Chapter 1: IDOL
I splash water on my face and scrub haphazardly. I don't care about the black eyeliner and mascara melting down my cheeks. I'll get it in the morning. I glance at my phone for the time and revise that thought. It is 0346 in Seoul. In two hours I would have to wake up for work and confront the aftermath of tonight's events. I pull off my fluffy, white cardigan - a birthday gift from one of my coworkers - and change into a nightshirt. Sprawled across the floor, I notice a streak of blood on the sweater's left sleeve. I must have used that hand to stop him from clumsily hurting himself even more.
Despite the time, the city streets are not quiet. Yet, the relative silence of my whitewashed loft apartment feels like a cacophony. The soft glow of neon slips between the blinds and dances across my bed. Since moving, I had spent nearly every night basking in the same artificial moonlight. In the beginning, I often asked myself how crazy I had to be to move to South Korea without any connections. But, as one is apt to do, I met someone who wanted to take care of me and it all seemed to make sense for a good while.
Daehyun introduced me to so many parts of the city that I came to cherish. I was thankful for that, but nothing else. After I quit my job and we announced our engagement Daehyun's entire demeanor changed. At first, calling the constant manipulation and gaslighting "abuse" felt too extreme. Then, the last straw came in the form of a push down the stairs and a black eye. In a twisted way, I was also thankful for that display of aggression before our wedding day.
Even then, returning to the United States never registered as an option. For the first time in my life, I had felt as if my wings had room to spread and a wind to catch. I had grown to love Seoul and its unique aesthetic. It was not a hard transition, but there were differences: The towels are small. Air pollution is palpable. Everyone else is so much cooler than you. And, yes, that is your armpit stinking up the subway, you filthy foreigner.
I had studied Korean for years before immigrating. Truly, the only occasional discomfort I felt came from the male gaze. Though, I had felt similar scrutiny in America. As it turns out, tall, curvy redheads aren't commonplace anywhere. All the same, I never expected to become integrated. I didn’t come to find love or adoration either. I knew I would never blend in and, in some ways, that worked to my advantage. In other ways, well... It put me in situations like this one.
I scoop the stained cardigan from the floor and toss it into my hamper.
After Daehyun, I found comfort in the elective anonymity of dance clubs. While the social aspect never interested me much, I loved dancing. Plus, I couldn't remain friendless forever. I was lucky to have found Chohee. We bonded after twerking into each other in Itaewon. Having grown up on the east coast of the United States, her unapologetic nature and brash sense of humor were refreshing. Chohee was also a great connection for another reason: She owned an underground hip-hop club called Secret Society. I decided to become a regular of bar the night I met Chohee. And, after some time, other patrons began recognizing me, saying hello as if I belonged.
Suddenly, I knew my life in Seoul could continue without Daehyun. The pieces would fall into place as soon as I decided to pick them up. Until then, the portrait of my recuperation looked like empty bottles of soju, stacks of paperbacks, destinationless bike rides, endless playlists, and ragged journals full of prose.
I had found my safe haven at Secret Society. The literal hole-in-the-wall was everything I could have dreamed of. A vintage Coke machine door between a restaurant and an art gallery served as the entrance. The vibes were chill and the music was incredible. I felt a true sense of home in the dim lights, bobbing my head between shots of yogurt-flavored alcohol. Regularly scheduled live performances included open mics, rap battles, DJs, and full-blown gigs. Yet, it was never overly crowded. Even on the busiest nights, the scene remained authentic. Chohee had a talent for keeping up with trends. She managed to promote her business without attracting attention from just anyone. Once in a while, she would report celebrity sightings to me. I rarely knew who she was talking about, but I always kept an eye out for a familiar face.
Though, on one particularly hazy evening, I began to wonder how 'secret' Secret Society was. As I locked up my bike outside the art gallery, I noticed a group of schoolgirls gathered on the corner of the street. They huddled together as if conspiring. One looked up, meeting my curious glance. Her eyes locked on to mine as she examined me like a test subject.
"Hello," I waved. It was unusual for anyone under the age of twenty-five to be in this area, but that was no reason to be rude.
She turned back to her friends with a whip of her long, black hair. Feeling defeated by her snub, I started toward the Coke machine door. Before reaching the handle, I sensed a small commotion from behind. Feet scraped pavement and I caught the girls’ movements in the reflection of the glass. Now, they were all looking at me with stars in their eyes. One, the girl with the cascade of raven hair, was approaching.
I turned to meet her. She stopped, leaving about a ten-foot distance between us.
"Hello," she said with a quick bow. The girl was small, but there was an intensity about her that was, frankly, intimidating.
"Hello," I smiled beneath my mask, returning the casual bow. "Can I help you?"
"Are you a foreigner?" she asked without pause.
"I'm American, but I live in Seoul," I explained in fluent Korean.
"Oh," her eyes twinkled a bit, then narrowed, the gears of her mind shifting. Back to business.
"Can I help you?" I asked again, now reaching for the handle of the door. This is usually where conversations with strangers ended. But, she had an agenda in mind.
"We're waiting for someone," she said, motioning to her friends. They were watching us like tiny hawks. As the girl continued, she became suddenly bashful. She pointed to the door then humbly clasped her hands in front of her body. Her acting was good, but not excellent. "We think he's inside there, but..."
"But you're too young to go in?" I narrowed my eyes this time.
"Well, yes," she tugged at her hair, wrapping a thick black rope around a tiny fist.
"Is he a classmate? Your brother?" I asked. She was withholding information from me and I had a good feeling why. "A celebrity?"
"His name is Min Yoongi," she spurted. The girl attempted to contain her excitement, but fell short, "Can you please let us know if he's inside? He has black hair and is about your height with a cute, gummy smile."
"I can't do that," I sighed, tugging on the door handle. "'Privacy is the highest virtue and the one most frequently violated.'"
The girl blinked, her hair falling around her shoulders as her arms went straight to her sides. "Please. We just want to know."
"We won't do anything."
"I said no."
"And there it is," I smiled, making sure my eyes showed it. I tugged the door open and walked inside, met with a momentary chill of AC. The doorman, Byungwoo, engrossed in a mobile game, nodded at me without looking up.
"I hope they leave soon," he muttered.
"Who the hell is here?" I wondered aloud as I removed my mask and adjusted my ponytail.
Byungwoo sighed, "An idol..."
"Idol?" I glanced up and down the bar, brow furrowed. Chohee bustled about, delivering bottles of booze. As anticipated for a Tuesday at 1930, the club was sparsely populated. A couple of foreigners were toasting at one end of the black, L-shaped countertop. About half a dozen men occupied every other stool, drinking alone. Most were wearing hats, dressed in black from head to flashy sneaker. None of them resembled an idol.
I looked at Byungwoo for further clarification then decided against it. He tapped at his phone with furious concentration.
I waved at Chohee who was already opening a bottle of yogurt-flavored soju for me. "Thank you," I smiled at her. She placed the green bottle and small glass on the bartop with a harmonious thud-clink. "Are you alright?" I looked at her from the corner of my eye as I poured my first shot.
"Those girls are insane," she muttered, wiping invisible spots from the counter. I slid in next to one of the men who was drinking by himself.
"The fangirls?" I half-whispered, still trying to figure out who they were following. I glanced around yet again. No prototypical idols in sight.
"They were there for three hours!" Chohee's eyes widened, "Before he even got here!"
"Really? How on earth...?" I swiveled to look out the tinted window. The girls had finally given up hope and left.
"It's like they have tracking devices or something..." Chohee's expression softened. She chuckled, "I guess you can never be too cautious about microchips.”
"Chohee, that's literally terrifying."
"Right?" she nodded, "I should write a drama about a chipped idol..."
"You do that," I chuckled as my friend spirited away to take care of other patrons.
There were no live acts tonight, so Chohee's personal playlist served as entertainment. She had introduced me to countless talented Korean artists. Her music knowledge of hip-hop, rap, and R&B was vast, but limited to those genres. I filled in the gaps with my expertise in indie, new wave, and punk. Swapping links to music videos and songs was the majority of our communication. Chohee had never sent me a disappointing track. Not once.
The bass hummed against my body as another shot of sweet liquid trickled down my throat. Things remained quiet in the club and the lights had dimmed to match the setting sun. I closed my eyes, floating in solitude for a moment of contemplation.
Seoul could be overwhelming for a layperson. I couldn't begin to imagine the experience of an idol. Who coveted that kind of fame, anyway? Sure, the money was great, but privacy was - clearly - nonexistent. There were so many aspects of life that, if given the chance, people would sink their claws into. And for what? An anecdote at a lame party? How any idol kept their personal matters undisclosed was beyond me. Could they even be in happy relationships without taking their partner into public? How would I have felt if Daehyun kept me a secret from the world? Would I have signed up for that kind of arrangement to begin with?
"Ugh... Damn," a quiet voice murmured beside me. The man I had sat next to seemed to be half-asleep when I arrived. I paid him so little attention I had forgotten that he was there. Now he was sitting upright and rubbing his arms back to wakefulness. "Do they have espresso here?” he asked.
“I wish,” I answered, “but then I’d never leave.”
“Hm. I can relate. Where are you from?" he asked through a yawn, not quite looking in my direction.
"America," I answered, in Korean, "but I've lived in Seoul since last year."
"How do you like it?" he politely signaled Chohee and leaned back in his seat.
"I love it," I answered, trying to get a read on him. He was about my age with tousled black hair under a beanie that threatened to pop off of his head at any moment. He had piercing eyes, full lips, and pale skin. His entire outfit was black, aside from the white stripes on the sides of his casual jogger pants. There was an air of confidence about him, bordering arrogance. Even so, his body language portrayed a person simply comfortable in his own skin.
He waited, looking at me as if he knew I was concealing the whole truth.
"Seoul is...different," I admitted, hoping he wouldn't misconstrue my use of the word. Offending a hardcore Seoulite was the last thing I intended to do tonight.
"You're different," he replied without a beat, his voice a smooth baritone.
I felt myself blush. Was he really flirting with me so suddenly?
Then, he continued: "Korea and 'different’ are often at odds." He spoke with a calming, modulated tone. I felt the muscles of my face relax, knowing I was in favorable, non-flirtatious company.
"A little girl outside called me a 'bitch' today," I said, "but that's the worst of it. And I’m pretty sure I could've taken her."
He turned from the bar, smiling. His teeth were perfectly aligned. A blush pink gumline peaked out from the corner of his upturned lips. "What's your name?"
"Minseo," I replied as he accepted a glass of whiskey neat from Chohee.
I poured a bit of soju for myself. "And you are...?"
He hesitated, calculating something as he sipped on the amber liquor. He sat the glass down then took off his hat to shake a hand through his hair. He secured the cap once again and folded his arms.
Chapter 2: Mikrokosmos (소우주)
I finally crawled into bed at 0352.
It's now 0419. I am exhausted after the three-day music video shoot and following afterparty. I don't even want to imagine how the guys feel after dancing for seventy-two hours.
Despite the fatigue, my mind won't let me rest. Nor will my cellphone. Again and again the soft glow of text message notifications illuminates the ceiling. I can't bring myself to care who the messages are from. I had said goodnight to Chohee and Jimin after thanking them for checking in on me. The continued pings could be from anyone. My heart wants one of them to be an apology that makes everything right. My anxiety tells me they're all from Mr. Bang, giving notice of my separation from the company.
"Please go to sleep," I whisper to the texters rather than myself. They must be so tired.
I turn to face the nightstand. The light of my phone fades to black, illuminates, and dissipates again, over and over. I imagine the messages and think of replies, but continue resisting the urge to engage. Maybe tomorrow – no, today – will go like the first time if we let everything fade away. Everyone will forgive each other and work will continue as if nothing occurred at all.
As if through telepathic defiance, the black and white picture I took of him appears on the screen.
I roll over, shutting my eyes tight, "I don't want to talk right now, Namjoon." I slink downward into the covers and tug the sheets tight around my shoulders.
One glimpse was enough to make me tenderly nostalgic for those simpler times. I had the portrait memorized. He is smiling to himself, leaning over a railing at the train station with earbuds in. In the background, there is an apple tree full of pink-white blossoms. Moments before taking the photo, I had found his long-lost AirPods within the inner pocket of his coat. I even know the song he was listening to. I had sent it to him that very morning.
In a burst of failed resilience I throw off the covers, scoop up the phone, and flop onto my back. Holding it above my head, between both hands, I read: "I'm sorry for calling. You're probably asleep. I'll see you at work in the morning. Goodnight, Minseo." I imagine him in bed, holding onto his phone in exactly the same way, only a few miles across the city. I sigh and let my arms drop.
If only I could go back to that night with Yoongi, sharing drinks, discussing the entirety of the world...
The evening had marched on without either of us taking note. I wasn't worried about a thing for the first time in a long time. Yoongi was easy to talk with and I could tell he had become comfortable with me as well. We came to learn that we agreed on most topics. We had several similarities, including a shared lifelong love of music. Ironically, we also had a distaste for social obligations. Where we disagreed there was only intrigue and understanding. He was one of the most fascinating people I had ever met, but I never felt unsettled by his self-assured air. I felt whole and safe in our little barside microcosm.
Secret Society had cleared out enough that Chohee was able to join us between her closing tasks. "I see you've met our resident celebrity," she winked at me, extremely satisfied and deeply interested. I discreetly returned a sharp look.
