacant seat by his best friend only to be thwarted by that friend as she places her bag on the chair and gives him a pointed stare. Rome’s shoulders slump slightly and he walks over to the other side.
“Um, Khun Noh, do you mind if I side next to you?” Rome asks hesitantly, staring down into the sweet depths of his drink.
“The seat’s free. I don’t mind.” With a smile, Noh pushes out the chair next to him and turns to lean against the wall so he’s facing Rome. “As long as you drop the formal Khun stuff. It’s just Noh. Alright, Rome?”
“Thanks… Noh.” Setting his cup on the table, Rome slides into the chair. They lapse into silence as everyone sips at the their drinks, wondering how to dispel the awkwardness.
“What the hell is wrong with all of you?” Jae stops at the table several minutes later and passes out plates of food for each of them. “Ai’Noh, you feeling alright? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this quiet, not even after the breakup.”
“I can be quiet,” Noh tries to defend himself.
“Sure, sure. You’re practically a freaking mute.” Laughing at Noh’s scowl, Jae leans against the table behind him and contemplates the people sitting around the table. He takes particular note of Rome sitting next to Noh, instead of Emma. “I didn’t know that you knew each other. How long have you been hanging out together?”
“We’re old friends,” Rome replies with an innocent smile. Making a show of looking at his wristwatch, he checks the time and looks back at Jae. “We’ve been close for all of twenty-six hours and eight minutes, give or take a few seconds.”
“Wow! That’s some long-term relationship,” Jae’s bark of laughter fills the room, causing a few people look their way in curiosity. “When’s the wedding? Do I get to be best man?”
“Next Tuesday,” replies Noh without missing a beat, “but you’ll have to duel Ohm for the position of best man.”
“Water guns at twenty paces?” Pointing his finger at Noh, Jae pretends to fire a gun.
“Pool noodles in the courtyard,” Rome pipes up, giggling as he makes a swishing movement with his hand.
“Huh? I thought it would be a lip sync throw-down at high noon.” Tapping her chin, Emma grins mischievously. “I’m sure the whole school would show up to see that.”
“I think they’d be more interested in their idol getting suddenly hitched to a relatively unknown cutie. The gossips will have a field day. By Friday, Rome will be four months pregnant with a devil spawn while Noh is seen as a martyr who sacrificed himself to protect the poor guy.” Shaking his head in fake sadness, Jae stands up and pats Rome on the head. “Poor kid. You never stood a chance.”
“They might consider it a whirlwind romance where Noh swept Rome off his feet,” Emma suggests, wrapping a protective hand over her best friend’s. “Rome is the cutest, sweetest, and best person ever. Who wouldn’t fall in love with him at first sight?”
“I think you’re a bit biased, Emma.” Rolling his eyes, Rome gives her hand a nudge.
“Nope, she’s pretty much dead on,” Jae agrees with Emma easily and Noh nods his head. “Why do you think I keep flirting with you, Rome?”
“Because you are a major flirt who spews sweet words at every cutie that walks through that door,” an exasperated voice answers him and they turn to find his noona standing nearby pointing at the front door of the café.
“Like you are any better! At least I don’t go around pinching their asses like Mama or suffocating them with hugs like you.” Sticking his tongue out, Jae walks past his sister and kisses her cheek before heading for the kitchen. “Having too much love to spread around is a family trait.”
“Brat!” Lacey noona gives a quiet huff and pets Rome on the head. “Enjoy your food, dears. My little brother is a mouthy flirt but he does know how to cook like a demon. Let me know if you need anything.”
Noona walks back to the counter, leaving the three to their food. The strained silence from earlier is gone and they chat about school while enjoying the meal. While Rome and Emma have moderate portions of food, it looks like Noh had the whole kitchen piled on his plate. Rome and Emma look at each other in surprise when he takes the last bite. If he eats like this, how is it that he’s not as big as an elephant? No matter where Rome looks, all he sees on this new friend is perfectly lean muscles without a bit of fat. Either Noh has the genes of a god or he has a killer workout routine.
“So, Rome, what is the favor you want from me?” Wiping his mouth, Noh takes a long sip of his tea.
“Oh, right! The favor!” Nervous that he might get caught staring, Rome looks down and fidgets with the edge of his hoodie. “I didn’t realize who you were when I said that yesterday. You may not want to, since you are probably really busy with the Music Faculty’s production.”
“I wouldn’t have come if I couldn’t make the time to help but first I have to know what you need before I can agree to anything.”
“It’s nothing bad, Noh,” Rome is quick to reassure with his hands waving in front of him as if warding off that negative energy. “My club is doing a small fundraiser here at the cafe and I need to find the entertainment. The guy that was coming has a family emergency and can’t make it to the event anymore. When I heard you singing, I thought it would be really great if you could fill in because everybody would love to hear you.”
“What kind of club? What are you raising money for?” Finishing his tea, Noh sets it aside and leans to the side in his chair to look intently at Rome.
“Our club is called, Puppy Honey,” With a wide smile, Rome leans closer, too, eager to talk about his precious club. “We are raising money to buy supplies to help feed and care for homeless dogs…”
“…and cats!” Emma adds since she’s always preferred the felines.
“That’s an adorable cause.” Noh smiles but doesn’t agree quite yet. Rome was right when he said that Noh’s schedule is busy but he does have some free time. “When is the fundraiser?”
“Next weekend. I brought our flyer that we are posting up.” He hands over the baby blue piece of paper that Emma passes him from her bag. “If you agree, we will add your name as the entertainment.”
As Noh reads the flyer quietly, Rome nervously looks over at Emma and bites his lower lip. There is a good chance that he won’t agree. Noh has that concert coming up and probably band practices. They might even be booked for that day already at a club or something. There aren’t many people Rome can ask to fill in at this late notice. If Noh doesn’t agree, it might be Rome standing in front of the crowd of people singing off key to karaoke. He shudders at the thought.