Yoongi produced a disapproving hissing sound. "Please don't," he leaned back, arms folded, "It's rare that I can go anywhere without creating a mob let alone meet someone who doesn't know a thing about me."
"Fair enough," Chohee tossed a dirty towel over her shoulder and picked up a tray of glasses, "Last-last call, you two! I mean it this time."
I had lost track of the number of drinks we had shared long ago. Fortuitously, I was in the blissful stupor right before drunkenness. Any more alcohol and I was sure to make a fool of myself.
"I'm fine, thanks," Yoongi waved a hand over his half-filled whiskey glass. I shook my head from side to side then calculated how many shots I had left in my bottle. One too many.
"I'll be back," Chohee heaved the tray upward with her thin, tattooed arms, "Don't steal anything!"
Chohee had granted me control of the AUX cord an hour or so ago. Yoongi and I traded off selecting songs, but failed to heed our responsibility at some point. The streaming service had created a schizophrenic playlist based on our previous selections.
A quiet, ethereal Kishi Bashi song was currently playing. An intricate violin riff laced its way through the venue like a spring breeze upon a grove of peach trees. The bass hummed like an army of fuzzy, full-bodied bumblebees. "I love this song," I mused, "I've met this guy before. Amazing person. Musical genius."
I knew I was speaking in fragments. The atmosphere was something to leave as uninterrupted as possible. Yoongi agreed as he nodded and closed his eyes, altogether absorbed, "It's transcendent."
"That's the perfect word," I smiled, forgetting everything. The violin loops layered upon each other in an avalanche of bittersweet vibrato. The ambience was entirely different from when I had first entered the club. In the moment, Secret Society had become a cathedral of music for two. Then, the song faded, one sweet line of lyrics delivered upon a singly bowed string.
"I think you're the first person I've talked to in years who isn't trying to impress me," Yoongi said. He didn't sound sad, but I could tell he was particularly disgusted by this side effect of fame.
"Should I try harder?" I quipped, trying to lighten the mood. I began imagining the struggle of finding genuine friends among a sea of people clamoring to have your name on their lips.
"Confident too," he unfolded and grabbed his whiskey glass, gave the amber liquid a swirl, and downed it.
"Well, now that I know plenty about your life," I distracted, "do you want to know my big secret? You know, for leverage?"
"Only if it's a good one," he shrugged. I had become quite accustomed to his nonchalant manner. It was equal parts hilarious and consoling. There were no pretenses or presumptions with Yoongi. He made that obvious.
"My real name isn't Minseo," I struggled to stifle a laugh. It was not a good secret.
"No kidding, miguk," he chuckled. "Go on then. What is it?"
"Morgana," I nodded. I waited for his reaction as he rotated the bottom of his glass on the countertop.
"Like from Avalon?"
He looked into the distance, fondly reminiscing on something. I was curious, but not enough to press the subject. I already knew that Yoongi and I would come to understand each other beyond such details.
"Coming across good people is hard," I stated, "Usually." My body tensed a bit at my sudden vulnerability. I hadn't meant to say that aloud - at least, I don't think I did - but, there it was. The words floated in front of me like awkward dust motes.
But Yoongi picked up the thought as if the same words had been resting at the back of his throat for a while, "Oh, yeah. Normally I wouldn't even be out, but my bandmate forced me. He's right though. A week without leaving the studio might be too long..."
"Maybe that's why we get along," I raised my glass, "To disliking most people?"
Yoongi laughed. It was more high-pitched than expected, making me cackle louder than I meant to. I covered my mouth to soften the drunken chortle. Yoongi's shoulders bounced up and down.
"That's a toast I can get behind," he finally said. I tipped a shot's worth of soju into his glass and we threw back our drinks. A happy calm fell over the club.
My surroundings seemed to dissipate as the alcohol ran its course. I spent a moment in my head, cherishing the peacefulness. My flushed cheeks ached from smiling so much. I hadn't experienced a night of new friendship like this since meeting Chohee. Something inside me felt like it was beginning to heal.
The volume of the music had softened. We were now listening to what sounded like traditional flamenco guitar.
I raised my tired, drunk eyes only to be met by Yoongi's. How long had he been looking at me? We gazed at each other for a half-second too long before he folded his arms tight, his lips revealing a tiny smirk. I inhaled sharply and took an awkward sip to finish off the soju.
"Chohee," I yelled, wiping a small spill from my chin so that Yoongi wouldn't notice my clumsiness. "Do you want me to walk home with you?"
"I could give you both a ride," Yoongi offered without a second's hesitation.
"That's kind," I frowned, "but I have my bike with me." I pointed a thumb toward the pitch black night outside the window.
"You can't ride it home," he shook his head, "I'll give you a ride and have someone drop your bike off at your place...since I can make that happen." The side of his mouth twitched upward as if mortified by putting his star power on display.
"Oh, that's alright," I said, "I can come back for it. I do all the time."
"Where do you live?" he asked.
"Well, I lived in Yongsan until a month ago," I swallowed hard, "but now I'm in a hostel in Mullaedong."
"Why?" Yoongi's question was not pointed. He was opening the door I put in front of him and for that, I answered truthfully.
"I left my fiancé... Ex-fiancé..." I felt my mouth become a straight line as I bit my lips. My face was hot. Thinking about Dae after such a pleasant night made my stomach ache. Guilt rushed over me for killing the easy, joyful mood. I also feared sharing too much, but Yoongi already felt like an old friend. Plus, he trusted me enough to know about his idol status. Here was my real big secret. Now he had leverage.
I observed his reaction as I fiddled with the empty green bottle in front of me. He only nodded, resembling a Joseon-era sage, waiting patiently.
"He was an anesthesiologist," I continued, "We lived well and I thought we'd get married so I quit my job and took care of him, the apartment... But now I'm broke and living in a hostel." Despite the subject matter, I grinned.
Yoongi planted his elbows on the bartop. "Are you happier for it?"
"What else matters?" he said without raising his gaze.
"I'd give Minseo a job here, but nobody would tip me with her around," Chohee appeared with a bucket and mop. She had clearly been listening, but only picking up the general theme of the conversation.
Yoongi gave a small shrug of what seemed to be concurrence. He then turned, looking at me with a furrowed brow, as if Chohee's words had just registered with him. "You don't have a job?"
I shook my head. "I'm living off my savings right now."
"But, you know English..." Yoongi's mouth was agape, "You could tutor anybody."
"I'm not nearly as qualified as some of tutors out there," I rolled my eyes, "and they're a dime a dozen. Plus, parents hire people they know. I have zero connections."
Yoongi's mind was visibly racing. "I've been learning English from Netflix," he mumbled.
"I started learning Korean from Netflix," I countered.
As if I had said nothing, he continued, "I still don't know much and I know at least five other people who need tutoring." I narrowed my eyes at Yoongi, not following his drunk, sleepy stream of consciousness.
At that same moment, a tall, muscular man dressed in black materialized from the shadows. The red taillights of a sleek sedan glowed through the tinted window. Yoongi did not react when the man approached him and whispered into the idol's ear.
"Time to go," I guessed as the clock on the wall now read 0238.
"Yeah," Yoongi confirmed, sliding from his perch. I stood up too although I had long ago decided that we were not leaving together. I guess it felt as if our meeting was important enough not to simply wave him off. "I can still give you that ride," he offered, fumbling around the inner pocket of his black puffer jacket. "I understand if you'd rather walk your friend home, though."
"Chohee will be done soon," I said.
Yoongi nodded to himself and finally pulled a worn piece of cardstock from his coat. He passed it to me between two fingers. "If you want a job," he removed his other hand from his politely supported elbow to stop my objection, "come to this address on Thursday at 1730."
"You're joking," was all I could offer in the situation.
"Not at all," he shook his head and shoved his hands in his pockets. I held onto the business card with both of mine. "Tell the doorman you're there for me. I'm sure he'll question you but show him that and you should be fine."
"OK," I submitted. "OK, I'll be there. Thank you."
With that Yoongi gave me a soft smile. "Also, the drinks were on me. Thanks for... This was good for me."
Chohee and I walked down the street arm in arm, her bag stuffed with the cash tip Yoongi had left behind. It was more than enough to pay the bar tab for all three of us.
"He was so into you," she repeated for the hundredth time.
"He was just happy to find someone who didn't know anything about him."
"No," she shook her head, "That wasn't it. You didn't see what I saw. You were too busy flirting."
"I wasn't flirting!" I protested, "I was being nice! We got along!"
"Mmhmm," Chohee playfully tugged on my arm. "He is a tiny bit shorter than you, but no matter. We're progressive people. I wonder if he's into big butts since he's a rapper, you kn-?"
"Chohee!" I warned, but couldn't help laughing. "I'm not dating anybody until I'm on my own two feet again. Plus, I'm certainly not dating another crazy successful guy like that."
"I doubt Yoongi is anything like Dae," Chohee's voice became serious, "He's been in a couple times. He comes off cold and distant sometimes, but I've never met a more gracious person."
"Why don't you date him then?"
"Like I said, he's been in a few times, but I've never had the chance to talk with him the way you did tonight. He's not interested in me...or most people, for that matter," she explained, "Plus, I'd never date an idol. Especially a rapper."
"See? Red flags everywhere," I nudged her again, "We're better off without boys."
"But you're going on Thursday, right?"
Chapter 3: We On
Thursday arrived quickly despite not having many distractors since my chance encounter. That morning Chohee showed up at my dorm with heaps of her own clothing in tow. Her goal, she said, was to help me look the part of a “cool as fuck, sexy – but not too sexy – English tutor.”
Chohee rustled through my modest jewelry collection as I stood in front of the mirror. She had an absolute knack for this kind of thing. I was wearing light brown trousers that cinched high on my waist with a smart pleat running the length of my leg. They bunched around my lower calf, making way for a pair of black heels. Their thin, black straps encircled and accentuated my ankles. A plain white button-up was half-tucked into the trousers. To spice things up, Chohee had draped an extra-long gold chain from the beltloops. It peaked out from under the hem of my dark green peacoat.
“Is a choker too ‘I have daddy issues?’” Chohee wondered aloud.
“I like chokers,” I shrugged.
She cast me a sideways glance then burst into laughter. “Oh, Minseo… You would, you would." She tossed a thin piece of velvet at my head. I secured the necklace and grabbed a vintage Coach purse from the floor. The black leather bag and gold chain against the green wool was satisfying. I felt every bit the cool, sexy English tutor who also happened to be quite knowledgable about music.
Yoongi’s words rang in my head. I hoped I could carry that same illusion throughout my interview today. I didn’t have any idea of what it would entail. I could be hired on the spot or turned away at the door. There might be an entire committee waiting to evaluate me. Yoongi and I could simply sit down to have another great conversation.
Less than five minutes later, Chohee was shoving me into a taxi she had clandestinely ordered. “You’ll look more important,” she yelled. I protested, motioning to my perfectly functional bike. I had gone through the trouble of retrieving it last night for this specific trek. “And less sweaty," she added, "Plus, you’d probably get lost and be late anyway!”
She had me there.
“Where to?” the driver asked, ignoring our argument like an expert cabby.
“Give him the card,” Chohee unfolded her arms, soaking up her win. I pulled out Yoongi’s crumpled card from my purse and handed it over. The driver didn’t say anything but raised his eyebrows as he looked at me through the rearview window. He peered down at the card and back to me multiple times.
“How important are you?” he asked, finally giving the card back between two fingers.
“VERY!” Chohee shouted and slammed the door shut. Through the window I could see her smiling from ear to ear. She gave a hearty thumbs up and the driver pulled away. He did not talk for the rest of the drive except to say: “I’ll have to tell my daughter I dropped you off here today. That is, if you don’t mind.”
We had arrived.
“Uh…” I looked out at the monstrous Hybe building, the entrance marked by a lane of cherry blossom trees. Having a conversation was almost too much effort as I took in the sight. The same, half-asleep man who I had luckily sat next to at Secret Society called this his workplace.
“Do you mind, miss? What’s your name?”
"I'm Min—" My voice caught in my throat as I realized the pile of trouble I was about to step into. I couldn't give this stranger any personal information. I remembered something Chohee explained to me not long ago as we sat on her couch eating jajjangmyeon. We were watching a game show involving celebrities completing random physical challenges.
"Why is her face blurred out?" I questioned, pointing my chopsticks toward a staff member who had stepped in frame.
"So fans can't recognize and hunt her down," she replied. Chohee sucked up her noodles, eyes glued to the screen.
"Seriously?" I shoved a mouthful into my face, failing at an attempted slurp.
"Mhm," she nodded, "You'd be amazed the lengths people go to. There are some real fanatics out there."
Here I was now, a woman being delivered to a world famous corporation from a hostel. I looked down to my cleavage. In a series of fluid movements, I fastened an extra button on the top and secured the loops of my mask around my ears. I must have misplaced my sunglasses or I would have donned those too.
“Min?” he peered into the mirror, waiting for the rest. “Is that your surname…?”
“No, no,” I waved a dismissive hand and stepped out of the car, “I’m sorry. I need to go. I have, um, important business… Sorry. Thank you.”
I turned on my heel, forgetting to shut the car door and marched toward the entrance of the massive building. “Idiot,” I muttered to myself, but dropped the incident from my mind as soon as I stepped into the lobby.
The foyer was a crystal semi-circle. Countless, monstrous windows angled against each other in such a way as to create a sweeping U-shape. The room seemed to extend for leagues ahead, matched by a ceiling that was at least twenty meters high. Modern decor was placed around the perimeter of the room. Large fiddle-leaf figs and monsteras brought a breath of freshness to the otherwise cold, intimidating colosseum. The heels of my shoes made a satisfying clip-clip as I crossed the marble tile floor. A massive marble desk was positioned in the middle of the room in front of an oak-paneled façade. Behind it sat a middle-aged man who looked as if he had been a bodybuilder in his younger years. He eyed me up and down as I approached, not caring to conceal his scowl. Screens on the wall behind the guard displayed headshots of idols and concert clips.
“Can I help you?” the man's baritone voice matched his stature as he stood at 190 centimeters.
“Yes,” I managed, remembering the card. I handed the black cardstock over somewhat shakily and I pulled the nosepiece of my mask to my chin. “I’m here to see Yoongi.”
“What?” he glanced at it for less than a second, “You think this is your ticket in?”
“Um...” Startled, I looked around, hoping that Yoongi would appear conveniently. But it was only the two of us and I couldn’t see any other doorways from in front of the desk. “That’s what I was told. By Yoongi."
“Yoongi,” the doorman judged me over his glasses, ‘skeptical’ written all over his face.
“I mean, Mr. Min?” I tried. After the prying taxi driver, this was the last thing my nerves needed.
“Don't tell me. You’re friends with him?”
“Yes, actually, I am.” I tried standing a bit taller, smoothing my coat.
“Then where is he?” he motioned around the empty lobby.
“In this building, I’d assume,” I muttered under my breath, “Listen—”
“No." The guard began to walk the length of the desk to get to me. “If you leave now, I won’t call the cops, but if I hear another word of bullsh—”
A piercing laugh echoed throughout the lobby, causing the doorman to freeze. I spun around, praying that whoever was pushing through the revolving door could save me.
It was not Yoongi.
A tall, handsome man with longer, dark brown hair was the one cackling. His laughter was reminiscent of windshield wipers on dry glass. As his smile dissipated, the features of his face became serene. Perfectly proportioned with broad shoulders, he was quite statuesque. Accompanying him was another man, several centimeters shorter, but equally stunning. A constellation of earrings glittered beneath his blond hair. He walked with lengthy, purposeful strides as if he was on a runway. His hair swept back in the breeze of his pace. Despite this, he barely kept up with his counterpart's longer legs. Balenciaga and Gucci duffle bags were slung over their shoulders.
I should have thought to ask for help, but if I had never been starstruck in my life, I was in that moment. I didn’t even know who they were, but I wanted to. They walked at a diagonal, ignoring the reception desk. Before vanishing behind the façade the blond glanced at the situation unfolding. He became curious.
“What’s this?” he asked, eyes darting between the security guard and myself. He paused on me for a moment longer. After a few seconds, he stepped back into the light of the lobby. The taller, dark haired man followed a few steps behind, also intrigued.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” the guard bowed. Neither of the men returned the gesture. Though, the taller one put his hand on the blond’s shoulder, suggesting that they mind their own business.
“I’m here to see Min Yoongi,” I finally managed to blurt. The sound of my own voice reverberating throughout the open space surprised me. “I have business with him, but…” I mimed my exasperation toward the towering doorman. After moving for the first time in a what felt like a lifetime, I noticed that my knees were locked. I exhaled, letting my body come back to equilibrium. Even my hips ached from the tension.
“She doesn’t seem—” the blond said, “Did you even bother to call Yoongi’s manager?”
The guard was silent.
“Why am I doing your job? Women can have business here, you know.” The blond dropped his bag to the floor and produced a phone from his back pocket. He folded an arm below his elbow as he waited for an answer. Then, “Yeah, hyung. There’s a woman here. She says she has business with you. Yeah, a foreigner. Mhm. Red hair, pretty...” The blond smiled bashfully. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking he knew exactly how effective his coquettishness was. The tall, dark haired man mumbled something to himself as he covered a laugh and walked away. “OK. OK. Yeah, OK. See you in a minute.
I didn’t hesitate for a second. My legs carried me past the guard and into the elevator with the two men before I even realized what I was doing.
“Where are you going?” the tall one asked with his finger hovering over the illuminated numbers.
“I... I have no idea,” I sighed. My body slumped against the side of the elevator and I pulled off my mask. So much for composure. “I'm sorry. That... That was stressful.”
“It’s OK,” the blond one smiled, his eyes glistening. “Take a deep breath. We’ll get you to Yoongi.”
“What’s your name?” the tall, dark, and incredibly handsome one asked. He leaned back as he was relieved of his chivalrous button-pushing duties. Even in his jeans and t-shirt, he looked out of place. This guy belonged on the pages of magazines, in movies, and on billboards. He had no business standing in elevators next to common people like me.
“Minseo,” I bowed.
“I’m Jin,” the Korean James Dean bowed back.
“I’m Jimin,” the ethereal blond introduced himself.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, “Listen. Thank you for everything back there. That was really kind of you.”
“No problem,” they replied in unison.
Jimin continued, “That guy is a jerk to everyone. Which, I guess is helpful in some cases, but in most…not really.”
“I assume you both work here?” I queried.
“Work—" Jin looked to Jimin, a broad smile spreading across his lips.
"Where are you from?” Jimin stifled a giggle as Jin's eyes returned to me.
“From under a rock, apparently,” I laughed. They were idols, of course. I now recognized both of them from the slideshow in the lobby.
The elevator stopped. We all turned our attention to the doors, making room for more people to join us on our way up. As they slid open, we were met by chaotic flashes of white terrycloth material. The person entering the elevator was drying his hair with a towel quite vigorously. Face obscured, he stepped in and turned his back.
“Hi,” he acknowledged Jin and Jimin.
“Did you shower or is that all sweat?” Jin questioned. The young man wrapped the towel behind his neck and grasped each length.
“What a question to ask me in front of a woman,” the blue-haired man said then added, somewhat shyly, “Of course I showered.”
“Don’t worry,” Jimin interjected, “Minseo’s already been through a lot today. Your hygiene is her last concern.”
“Min—?” The third member turned to me with a blank look, his mouth agape. Yet another idol. His big, innocent doe-eyes would melt anyone’s heart. Regardless of talent, he was obviously a vital piece of the visual aspect.
“Nice to meet you,” I bowed, “I’m Minseo.”
“Jungkook,” he smiled, "Or JK." I resisted the urge to pinch his cheeks. The young man bowed low and then looked to his hyungs for further explanation.
“She’s here to see Yoongi,” Jimin noted.
“Ah,” JK's eyes widened. His curiosity was clearly left unsatisfied, but he didn't press for details.
“I’m interviewing to be an English tutor,” I clarified for everyone riding along.
“Ahh!” Immediately, I understood that they had all been too shy, considerate, or a combination of both to ask about the nature of my ‘business’ with Yoongi.
“Yeah,” I clutched my bag in front of my thighs, rocking back on my heels, “I’m a tutor.”
“I didn’t know Yoongi wanted an English tutor,” JK mused to nobody in particular.
“Me neither,” said Jin.
“Well,” I continued, figuring that I should quickly squash any more speculation, “he told me that there were ‘at least five other people who need tutoring.'”
Jimin groaned, “Yoongi! Why does he want to give us more work?"
The ascent was longer than any other elevator ride I had taken. Granted, we were destined for the twenty-ninth floor. Small talk continued the whole way. I came to understand that Jin, Jimin, and JK were in the same group as Yoongi. They informed me that the remaining members were also around. Their weekly team meetings occurred on Thursday evenings.
“More than likely Namjoon is with Yoongi,” JK explained, “They’ve both been working hard on their mixtapes.”
“And Taehyung is already in the meeting room," Jimin declared, shaking his phone to show off a stream of text messages.
“Hos—” Jin started, but the elevator had halted.
Sunshine spilled in on us. Uncovered, the windows of the twenty-fifth level let the sunset pour in from floor to ceiling. Against the brightness, a slender, athletic silhouette jauntily approached.
Yoongi and I had instantaneously recognized each other as kindred spirits. When it came to Jimin and Jin, I was nothing short of starstruck upon first sight. JK's boyish looks melted my heart within seconds of meeting him. But I experienced something else entirely as those doors slid open for the second time.
“Who’s this?” a cheerful, subtly gravelly voice questioned.
“This is Minseo,” Jimin offered an introduction as I stood by, basking. I could see Jimin's eyes darting back and forth between the newcomer and myself. A kittenish, tight-lipped smile spread across his face.
“Nice to meet you, Minseo. I’m Hoseok.” The man bowed then resurfaced, flashing the most dazzling white smile I had ever seen.
"Hi," I squeaked out.
"We're better off without boys."
My own words scrolled in front of my eyes. The letters tumbled one by one off the edge of an imaginary marquee and landed in a dumpster. When the last of the letters had been collected, an invisible hand struck a match and tossed it atop the pile. The dumpster became engulfed in roaring flames and rolled off a cliffside into the sea, sinking to the bottom, never to be rediscovered.
Hoseok was taller than me by a couple centimeters and had radiant olive skin. He wore a rust-colored bucket hat and a pair of circular, lensless frames. The very tips of his ears cutely protruded through his tousled, chestnut hair. His dark brown eyes sparkled as he grinned at me.
I felt my legs tremble, reminding me of a time that I had gone rock climbing with Dae. Upon reaching the top of the route, I dared myself to turn around and look out at the scenery. I never figured out why my knees began to shake. It was either the breathtaking landscape or the fear of being somewhere humans weren’t meant to be. Perhaps both.
I made a point of pulling myself together and returned a closed-lip smile. “I’m here to see Yoongi about an English tutor position," I gave what had become the standard explanation. Smooth.
“Really?” Hoseok turned to the others, “Since when does Yoongi want an English tutor?”
“Minseo's for all of us,” Jin enlightened.
“Well, suddenly, I wouldn’t mind English lessons," Hoseok turned his smile into a small, comedic frown and raised his eyebrows.
"Mhm," Jimin hummed from beside me, looking quite pleased with himself.
Instantly, Hoseok became sheepish. He lifted his hat to rub his forehead before announcing, “OK, meeting time! Let’s go!” He strode out of the elevator and turned a corner. “I’ll get Namjoon and Yoongi,” the animated idol called over his shoulder to the others.
“When are you meeting with Yoongi?” Jin asked me as we filed out after Hoseok's abrupt exit.
“In two minutes,” I checked my watch. Amazingly, I was on time, despite the holdup with security.
“She must be part of the agenda then,” Jimin smiled brightly, his eyes becoming tiny crescent moons. “Come with us, Minseo! And don't worry, I'll work hard for you."
"I think I'm the one that's supposed to work hard for you," I smiled back at Jimin. It was impossible not to. He matched my strides as we continued down a hallway left of the elevators. Jin and JK walked ahead, pushing each other side to side so that they bounced off the walls like pinballs. I looked to Jimin for explanation.
"Yeah," he nodded with his eyes closed, "That's totally normal." We further distanced ourselves from the members as the conversation continued.
"Sure it is," I smirked, watching as Jin gave JK a brotherly slap on the back. They pushed through a set of oak doors to the right and disappeared.
"So, aside from whatever that was," Jimin asked, running a hand through his hair, "what do you think? Actually, what do you think of Hoseok, more specifically?"
"What? I... Sorry?" I turned to Jimin. “I don't know what you're talking about."
"I think you know exactly what I'm talking about." Jimin's entire face lit up. "Don't worry, you're totally his type. That's why he ran away as soon as he could."
"I still don't know what you mean, Jimin." I had already decided to play dumb. Regardless, my nerves were getting the best of me. I collected my hair over one shoulder and tugged at my purse strap, becoming hyperconscious of the jingling sound the chain on my trousers made with each step. Every bit of my outfit felt as if it needed adjusting.
“I’m sorry,” Jimin paused, “I’m making you nervous before your meeting.”
“No, no,” I forced a comfortable aura, “I just… How-?”
“When I saw you in the lobby,” Jimin began, “my first thought was that Hoseok would have an instant crush on you. And, turns out, I was right. Seems like you also have a thing for him, if I’m not mistaken…”
“Well, I thought he was—” I stopped, pushing the breath from my body with a spontaneous tai chi move. “Can we talk after the interview? You’re right. I am getting nervous.”
“Don’t be,” Jimin switched his tone, signaling that he had dropped the subject entirely. “You’re a shoe-in.”
I laughed. “You barely know me, let alone my qualifications.”
“Do you know English?”
“And I don’t. I’d say you’re qualified,” Jimin shrugged, “Are you organized and responsible yet cool and engaging? Certainly look like it. Plus, if Yoongi already approved of you...”
“If you say so,” I muttered, wondering what other implications Yoongi’s ‘approval’ came with. We had reached the tall double doors that Jin and JK walked through moments ago.
“I do,” Jimin smiled softly and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. Then, his features illuminated once more: “Hey, Yoongi! I approve!”
I turned around. Sure enough, Yoongi was approaching us from down the hallway. Hoseok, who appeared to be in deep concentration, sauntered by his side. “Yeah?” Yoongi asked, hands in the pockets of his black sweatpants. An eggshell white designer t-shirt hung loosely from his body. It looked big enough for him to curl up inside of. “Hey, Minseo,” Yoongi swished his fringe aside, “Did you find your way up alright?”
“We need to get a new guard,” Jimin stated flatly before I could answer.
“Really?” Hoseok chimed, resurfacing from his thoughts, “What happened?” His pupils darted from person to person, resting on me for a millisecond less than the others.
“Long story short, if Jin and I hadn’t walked in at just the right moment, Minseo wouldn’t be here,” Jimin explained, “but I’m glad we did.”
“Me too,” I nodded, “Believe me.”
“That guard is a meathead,” Yoongi sighed, “I’ll talk to someone about expediting your ID badge in case we can’t fire him immediately.”
“You mean if I’m hired,” I said, processing the multiple facets of Yoongi’s latest flex.
“Hmm,” Yoongi nodded sleepily, “Yeah, you’re right. You’ll probably bomb this thing.”
“Totally,” I chuckled. In combination with Jimin’s warm presence, Yoongi’s comedic cynicism brought me back to earth. If only I could shake whatever restless feeling Hoseok's nearness was manifesting.
A sudden eruption of voices from the room to our left startled us all.
“We better get in there,” Hoseok announced after collecting himself from the scare, “They’ve been unsupervised for too long.”
Yoongi pulled out his phone as Jimin stepped forward to push the doors open. “I told management to give us thirty minutes,” Yoongi announced, then shoved his phone back into his pocket. “What do we even have to go over this week?”
“I don’t know,” Hoseok replied and moved in beside me. My body stiffened, a feeling of warm electricity passing between the two of us. I had experienced this sensation before. It was never one-sided. Hoseok bent at the waist so that his lips were level with my ear and whispered, “You’ll do great.”
“Thank you,” I managed, a few butterflies bursting from the cocoons that had been resting idly in my stomach. I turned to look up at him. Hoseok’s glasses lifted with his cheeks as his heart-shaped lips turned upward. Then, I spotted the freckle on his right upper lip. I absently raised my fingers to my own mouth where a similar fleck stood out. Our lips were mirror images of each other. If we put them together, some kind of cosmic balance would be restored, I imagined.
The ease that Jimin had offered me just seconds ago dissipated as I thought about his comments regarding Hoseok. It was absolutely undeniable. On the surface, the tall, lean man with his golden skin and colorful style was also my ‘type.’ Moreover, Hoseok’s presence radiated something beyond mere charisma. Instantly lovable for his charms, Hoseok was objectively arousing. The hunger in his gravely whisper had sent a shiver down my spine.
My hand fell to my side as my head shook out of the momentary daze. Securing this tutoring job was my main priority, I reminded myself. Then, any thoughts of Hoseok’s freckle meeting my own might have to die for the sake of a paycheck. I sighed, plastered on a smile, and stepped into the conference room following Hoseok who did not hesitate to find a seat.
The space was enormous with bare, slate-colored walls. Again, high ceilings met lightly tinted glass, the wall farthest from me showcasing a technicolored cityscape. Seoul sparkled far below, a living piece of artwork. A long, black table was placed in the center of the room, a dozen leather chairs evenly dispersed around it. Its centerpiece, a traditional moon jar holding a single branch of cherry blossoms. The simplicity and coolness of the space was calming, yet serious. I wondered if Yoongi had had any say in its design.
Before I had time to fully take in the sight, one of the men I had yet to meet stood up and strode across the room. Standing in front of me, prepared for a handshake, I was first struck by his height. Raising my gaze to meet his, I felt an immense wave of security. Tan and a bit buff in comparison to the others, his smile was a simple, awkward tug of facial muscles. Yet, his stature shouted self-awareness and something reminiscent of gallantry.
I politely supported my forearm and extended my right hand to meet his. His grasp was soft, but appropriately firm. It was obvious he wanted me to know that this meeting was meaningful to him and that I should feel nothing less than welcome.
“I’m RM,” he bowed mid-shake, “Or Namjoon. Yeah, call me Namjoon.” A small coltish, chortle escaped with his breath.
“It’s great to meet you,” I replied, “I’m Minseo.”
“It’s great to meet you, too,” he moved toward the end of the table and motioned to the other members seated. “From what Jin and JK told us, you’ve met everyone but myself and Taehyung...”
“Hi!” An olive-skinned man with fluffy, black curls waved from the swivel chair he was oscillating in. His eyes sparkled from under his fringe as a boxy smile erupted on his face. I waved back and returned my attention to Namjoon.
“Yeah, I’ve been pretty lucky these past few days,” I confessed, “I’m actually slightly concerned that the course of my entire life is about to be decided in this room tonight…”
“Well, if anything,” Namjoon placed a hand at the back of his neck, “I have to thank you for reviving Yoongi’s faith in humanity.”
I glanced at Yoongi although I knew he would do anything to avoid making eye contact. As expected, he sat with his arms crossed, smirking at the tabletop.
Namjoon continued: “I wanted to meet you even before Yoongi told me about his proposal but, to be honest, I think we all agree you’re a great candidate for the job.”
Flattered, I looked around the room to gauge the individual members’ reactions. Jimin was nodding, his hands studiously clasped atop of his crossed legs. Yoongi, Jin, and JK signaled their subdued approval. Taehyung stroked his chin, as if contemplating the arrangement quite seriously. Yet, as he continued to push his chair from side to side, I recognized his pensiveness as a humorous act. For fear of ruining my good start, I consciously skipped observing Hoseok's reception.
“Anyway,” Namjoon pulled out the chair he had been leaning on and turned it to me, “Please have a seat and we’ll get started.”
Namjoon and I faced each other across the lengthy stretch of table. Suddenly, he let out a soft sigh then leaned back, looking stumped. “Well, you won’t have much to teach me,” he said in perfect English, “so I’ll leave the questions to these guys.” He switched to Korean as everyone in the room was now looking at him for explanation: “Why don’t you each ask Minseo one question? We’ll just have a conversation...”
He shrugged at me and I nodded my acceptance of his approach.
“I’ll go first,” Jimin scooted forward excitedly, “Ms. Minseo…” There was a dramatic pause. I panicked for a second, imagining what havoc Jimin could wreak in just a few seconds. From my periphery, I could see Hoseok also watching Jimin carefully.
“I have already asked you my question earlier in the corridor and I am happy to announce that you answered correctly,” Jimin said in an official voice, including stiff hand movements for added effect. “Mr. Jin?”
“Uh,” Jin blinked, “How did you get Yoongi to talk?”
I held back a laugh, still trying to find the pulse on how professional this interaction was meant to be. “Truthfully, it’s a wonder he got me to talk,” I said, “but, if I remember correctly, first he asked for an espresso, then we just talked about music. Right?”
Yoongi nodded, “Right place, right time, right people...”
“You’re an introvert?” Jungkook asked, “Oh, I guess that’s my question.”
“For the most part, I guess,” I replied, “I'm often mistaken for being cold or snobbish, so please don’t assume that. I’m just more of an observer and super kind, really...”
“Sounds familiar,” Jungkook’s bright brown eyes fell on Yoongi who shrugged. He turned back to me, “But you really don’t seem that shy.”
“Oh, I’m not shy,” I remarked, “When I have something to say, I say it. When I don’t have something to say, well...”
JK simply pointed at me with a tiny, toothy grin. Message received.
“Tae?” Namjoon prompted.
Taehyung unraveled from his perch as he meditated on his query. Then, “What’s in your purse?”
“Taehy-“ Namjoon started, but stopped as I had already pulled the black leather bag onto the tabletop. This was actually my moment to shine, despite the oddness of the question.
First, I laid out the usual items: “Keys, wallet, phone…” I dug to the bottom of the middle pouch and piled these objects one atop the other: “Some light reading, a notebook for poetry, my Sony headphones–”
“Really?” Yoongi said, “Normal people carry around AirPods.”
“I suppose I’m not normal then,” I quickly tilted my head to the side.
“I mean,” Yoongi replied, “I’m genuinely impressed. And that’s a vintage Coach, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is!” I failed to hold back my excitement.
“How did you know that?” Jin asked, baffled.
“It’s the clasp,” Yoongi pointed to the bronze spindle and mimed a twisting motion.
“That’s two questions,” Taehyung interposed.
“OK, OK…” Yoongi returned to his calm self, allowing the interview to continue. I couldn’t help but feel as if yet another link had been discovered between the two of us, however trivial.
“Um. I also have a couple pens, Chapstick, perfume, hand lotion, and…gum,” I finished.
“No receipts or garbage?” Taehyung observed. “Wow… Pass.”
“Wait,” Namjoon was now standing, leaning forward for a better look, “Is that ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Have you read it?”
“I have!” he replied, “How do you like it?”
“I don’t know that I do,” I admitted, “The writing is dry and…simple, but that may be due to the translation from French. Still, I have to finish it. Once I start a book, I’m committed to seeing it through.”
“I feel like that’s a grade A response,” Jin commented.
I began packing my belongings back up. “No, I’m just a little type A.”
“As teachers should be,” Hoseok joined in, “Right?”
“I’d have concerns otherwise,” Jimin affirmed. I briefly met his twinkling eyes. He was pleased with himself, but not entirely satisfied. “Hosoek,” Jimin said, “What questions do you have for Ms. Minseo? Ask away. Anything at all?”
I felt my face beginning to turn red. I resisted throwing the tube of hand lotion at Jimin’s head. But, the question was more wholesome than expected.
“Um… Hm. Well, what do you do for fun, Minseo?” Hoseok’s soft smile burrowed into my heart, making me feel light.
“Aside from writing and reading?” I pondered. I certainly couldn’t say drinking soju at Secret Society, though that was the first thing that came to mind. I could only imagine Chohee’s disappointment if I offered my borderline alcoholism up as a pastime. Thinking of her and our plans for later that evening, it struck me: “I love going out dancing when I have the time. In Itaewon, especially. Or seeing live music, but dancing is number one.”
Since meeting Hoseok on the elevator, this was really the first time we were looking at each other, eye to eye. For a fleeting moment, it felt as if it were only the two of us in the room.
“This all fits together like a ma–”
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in!” Namjoon called. A middle-aged man, dressed casually, walked in followed by two women with clipboards in hand.
“Oh,” JK mused, “The retreat…”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the man started, but none of the members showed any signs of disturbance, “We just want to make sure we have everything you requested for the retreat next week.”
“I don’t need anything else,” Taehyung responded, “As long as there’s a keyboard and a karaoke machine.”
“We have those,” the man reported after checking with one of the female assistants, “Anything else?”
“How many bedrooms are in the house?” Jimin asked, nearly leaving his seat. The other members glanced at him, curiously.
One of the women began flipping through her stack of papers then answered, “There are four in the main house. We have a bigger campervan this time that sleeps up to four and the guest house has…two. Nobody has to share a bed.”
“That settles it then,” Jimin stopped hovering above his chair and sank into it, looking delighted. “Minseo will come with us so that she can start tutoring right away. I really want to participate more in our interview with James Corden next month since it’s like, what? Our fifth appearance?”
“Seriously?” Taehyung’s skepticism was not reserved.
“Yes,” Jimin answered immediately, “Namjoon works too hard. Hoseok and Yoongi have been picking up some of the slack, but the rest of us need to be more supportive of our leader.”
“I completely forgot about the retreat,” Yoongi half-whispered, “It would be unfair to make Minseo wait a whole week to get started just because we are on vacation. She needs to evaluate us individually, create lesson plans, and get paid as soon as possible.”
“We tend to run out of things to do anyway,” Namjoon interjected, “I think it would be nice to have someone to practice English with, regardless of upcoming interviews.”
“I would practice a little every day,” Jungkook agreed. “We could all improve a lot if she was just around.”
“That settles it! Minseo comes with us everywhere,” Jimin beamed.
“I don’t want to learn on vacation,” Jin said, “but if she parties in Itaewon, I can’t argue against bringing her with us.”
Jimin winked at me and, unnoticed by anybody else but myself, tilted his head in Hoseok’s direction. “You’re welcome,” he silently mouthed.
“Hmm,” Namjoon’s gaze fell on me as I desperately tried to absorb what had just transpired, “Welcome to the team, Minseo!”
Sorry for the hiatus! I've been hard at work finishing the first semester of my masters program with flying colors. This chapter was quite difficult to write, too. Managing all of the members on top of original characters is a challenge I didn't fully comprehend until I put everybody in the same room. Please enjoy. Stay safe and be kind to each other.
At Yoongi’s request, one of the female assistants took my headshot in the hallway. She returned to the conference room with my badge in hand less than ten minutes later. There was a very nice black and white lanyard attached to it along with a small fob.
“For the gym, café, pool, or whatever else a tutor needs access to,” she explained, haughtily. I got the feeling that she had decided not to like me immediately upon my impromptu hiring. I honestly couldn’t blame her. I didn’t even know how much I was going to be paid, but anything was better than watching my savings dwindle away day after day. Plus, I was apparently going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Gangwon-do. It would have been near impossible for anyone to effectively process what I had been through that day.
Namjoon called the meeting as soon as the retreat items were attended to and my glossy badge was around my neck. Jimin made a beeline for me as we all scooted from the table. “I’ll show you where the café is,” he announced, “Tae, I’ll be back for ping pong in fifteen minutes. Do you want anything?”
“Citrus tea, please,” Taehyung’s voice rang.
“OK!” Jimin marched on with me in tow. “This is the fastest way,” he explained, turning right out of the doors, left down another hallway, and left again into a chilly stairwell. We bounced down three flights until turning onto a rustic, hardwood landing. The café took up the entire floor and was modeled to look like a peaceful cabin in the mountains. Somewhere the comforting rumble of roasted coffee beans being ground reverberated. The flowery, nutty aroma commandeered my senses.
Thick wooden beams supported an intricate trellis of ceiling joists, entangled in creeping ivy. In the center of the room stood a water feature that resembled a giant doorframe. Sparkling droplets trickled from the uppermost beam, creating a curtain of rain. Several staffers were gathered around the scattered tables, sipping warm beverages and splitting an evening snack.
We approached the counter where a small woman in her early twenties greeted us shyly. She proceeded to begin making a drink without a word. “And a citrus tea, please,” Jimin called. “What do you want, Minseo?”
“Just a mint tea, please,” I said, loud enough for the barista to hear.
“Let me guess,” he accepted Tae’s tea and his own beverage from the barista, “you like mintcho ice cream, too?”
“I mean, it’s not pistachio, but yeah,” I smiled, grabbing the hot tea from the barista. She bowed quickly and turned her back on us, wiping the countertop clean.
“We don’t have to pay,” Jimin explained as I hesitated at the cash register behind him.
“We don’t have to pay,” I nodded and caught up with a couple quick steps. He sat down at a table in an alcove next to a window. The moon glowed down on us from high in the black velvet sky.
“So,” Jimin took a sip of his drink, “Congratulations! I knew you could do it.” We tapped our paper cups together, careful not to excite the hot contents too much.
“Thank you,” I looked out the window, “I’m still in disbelief.”
“Wait until Monday,” Jimin chuckled, “Then you’ll realize you’re in this for better or worse.”
“Sounds ominous,” I responded, completely capable of imagining the pure chaos of those seven men unleashed.
“Anyway,” Jimin’s eyes widened mischievously, “You know why I brought you here.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I don’t think any of that is appropriate to talk about now that I’m hired.” As excited as I was to get chummy with Jimin through his enthusiastic matchmaking, I knew how hard the proverbial human resources hammer could fall. “I’m sorry, Jimin. This is a huge break for me and I really don’t want to screw it up.”
“Minseo, it’s fine,” he said, shrugging coolly, “The number of people that get hired here and have a strict talking to about flirting with any of us… Actually, I think that’s part of your onboarding with HR. Anyway, it happens. I’m telling you right now that as long as Hoseok is interested, you’re safe. We have more pull here than you can imagine. If he wants to date you—”
“What?” I nearly spit out my drink, “I’ve barely said five words to the guy. ‘Date’ isn’t even on my radar. I need to get started with this job first. And keep it, preferably.”
“Well, get ready, because if he’s interested…” Jimin raised his eyebrows and took a long sip from his cup, “Hoseok isn’t the ‘casual’ type.”
“I see.” The thought of dating anybody was utterly unfathomable. Since Daehyun my emotional availability had sunk into the negatives and I had lost all ability to flirt. If someone had hit on me in the past year, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. If they had, I’m sure my lackluster reaction turned them off straightaway. If Hoseok saw anything in me, it was a miracle.
Then, I recalled the moment of electricity – that searing second of animalistic attraction – we had shared just before my interview. Sometimes those coy words were superfluous.
“Let’s get back though,” Jimin broke my focus, “I just wanted to let you know it’s possible. And that Hoseok couldn’t take his eyes off you.”
“Seriously?” My heart skipped a beat. Something in my gut did a somersault.
“Mhm,” Jimin stood with the two drinks in hand, “Come on, sexy tutor lady.”
We decided to take the elevator back up to avoid any mishaps with the hot liquids. Jimin returned me to the conference room where Namjoon and Yoongi were still seated, engaged in deep conversation.
“I promised Taehyung I’d play ping pong with him tonight,” Jimin explained, “but I’m sure one or both of these guys will show you around the more important areas.”
Realizing that their conversation had carried on for far longer than intended, both Namjoon and Yoongi stood up earnestly. Jimin took off with a quick goodbye and the three of us filed out of the room after him.
“We’re mainly on this floor, so I’ll show you around before I head home for the night,” Namjoon explained.
“I’m going to try finishing that track before taking off,” Yoongi declared, “Meet me in my studio?”
“Sounds good,” Namjoon replied and Yoongi shuffled away as quickly as he could muster without compromising his swagger.
As sudden as it was, being alone with Namjoon felt comfortable, as if we already knew what the other person was all about. After recognizing my literature of choice from across the room earlier, I was confident there was common ground between us: Nerdiness.
“Thanks for a fun interview,” I said, “I have a really good feeling about all of this.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied, “but your answers are what made it interesting. I couldn’t believe it when you emptied your purse like that.” Namjoon shook his head, embarrassed by his member’s boldness.
“It was a fantastic question though,” I laughed.
“That’s Tae,” Namjoon exhaled, “He seems a little…eccentric until you see his genius in action. Everyone is always two steps behind him. Actually, I’m probably more like, ten.”
“You each seem to have that little stroke of genius about you,” I offered, “You’ve got a great crew.”
“We’ll see what you think after Monday,” he smiled, two boyish dimples appearing on either cheek.
“Why is everybody saying that?”
“So you can’t say nobody warned you,” Namjoon chuckled. We had reached the elevators. “So, if you get off these elevators and take a left, you’re obviously at the conference room and past that is the stairwell to the café. There’s really nothing else in that direction, just some rarely used office spaces and storage. I think Yoongi has equipment in one of the rooms or he just takes naps there… Anyway, if you take a right out of the elevator you’re in our territory.”
Our strides matched as we turned down a brightly lit hallway lined with oak doors and tasteful modern art. The first two doors were several meters apart. Namjoon explained that they led to rehearsal spaces. “If you’re looking for Hoseok or Jimin,” he noted, “try those rooms first.” As we continued, he pointed out common areas with coffee machines, recording booths with cozy napping couches, and their personal studios.
“I was wondering,” Namjoon placed his phone against a keypad outside the last door in the hallway, “have you read anything else by Camus?”
“I haven’t,” I responded as we entered his studio. A woven carpet of what appeared to be Native American design accentuated the honey tones of a collection of natural wood tables. An army of figurines looked down on us from their perches atop matching bookshelves. Near the doorway, sat a very healthy bonsai tree.
“Well,” he began thumbing through a row of paperbacks on a shelf, “if you’re determined to finish ‘The Stranger’ you should round it out with ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ and ‘Caligula.’”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Camus called those three works the ‘Cycle of the Absurd,’” he explained, pulling two thin books down, “You’re welcome to borrow them.”
“Thank you so much,” my heart swelled a bit as I received the novels.
I had officially struck gold. How did I end up in this incredible building? With these amazing people? Out of all places and out of the eight billion humans on Earth? How, but more importantly, why me?
“I’ll be much more motivated to get ‘The Stranger’ done and over with now.”
“It’s worth it, I promise,” Namjoon’s dimples reappeared.
“Well, I’ll get these back to you as soon as I can,” I said feeling somewhat vulnerable, all of a sudden. “Thank you for the books…and the tour. And the job.”
“Overwhelmed?” Namjoon asked, pushing his hands into the pockets of his cashmere cardigan sweater.
“Yeah, I am.” Abruptly, I realized that, for the first time today, I wasn’t attempting to acclimate myself to the situation or setting. A simple question answered simply was all I needed. A rolling wave crashed over me, washing away the suffocation of imposter syndrome as I savored Namjoon’s empathy. “In the best way possible, though.”
“I’m so glad,” he said, turning to his desk and grabbing a canvas messenger bag, “Especially since the only reason you’re here is because I forced Yoongi out that night.”
“Oh,” I giggled, heading back into the hallway, “So you’re the one I get to blame whenever I experience whatever Monday has in store.”
“Afraid so,” he muttered bashfully, “Don’t hate me too much.”
“I don’t think I could,” I turned down the hallway, making my way toward the black doormat that read, GO AWAY.
Met with moderate resistance, Namjoon and I were eventually able to detach Yoongi from his computer and herd him into the elevator. The three of us rode together in relaxed stillness as if this was our usual exit formation. Namjoon, much taller than both of us, stood in the back. I was stationed nearest the buttons and Yoongi slouched against the wall opposite. As the numbers fell, I geared up for the walk home by slipping my headphones around my neck.
“Still impressed,” Yoongi mustered, straightening up and stretching his back, “Maybe you can convince Hoseok to give up his Beats.”
“They’re like accessories for him,” Namjoon clarified, “and you know he’s all about brand names.”
“Yeah,” Yoongi shrugged, “Still… What musician subjects themselves to subpar audio for the sake of fashion?”
“Jung Hoseok,” Namjoon laughed. “Hey, Minseo, how are you getting home?”
I looked from Namjoon to Yoongi as they waited for my reply. After hearing mention of Hoseok, I had regretted not exchanging numbers with Jimin. I wondered if he was still playing ping pong or had gone home. Even so, as we cruised past the third floor, it was a bit too late to go back up and check.
“Walking?” I said.
“To Mullaedong?!” Yoongi looked utterly offended.
“Minseo, that’s way too far to walk by yourself. Why don’t you ride with us?” Namjoon insisted.
“I’m actually just going to Secret Society to meet my friend, Chohee,” I explained, “It’s not that far.”
“Minseo,” Yoongi lethargically beckoned me to follow him as the elevator doors slid open, “Just… Come on.”
Moments later I was standing outside of Secret Society, saying goodnight to Yoongi and Namjoon through the lowered window of a shiny, black SUV. Namjoon’s eyes widened as he examined the entrance to the club. “I have to check this place out sometime,” he mused, “Some of the coolest artists I know have told me about it.”
“I told you that you’d like her,” Yoongi remarked, “Goodnight, Minseo!”
“Not this much…” I caught just before the window sealed off the sound of Namjoon's voice and the car pulled away. The wind tossed my hair across my face as I remained under the streetlight, motionless. Had I really heard that correctly? And in that suggestive tone? The wind whistled again. I had to be imagining things after such a long and turbulent day.
I pulled my hair into a low ponytail, pushing what had obviously been an auditory hallucination from my mind. Chohee emerged from the club at the same moment, keys clattering at her beltloop.
“Judging by the chauffeur-driven luxury vehicle,” she purred, slinking across the pavement with two green bottles in either hand, “I’d say there is definitely a cause for celebration.” Chohee lifted the soju to me, waiting for confirmation.
“I got it,” I managed, grabbing the bottle. She didn’t let go.
Another breeze blew, harder than the previous gusts.
“Yeah, I got it,” I paused, then looked to her with wide eyes. “Chohee… I got it! I got the job! I GOT IT! I work for BTS!”
“Fuck yeah, you do!” Chohee howled, raising my fist in the air via my grasp on the soju.
An elderly man, walking along the sidewalk opposite us lifted his gaze just long enough for Chohee to take notice. “Look at her!” she wailed, “She works for the biggest pop group in the world and she doesn’t even know it! How dumb is this bitch?”
“That’s nice, dear,” he said, quickening his pace.
Dancing among the swarming bodies of Itaewon's finest that night, I felt as if I had touched down on a newly discovered planet. I felt, finally, as if I could begin.
"One of the most common suggestions I make to new writers is: add more scene-setting. Scene-setting is especially important at the beginning of a chapter or scene to ground the reader in the details so they can imagine what's going on. New writers, and even seasoned writers, often skip over this important step in their writing. Why? Because the stories are already in OUR heads, so sometimes we forget to share all the details of the scene in our head on the page. Just remember that the readers can't read your mind. They can only read your page. So be sure to provide them all the details. All the who, what, when, where and why you can to help them imagine this story you're creating."
- Cara Lockwood, American novelist and nine-times bestselling author
Chapter 6: Where Did You Come From? (어디에서 왔는지)
It was a gloomy, drizzly day. Unusual for late spring in Seoul, but not entirely unheard of. Draped in a black trench coat and sheltered beneath an umbrella, I tugged my heavy suitcase over the sidewalk and through shallow puddles. J. Cole bumped in my headphones to drown out the racket of morning rush hour.
As I splashed onto Hybe’s front plaza, passersby granted me inconspicuous double-takes. Aside from the entrance to the company, there was really nothing else to access on this stretch of city square. Anybody who walked with purpose here was, understandably, suspected to possess some level of celebrity.
I shifted my headphones to my neck and shook out my umbrella before entering the lobby. My mint green Converse high-tops squeaked across the floor.
“Good morning, Ms. Minseo,” the new security guard welcomed me brightly. The young man had been hired shortly after it was suggested that his predecessor retire. Having spent the past few days going through basic onboarding together, we had become good acquaintances.
“Good morning, Soonho!” I gratuitously flashed my ID badge and parked my suitcase among the accumulating herd behind his desk. I proceeded to the elevators and thumbed the bright ‘26’ button. Before anything else, I knew I had to stop at the café.
“Large iced Americano?” the same shy barista questioned in a tiny voice, but had already started pulling shots of espresso from her whirling machine.
“Please,” I nodded, “Actually, can you make that two? Oh, and they’re on Jimin.”
Exiting onto the twenty-ninth floor, I took a right and marched down the guys’ hallway. It was eerily quiet compared to just about every other time I had ventured this way. Reaching my destination, I rapped a knuckle on the frosted glass of the door. “Come in,” a voice called as I clumsily tugged my shoes off by stepping on the heels. The door was, astonishingly, unlocked.
“Did you sleep at all?” I questioned Yoongi, backing my way in and passing him an icy drink.
“Two hours,” he muttered, leaning back and groaning, “This track is going to kill me.”
“Please tell me you packed at least?”
“Yeah, I’m all set,” he nodded to a massive, hard-shell suitcase that stood in the corner of the room.
“Well, bring your laptop and work on it at leisure,” I suggested, “It’s already 0750, you know...”
“Shit,” he hoisted himself up and began meticulously gathering a menagerie of electronics into a backpack. After he had donned a raincoat, bucket hat, mask, and shoes – all black – the two of us paraded to the elevators like a pair of lethargic ravens. Yoongi pressed ‘B,’ thus commencing our long descent.
The night prior, I had gotten a text from him reading: “Let’s ride together tomorrow. Also, can you please make sure I’m not asleep in my studio in the morning?” Yoongi's request didn’t strike me as unusual. As I saw it, he wanted someone new to be responsible for waking him. The invite to copilot served as a friendly segue.
Chohee had a much different interpretation, of course. Undoubtedly, she would be texting me later for all the "juicy details." It was best to nip this in the bud for her sake. I also felt entirely at ease being straightforward with Yoongi. “So, was there something you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked between sips on my paper straw.
“Huh? You mean in the car? No,” he answered as fast as I had posed the question, “I just want a calm ride…”
“I’m honored,” I giggled and slid between the opening doors to join the crowd gathered at the entrance to the underground garage. Our suitcases had magically appeared at the sliding glass doors as well. However, there seemed to be some confusion judging by the mix of facial expressions.
“Good morning,” I lightly bumped into Jimin’s hip.
“G’morning,” he replied in a sing-song voice, but continued with a slight sigh. “Never a dull moment…”
“What’s going on?”
“We apparently only have two cars instead of three,” he explained, “They called a mechanic, but he can’t be here until around 1400.”
“Something about an overheating engine...” Jungkook chimed from my other side.
“And we just found out there’s no other rental available,” Taehyung noted.
Yoongi let out a light huff. We exchanged glances as I attempted to convey sympathy, but was mostly amused by this minor inconvenience to his plans.
“Well, we just need to rearrange our seating,” Namjoon piped up. “Who’s driving?”
“I’ll drive Minseo, Jin, and Jungkook,” Yoongi announced, determinedly.
My heart dropped and I felt Jimin’s weight shift at my side. For a small moment I had hoped this would be my opportunity to spend quality time next to Hoseok in the backseat as we admired the Korean countryside together. Since officially starting at Hybe, Hoseok and I had seen very little of each other. My role was the first of its kind at the company so my schedule was jam-packed. I was principally responsible for creating a curriculum from the ground up alongside HR whose job was to determine whether I was capable of earning my keep. Nonetheless, Hoseok and I did pass each other in the halls regularly and never failed to exchange amorous looks.
In fact, on Saturday evening we crossed paths in a nearly disastrous way. I had just submitted my daily report to HR and was eager to sip on a hot rooibos as I drifted through the city streets on my way home. Rounding the corner of the staircase in an excited flourish, I nearly collided with Hoseok who happened to be carrying a steaming cup of tea. I stopped as quickly as I could, but found myself unable to control the inertia. The tips of my toes strained for contact with the floor as I began toppling headlong. Then, agilely springing forward, Hoseok caught me around the waist while balancing his tea in an outstretched arm. I gasped as my heels unexpectedly slammed back into the ground.
“Hey,” he greeted in his usual rasp. Hoseok’s hand lingered, only letting go as soon as I exhaled. “You should be more careful...” Naturally, his lips turned upward.
Then, he paused to indiscreetly look me up and down, perhaps to make sure that I was uninjured. His bright, brown eyes trailed from my hips to my chest, briefly explored my lips, then landed on my own brown irises. I could just make out my silhouette in his dilated pupils. Could he see himself in mine?
I stood frozen, my hand still gripping the railing. “Sorry, I—”
“Don’t apologize,” he said, cutely tilting his head to the side, “I’ve done the same thing more times than I can remember... I like this a lot.” He reached out to finger the diagonal ruffle of my flouncy, jade green skirt. A glowing, white heat coursed through my entire body as he lightly grazed his hand over my hip, quite intentionally.
Suddenly, he reestablished eye contact, transfixing me with a penetrating gaze. His chin was smugly raised, the fluorescent lighting accentuating his sharp jawline as well as the taut features of his neck. Hoseok’s brow slightly furrowed above his dark, bedroom eyes.
I was being devoured.
“Thanks,” I breathed, some all-knowing instinct assuring me that if I threw myself at Hoseok right then and there I would be met with wild abandon. Alone with him in this still, intense moment, I wanted nothing more than to taste the flavor of his kiss. We were so close it felt dangerous. I imagined how the cool, brick wall of the stairwell would feel pressed against my back.
It was then I knew our silent game, reserved for fleeting exchanges among the corridors, had reached its final level.
“Are you alright?” Hoseok asked, tugging on his earlobe and refocusing.
“Yeah, I’m am,” I answered, giving my lower lip a sharp, recentering bite.
Hoseok squinted, his eyes on something behind me. Still, the deep shadow of a grin lingered. “Well…”
I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and let go of the railing. Taking a step around him, I rested my hand on Hoseok’s taught deltoid and gave it a squeeze. He looked over his shoulder at me without turning.
“Well?” I echoed then floated down the last few steps, not looking back. Though, in the glass panel of a wall-mounted emergency box, I caught him spinning on his toes to watch me leave, his brilliant smile an unmistakable glimmer.
Now, in the basement of Hybe, surrounded by his bandmates and other staff, we stood meters apart barely acknowledging each other.
“Jungkook already said he’s driving,” Jimin swiftly declared. JK’s doe eyes flickered as he questioned whether or not he had ever said such a thing.
“OK, fine,” Yoongi shrugged, “We’ll take you instead.”
“Oh,” Jimin stuttered, scanning the group until he landed on Taehyung, “I told Tae I’d ride with him.” Tae blinked, but did not object as Jimin laced his arm through his friend’s.
“Fine,” Yoongi shook his head, defeated yet entirely apathetic to the situation, “We’ll take Hobi.”
“Don’t sound so excited, hyung,” Hoseok laughed loudly then proceeded to give Jimin a barely noticeable nod. I side-eyed my blond friend, wondering what exactly had been said between the two men. The idea of riding alongside Hoseok felt more daunting than exciting all of a sudden.
The eight of us shuffled around each other to pile our luggage into the back of the pair of SUVs. Jin politely offered me the front passenger seat, but I insisted that someone with a Korean driver’s license take it in case Yoongi wanted to rest. Almost immediately, Jin grabbed the two-way radio we had been given for communicating with the rest of the motorcade.
“Namjoon,” he giggled, “you’re not the only unlicensed babo anymore!”
“Ya! I’m licensed,” I interjected, playfully, “…just not in this country.”
“Ah,” Jin buzzed the other vehicle, “Never mind, Joonie. You’re still the lone babo. My apologies to Ms. Minseo, though she is still useless.”
“Thanks, Jin,” I laughed, “Apology accepted.”
“What happened?” Hoseok asked, popping his head into the car. He nestled a khaki green duffle bag underneath Jin’s seat then hoisted himself in. The muscles in his forearm rippled as he used the grab handle to slide in right next to me, exuding an impressive air of certainty.
“They’re teasing me about not being able to drive…in Korea,” I told him, though my vocal cords had gone rigid.
“Lots of people don’t drive in Seoul,” Hoseok shrugged and, of all things, winked at me. My heart fluttered in my throat, but I willed myself to cool down. Of all people, I couldn’t let Yoongi catch me losing my cool around Hoseok.
“See, guys? Completely irrelevant,” I directed at the front seats, “You should apologize to Namjoon now.”
“Not in a million years,” Jin quipped. Yoongi snickered and pulled out of the garage, Jungkook following close behind.
Much to Yoongi’s delight, the ride started off tranquilly. The dreary weather continued as we drove south, subduing the mood and making it very difficult for me to stay awake. Though, the thought of snoozing with my mouth agape and in a not-so-cute position in front of Hoseok kept me stirring. My Americano had been depleted long ago and I had half the mind to ask Yoongi to stop at the next Starbucks. However, as soon as the Palisade had breached the throng of Seoul traffic, it was apparent we had left the luxuries of the metro far behind.
Rolling green hills tumbled by our tinted windows, clouds of precipitation veiling the precipices. Quaint towns and villages peppered the sides of the highway, but became less and less frequent as we rolled on. A steely river appeared from a glen below the winding road and followed us as Yoongi drove with one hand nonchalantly draped over the top of the steering wheel. Peering in the rearview mirror, I saw that the features of his face had softened considerably. His eyes were focused, but not with their usual shrewdness. ‘Allergic’ by Post Malone hummed from the car’s sound system as we smoothly rounded a bend. Shifting slightly I noted Jin had fallen fast asleep, one foot perched upon the dashboard.
As I passed back over to peek out the front windshield, I saw Yoongi’s eyes quickly drop from the rearview.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Hoseok broke the silence, resting his elbow on the window’s ledge and clutching the grip handle above.
“It’s amazing,” I leaned back in my seat and smiled at him, “I’ve actually never left Gyeonggi...”
"I'm glad you could come with us then," Hoseok replied.
Somehow, Yoongi’s poise had been passed to me and I was able to look at Hoseok without anxiety bubbling up. I didn’t feel confident necessarily, but I understood that nothing bad was going to happen to me as long as I had people like Yoongi, Chohee, and Jimin by my side. Plus, Hoseok was one of the warmest people I had ever come across, regardless of any romantic intentions. My fears were completely unjustified. Perhaps even more importantly, he was my student. I needed to get over whatever insecurities were driving my brain and let the two of us figure this out organically. Mostly thanks to Jimin, the seed had been planted. Now it was time to see what grew from it.
“How much longer to go, hyung?” Hoseok spoke gently as not to wake Jin.
“Little less than an hour,” Yoongi peeped at the GPS display, “Anybody want coffee?”
“Yes, please,” Hoseok and I chimed simultaneously. He beamed at me. I felt myself blush, but allowed it to happen without becoming flustered. Let him see what he does to me, I thought. The electricity between us surged again, but it felt more like a warm vibration than an abrupt shock. Hoseok looked away first, though the smirk on his face didn’t fade as he returned to regarding the scenery.
“Minseo was nearly nodding off back here,” he told Yoongi after a beat, “We better stop somewhere before she’s in Jin’s situation.”
Jin let out a tiny gurgle of a snore.
Chapter 7: Fire (불타오르네)
Minseo, Yoongi, Jin, and Hoseok continue their drive through the countryside, meet a bodega cat, and blow out the Palisade's speakers. The group celebrates their first night in the forest with a dance party. Minseo sobers up at the worst possible moment.
We happened upon a small convenience store in a village that was about the same size as the plot of land Hybe consumed. “Jin, wake up,” Yoongi shook the snoozing idol’s shoulder after shifting the Palisade into park.
Jin smacked his lips together a few times before forcing his eyes open.
“Minseo, I owe you from this morning,” Yoongi stated as he jumped out of the car. “Do you need anything, Hobi?”
“Um... No,” Hoseok quickly looked from Yoongi to me and back again, then stretched all of his limbs simultaneously, “Just the restroom…”
“Me too,” I realized, grabbing my empty twenty-ounce cup from the door.
We had finally outrun the rain, though the mugginess remained palpable. Here, between the dirt lanes snaking their way into the mountains, the sun painted every bit of greenery with a golden hue. Though the sound of farm machinery could be heard from the valley below us, birdsong was the primary soundtrack. The incongruous centerpiece of the Miyazaki-esque scene was a dingy bodega. Weeds and tiny, yellow flowers sprung up around its foundation. A peach-colored tomcat sunbathed in doorway. Stepping over him, the four of us filed in, welcomed by a lethargic ‘ding-dong.’ The wrinkled man behind the counter looked up for a moment then, entirely disinterested, returned to his newspaper.
Jin and Yoongi veered off in their quest for caffeine while Hoseok and I powerwalked to the conveniently marked restrooms.
The humidity had devastated my hair. In the speckled mirror of the women’s room, I pulled the frizzy mess of auburn into a tight topknot half the size of my head. Cute or not, this would likely be my default look for the remainder of the week. Even so, I refused to give up on my appearance entirely. I drew a cherry red lip tint from my purse and began the careful application required to achieve the quintessentially Korean ombre pucker.
“Cute,” I beamed at my reflection then checked my phone. Chohee hadn’t texted yet, but there was a message from Jimin composed entirely of emojis: Two raised hands proceeded a bowl of ramen noodles and a winking face. I responded to him with an expressionless face emoji which, entertainingly, reminded me of Yoongi.
Motivated to avoid the label of high-maintenance female passenger, I hurriedly washed my hands for a second time and nudged the door open with my foot. I fully expected to be the last person back to the SUV. However, I was startled to be met by Hoseok’s trim figure leaning against the wall, waiting. His hands were in the pockets of his taupe windbreaker, one foot casually planted against the cinderblock wall. A bashful, yet mischievous simper highlighted his cheekbones.
“You waiting for someone?” I asked with a smirk. He pushed off the wall and fell into step with me.
Among the disorderly aisles, Yoongi and Jin were still concentrated on collecting beverages and snacks. Rather, Jin was filling a basket with multi-colored bags of munchies and Yoongi was judging the selection, holding a tray of Styrofoam coffee cups at chest-height.
“I’d never leave a lady by herself in a remote place like this,” Hoseok replied after observing the amusing scene with me. We exited the shop, slowly making our way back to the car, enjoying the opportunity to stretch our legs.
“How chivalrous of you,” I said playfully, then gave the back of his arm a light squeeze, “Thank you.”
“Yeah, of course,” he looked down at me. Our hands brushed against each other as I swayed under his gaze. I mentally dared Hoseok to reach out and entwine his fingers with mine, but Jin’s cackle quickly terminated any further fantasizing.
We turned to see Yoongi – arms laden with plastic bags and still carrying the paper tray – nudging the cat with his foot. The feline refused to move.
“Respect,” Yoongi muttered, carefully stepping over the threshold and its fluffy guardian.
Caffeine on board, the four of us were finally wide-eyed and lively. The excitement in the vehicle grew with each passing kilometer. Jin had taken command of the radio and we were now listening to the Weeknd at full volume with the windows down. Even Yoongi was passionately rocking to the melody of ‘Save Your Tears,’ the wind ruffling his fringe. Jin sang when he knew the lyrics and Hoseok danced in his seat, creating an impressive array of upper body movements.
I quietly absorbed the pureness of the scene, their carefree brotherhood intoxicating me with a deep sense comfort and belonging. Any hesitations I had been subconsciously clinging to dissipated. Sunglasses perched near the end of my nose, I stretched my arm out the window, creating waves against our velocity. As the song fizzled out, Jin twisted in his seat, “Any requests, Minseo?”
“Oh. How close are we?” I asked, scooting toward the center of the backseat and leaning forward.
“Mmm, less than five minutes,” Yoongi announced.
Hoseok bounced over and joined the huddle, his thigh firmly pressed against mine. He steadied himself by planting a hand just behind my perch at the edge of the seat. “That flew by!” he declared.
My phone buzzed my hand. Everyone else seemed to get the same alert as our heads twitched downward concurrently. Jimin had apparently started a new group chat called “Chicken Noodle Soop.” I made a mental note to ask for clarification later.
“They’re just unloading,” Jin broadcast as I watched the short video we had all received. It mainly featured Jungkook heaving luggage from the back of their vehicle. Then, the camera suddenly flipped, showcasing Jimin’s grinning face behind a pair of outrageously large sunglasses before ending just as abruptly.
“So, we need to pull in with a banger,” I concentrated hard to make up for the seconds that had ticked by, “Um… Oh, that Travis Scott remix! ‘Goosebumps,’ right?”
“Really?” There was unanimous astonishment.
“Yes…?” I responded, as amused as they were stunned.
“Wow,” Hoseok breathed without moving from my side. His brow raised in slight awe as he unapologetically scanned my body.
I responded with a miniature shrug and pushed my heart-shaped shades further up my nose, smirking. Hoseok, in turn, draped his arm across the back of our shared seat. It was almost as if he was enticing me to lean into his side, to nuzzle into the crook of his shoulder and let my breath glance over the honey-gold skin of his exposed neck and collarbone.
Our eyes locked for a sweltering instant, two blank, yet knowing expressions mirroring each other. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear as Hoseok released his bottom lip from between his teeth.
At that same moment, the frame of the Palisade trembled violently, enveloped by the bassline of ‘Goosebumps.’ Hoseok chuckled silently to himself, raising his chin and appearing to drift off into some freshly recovered corner of his mind. His thigh still rested against mine and the heat between us was steadily rising. It was a game of chicken that both of us refused to lose.
The SUV bounced onto a rugged driveway, flinging me into the air and back to reality.
“Sorry,” Yoongi laughed as Jin tossed him an utterly offended squint.
We had arrived. Namjoon, Jimin, Taehyung, and JK were outside collecting and organizing their belongings. Each of them stood straight up and watched us pull in next to them, mouths slightly agape. Travis Scott faded away.
“That had to be Minseo’s doing,” Namjoon shouted toward us. ‘Delicate’ by Taylor Swift began, but Yoongi promptly killed the engine much to Jin’s growing displeasure.
“How did you know?” I asked, quickly scooting out of the Palisade and landing in the sunlight. Gravel crunched under my Converse.
“Grandpa Min wouldn’t let anybody else get away with that,” Namjoon pointed a finger toward Yoongi who slipped out of the driver’s seat wordlessly. A vague smile ghosted his lips.
“Alright. Who’s sleeping where?” Hoseok emerged from behind the other side of the Palisade.
“Good question,” Namjoon pivoted to take account of the other members.
“I’ll take the campervan,” Jungkook started off in the direction of the large class C that was parked on the opposite edge of the lot. “Yoongi should get an actual bedroom this time,” he commented from over his shoulder.
“But…,” Yoongi began, yet gave up as soon as Jin strode forward as well.
“Me too!” he announced, duffle bags loaded on both of his broad shoulders.
“I think I’d like to try the boathouse this time,” Jimin contemplated, “Tae?”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Taehyung shrugged, separating his baggage from the rest.
“And there are three beds in the main house,” Namjoon commented, “Minseo, the upper house might be more private, but I don’t know if you’d want to be alone.”
“Or woken up at 0700,” Jimin playfully pouted as he straddled his hard-shell. He didn’t sound incensed by any means, but I noted a surreptitious bitterness in his crescent-eyed snicker.
“That’s true,” Hoseok tilted his head guiltily, “The main house, then?”
Jimin’s eyes stared into my soul. His message was clear.
“That’s perfectly fine with me,” I nodded, turning from my friend as I hoisted the strap of my purse over my head.
“You can have the master bedroom,” Namjoon suggested warmly, “as the guest of honor.”
“Me?” I couldn’t help but blush, “Thanks. Honestly, I haven’t slept in anything bigger than a twin bed in nearly a year.”
“You’re joking,” Hoseok’s eyes widened.
“No joke,” I replied, pulling up on the handle of my roller bag.
“Oh, that’s unacceptable,” he scoffed, “We’ll get you hooked up as soon as we get back to the city.”
I meant to question Hoseok, but Namjoon stepped between us, dragging a large, navy suitcase covered in hand-painted stars.
“I’m going to stay up here,” he mused, “…and take advantage of the peace and quiet when I can. Yoongi?”
“Well, I can’t let Hoseok and Minseo rule over the main house, can I?” Yoongi began shuffling down the gravel driveway with his luggage in tow. I followed with Hoseok close behind.
“Dinner at 2000?” Namjoon’s voice carried down the path to our backs.
“Dinner at 2000,” Yoongi echoed confirmation.
Bellies full of jjapaguri and empty bottles of soju littering the ground, the eight of us had officially settled into our first evening in the forest. As soon as the mosquitoes became unbearable, we migrated from the tent-covered firepit to the spacious living room of main house. Rather than immediately firing up the karaoke machine, the other members successfully convinced Taehyung to let someone queue up dance music. Thoroughly exhausted by the day’s events, Yoongi and I sat side by side on the bench seat of the dining table, watching everyone else merrily shuffle, stomp, and shimmy along to the club-like beats.
Taehyung had dimmed the overhead lights and Jin had located a small, rotating mirror ball that threw rainbows across the walls. Namjoon stiffly cantered about, always about a quarter-beat off, while Jimin and Jungkook gleefully bounced from side to side. Hoseok, his cheeks flushed a shade of peachy scarlet, was entranced by the song. His eyes were shut, but his bright smile never faltered. His limbs, joints, torso, and every other bit of his body automatically synced with each beat. Not only was his elation contagious, but his talent, even while inebriated, was unquestionable. My cheeks hurt from grinning, mainly in his direction.
“This kind of reminds me of the night we met,” Yoongi suddenly piped up, taking a swig straight from the green bottle dangling from his hand, “Kind of…”
“It’s a little less subdued,” I laughed, but was cut short as Hoseok noticed my unintentional ogling. In less than an instant, he was standing in front of me with his hands outstretched, palms up. The music smoothly transitioned into ‘Dákiti’ by Bad Bunny and the energy among the members shifted to match the vibe flawlessly.
"Oh," I exhaled, "As much as I'd love to, of all the things I'm good at, dancing has never been one of them..." Though I desperately wanted to seize the opportunity, I knew I would look foolish next to Hoseok. No amount of soju could ever suitably equip me.
Resting his back against the table, Yoongi shrugged widely as if to say, ‘You heard the lady.’
Nevertheless, Hoseok persisted. Snapping his fingers and bending slightly forward, his eyelids lowered seductively. “Minseo, nobody is bad at dancing,” he purred, completely ignoring Yoongi’s judging side-eye.
“I am,” I insisted, laughing.
“Somehow I highly doubt that,” Hoseok raised one eyebrow as his jaw faintly clenched, “Come on. I’ll help.”
My resistance was apparently futile. An unseen, magnetic attraction forced my hands into Hoseok’s and I was smoothly, effortlessly lifted to my feet. As if in a dream, he guided me forward, taking slinky steps backwards until we were among the others.
‘Please don’t let go,’ I silently begged, squeezing Hoseok’s hands a bit tighter. I hadn’t stood in a while and the amount of soju I had consumed became painfully evident. His hands gripped onto mine, assuring my safety.
The lights glittered around us, blurring my peripheries so that I was solely focused on Hoseok. Like an electrical current that coursed through his body straight into mine, I picked up on his rhythm. I knew the song so it wasn't hard to follow the beat. Still, this was something other than recognizing a time signature. Hoseok was entropy embodied. And I was the universe...completely, inescapably at his mercy.
My destruction was imminent.
My hips circled from side to side, more and more loosely with each pass. Hoseok pulled me closer, one hand firmly planted between my shoulder blades and the other unhurriedly sliding down to the small of my back. I perched my wrists on his shoulders, attempting to maintain a respectful distance in spite of the shiver shooting down my spine.
The song ended, another hip-hop track on its tail. My vision cleared just long enough to catch Jimin’s eye from across the room. Although he pumped a small, celebratory fist in the air, I couldn’t help but feel suddenly, profoundly mortified. The alcohol evaporated from my body just as Hoseok’s thigh wove between my legs, his hips thrusting upward.
I stepped back, forcing my way out of his arms. My face radiated a searing red heat. We had gone too far.
As far as I could tell Namjoon, Jin, Jimin, Taehyung, and JK were all but oblivious. Still, I felt ill imagining what opinions they might have of me if I continued carelesssly dancing with Hoseok. Perhaps even more sickening was seeing Hoseok so confused and dejected. For the first time in hours, his body was absolutely still, his arms hanging at his sides. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and explain myself, but tears began pooling at the corner of my eyes. Memories of the past year unexpectedly flooded my mind. I recalled all the obstacles I faced by myself so that I never had to rely on a man ever again; all of the traumas I had recovered from so I could stand on my own two feet, freely. Of course, Hoseok was poles apart from Dae - or anybody else I had taken interest in, for that matter - but this was simply too fragile for me to hold. Regardless of what Jimin had told me in the cafe after my interview, I didn't know if I'd ever be ready for Hoseok.
“It’s best just to sneak off to bed at a point with these guys,” Yoongi apparated at my side, “Let’s get some water."
Chapter 8: Permission to Dance
Yoongi sees Minseo to bed. Hoseok and Minseo have a heart-to-heart. Jungkook be creepin'.
I accepted Yoongi’s palm as he guided me to the kitchen. I was wobbly, but his strong hold was supportive. I immediately collapsed onto a barstool next to the high-top table, feeling slightly short of breath. Yoongi produced two bottles of water from the refrigerator and pushed one into my hands. “Timing is everything,” he half-whispered, peering down the hallway that connected the kitchen to the living room. I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, but didn’t probe.
From our vantage point, we watched Namjoon eventually make his exit, zig-zagging up the hillside to the privacy of the upper house. He had mentioned something about a phone interview tomorrow morning as Jin offered shots of soju with dinner. Since then, the group’s leader had crushed about four or five bottles by himself.
Jin, Jungkook, and Taehyung continued prancing around the living room, not paying attention to anything. Their laughter echoed off every wall. Meanwhile, Jimin and Hoseok had taken to cleaning up between tiny dance moves. I watched as Jimin covertly gossiped with Hoseok, picking up bits of trash without any signs of haste. Occasionally, the younger member would flash a cheerful expression. Hoseok graciously returned the same energy, but only for as long as it took Jimin to look away.
I couldn’t sort through my thoughts fast enough, but stopped trying as I realized tomorrow was my first official day of work. My agenda included formulating the member’s individual lesson plans and the last thing I needed was to wake up hungover, exhausted, and unable to smartly dodge any questions about tonight. Even so, my face felt like hot coals and my gut was twisted in tight knots. Drinking truly sounded like it might be the best remedy for getting over what had occurred.
I sighed heavily and guzzled half of the water bottle. Yoongi did the same then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Come on,” he took a step forward to help me from the stool. I followed as he meandered into the hallway, keeping my eyes on the floor. I trudged up the stairs behind Yoongi’s bare footsteps, holding the railing tight. Only after we had reached the privacy of the second floor did I lift my gaze. It didn’t seem like anyone had taken particular interest in our exit.
“I’m this way,” Yoongi pointed a thumb to the left although we had already toured the entire house hours ago. “You know, if yo-”
Jin’s unmistakable cackle resonated up the stairwell followed by a shout from JK.
“Hm,” Yoongi shifted his focus, “Hopefully your room is pretty sound-proof.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” I nodded, “I’ve lived in much noisier conditions.”
“OK,” he mumbled, rubbing his suddenly heavy eyelids, “Well, make sure you finish that whole thing before bed.”
I raised the bottle of water between my hands, “You got it. And thank you.”
“Alright,” he turned into the short corridor that led to the room he would be sharing with Hoseok, “Sleep well.”
“Goodnight, Yoongi,” I sighed, suddenly alone for the first time all day.
I was in the middle of applying a sheet mask when there was a light rapping at my door. The likelihood that a drunken member had forgotten where he was supposed to sleep that night was pretty high.
“Wrong room,” I sang, taking a swig from a bottle of yogurt-flavored soju I had found between the folds of my pajamas. I had forgotten packing a few bottles just in case the guys were makgeolli lovers, but was happy to find the sweet surprise.
“Minseo?” a meek, raspy voice accompanied a second round of tiny knocks.
Maybe he wasn’t lost.
In a flurry, I peeled the sheet mask from my face and flung it into the waste bin. I slapped at the remaining serum, ripped the headband from my brow, rearranged my bangs, and accepted the fact that I was about to reveal my bare face. At least I was still dressed. Plus, the extra soju should supplement any diffidence.
I padded over to the doorway, turned the lock, and peered out through a few centimeters of space. Hoseok was leaning against the half-wall of the stairwell, looking quite sheepish. One of his hands was pushing off the trim as if he was preparing to pivot toward his own room. But, after realizing that I was, in fact, still awake, he sprung back to life.
“Hi,” he said. His flushed cheeks were even more noticeable in the intense lighting of the corridor.
“Hey,” I replied, unable to help a petite smile from twisting at my lips. His drunken, slightly pathetic presence was outrageously endearing. Hoseok’s hair was more tousled than usual, though a backwards baseball cap at the back of his head concealed most of it. He looked every bit an idol, but not in an unapproachable, unattainable way. The classic simplicity of his distressed jeans – now unevenly cuffed – and half-tucked white t-shirt hinted at Hoseok’s earthbound nature.
Remembering that I was also slightly unkempt, I couldn’t help but giggle, “What a mess, right?”
“I wanted to apologize,” Hoseok exhaled, ignoring my nonchalance, “Do you mind if I come in?” His eyes trailed to the staircase from which sounds of revelry could still be heard.
“Not at all,” I stepped aside, and he walked in, hands humbly tucked into his pockets.
“Oh, Minseo,” he chuckled absentmindedly and took a seat in a mustard-colored lounge chair, “If there were cameras you could forget us ever getting a chance to talk in private. Actually, maybe it’s worse without cameras…” The chair swiveled and this amused him momentarily.
“Are those four still at it?” I asked sitting on the edge of the bed across from Hoseok.
“Yeah,” he replied, simply.
Unsure of what to say next, I folded my legs beneath me, tugging my skirt across my lap. Then, with a sudden gathering of composure, Hoseok looked up: “I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable, Minseo. I’m so excited that you’re a good match for the team, but I promise to respect you as a professional from here on out. I got carried away. I was drunk and…incredibly stupid.”
A moment passed. I realized I was still hanging on to the bottle of soju and leaned back to place it on the nightstand. Hoseok sat with his legs apart, elbows resting on his knees, and hands clasped together. He looked at me with his head tilted to the side and slightly lowered. The guilt he expressed was tangible. It was not j-hope, Hobi, or my crush, but Jung Hoseok, the passionately team-oriented and professional idol I had met only days ago, that sat across from me.
“Hoseok,” I started, “We were just dancing and having fun. You invited me to join you and, really, I should have thanked you for getting me up, but…I’m not…” I stopped, not knowing how to complete the sentence without possibly making things even more complicated. Instead, I extended a hand to grab his forearm: “You’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about. I promise.”
“Are you sure? You’re just not saying that?”
“I’m sure,” I nodded, letting go, “I got embarrassed. If I had had a problem with it, I would have said something. It truly has nothing to do with you…”
He quickly shrugged, unconvinced, “I crossed a line. You’re our tutor, not some random girl to dance with.”
“Please don’t worry,” I uncrossed my legs and listened to the music from the floor below, thinking of what to say next. “To be honest, my past…is a little thorny. But, trust me, I don’t want to be just a tutor to you.”
“I don’t want that either,” Hoseok replied, “That’s what this trip is about. You’re going to be with us everywhere, getting to know us, teaching us… We should know you too, right? I mean, as much as you want us to.”
“I don’t think it will be much fun teaching you English if you have no idea who I am,” I smiled, “or vice versa. Plus, I’m the youngest member on staff. I’m closer to your age than anyone else on crew. I’d only be missing out if I kept to myself… Also, this is way more than I ever expected. It’d be rude to refuse your offers, but I’m really glad I haven’t. I think we can all be professional and have fun at the same time.”
“Are you saying you feel obligated to be here?” he asked quietly.
“No,” I shook my head, “I mean, yes. But right here? With you? No… Not at all.” My mind flashed back the Palisade and Hoseok’s arm resting along the back of our seat; the warmth of his thigh pressed against mine; the moment I contemplated leaning into him. Would he have wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close? I knew the answer, but it wasn’t our reality.
Hoseok’s entire body visibly relaxed as he gave a big sigh and leaned back, grinning. He began pivoting the chair side to side with his feet flat on the floor. “That’s...a relief.”
We smiled at each other, sinking further into our seats. It felt like an invisible barrier had been destroyed. Yet, we were an ocean away.
“But now I feel obligated to give you dance lessons,” he clapped, laughing heartily to break the silence.
“I’m horrible, right?!” I tumbled backwards. I grabbed the soju bottle as I sat back up and finished it off.
“You’re not great,” he covered his mouth, sniggering with his whole body, “Definitely solid Itaewon clubbing material though.”
“I’m so sorry,” I got up to toss the bottle into the garbage and grabbed another from my duffle, “I forget Korean drinking etiquette more often than you’d think.”
“Oh no,” he sank into the chair even more, his head about level with his shoulders, “I don’t handle alcohol well, so no offense taken.”
“You don’t have to drink it.”
“Well,” he shook his head, straightening up, “I think we need to drink to friendship at least.”
“OK,” I smiled, “One drink to friendship.”
Hoseok and I continued talking late into the night. We listened to the songs that the four remaining members chose to play downstairs and rattled off music trivia. I was beyond shocked when ‘Edge of Seventeen’ by Stevie Nicks echoed up to us.
“Wait… I know this song,” Hoseok muttered, his eyes darting as he tried to name it before me.
“You should,” I shimmied in my seat on the bed, fully absorbed. “It’s Stevie Nicks. From Fleetwood Mac?”
He sucked on his teeth, accepting defeat. A minute passed before Hoseok’s voice softly drifted to me, “Slow down…”
I opened my eyes and stopped moving.
He smiled to himself bashfully then sighed as he gripped the arms of the chair to push himself upright. He took one stride forward and extended his hands once again. “May I?”
I accepted without hesitation.
Hoseok pulled me up and, keeping an arm’s length between us, began lightly pushing my shoulders at approximately half the speed I had been moving at. “There’s no need to rush,” he explained, “Listen to her voice, not the guitar.”
“OK,” I whispered, not looking away from his glittering brown eyes. A moment later he removed his hands and was swaying along with me.
“Then,” he closed one eye, concentrating, “decide when you want to make a little splash.”
“A little splash?” I giggled at the cute expression.
“Like…,” he lifted his shoulders, arms, hips, knees upward in a series of pops as Stevie sang, then settled back into the casual sway.
“Oh, yeah,” I nodded, comically, “A little splash.”
“Just let go a bit…” Hoseok’s grin was bigger than ever, waiting for me to make a move.
I felt like I would have rather been swallowed up by the ground, but somehow found it within myself to formulate a small move. With both hands I grasped and pulled at the air to my left, swinging my hips in the same direction. At the next ‘ooh,’ I mirrored the movement on my right side. I swung left and right once more, then returned to swaying again.
“So natural,” Hoseok laughed loudly over the outro. I gave him a small shove in the shoulder, as I spun around shaking to the exact rhythm of the frantic guitar sounds. When I was facing him once again he was looking at me with a small, calm simper. No one had looked at me like that in a very long time.
“I-I’m hot,” I stuttered and walked away, pushing open the balcony door. Hoseok followed.
The music from underneath us was even clearer on the cool, night air. Jin, Jimin, Taehyung, and JK - their voices also carried on the wind - showed no signs of turning in any time soon. “Can you see them from here?” Hoseok wondered aloud, bending over the railing only slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the members.
“I wasn’t looking down,” I responded, absorbed by the luminous blanket of stars above us. Hoseok moved closer beside me, looking upward into the clear imprint of the Milky Way.
“Wow,” he managed, “It’s beautiful.”
“I’m so glad I’m here,” I exhaled, knowing that out of all places and out of the eight billion humans on Earth, this is where and with whom I was meant to be.
“Me too,” Hoseok swallowed, “I mean, I’m also glad you’re here. Have I said that already?”
I turned to Hoseok, leaning my hip against the railing of the balcony and drinking him in. “Hoseok…” I sighed.
“Yeah?” he turned, crossing his legs as he stepped forward to close the space between us.
“This is wild,” was all I could offer, feeling as if I might cry at any second, but not sure why. I wasn’t sad.
“Isn’t it?” he chuckled.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said.
“I’ll wait until you do,” he replied.
A unhurried ballad I didn’t recognize floated up from the lower level. It was Korean and sounded as if it was from the 1950s. “What’s this song?” I asked, innocently.
“Well, as a professional dancer,” Hoseok bit his lips as he looked down at me, then slowly looped his arm behind my back, “it’s what you might call a ‘slow song.’” His English was heavily accented, but perfect otherwise. Hoseok’s other hand interlocked with mine as he raised it between us. Inhaling deeply, he delicately willed me closer and I obliged. We rocked side to side, not looking away from each other.
“As a professional tutor,” I gulped, “it’s quite the ‘neurin norae.’”
My mind seemed to clear in an instant. This simply couldn’t be helped. Hoseok, standing right in front of me, with the moonlight highlighting his chiseled features was nothing short of irresistible. Barefoot and drunk on the light of the moon, we continued grooving along in each other’s arms. A small, soft smile plastered his face. Looking at Hoseok this close, my heart swelled, growing warm and full beneath my breast.
“Do you want another drink?” I nodded toward the abandoned soju bottle inside after some time, hoping to erase my intuition a bit more. Hoseok halted midbeat and strode over to the door. I turned to watch him and hoisted myself onto the balcony’s railing. He returned looking absolutely delighted as he passed the alcohol to me. I closed my eyes and took a big gulp.
As soon as the bottle met my lips, I felt Hoseok’s warm hands grab just above my knees, acting as counterweights. My skirt fluttered in the breeze and I could feel the power surge through his touch. I silently begged his hands to go further. Skin to skin — as we had been on the makeshift dancefloor downstairs — but now alone, our lustful desires were indisputably mutual.
“Please don’t fall,” he whispered, a slight quiver in his voice. Millimeter by millimeter his hands slid up my thighs as if he was barely in control of himself. I could see the tension of resistance coursing throughout his entire being.
“I don’t think I have control over that anymore...” I whispered back, reaching out to trace my fingertips along his jaw. My hand cupped around his face, Hoseok came closer, wedging himself between my legs. His arms lifted from my thighs and, after tucking a few lose strands away, wove into the hair the back of my head. Slowly, our pressure grew, our faces nearer and nearer. Hoseok’s hips pressed into me as he stood on his toes to match my height atop the railing…
“Beautiful night, huh?” Jungkook’s cheery voice cried out. I whipped around faster than I had ever moved in my life. Hoseok’s arms beared down hard on my thighs once again so I didn’t topple over. Before flinging myself forward, I caught JK’s sparkling eyes and cheesy grin beaming up from the patio.
“Sure is,” I replied, as I placed my hands on Hoseok’s shoulders and he speedily lowered me from the railing.
Hoseok stared at me wide-eyed and panicked, mouthing, “Did he see me?”
I shook my head and shrugged at the same time, equally flustered. Even if Jungkook didn’t see Hoseok, he had to know I wasn’t alone out there.
“Wow, it got pretty cold, didn’t it?” I attempted to keep a neutral tone, “I’m going in. Goodnight, Jungkook. See you in the morning!”
Hoseok was no help whatsoever, both hands on his head, looking absolutely desperate for an alibi. We scurried toward the sliding glass door as Jungkook cheekily responded, “Goodnight, Minseo.
This might be my favorite chapter yet; I love picturing the chaos of the very last scene. Let me know what you think and, as always, I appreciate your readership beyond words! 💜